Highlights from Houston ($5.01)

1. Continental Airlines gets top ratings for comfortable, on-time flights, with friendly service. OK, no one’s perfect. Did the steward who looked more like he should have been the pilot have to repeat loudly as he went up and down the aisle: “Elbows, elbows, arms and elbows” over and over again? And, it’s nice that they served a lunch snack on the DC to Houston flight, but did it have to be smoked turkey that had seen better days on a stiff white bun that may not have?

2. George H.W. Bush International Airport gets mediocre ratings. Construction is ongoing, portions are ugly, and the walk from the gate to the baggage claim took as long as the 3-hour flight, it seemed.

3. Houston cab drivers are personable enough – a couple of Africans and even one Houston native, but (with one exception), the cavernous van-like cars are not the most pleasant. And the cabs are expensive. With a modest tip, from the Galleria to the airport costs between $55 and $60. Do that twice and you have spent $120 on two cab rides alone – for that you can take the bus between DC and NYC twice and still have money to spare.

4. The InterContinental Hotel is good enough, I guess. The rooms are comfortable, the mechanical equipment (with the exception of the whirling dervish CD player) worked well enough, but the restaurant is so small, and the lobby so dark! And the only newspaper that they distribute (anywhere it seemed) is the Houston Chronicle, which you can read through on the elevator.

5. We’d been to the Menil Museum before, and I’d go again (and again). A relatively small museum, it has a variety of different displays all of which are first class – surrealism, byzantine, ancient, and oceanic, is the say I’d describe them. Many Magrittes, and Tanguys, and some wonderful ancient (Egypt, Greek World, Rome, etc.) sculpture and small bronze and brass pieces and more. And some one of a kind stuff (truth be told, for some, one of a kind is too many). In addition to the main building, we got to the Rothko Chapel and the Byzantine Chapel but once again missed the Cy Twombley building.

6. Goode’s Armadillo Texas BBQ – it was OK, a little crowded and disorganized for our group, I thought, but the chicken and the baked beans were quite good, and it provided a wonderful place to watch the 5-3 US-Canada hockey game.

7. The Kosher Gala for the benefit of American Associates, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, was a treat – over 400 people, an auction (silent and live) and a raffle, no music (yea!), honoring a couple who seemed worthy of the honor, and good food. The food was prepared by six of Houston’s top restaurant/hotel chefs, but it was kosher supervised so that the crowd could be more diverse than would otherwise have been the case. The food was good – a orange-colored moussy salad, sea bass, lamb chops and a number of desserts. But was the food spectacular? I wouldn’t say so.

8. The Houston traffic is abysmal. Not in the sense that there is too much of it, but in the sense that everyone drives much faster than they should, talk on the cellphone while driving (sometimes eating or reading at the same time), and ignore (or target) pedestrians. It did not help that we didn’t even feel safe crossing on a walk signal, and the poor, poor young woman on the motor cycle whom we saw clipped unconscious by a too-fast moving driver. Overheard in the hotel: Woman: “Boy, has Houston changed in the eight years since we lived here. It’s like driving in Moscow” Man: “Have you driven in Moscow”. Woman: “No, and I never will if it’s like Houston”.

9. Yia Yia Mary’s is a weird name for a Greek Restaurant, especially one where the food is so ordinary. And I don’t even know the name of the Chinese restaurant from which we carried out the meal we ate at my cousin’s house. But that’s OK – wouldn’t rush back.

10. I didn’t get to the Galleria (because that would have meant crossing the street where we saw the accident), but did roam up and down Post Oak Road a number of times (the places to take a walk near the hotel are limited). The Container Store is ENORMOUS. The Sports Authority is GIGANTIC. The Barnes and Noble is CRAMPED.

11. Ima Hogg lived at Bayou Bend, where we had a tour lasting almost two hours of the 20 some odd rooms of the 90 year old house, with a detailed description of the furniture, rugs, paintings, ceramic wear, silver and pewter that is on display. Very interesting, and worth while.

12. The last night we were there, I had to eat alone, due to the indisposition of my travel mate. I stayed at the hotel. There was a private function in the dining room, so they set up tables in the open lounge for paying customers. The staff was very, very friendly, nice and accommodating, and my swordfish in a white wine sauce, and mixed vegetables (white and baby green asparagus, pattypan squash and zucchini) was perfect. No dessert there, but I have a little of the baklava (I’d give it a grade C) that I brought back from Yia Yia Mary’s.

13. Barbara Bush gave a speech at the hotel, and drew quite a big crowd. I was not sure why since she only lives a few blocks away and I would assume that anyone could visit her if they only knew one of the guards.

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