Ode to Houston

View of downtown Houston's skyline from a nearby bike trail. August 2012.

View of downtown Houston's skyline from a nearby bike trail. August 2012.

When I left Houston for college, I never planned to return.

Thing is, I didn't leave Houston proper. I left the northwest suburbs. I'd still never go back there to live. Growing up out there, I'd missed out on the actual city of Houston.

Houston doesn't have the flashy image of some more famous U. S. cities--and it's not a place to come as a tourist. Houston isn't an open book. Unlike London or Chicago, Houston doesn't have a master city guide that tells you everything to do and everything that's going on. You need to explore, meet people, try things, look into nooks and crannies. The people here will tell you what's going on--and you still won't know the half of it. Don't know anyone to ask? Why, the people of Houston are wonderfully nice. They still talk to strangers.

And there are a lot of folks here who would be strangers in other cities. Houston is home to people from all over the globe, brought not because the city has a shiny public image but because it's booming with medical research, the largest port in the United States, and the energy and chemical industries.

Thing is, these international folks actually live side by side in Houston. Yes, there are pockets of nationalities here and there, yet, by and large, Houston is the first actual melting pot I've seen in all the places I've lived in the United States and abroad. Even Chicago is a segregated city where the Irish, Italian, Polish, Jewish, and other nationalities stick to their own neighborhoods.

All these people converging on one place make Houston pretty amazing. You can find every cuisine imaginable here. Every culture and interest and hobby has an outlet. Even fitness fanatics are satisfied, despite the summer heat: Houston has a fantastic system of parks, trails, and green spaces.

Heck, I even love Houston's lack of zoning. (And some Houstonians will disagree with me here.) You never know what you'll see around any corner in Houston—or on it. I tie this in with Houston's live-and-let-live mentality: As long as you don't hurt anyone else, do what you like. This haphazard city evolution may mean Houston isn't as conventionally beautiful as some cities, but when you know her, you love her—and you think she's gorgeous.

In Houston? Why do you love it?