At first blush, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to be “going back to Houston,” like the old pop song advocates. This massive city struck me as cold and impersonal, and sadly lacking in human energy. Houston, we have a problem.
But that was before I found the Red Cat Jazz Cafe.
Read on . . .
We arrived on a weekday. The freeways were streaming with vehicles, and the ride from the airport seemed endless, but we finally arrived at our destination, the Magnolia Hotel, in the historic district of Houston, Texas.
We gave ourselves just enough time to check in (a very nice room) and dump our gear before we set off exploring, set off to see the people of Houston. But we were in for a surprise. We couldn’t find the people. Really.
We found the buildings, big ones, and lots of them. But where were the people? Houston was not making a good first impression. We finally made our way to the Visitor’s Center; that’s where we got our clue as to where all the people had gone. No, they hadn’t evacuated the city; they were all underground in this rabbit warren of tunnels.
We made our way to One Shell Plaza (just across the street from the Visitor’s Center) and walked through the doors. A woman scurrying by us, stopped for a moment, and then motioned to what appeared to be a secret staircase hidden off to the right. Our confusion had given us away — she smiled, and said simply, “Tunnel.” We nodded.
Yes, indeed, once we had descended the escalator into the bowels of Houston’s downtown, we did find the people. And lots of them. Scurrying like rats in a maze. Well, the tunnels were definitely a maze to us. We finally gave up and went above ground to find our way around.
I wasn’t liking Houston a whole lot. “Gotta get out of Houston,” I sang to myself quietly, an unkind reversal of the popular song. “And never come back again.” It’s a good thing Houston got a second chance to make a first impression.
A week later, after being thorougly spoiled in San Antonio, we arrived back in Houston. I was determined to like something about this city, so we grabbed our cameras and headed off in the direction of main street. That’s where you’ll find the Metro line, a handy transportation system that’s cheap and easy to ride. It’ll take you to the Museum District; the church showing above is at the stop near the Museum District. But we found an even better reason to like Houston.
It was Friday night. And while the streets had been barren during the working days, the Friday night lights drew people like moths to a lamp. There were people everywhere lined up to get into clubs all along Main Street. But the club that caught our attention was not on the main drag; it was just off Main on Congress Street. We noticed it because of the glowing red sign, and the music that poured into the night every time someone opened the door: the “Red Cat Jazz Cafe.”
Like two little kids outside a candy store, we walked over and pressed our noses to the glass. The place was packed to the rafters. A jazz band was rockin’ out on a tiny stage. And it was only 7:30 PM. We wanted desperately to go in but we decided to head back to our hotel first. We had to share the good news with one of our travelling companions.
We were determined to get inside the club, crowded or not. We arrived back at about 8:45 PM when, unbeknownst to us, the club was turning over the music sets. The first band had finished, many patrons were leaving, and a new band was setting up. We got primo seating, right in front of the band ($20 a head cover charge). With a couple of cold beers, and two wide grins, we settled in to see just what Houston had to offer. Hello!
The new band began to play about 9:30, and while I am not a huge jazz fan, I was mesmermized by the saxman. He played as though he was grafted to his brass. Kyle Turner, he turned out to be. What a show! And what a way to turn our heads.
Yes, Houston, we no longer have a problem. We found a way to love your city, above ground, that is. As to the underground tunnels, we’ll leave those to the office folks. Too rat-like for our tastes.
Wishing you safe and happy travels,