April 8, 2009 at 9:14 am (About Me) (, )

Sometimes, after you’ve just been sort of cruising along for awhile, not having to deal with anything out of the ordinary or anything unusual, life seems to just sort of hit you with a whole lot of things at once.  They’re not always bad (and in fact, sometimes they are good), but it can be surprising.  The past week has really been like that for me.  I can think of half a dozen different posts I could write just about the last 7 days.

For now, I think I’ll just stick to writing about Houston.  The strangest thing is that everything there was so incredibly familiar.  I knew it would be familiar, because I grew up there and haven’t honestly been gone that long, but it felt as though I’d never left.  The only way I could tell that I’d been gone for a year and a half was that my memory of street names was a little fuzzy at times.  But otherwise?  I could have just been returning from a short vacation.

I just never expected the familiarity and, really, the comfort of it all to hit me so hard.  I immediately remembered all the reasons why I’d wanted to go back, as well as most of the reasons I was happy to be away.  That’s what made me think so strongly that “this is home” – I wasn’t just remembering the positives so suddenly.

Even with all of that swirling around in my head, I’m extremely glad I was able to visit.  I was able to see nearly all the people I wanted to, and eat in most of the restaurants I’d been missing. 🙂  I had a lot of really good conversations with some people, and they’ve given me a lot to think about.  I’ve been reminded of just how much I appreciate some people, and just how much I think I’m needed by others.

My flight home was a little rocky, but only because the whole trip started out late, which meant that my close connection became even closer, and my bag didn’t make it on the same flight as me.  Fortunately, it arrived in Portland several hours after I did, and I’m supposed to get it via FedEx this morning.

But the most amazing thing about this whole trip is that I don’t know that I realized just how…torn I am between where I live now and where I grew up.  Because that instant familiarity I had with Houston?  I had it when I got home, too.  Even though I was gone for nearly a week, it was as if I’d never left.  I slipped right back in to my life here with barely a stutter.

How is it that one person can feel so strongly about two places?  And yet, they don’t actually compete with each other.  I feel equally strongly about Oregon and Houston, but it’s still different.  Houston is and always will be the home of my childhood, and I’ll always feel a very close affinity with it for that reason alone.  Oregon is the place where I’ve settled into my adult self.  And I’ve been and will continue to be happy here.  I think I’ll always want to be able to visit both places, for the people and just for the places themselves.

But it struck me that I’d really better get used to this feeling, because it’s only going to amplify as I get older.  Because of the circumstances of my life, I will not be able to settle anywhere permanently for awhile, unless I just get really lucky.  I will almost certainly spend my 20s being relatively nomadic.  Unless I just refuse to put down roots in all the places I live, pieces of my life will always have an indelible association with the location where they happened.  Certain times of my life will always be wrapped up in where I was living at the time.  I know this is completely normal, but I don’t know that I really understood exactly what that meant until now.

Fortunately, the idea of all that doesn’t scare me as much as it once might have.  I’ve proven to myself that I can make a home in a new place that I’ve never been to before, and that I can be happy with it.  It’s frequently hard, and it often sucks, but I’m doing it.  Surprisingly, I actually look forward to doing it again.  If anyone had told me I’d say that 5 years ago, I’d have called them crazy.  But even knowing that it will be hard and it will often suck, I still look forward to the experience.  Maybe it’s false optimism, but I think I sometimes need to be forced out of my comfort zone.  I know that every time I ever have been in my life, it’s been good for me and I’ve ended up liking myself that much better.

And you know, if being happy is living truly without regrets (and not just saying that because you wish you could), then I am.  When I look back at my life so far, the times when I have been the most dissatisfied and unhappy are those times when I wished I could have done things differently.  The times when I have been the most comfortable in my own skin, and the most happy, are when I think I did everything just exactly right.  At the moment, if I were to have a chance to live the past couple of years again, I don’t think I’d change a single thing.

Who’d have thought that one small vacation could teach me so much?

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Oregon didn’t want to let me go!

April 2, 2009 at 9:23 am (Travel) (, , , , )

So I’m visiting Houston this week, for the first time in a year and a half. This is the first time I’ve been back since I moved to Oregon. It’s sort of surreal in a lot of ways, although I think I’m going to talk about that in another post.

What I really wanted to write about was my trip to get here. I’ve done a lot of traveling in my life, but I think yesterday’s experience may still have made my top 5 of “most memorable trips.” And not in a good way.

So, I flew Southwest, which meant I had to fly out of Portland. It’s a bit of a pain, because it’s a 2 hour drive, but it’s nothing terribly serious. I could have taken the Amtrak, but it would have been really inconvenient, and not really any cheaper.

I managed to get myself on the road by about 8:30, which would get me at the airport an hour and a half before my 12:00 flight. About 30 minutes into my trip, my car started acting a little funny, and then I saw rubber flying at my windshield. Thank god I realized there was a problem and pulled over, because yep, I had a complete tire blowout. Half the rubber was completely gone.

So I got to sit on the left shoulder of the interstate, in the cold (because it was cold), and wait for the AAA tow truck as cars whizzed past me at 65 mph. It was terrifying. But, after half an hour, the tow truck got there and changed my spare for me (I could have done it myself, but it would have taken me just as long, and this was just better all around). Then I got myself back on the interstate, not able to drive more than 50 mph, and drove 20 miles to the next town. When I got there, I went to a tire place and bought a new tire. So, one hour and $67 later, I was good to go…but it was 11:30.

So I called Southwest, and was able to change my flight to one that left at 3:00 and would arrive in Houston around 11:30. 15 minutes and $230 later, I was finally able to get back on the road to Portland. I made it to the airport without any more incident, although it was raining the whole flipping way there. I almost forgot to turn off my headlights when I parked, because the shuttle to the terminal was about to pass my car just as I was getting out, and I didn’t want to miss it. Fortunately, I know I turned off my headlights and locked the car, so there shouldn’t be anything the matter with it when I return to Portland.

So I got to the airport, printed new boarding passes, got through security, and went to Wendy’s for lunch. They started boarding the flight a little bit late, but I wasn’t seriously concerned because my layover in Las Vegas was an hour and a half. But an hour after we were supposed to have taken off, they announced that the airspeed regulator wasn’t working, and they’d either find a new one or switch planes. Five minutes later, they told us all to get off, collect a plastic boarding pass to get back on another plane, and go across the hall to another terminal. Finally, about 4:45 we were ready to take off, although by then pretty much everyone on the plane with connecting flights had to be re-routed.

So I finally got to Las Vegas around 6:30, with just over an hour before my next flight. I got myself a new boarding pass, and then got on a plane that didn’t even have B group because it was not even half full. That was kind of awesome.

And, at 12:30 am, I finally met up with my parents at the airport to go home.

So, here I am in Houston, hanging out with my dad. The dog maybe remembers me, but at the very least, he’s decided that I’m not scary or anything. He slept in my room last night, and it took him for flipping ever to finally settle down and go to sleep. At 5:30, he wanted out so he could eat. Then he came back right before 7:00 and decided that it was time for me to go downstairs, too. Lucky for me, I was going to get up at 7:00 anyway.

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Urban Sprawl and the Stimulus

March 24, 2009 at 7:40 am (Economy, Politics) (, , , , )

There’s an article in the New York Times about Urban Sprawl in Houston that caught my eye yesterday.  Basically, Texas intends to use some of its spending money for a toll road that would connect I-10 with HW-290.  It would end up being out in west Houston where there’s at least one developer who wants to build a new planned community, and it would cut right through some of the Katy Prairie that is currently not developed.

What’s interesting about it is that Obama has said, explicitly, that he doesn’t support urban sprawl, and doesn’t want states to use their stimulus money that way.  Texas is not alone in doing this – I think the article mentioned that New Hampshire, Washington, and North Carolina are also trying to expand freeway networks which would tend to encourage the growth of cities.

It’s an interesting topic, I think.  On the one hand, urban sprawl certainly has a lot of downsides.  Huge cities can be rather unwieldy for those who live in them.  They undoubtedly contribute to pollution because people tend to rely so heavily on cars.  They do eat up the land around them.

But on the other hand, not every large city is the same.  Not every region has the same kinds of issues.  And, dare I say it – I don’t think urban sprawl is always as bad as its made out to be.  Uncontrolled sprawl isn’t a good thing at all, but I don’t think that every city in the country needs to be as dense as those in the Northeast.  And, of course, some of those cities have the worst of both worlds – sprawl and density.

When I think about the way that I tended to live when I was in Houston, it’s not at all the way that people who have never lived there might expect.  There were huge chunks of the city that I never visited in the 22 years I lived there.  Nearly everything I did was within a much narrower radius around my house.  If I had to spend more than 30 minutes driving to get somewhere, I often decided it wasn’t worth it.

And I think that’s part of what can make a city like Houston work.  There isn’t one city center – the Galleria or the Medical Center are just as much population centers as Downtown.  They have their own radii of jobs, housing, and businesses that are really rather separate from each other.  With a more extensive and creative use of reliable public transportation, it could be possible to do most things within one of those centers without a car.  Instead of a network of just freeways connecting these various centers, the city could add high-speed trains to get from one to another.

That said, I don’t think that Houston should just keep expanding outward indefinitely.  As much as I personally love the single family home with a big yard, I think people who live in cities have to come to terms with the fact that they can’t all live in a place like that.  At the very least, everyone ought to scale down their expectations of what a single family detached home can reasonably look like in a big city…and McMansions aren’t really it.

But, I also think that this proposed toll road in Houston is not the best use of the city’s stimulus money.  It seems like a much better use of it would be to figure out how to increase public transportation options for commuters.  Instead of pouring money into more freeways, which only encourages more driving, it would be much smarter to try and find a means of public transportation that people out in the suburbs are actually willing to use.  It might not ever be quite as convenient as driving, but surely there are other incentives for leaving the car on the outskirts of the city.  If people would just open their minds a little bit, they might even see that those incentives are pretty darn good.

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