Posts Tagged ‘Museums’

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Leaving Houston

January 15, 2012
Cartoon Houston Map

Houston, Texas

As I leave Houston today I take note the weather is chilly, but not as chilly as where I am heading. Winter’s in the South are, for me, the way to have winters. Just enough cold temperatures to remind me that I don’t much like cold weather. Over the last few weeks I’ve enjoyed warm days and cools nights. It goes with my overall opinion of Houston; it is not what I expected.

I arrived with all the typical stereotypes in my mind of what Texas is. To my surprise, Houston is not a bastion of conservative cowboys. Fact is, I saw more cowboy hats in Miami than here. I guess it is easy for all of us not from Houston to lump it in with our media-driven view of the state as a whole. Except for the weather, Houston is much like another of my favorite cities – Chicago. Both are big towns with a small town feel. Both welcome strangers and offer many wonderful sites to see and unique things to do.

My first impression was the size. This is one big place. Houston is America’s fourth largest city and sixth largest metropolitan area. With its low plane, it presents visitors with a vast openness not seen in cities in the East. The warmth of Houston’s climate is matched by its warm and friendly people. This last year Houston, as the rest of Texas, faced a horrible drought and record number of day with temperatures reaching 100°F or more. Rather than bitterness, the city is full of people simply thankful it’s over and hopeful next summer will be better on that score.

One of Houston’s nicknames is the Bayou City. There are several running through the area. Of course, like most everything else, Houston’s Bayou is not what most think of when they hear the term. Maybe they were years ago but now they are a series of drainage channels, like a large ditch or canal. As you head west out-of-town, you see more swampy areas and begin to understand Houston at, at one time, earned the name outright. Rather than leave its bayou and unsightly ditches crisscrossing the city, a woman named Terry Hershey had a better idea, to use the bayou as greenways and parks.

My first visit to a bayou was at Terry Hershey Park, named in honor of the woman that pushed long and hard for the city park system’s creation. Today, Terry Hershey Park offers over six miles of walking and bike trails as well as open green space and playgrounds for children (even one about fifty like me) to run and play. The park in a perfect example of Houston’s forward thinking and desires to be more than a typical big city. Houston’s parks are like threads weaving a pathway across the city.

I was most impressed with Houston’s Museum District. Home to more than a dozen museums, the district alone is worth a visit to Houston. Luckily, during my visit, the Museum of Fine Arts featured the traveling King Tut exhibit. In addition to the Museum of Fine Arts, the district is home to:

• Buffalo Soldiers National Museum
• Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum
• Children’s Museum of Houston
• Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
• Czech Cultural Center Houston
• The Health Museum
• Holocaust Museum Houston
• Houston Center for Contemporary Craft
• Houston Center for Photography
• Houston Museum of Natural Science
• Houston Zoo
• The John C. Freeman Weather Museum
• The Jung Center Of Houston
• Lawndale Art Center
• The Menil Collection
• Rice University Art Gallery
• The Rothko Chapel

The district offers many places to eat and relax as well, all within walking distance. In the end, you could spend a month visiting the various museums and attractions in Houston’ Museum District and only begin to scratch the surface of what it offers. While special attractions, like the King Tut Exhibit require a fee, about half the museums are free all the time. It is a great exposure to art and humanity’s creative side.

Of course, there is more to any city than its museums.  Houston offers professional sports, interesting attractions (everything from the USS Texas (BB-35) to the Beer-can House), there truly is something for everyone.  In the end, Houston offered me a view that was unexpected. The city proved the age-old adage of “don’t judge a book by its cover” or in this case, a city by a stereotype. It left me with only one regret, the lack of time to get to know it even better. I am looking forward to my next visit.

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The Mighty 8th

January 19, 2010

I saw in news recently the Georgia chapter of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society held their last statewide meeting.  Age is catching up to the men and travel is difficult.  After reading the article, I recalled my visit, a few years ago, to the Mighty Eight Air Force Museum outside of Savannah, Georgia.  I speed past the museum driving along Interstate-95 many times, seeing the bomber behind it catches the eye, but it was a long time before I stopped in.

Entering the museum grounds, you really do not get a sense of the place.  It is an attractive building but somehow does not capture the special nature of its contents.  I’m not sure any building could.  Opening its doors and entering is stepping back in time and you begin, just begin, to understand the debt we owe to these brave men.

I arrived late in the day and the museum had few visitors.  They give guided tours throughout the day but the last one was well underway.  The woman at the ticket counter said I was free to wander around though and suggested I speak with an older gentleman sitting near the entrance of the first exhibit.  He obviously was one of the tour guides and had finished for the day.  I felt bad at bothering him but did as the woman suggested.

The man sat in a folding chair and looked tired.  Not the kind of tired you get mowing the lawn on a hot day, rather the kind that takes a lifetime of accumulation.  Still, as I approached him, I could see a glint in his eye, a spark of the fire that started many years earlier.  I told him I knew I was too late for a tour but asked if he minded telling me about the museum and what I’d see.  He rose to his feet, no longer looking tired, full of life.  He took me by the arm and said, “Son, can’t do it, there’s just some things in life ya have to see.”  He took me on the tour.

Turns out, he fought with the Mighty Eighth during World War II and was one of several veterans giving tours.  He spent the next hour telling me what I would see at each exhibit, and then gave me time to take it in.  After, he told me something personal about each one.  Everything from letters from home and buddies lost, to flying in combat and finally coming home.  He gave me a history lesson I will never forget.  Without him, the day would have been special, with him – it was magical.  After the tour, I told my guide I wanted to write about it and asked if he minded me using his name, he said he did not but preferred me say, “it was just one of the boys.”

The Mighty Eighth paid a heavy price in World War II.  Of the over 200,000 men who served in it, 26,000 died in combat.  Over three times that number wounded.  They attacked Germany’s ability to make war, something the Germans were keen on protecting.  The Eight Air Force played a major role in the Allied victory.  Now, when I drive down I-95 and see the museum, I take my foot off the gas; give a glance and a salute to all the boys, the heroes of the air, who gave so much of themselves to our country.

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