It’s hard to explain what I saw on the 14th floor of that office tower on the west end of Houston. We all met at the elevators and shook hands. We entered the big meeting room with the oak table, gaudy upholstered chairs and framed photographs of the company’s business products — postmodern interiors, like the one we were gathered in. One wall was entirely glass, and that’s how I saw Houston for the first time. I’d lived there for eight months, but this was the first time I saw it. Jesus Christ, was it flat. Flat as fuck. But there were so many trees, and I was so far from the city center. These were things I never saw on the ground; because on the ground in Texas, there are no hills to look up at, valleys to look down into, or vistas to look out over.
Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, I would open the wall of sliding glass doors in the back of the house to see those ever-present purple mountains that shot up steeply into the hazy air; they were occasionally covered by haze or sprinkled with snow or sometimes they glowed with fire, but they always showed me where north was. They showed me how smoggy it was. Speeding down the 110 on my way to my first summer job at Dodger Stadium, the sight of the Southwest Museum notified me I had exactly five minutes and 30 seconds to get to my post in the parking lot. The hills could hold up a destination for me if I was lost and those crags in the landscape could clarify questions like: “How’s the traffic look over there?” “Where exactly is the Getty?” Or “What’s going on at the Rose Bowl today?”
Texas has rendered my Valley-bred navigation skills completely useless as well
as my reading of air quality — I have to settle for stinging eyes as a poor alternative.
I can’t tell what kind of neighborhood I’m in from the freeway I’m on, or take
in any of the landscape or architecture. (In Houston that’s probably not a bad
thing.) The ripples and ridges of L.A. always afforded me a sort of mega-scale
Braille map, unlike the flat, blank page expanse of Southeast Texas, where I’m
counting the days until I can come home and see again.