Thursday, July 29, 2010

Houston: Best for has-beens, worst for wannabes.

I am in San Antonio at the TCDA (Texas Choral Director's Association) conference, which is basically an excuse for choir directors to let loose right before the school year swallows up our time and identity. If you think you have experienced some real entertainment in your life, but have never been to a Karaoke joint in San Antonio last weekend of July, think again.

Despite the wonderful opportunities to gather material with which to blackmail my colleagues, (think inebriated, half-operatic versions of "I Will Survive") I decided to go for a night-time run in the city's fantastic McAllister Park instead. My run was mostly in the dark, so I don't think I could tell you many specifics about the park, except that it was huge, full of wildlife, and had fantastic trails. RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF A FREAKIN NEIGHBORHOOD! The drive was maybe 15 minutes max from my downtown hotel room, but was a veritable nature preserve. I would not be caught dead without a trusty MP3 player to drown out the noise of Houston traffic on any of my home town runs, but the sounds of crickets, birds, and other living things that can't survive in H-town were so lovely, I actually turned the iPhone off. The high point of a very short-lived run was when I saw NINE deer grazing in a field just as the sky turned to black. I hoped I could capture the silhouette of the scene, but the light of my phone alarmed the deer. They ran off silently in a perfectly spaced, single-file line. Beautiful.

This further confirmed my ever-strengthening feelings that Houston has just got it all wrong. I thought Austin was the only city in Texas that really cared for its green space, but as I researched San Antonio's park system, I see that I was completely mistaken. That leaves Houston on par with one of my least favorite cities in the the world, Dallas. Houston was not born ugly, we made it that way. There are tiny remnants of recreational, un-manicured nature left, such as the Ho Chi Minh trails in Memorial Park, and I suppose we could even count some of the nature paths in the Woodlands, but that's pretty much it. Anyone who wants local options as a runner, hiker, mountain-biker, or nature-lover, is pretty much SOL.

This is not to say that the athletic scene in Houston is altogether dead. (We are only the second-fattest city in the nation now, right?) If you are a former high school quarterback, baseball player, or basketball star, there are plenty of ways to relive your former glory through professional sports. (Or at least we think that at the outset of each season. Maybe next year, Astros.) Sports bars abound in Houston, so it's simple to get that rusty drinking arm back into shape.

But for the rest of us who care to train for a sport in which we can actually participate, there is so little to hold onto. I realize there are other quality-of-life issues at play. Barefoot running may have gained so much ground in San Francisco because people can't afford to buy shoes in the first place, and now it just happens to be en vogue. However, our priorities as a city skew waaaaayyyyy too far in the direction of buildings and business while nature and health fall to the wayside. I am happy to have dug out an enjoyable running route or two. I thank God for my proximity to Allen Parkway just about every run, but I'm not sure how much longer I can appreciate the repetition. My running soul thirsts for green, while my brain demands a steady job. Sigh......Will I ever have both?

In other news, had a great run last night. Half-mile warm up, 3 miles at marathon pace, half mile cool down. I felt solid despite the heat and the extra, uh, Animal Style 2x2 I'm still carrying around with me. It was very encouraging. Still keeping my fingers crossed that I will actually get to put that training to use in the Houston Marathon. August 17 can't come too soon. Until tomorrow....Good night!

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