Note: This entry was intended for publication in the Houston Chronicle's "Gray Matters" group blog, but I have not heard back yet from Lisa Gray concerning whether it is usable.
“Eighty-two, eighty-two, eighty-two.”
Fans of the 1988 Oscar-winning film Rain Man may recognize the quote above as Raymond Babbitt’s way of counting 246 toothpicks dropped on the floor in the diner scene. There is also a Houston phenomenon, when three Westheimer buses pass under the West Loop in quick succession: 82, 82, 82.
Here in Hustle Town, traffic and freight trains all too often keep Metro buses virtually immobile for minutes on end, so that the next scheduled bus on the same route catches up…and sometimes a third. Then the buses play an elegant game of leapfrog the rest of the way, taking turns picking up and dropping off passengers, passing each other as they do. Scenes like this are part of why Metro has undertaken its massive Reimagining, which became reality in August.
To begin this series of reviews of Metro’s new routes, I wanted to make an end-to-end journey on the 82. Circumstances conspired against that happening, so I decided instead to chronicle a trip from my workplace in Montrose to a Thursday night soccer practice in George Bush Park. Since no bus routes serve Westheimer Parkway, I arranged for a teammate to pick me up at West Oaks Mall and drive me the rest of the way.
The 82 Westheimer was the first bus I ever rode in Houston. This was 1970, when third-graders still roamed free. The Galleria was but a multi-million dollar twinkle in retail developers’ eyes. The Harris County establishment had not yet established Metro. After school twice a week, my classmate and I would cross Westheimer via St. John’s School’s pedestrian tunnel, catch the westbound 82, pay our ten-cent children’s fare, and ride out toward Fondren Road. His mother would pick us up near the Cellar Door restaurant and take us to their home in Memorial Bend, where I stayed until my mother could retrieve me after work.
One challenge of a semi-nostalgic blog post like this one is resisting name-checking all the business establishments, especially local ones, that hold precious memories. In its 15-plus miles, and with my decades of exploring Houston, Westheimer Road simply has too many such places for me to list.
A second challenge is avoiding Inner-Loop snobbery. Here I fail miserably. Since my teens, I have preferred walkable, bike-friendly neighborhoods and independent, locally owned businesses. The further west one goes along Westheimer, the Walk Scores tumble from 81 in Montrose (Very Walkable) to 43 in West Houston (Car-Dependent). National retail and restaurant chains dominate Westheimer, but noticeably more so outside the Beltway. The observation deck at the top of the Williams Tower faces west, overlooking Outer Westheimer; an Inner-Loop snob quietly prays that this was not Philip Johnson’s intention.
You can play with the interactive map above right here on dbcgreentx.net. But I encourage you to read my debut submission to Gray Matters as well.
Here's the angle, in a nutshell:
I wanted to honor the passing of this route with a two-hour-plus bus odyssey. Rather than submitting my typically wordy paragraphs, I took a cue from Jimmy Joyce and his character Leopold Bloom, writing in elliptical "think-speak."
The clever crew at the Houston Chronicle's Gray Matters blog sliced and diced my stream-of-thought prose into an interactive graphical tour of Inner Loop Houston.
Since I submitted the text, Metro voted to budget an additional $10 million to hire more drivers and mechanics. In this way, where Metro had trouble deciding whether to offer more frequent service on certain routes, it could "err" on the side of more rather than less. Thus we now have service on Montrose Blvd. every 15 minutes, in both directions, all day, every day (every 30 minutes at after 8 pm). I have also learned that Heights Transit Center (corner of North Main, Studewood, East 20th, and West Cavalcade) will be out of commission under the new system, at least temporarily.
Thanks to Gray Matters curator Lisa Gray for believing in this project and taking my words to new multimedia dimensions.
To see more of Gray Matters on houstonchronicle.com, you'll need to purchase a digital subscription. I think it's worth every penny.
Blogging Sporadically since 2014
Here you will find political campaign-related entries, as well as some about my literature, Houston underground arts, peace & justice, urban cycling, soccer, alt-religion, and other topics.