[posted 05.25.2001]


IF YOU HAD TOLD me three years ago that the day would come when I would be living in Houston-fucking-Texas and enjoying myself, I would have rolled my eyes, put down my copy of the Utne Reader and informed you that as a young hip thang I would only allow myself to live in the following locales post-graduation:

1. New York (Brooklyn, of course…Park Slope)

2. San Francisco (on the correct side of Market Street)

3. Chicago (Wicker Park…east Wicker Park)

Maybe, if I got desperate, I would consider Seattle. Even though it was so 1992. And if it absolutely had to be Texas you can bet your ass it wasn’t going to be Houston. Maybe Austin. Maybe.

You see, friends, I was a silly girl then, so obsessed with my assortment of thrift store baby tees and weird-colored nail polish that, according to my hipster gut reaction, I figured only the über-hip cities were worthy enough.

But screw that. Since moving to Houston and living here for a little over a year, I have come to realize there is a certain value to living in a city that doesn’t get picked as a location for a Must-See-TV sitcom. There is a certain insider’s cache that comes with living in a city that others might deride (“Too smoggy! Too big! Too…Texas!”). And there are certain fantastic things about living in a city like Houston.


It is ridiculously cheap.

It is totally possible to get a one-bedroom apartment in a very fun neighborhood for 3-400 bucks a month — and even cheaper if you’re willing to live with roommates. And forget brokers, real estate companies, open houses, waiting lists, etc. In Houston, you just see an apartment you like, put down a deposit and move in. The end.

And it’s not just housing. Food, beer, gasoline, etc. It’s all cheaper here. It’s completely possible to be an artist/musician/writer/actor and exist here and not completely starve.


It is more accessible, because it is less annoying.

People here are more willing to let you try things. The “scene” is so much friendlier and open than in other cities. Within a few months of moving here I had met several weird people and even found myself working backstage for a local theater company. Because anyone the least bit creative and interesting seems to know everybody else the least bit creative and interesting, it is easy to make friends. And the writers and actors and musicians I have met here (and there are many, trust me) love where they are and enjoy the community they have here. They’re not constantly inventing the best way to get to New York or “make it.” Sure, they smoke cigarettes, act affected and pout. But they do it because they want to. Not because they have to.


People here have funny accents and are ridiculously nice to me.

When I first moved here I used to have to look over my shoulder when I was checking out my groceries at the local Kroger — usually because I couldn’t believe the cashier was actually saying hello and asking me how I was doing. I was sure she must have been talking to someone else. People here are just sweet. It feels like a small town (even though, as I’m often reminded, Houston is the fourth largest city in the country). When you ask for directions, they walk with you to your destination. When you are standing in line, people just ask what’s going on. Bartenders smile at you. And the freaking accents. I just got off the phone after interviewing a man who pronounced “school” “skoooo-uhl.” It takes some talent to drag out a one-syllable word like that.


Who the hell comes to Houston?

I was recently at Jazzfest in New Orleans, where I noticed a hipster wearing a black T-shirt that read “Keep Austin Beautiful — Don’t Move Here.” Poor Austin. Take the SXSW Music Festival and throw in a couple of Linklater movies and suddenly every jackass with a goatee is showing up. Formerly sleepy, groovy Austin is now notorious for its rising rents and ridiculous traffic. Houston doesn’t seem to have that problem. Nobody really comes here on purpose. (Not even after the Winona Ryder/Ethan Hawke vehicle Reality Bites was filmed around town.) People just sort of show up here by accident and then end up staying. It’s nice that way.


This weekend my friend Brad and I are going to dump a canoe into a beautiful bayou that runs right through the middle of downtown and we’re going to bring beer and do whatever we want and we don’t need to pay for permission to do it and we don’t need to buy a ticket for a boat ride and we don’t need to deal with any tourists.

Enough said.


Living in Houston makes me feel like I’m in on a great secret.

Anyone who watches ER once in a while can tell you where the Tribune Tower is and what the Ukrainian Village neighborhood is like. It’s practically like being a Chicago native. But did you know Rushmore was filmed in Houston? The little barbershop where Max’s dad cuts hair is tucked away in the adorable Heights neighborhood where I once scored a great apartment for 450 a month. And I attended a lovely memorial service at the very church where Bill Murray speaks in the beginning of the film. You wouldn’t know little fun facts like those unless you lived here. And sure, you probably wouldn’t care either. But there’s something delicious in realizing only a dorky Houstonian like myself even knows Rushmore was made here. And that’s like a metaphor for this whole city. The sweet little surprises that, if you don’t live in Houston, you just don’t know about: our collection of odd folk art, the Art Car Parade, our absurd amount of thrift stores. It’s not like living in San Francisco and having half the planet ask you if you know whatever happened to Puck from season three of the Real World.


Houston is in Texas and Texas fucking rocks.

Not because of the big hair, not because of the heat, not because of the Republicans. No, Texas rocks because it so brash, so weird, so fucking righteous, beautiful and big. I can’t help it. I’ve become one of those people. And anyway, only in Texas could a devotee of hip like myself fall for a boy who drives a truck, wears cowboy boots and digs Bikini Kill and Johnny Cash.

It’s enough to make a girl want to say y’all.

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jennifer mathieu writes for houston’s alternative weekly, the press.