On the streets in Houston. The undisputed realm of the motor car. Highways, vast concrete ribbons, arch and bank. It’s hot, the kind of heat that hits you in the face when you open the bonnet of your car after a long drive. Narrowing your eyes against the searing specular highlights, you notice a pattern in the shining paintjobs. Houston is full of muscle cars. SUV, multi-wheel pickup, Dodge, Mustang, Corvette, Exxon, Amen.
You ask a colleague for directions to a sandwich place. You are directed underground to the tunnel network. Bemused, you follow the pointed finger down a flight of stairs and through an air-conditioned corridor to subterranean walkways, where Houston’s pedestrian commerce takes place out of the weight and glare of above-ground, where neglected pedestrian crossings tick their countdowns to green and reigned-in drivers mirror the increments tapping their gas pedals impatiently.
You notice a tunnel map and stop dead. The networks are colour coded. The bright hieroglyphs are backlit on the walls, for all the world like control panels in a science fiction film.
Weighing your chicken sub in the flimsy bag you head back for the office, wondering if your sense of direction will hold with no external points of reference. In the loose mob of civilians and ambling professionals out for their lunch, veering, darting, self-conscious women in loose clothing power-walk their way in a circuit of the tunnel network, loose fists swung comically high to the shoulder for maximum exertion.
Downtown in the Flying Saucer bar the patrons are working on their lists. By sampling one of every type of beer they get a plaque on the wall. The panels and ceiling are covered with coloured plates declaring the alcoholism of the devoted regulars. Over your ale you notice there is no minimum standard of dress; sexy friday-night dresses mix with dirty T-shirts and yahoo shorts with sandals.
The waitresses wear short skirts and Flying Saucer tops. As your glass turns to frothy rings you feel hands warmly grasping your shoulders from behind, and a gentle, accented, female voice in your tingling ear invites you to, “have another one sweetie..?”
In the evening you step out of your air conditioned building into air so warm it makes you smile. Looking south over sparse, low-roofed buildings to the glowing sky beyond, you could place yourself in Greece, or Spain. Turn on your heel, and now the view is the towering digital light-mesh of a skyscraper future. Monoliths standing lazily apart from one another both in distance and in style. The inconsistency of Houston.