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Houston, from hate to love

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Great op-Ed from a Rice student whose opinion of Houston changed from freshman to senior year.

Are there any transplants here who had a similar experience?


"Rice is a great school, but it is a shame you will have to spend four years in Houston," she said.

It was four years ago in my hometown of Albuquerque, N.M., and I was at yet another high school graduation party, hearing yet another adult tell me that while they respected my new school, they looked down on my new home. I agreed with their sentiment. After all, Houston was grimy and uncultured, one of the sprawling megacities of Texas, a savage country where refineries spewed pollution, citizens freely fired guns, and worst of all, burritos came unadorned with green chile.

However, when I arrived at Rice I gradually found my attitude toward Houston changing. On my daily runs as part of the track team, I began to appreciate the leafy neighborhoods of West U and River Oaks. When the heat died down in October, I was pleasantly surprised that Houston could have weather that rivaled Palo Alto's. I no longer viewed Houston as simply a paved-over swamp but a very pleasant paved-over swamp.

Yet, I still did not even begin to know the city. Like many of my peers, I hardly ever left Rice and its surrounding environs. I could only see the view from Houston's acropolis, obscured by verdant towering oaks. Fortunately, two factors began to propel me away from Rice's hedges. First, my runs grew longer, and I found myself in new and different parts of town. I began to appreciate the many children playing outside in Third Ward as much as I did the mansions in River Oaks. Second, I began to learn more about extraordinary restaurants in very ordinary shopping malls. Houston lacked green chile burritos but the banh mi sandwiches of Les Givral's and the buffalo burgers of Bubba's Icehouse gave me excellent reasons to leave Rice for the evening.

The twin forces of my legs and stomach transformed my vision of Houston. Where I had once seen a homogenized concrete blanket, I now see a diverse quilt with intricate and innumerable connections. Each section of Houston, from Chinatown to Midtown, not only forms a distinct and unique town unto itself but adds to the color and character of the rest of the city. Taken together, they form the most dynamic city in America. My hometown of Albuquerque might cherish its past and tradition, but Houston constantly evolves toward the future. To outsiders, this makes Houston look like an unplanned mess, but those who live here know to embrace the lack of predestined plan. It is why the city eschews zoning laws with pride.

Some things about the city still confuse me. I don't understand why such a pragmatic place would be so opposed to viable public transit and the expansion of MetroRail. I cannot grasp Houston's attitude toward the Gulf of Mexico. Some cities, like Paris, hide their skyscrapers; others, like Dallas, hide their less fortunate. Houston hides the ocean that provides its great wealth. It is easy to live here and forget you are so near the coast.

Finally, I don't think I will ever comprehend why some Houstonians remain ignorant of their city. Many know their small fiefdom but never venture out to explore the great culture, art, food and people around them.

Of the things that Rice taught me, learning to love Houston ranks at the top of the list.

As I leave the city for law school, I know that I will return in the future to an even better and brighter Houston.

Maybe I will even be able to find some decent green chile.

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