View from Suburbia: Thrustmaster, the Yellow Gate, and Garage Culture

One of the signs along my way home, photoshopped, the way my imagination does it every day.

Fifteen minutes was about all that it used to take for me to get home from work, and after checking the mail and changing clothes, Annie and I’d take our walk, sometimes making a circuit to the edges of Memorial Park, but more often than not, just to “our” little Camp Logan Park, where we’d meet up with friends of both the human and canine kind.  I’d often drop my little digital camera into my pocket and take shots of flowers or interesting bits of architecture, signs, or anything else that caught my eye along the way.  The yellow metal gate at a house just down the street was one of my favorite points of interest.

Yeah, so? Maybe the commute does make my mind go a bit far afield. But what really goes on inside a place called "Thrustmaster"?

Now, most of the first hour after I head out my office is spent wending my way home on a mish-mash of freeways and roads in front of, behind, and alongside the thousands of other Houston commuters performing that same daily ritual.  As I get closer to home, the  small, mostly petroleum-related industries along 529  help stimulate my imagination, because the radio certainly doesn’t.  I have thought for a long time that Houston has the worst selection of radio stations anywhere in the U.S. and my drive home has only proven it.

Once home, I’m greeted by Annie, she runs out to the backyard to perform some of her daily rituals, and then we’re off for our evening walk.  First, we’re off to the communal mailbox around the corner to see what bills and advertisements there are (some expected some not, but there are sure to be some every day).

Once we see that nothing too unexpected has arrived in the mail, we start off on our walk around the neighborhood, sub-division, I guess some would say.  I like my neighborhood, especially my little cul-de-sac street and the next couple of ones which have large, mature trees and a nice homey feel.  But soon after we leave our street, the houses become newer and the large trees fewer.  Unlike in the old neighborhood in town, there’s no real park to head for; there is a kids’ play area on the far side of the sub-division, which can serve as a destination, but nothing much that would be worth taking photos of.

In reality, our neighborhood feels like it’s surrounded by a moat.  Driving out of it is no problem, but walking is another matter because the major streets on either side have big ditches next to them with no sidewalks, and the other two sides have high wooden security fences.  I suppose this is the way the developers designed this sub-division (and when I start paying attention, I realize it’s the same for many others), so even though there’s a Walgreen’s and other small businesses and services no more than a quarter of a mile away, it’s not that easy to get there on foot.  Adjacent to the sub-division are an elementary school, a junior high, and a parochial school, but because of the ditches, kids can’t really walk to them.

Likewise, when Annie and I continue on our evening walk, we’re limited.  Consequently, we take almost the same one or two paths every night, and while the houses aren’t as cookie-cutter as in some suburbs, there aren’t many interesting features like yellow gates.  Our walk, though, does give us some exercise and time to smell and think.  She does more of the smelling than I do.  Hopefully, I do more of the thinking.

Suburbia definitely has a different lifestyle.  One thing I’ve noticed here is people and their garages.  When I lived near Memorial Park, though I lived in an apartment, the people I met at the dog park generally lived in the surrounding townhouses, which, of course, had garages.  I’d hear stories about how someone had left a garage door open for a few minutes, and during that short time, bicycles or other items had been stolen.  Therefore, most of time, unless a car was going in or out or perhaps was being washed in the driveway, garage doors were kept closed.  Even when they were open, what I noticed, but hadn’t given much thought too before, was that aside from cars and maybe a few stored boxes and other items, the garages in my old neighborhood basically were used for keeping the cars.

And that was one of the big reasons I wanted a house–to have a garage to keep my car out of the elements and in a more secure place.

But here in suburbia, the garage is part of the life.  It seems as if there is almost a garage culture.  For one thing, people here must feel much safer.  When Annie and I walk, we see many garages left wide open, sometimes with cars inside but more often not.  These garages appear to be used not primarily for car storage, but as some type of game room or party room.  What struck me the most is how many of these open garages have TVs–big TVs– in them, which are almost always turned on, whether anybody is around or not.  Not that it’s just the TVs.  There are bars and recliners and other such items that add to this party room element.  One garage has a glass door into the rest of the house and another has an entire dining room set up.  Perhaps some of these garages are being used as “the man room”.  I have to laugh at that.  I’m wondering if any gay guys have ever felt the need to have a “man room”.  I mean whether you’re single or attached, if you’re gay, every room in your apartment or house is yours, you don’t have to escape, so is there any need to have a “man room”?  And then again,  if there were a need, what would be in it?  I’m just saying.

All of this “garage culture” has been a sort of revelation to me, a former apartment dweller, who only wanted a garage for a place to keep the car and as a place to putter and paint.  I had to ask myself if I was being nosy giving so much attention to what people in my neighborhood have in their garages, but in the end, I decided that I was just noticing what there was to notice, because when the neighborhood “moats” limit how far you can walk and when there aren’t any attractions like yellow metal gates, you notice what there is to notice.

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A Bit of Culture Shock in the Suburbs or “I Want My Barnes & Gay-ble”

From the most recent issue of "The Advocate," contained in an article about some of the young organizers of the National Equality March. (If you're someone who doesn't agree that this about one of the most tender images you've ever seen, you'd probably better click right back to the site you were on before.)

Last night another go at the turkey I had baked over the weekend wasn’t going to be my supper, so after getting home and walking Annie, I decided to head up the road to Stripcenterolandia.

One of the benefits of living in my new (new to me) house is that I’m actually closer to all kinds of shopping than I had when I lived close to downtown.  Before, I had to drive at least 3 miles to the super market and about 10 if I wanted a megastore like Walmart or Home Depot.  Now, even though I live more than 20 miles from downtown, I have, within “spittin’ distance” at the corner of Highway 6 and 529, more shopping opportunities than I really need.  I don’t even have to cross the main intersection to get to both Home Depot and Lowe’s, and if I do decide to wait at the never-changing light to make that journey across all those lanes of traffic, there’s Target and Walmart and almost every other smaller chain retail store that one might think of.  Without crossing the corner, I can get treats for Annie at PetSmart, a new camera at Best Buy, or something to read at Barnes & Noble.

Even with all the great shopping nearby, every time I go out to buy groceries or just check out the other stores, I almost go into culture shock.  Yes, the demographics of 77084 are not the same as those of 77007.  77007 is the land of the singles and couples.  Whether straight or gay, young or old, people either come “one to a package” or at most two.  And while the two might be married, or not, kids are not usually part of the deal, even if they have some.  Most of the time the couples are young, so no kids yet, or older, empty-nesters, with the kids happily off to college or now married with offlings of their own.

Not so in the land of 77084.  Can you say f-a-m-l-i-e-s?  So it’s kids dancing in the canned goods aisles of the HEB, kids punching at Dad outside the McDonald’s, kids begging for something they want anywhere and everywhere.

OK.  It’s not that I didn’t expect that.  I just didn’t expect it in such a big way.  I just miss all my single people and my coupled people, my without-kids people, who had some sense of my existence and my space when waiting in the check-out line, who, even though they may not have spoken a word to me, make me feel that I wasn’t  alone.  (However, I love my house, and living in 77084, I can afford this house.  If this house were in 77007, I couldn’t touch it.  I’m just whining to be whining on a cold night.)

Last night, after polishing off my Angus burger, I decided to hit the strip with PetSmart, Best Buy, and Barnes & Noble.  At least, at PetSmart, there’s a bit of kinship with the other petlovers.  The Best Buy is typical, stocked with all the electronic gadgets.I thought it would be great to have a Barnes & Noble Bookstore down the road.  Finally, I stopped in at Barnes & Noble.

Barnes & Noble has always been a retreat for me, no matter whether it was the store near where I lived or one in a city that I was just passing through.  Last night, I thought I’d buy a 50% calendar with the gift card I had been given for Christmas.  I remembered looking at the selection when everything was full price and hadn’t been tempted by anything, and the reduced price didn’t help with the selection. I browsed through the books, but nothing lured me either.  What does this store have the biggest selections of? All kinds of stuff for home schooling and aisle after aisle of religious stuff.  The gay and lesbian section is housed on two bottom shelves, but as I looked closely there were fewer than ten gay books, the rest were definitely lesbian.  I faired no better in the magazine section.  The really don’t want people to browse the magazines in this store; their selection is all stuffed together on four stands directly at the front of the store, and whoever is in charge of the magazines needs a short course in organization.  I couldn’t find any gay magazines; likewise, there were hardly any of the typical soft-core skin magazines for straight men like other bookstores usually have.  Maybe the person who decides on which magazines this store will stock is the same person who fills half the store with religious materials.  This is beyond culture shock!

My little evening outing reminded me that I still hadn’t changed my address for my Advocate and Out subscriptions.  Today I found out that it’s very hard to do online.  After much searching, I changed tactics and found the numbers in the magazines themselves.  It’s easy to do.  A real person answers the phone, and because they are published by the same company, if you change your address for one, your address is automatically changed for the other (as I found out with my second call).  So for anyone who wants to change your address for The Advocate or Out magazines, call one of these numbers: (800) 792-2760 or (800) 827-0561.

I’ll probably go back to this Barnes & Noble.  Maybe ordering some gay books and picking them up at the store will get them to add to their selection.  Maybe I can shock their culture a little bit.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow–Wintery Weather Comes to Houston, Rare Event for the Bayou City

As predicted, snow and colder temperatures started out the day in Houston.  The outside temp in my car on the way to work was in the high 30s this morning.  Small bits of icy drops started hitting the windshield as I left the neighborhood, but near downtown,  the heavy wet flakes started coming down.  Some kind of precipitation–from rain to sleet to the more frequent snowflakes–kept coming down throughout the morning and afternoon.  Many schools and businesses let students and employees go home early in anticipation of wet, and perhaps icy roads, as the temperature was predicted to keep dropping.

I was able to start for home at 3 PM, and by that time, the outside temp reading was 32 degrees.  Traffic was slow as drivers cautiously maneuvered the streets and freeways.  However, when I got back to my neighborhood, the sun started peeking out from behind the clouds.  With the sky now almost clear and dry and the sun setting, the air felt significantly colder this evening when Annie and I started for outr walk to the mailboxes around the corner from our cul-de-sac.  Even dolled up in her pink pea coat, she resisted the short trip and was not game for our usual walk that we take after getting the mail.

After lows in the mid to upper 20s tonight, the temperatures are expected to bounce back into the fifties tomorrow, and this little jolt of cold will have passed.  But snow and cold in early December is unusual for Houston.  Is this an indicator of a colder than usual winter?  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Here’s what NWS says for us in the next few days:

Tonight (Dec. 15th): A 30 percent chance of rain, mainly after midnight. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 43. North wind between 15 and 20 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

Wednesday: A 30 percent chance of rain. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 53. Northeast wind between 10 and 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

Wednesday Night: A 50 percent chance of rain. Cloudy, with a low around 42. North wind around 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

Thursday: A 30 percent chance of rain, mainly before noon. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 54. Northeast wind between 10 and 15 mph.

Thursday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 39.

Friday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 61.