Okay…so…I learned that my car will survive the remainder of my trip. Major sigh of relief. Check.
I followed in the footsteps of Anthony Bourdain at the amazing Himalaya Restaurant, including the honor of meeting and chatting with the chef/owner. Double-check.
As I mentioned, following my four sort of intensively-immersed days in the Texas Hill Country, my plans for the remainder of this little adventure were primarily little things. There were many days that I had very little planned, especially during the day. And my nights, while still in Texas, were mostly spent checking out country-western dance halls I had not previously visited.
Houston is huge. But, it is not so much built up, like New York City, as it is built out. For better or worse, Houston is the poster-child for urban sprawl. The road and highway systems in each of the Lone Star State’s major cities are insane…in…sane. If you look at a Google map of Houston, for example, and have never been there, you might be scratching your head, wondering what I’m talking about. On your computer screen…zoomed out…in two-dimensions…the highway system appears very simply and neatly laid out. Downtown is sort of in the center of two concentric highway loops, with highway spokes radiating out, more or less evenly distributed.
But, one of the features you don’t see…can’t see…from this bird’s eye view, and in only two-dimensions…are the highway interchanges. Zoom in on pretty much any highway interchange and you will begin to see what I mean. Zoomed-in, these interchanges start to take on the form of an artist’s rendering of a complex, braided, sailor’s knot.
And if you could see a three-dimensional view, you would see that some of the strands of this braided knot are actually two, three…up to five-level, high-flying, fly-over ramps, the highest in Houston (I just read) being 115-feet, the second highest in the U.S.
These fly-over ramps are everywhere…and you can see more under construction everywhere you go. Houston has this reputation of constantly changing…constantly evolving…and you see it everywhere.
I just found this cool video that explains, and takes you on, each level of the above 5-level “stacked” highway interchange. Buckle-up and take a ride:
So, this was actually one of the little personal challenges I gave myself for this trip. In my mind, all of these “little” destinations in the Lone Star state’s big cities would force me to get used to navigating these tangled, high-flying stacked highway interchanges, not to mention the constantly-shrinking and expanding number of lanes (fun fact: the above, 5-level stacked interchange is 27 lanes wide at its widest section. Read’em an’ weep.).
So, my little, harmless excursions served this dual-purpose of randomly exploring different areas and neighborhoods of a few of these major cities, as well as to begin to get more acclimated to navigating their highway systems’ quasi-M.C. Escher-esque feel.
Last night’s hotel was in Pearland…south/southeast Houston. Himalaya Restaurant was in West Houston, between I-610 (aka “The Loop”), and the Sam Houston Tollway, the next of these concentric highway loops.
Tonight’s and tomorrow’s hotel was in Cypress, a suburb of northwest Houston, where I headed after Himalaya, just to check in and unpack. Followed by a little excursion to two Cavender’s Boot City stores, one also in northwest Houston, and the other out in Katy, which is west of the Sam Houston Tollway (actually, I may have driven on a portion of the above stacked interchange on my way to this Cavender’s), and is where I found my second pair of western roper-style dance boots on this trip (pay-dirt, baby!).
You see, we don’t have western-wear stores in New England. Not really. There are a couple/few very small ones, which is great. But, once you’ve seen the selection at one of the big chains in Texas, or out West, you realize that you really need to go to these places if and when you have the chance. Western boots are just too difficult to attempt to buy online, without actually getting to try them on. The fit really has to be just-so.
My final destination for Halloween, was a night out at Stetson’s Nightlife Dance Hall, in Humble, a suburb of north/northeast Houston. See? I was intentionally sort of driving all over Houston. Houston was almost beginning to feel a little familiar to me…this, my fourth visit to the city.
My apologies, but I intentionally did not attempt to take any photos at Stetson’s. I really just wanted to see if I could get some dancing in, and meet some people. Stetson’s was really nice, but its dance floor was smaller than I’d imagined, judging from the photos on their website. But, it was a fairly light crowd (again…Astros/World Series-factor), so there was plenty of room to dance.
When I arrived, a lesson was in progress. As I ordered a bottle of water at the bar, I asked the barmaid if she knew what dance-style the lesson was. She said she didn’t know, but that I should ask the woman dressed in a Wonder Woman costume, seated with girlfriends across the room, and she’d likely know. So, as usual, I went with that, but I was honestly a little hesitant, thinking, “Oh, great. I am a new face. Now, I’m supposed to walk clear across this dance hall…passing plenty of other people…and ask this very attractive woman in a scanty Wonder Woman costume what dance style this lesson is? She is immediately going to think I’ve come over to hit on her. I’m sure this is going to go well.”
So, I was extra-cautious with what I said and my body-language as I approached Wonder Woman and her table of girlfriends, which was the right thing to do, because I could tell that she and her girlfriends were, in fact, a little on the cool-side, sizing me up, intention-wise, as we briefly talked.
Crisis averted, the lesson was a beginner Country Polka…all triple-steps…which I don’t know, but I could pick up beginner patterns. So, I joined the class, and as is customary, I introduced myself to each new follower, as we rotated partners. As I mentioned before, this is a great way to allow the regulars to also size you up to see if you are there to dance, or to try to pick up women. So, I am always very clear, in words and body-language, that I am just a nice guy who is purely there to dance.
Wonder Woman did also join the class at some point, so she and I were paired up at least once during the lesson. She was statuesque, and could easily have been cast as her costume’s character in a blockbuster movie. But, I think her mental jury was still out, regarding what my intentions at Stetson’s were, despite my not even attempting to chat with her during the lesson.
Nothing against Wonder Woman or her girlfriends. They all seemed very nice. But, I wondered…do I somehow…anywhere…remotely…come off as being any kind of a player? If I do, I don’t see it. I understand the concept, but I have no idea how I could possibly telegraph that impression. For me, it is already challenge-enough, simply to enter a new dance hall, eighteen-hundred miles from home, where I don’t know a soul, and eventually muster the courage to ask a woman to dance.
I sat out the second lesson, country waltz, because I knew I would only forget the little I learned in the Polka lesson, if I took the waltz. Once the open dancing started, I did ask one woman from the class up for a Polka, apologizing my way through it, but she said I was doing fine.
At some point, I got up the nerve to approach Wonder Woman for a two-step, I think, and we had a nice dance. Her name is Nancy, as it turned out, and I think she was beginning to see that I was only there to dance and that I was maybe a little nervous about it, being in a new place.
A Nightclub Two-Step came on, and I asked Nancy if she knew it. If you don’t know, Nightclub-2 is a slow, very graceful dance that tends to move around the floor quite a bit. Nancy said she knew the very basic step, but hoped to take more lessons at some point. She was game to try it out with me.
Well, by the end of this dance she could really tell, by not only the way I was leading, but by how focused I was on helping her to have a nice dance, that I was just a nice guy with good intentions and some good dance foundation. From then on, she actually started chatting with me, and we did at least one more Nightclub-2, which we basically had the entire floor for, because no one else was doing it.
Nancy also suggested that I ask a couple more specific women up to dance, friends of hers, who she said were really good followers. And so, I did ask one of those women up for a couple of dances, and we chatted, too.
Another woman from the class also approached me to chat at one point…Ro. She was very nice.
And a guy approached me to invite me in as part of a group birthday photo for one of the women. So you see, people will be watching you out on the dance floor, whether you are aware of it, or not. I think it’s only natural. And it’s one way to sort of size a person up. Is this a sleazy guy, or is he here to dance? Is he hitting on the women in our dance community, or is he a social-dancer, himself?
Nancy said she wanted to send me more detailed info re which nights of the week are best to head to each of the nine major country-western dance halls in Houston, so we exchanged contact info, and she did send me those details. She also suggested that I start using Face Book and Face Book Messenger, because that is how she and her friends communicate about when and where they are going out to dance…for whenever I’m planning a trip back to Houston. So, I still need to work on that.
This was all very innocent, and really nice to be sort of welcomed-in to the Houston dance community.
So, my night at Stetson’s turned out to be my third and final Houston Halloween treat.