As I boarded my flight to Houston last week — stuck in an aisle seat on a two and a half hour long flight (Which would likely leave me unable to do what I always do on planes: Sleep.) — I hoped that, at the very least, my neighbor would be a smaller person. Preferably a woman. Because if I had to be awake the entire time, I wanted my tiny bit of seat space to be unencumbered.
But of course, God had other plans. And saw fit to place me right next to a man who was (at least) 6'6 and (at least) 350 pounds. Which, considering the ridiculously tiny size of the seats, meant I practically had to sit on his lap. Drats.
Fortunately, I did manage to get to sleep, and didn't wake up until I was woken up by the pilot to let us know we were 30 minutes away from Houston. At this point, the man sitting next to me had to use the restroom, so he asked if I could get up so he could get up. He came back a few minutes later, and when he sat down we started talking.
"So, coming back home?"
"Oh no. This is actually my first time in Houston. You?"
"Yea, this is home for me. What brings you here?"
(His eyes light up)
"Oh! So I have a lot to tell you!"
For the next 10 minutes he tells me about where to go (the Galleria and a few other spots) and what events to attend (there apparently was a motorcycle festival taking place somewhere). Although I knew much of this already, it was helpful information, and I was thankful for it.
And then the conversation took the awkwardest left turn to ever left turn.
"Also, I should warn you that everyone carries a gun in Texas."
"Yup. That's why everyone is so dang on polite. You never know who's carrying."
"Women too. They make up half of the concealed carry permits in this state."
Now, when I tell these types of stories, I have a tendency to embellish, congeal, and paraphrase conversations. Mostly because I don't remember exactly what was said, so I just try to capture the spirit of it the best I can. What you're about to read, however, is exactly what he said. Word for word. You will be tempted not to believe me. But trust me, this is exactly what he said. And I know this because it stuck in my brain. And will likely stick in my brain forever.
"Yea. That's probably why our rape rates are so low. If you and your boys plan to do any raping, Houston aint the place for that. Because you'll get shot here."
To recap, I sat on a plane for three hours with JJ Watt's 50-year-old doppelganger; an exceedingly polite, mannerly, and considerate man who gave me very helpful tips on how to navigate the city before sharing that the best way to survive Houston would be to leave all the raping back up North.
We landed moments later. I don't think I've ever jumped out of a seat and off of a plane quicker.
Now, as I mentioned in the conversation with NotJJWatt, I was in town for a bachelor party. So why was I there for a week? (Five days, actually.) Well, weeks earlier, an administrator from the University of Houston invited me to come to campus to speak. And we were able to arrange it so that I'd be there for the party Friday through Sunday, hang out in Houston Labor Day, and speak on campus Tuesday afternoon.
Obviously, I wasn't able to see the entire city in five days. But I saw a lot. Enough that I'd come to realize that this flight and this conversation would be a perfect preview and synopsis of my time in Houston; a place that's unfailingly polite, unusually (and disturbingly) honest and blunt, engaging, educational, and waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too fucking big.
1. Let's just start with the one immutable truth about this city. It's too fucking big. Think of all the shit you can think of that's just too fucking big. The 707 hp Dodge Hellcat. The Cheesecake Factory menu. Jay Electronica's list of excuses for not dropping an album. Houston surpasses them all in its way-too-fucking-bigness. Before you visit the city, people who've visited or lived there before prepare you for the weather (tropical), the mosquitoes (everywhere), the food (amazing), and the people (very kind and very likely to cut you if you cross them). And each lived up to the expectations. It was in the mid 90s every day, with a humidity that vacillated from "Are you fucking kidding me?" to "My spleen was replaced with a bucket of sweat." But, I actually love hot and humid weather, so that didn't bother me. I saw nan mosquitoes. The people were very nice. I left Houston unstabbed. And, as far as the food goes, let's just say that I left for Houston weighing 195 pounds and returned at 201.
But no one told me that every single fucking thing takes a 40 minute drive. And that there are like 18 downtowns. And that if you tell someone you're planning to walk somewhere, they look at you with the most bless-your-stupid-little-heart-est face they can muster. And that you could be on the road for 30 minutes — on the highway going 70 mph — and still not even be halfway to where you're going. And still be in the same damn city. For those who haven't been to Houston and think I'm exaggerating, the facts back me up. Outside of cities in Alaska (which doesn't count) and Montana (which doesn't matter), it's the third largest American city. Only Jacksonville and Oklahoma City possess more square miles.
I tweeted that line about Houston being "the only place in America you can drive for a hour in no traffic and still not be where you're going" last weekend. And a few New Yorkers did what New Yorkers tend to do: be assholes and assume that "The City" is better and bigger than everywhere else. Well, asshole New Yorkers, Houston shits on you. It is 599.6 square miles. New York City is 302.6. That's practically twice as big. It can fit each of your bitch-ass boroughs and bodegas in it and still add Chicago and still have enough room for Pittsburgh. Suck on it, New York!
Anyway, Houston is too damn big.
2. The size of the city should have been a logistical nightmare for the bachelor party, which was 18 (!!!) people deep. But the guy tasked with organizing everything made things much smoother. Well, as smooth as things can be with 18 grown-ass men on vacation from their wives, families, and jobs in a Mutombo-sized fucking city that happens to be the low-key day party and strip club capital of the country.
Plus, a shitload of people were in town for the OU (University of Oklahoma) and UofH (University of Houston) game. And Drake's ass (more on him later) was there too. Which meant people were in town for his concert.
So yea, it should have been a logistical nightmare, but it wasn't. We ate like death row inmates, where every meal was the last meal. The crab cake benedict at Lucille's made me want to open-hand back smack the cook, and I want to move everything from Mama's Oven — including Mama herself — to Pittsburgh. It was there that I had a smothered turkey wing and drowned porkchop that both made me reevaluate every decision I've made in my life that prevented me from experiencing Mama's Oven until 2016.
We day partied and night partied; hitting Social Junkie and Prospect Park and creating the always hilarious social dynamic/experiment of what happens when 18 niggas jump out of vans and enter the club at the same time.
A) Everyone stops what they're doing and pays attention to you
B) Then, assuming that at least one person in the group must be famous, they scan the group for the famous niggas
C) But then, after seeing nan famous niggas, they go back to what they were doing
We played basketball Sunday morning. At NASA.
And, because the bachelor we celebrated is a very civic-minded individual, we volunteered, spending 8am to 12pm Saturday morning at a food bank. Which was a great way to do a social good and reconcile yourself with the debauchery that would occur later. (It's not, however, a great way to nurse a hangover.)
And, of course, since this was Houston, gentleman's clubs were prominetly involved.
3. Now, if I said everything I could say about our strip club experience(s), I'd have to go back and redact 90 percent of it. But even in that 10 percent, there's much to say. Starting with the fact that I generally hate strip clubs. Actually, "hate" is too strong of a word. "Eh" is much better. I just never was particularly enthused by the idea of paying women to dance with me. Even if those women happen to be mostly naked, very athletic, and named after my favorite alcoholic beverages. And before last weekend, I hadn't been to one in over a decade.
But I had also never been to one in Houston. Which possesses more beautiful Black women than any city I've ever been to. DC, New York, Miami, LA, Chicago, Toronto — you name the city, and it's second place to Houston. There, you won't just see beautiful Black women in the club. You'll see beautiful Black women driving the Uber you're in on the way to the club. Naturally, the stripper population is mined from this insane pool in a city where you'll randomly find King Magazine model-esque Black women shopping at and working in CVS.
So, when you add the level of, um, talent there, plus the fact that they're the only thing open past 2am, plus the fact that in Houston, "strip clubs" are basically just "regular clubs that also happen to have naked women walking around and one dollar bills flying like confetti," you can end up there three nights in a row. And by "there" I mean "either at VLive, Dreams, or Onyx "— the Jordan, Magic, and Bird of Houston strip clubs.
And when you're there three nights in a row with the type of crew that would do volunteer work at a freakin bachelor party, the conversations with your boys evolve past a point of "Holy shit!" and "Damn!" and "Call my wife, and tell her I'm not coming back home." We discussed and debated whether stripping was a feminist act (it is) and if attending a strip club was a feminist act (not sure). I also was involved in a conversation that deconstructed the economic ecosystem of the club, outlining the supply chain economics at work, and comparing the intra-club stripper hierarchy — and the roles assigned to each level of the hierarchy — to the dynamic existing at any other workplace where revenue depends on talent.
And I'm 99 percent sure these conversations happened because I also drank a lot of Hennessy and smoked a lot of hooka. And by "hooka" I mean "hooka and another substance that I never partake in and won't name but did last weekend because fuck it."
4. Drake and Future were there for the Summer Sixteen tour. Which meant that much of our weekend was planned around Drake. Basically, where ever he was rumored to be, that's where we didn't want to be.
Also, people from Houston reading this, please answer this for me: What the fuck is up with Drake and your city? Are you as annoyed that he considers himself a Houstonian as I am? It feels like Houston and Drake have the same relationship Rihanna and Drake do. He loves Houston like a fat kid loves cake. And Houston is like "Drake is really, really, really…nice."
5. I know Houston has police officers. And I'm aware that I didn't spend much (or any) time in the hood, where police officers tend to be. But I was there for five days, and I did not see a cop the entire time. Not a cop car, not a cop walking, not a cop riding a bike. You can't go three minutes in Pittsburgh (or New York or D.C. or Philly or Boston or any other Mid-Atlantic city) without running into a cop, so perhaps I'm just used to that dynamic. But apparently Houston is so big and hot that even the police are like "Fuck it, I'm staying in the station."
6. My last couple days in Houston were much more subdued. Everyone from the party (except the actual bachelor and I) left town either Sunday night or Monday morning, so I had time to meet up with my sister and my niece on Labor Day. (Yes. I have siblings in Houston. I'm Black, remember? 50 percent of us have siblings in 30% of major American cities.)
Tuesday, I spent the entire morning and early afternoon on the University of Houston's campus to do some on-camera/pre-interview stuff before my talk. And then my talk started at noon. Bit of background: I was invited there by Dr. Temple Northup from their Valenti School of Communication, who asked me to talk about my career as a writer as well as some of today's most relevant racial/political issues. Instead of a straight lecture, it was a Q&A with a student on stage for the first half, and then a Q&A with the audience for the second half. I can never tell how I do at these types of things — aside from laugher, it's hard to gauge the audience's interest level when you're on stage with a spotlight shining in your eye — but the feedback I received afterwards leads me to believe I did a good job. (Yay me.)
Also, a person in the audience (Hi Julia!) approached the mic and read her favorite passage of mine to me, which has never happened before. (And kinda made me blush because A) what a compliment! and B) I write some ridiculous shit sometimes and the passage she chose was particularly ridiculous and hearing it aloud and in front of 250 people is the ridiculousest.)
This decision is a major blow to 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier-ass White people who wish to be treated like Maseratis. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being a White person. (Hi White people reading this!) Or even being an average White person. Most people — Black, White, Kappa, etc — are average people. Because math. But there is something particularly and specifically American wrong with reflexively assuming that the reason why your second Wednesday in March-ass ass was passed over was because you happen to be a White woman. And then being so hurt by this fabricated wrong that you take your regifted bottle of three-year-old Almaden Heritage-ass ass to the Supreme Court.
I also got a chance to meet the amazing Josie Pickens, who teaches at TSU (which is apparently very close by).
In summary, Houston was too hot, too big, too spread out, and too randomly into Dodge Challengers. (I swear I saw more of them last weekend than I have my entire life.) I also had a great time, and will definitely come back. Just hopefully without NotJJWatt and with more one dollar bills.