Thursday, November 09, 2017

Game 5 of the 2017 World Series (and how I managed to be there)

It's been a week and a day since the Astros finally won the World Series. As amazing as that feat was, there's one aspect to it (that I finally got around to writing about) that makes this particularly amazing for me: the fact that my girlfriend and I were able to attend Game 5 - yes, that Game 5 - of the World Series.

For free.

Because we won tickets to the game.

Here's the story.

We knew that, with the Astros playing the weekend's games at home, the entire City of Houston would be crazy; my girlfriend Corinne and I wanted to be part of the madness, rather than watch the games by ourselves in our apartment, so we decided to go out.

Friday night we watched Game Three at my usual watering hole in Midtown. We were wondering where to watch the game on Saturday night, when a post appeared on our Facebook feed announcing that King's Bierhaus in the Heights was having a watch party and holding a drawing for two outfield bullpen tickets to Sunday night's game (it even made the local news). Decision made!

We didn't go because we thought we had any chance of actually winning World Series tickets, obviously. We went simply because we like the food, beer selection and atmosphere at King's Bierhaus, which opened earlier this year as the junior restaurant to King's Biergarten in Pearland and which serves a variety of Bavarian and Austrian specialties. It's quickly become a favorite place of ours to eat, but until now we had never thought of the Bierhaus as a sports-watching spot as well, and it sounded like fun.

Bier and baseball!
So Saturday evening we went King's, which was predictably filled with hopeful Astros fans. (Being the Saturday before Halloween, it was also costume night for the staff.) We ordered our food (as well as a Munich-sized stein of Hofbräu Dunkel), found a place in the corner of the outdoor seating area where we had a good view of the televisions carrying the game, and ate our preztels, sausages, cabbage and wings. Our waiter brought us cards for us to fill out for the drawing, which we did. We watched the game, cheered along with the rest of the crowd, and generally enjoyed the evening.

Unfortunately, Game 4 did not end the way we would have liked, thanks to a late-game meltdown by the Astros bullpen. Houston fans were hoping that the Astros could sweep the Dodgers in Houston so as to avoid having to travel back to Los Angeles, but that wasn't meant to be. The Dodgers were simply too good of a team.

After the game was over, it was time for the drawing. Everybody in the restaurant crowded close to entrance, where the restaurant manager was to draw a card out of the bin and announce the winner of the tickets. Corinne remained at the table while I went inside to try to see what was going on and hear the manager call the winner's name, but it was pretty noisy and I simply didn't get close enough to hear what was going on. I didn't see or hear anybody screaming with joy because their name was called, but since I just knew it wasn't me or Corinne - we never win stuff like that - I turned around and began to walk back to our table in the corner of the outdoor seating area. I needed to finish my drink - maybe I could get the waiter to change the channel on one of the televisions to a college football game, if any were still on - and we needed to pay our tab and think about where to watch Sunday night's game.

That's when I noticed Corinne walking towards the front of the restaurant, accompanied by our waiter and a manager, with a rather shocked look on her face.

What happened? Was something wrong with her food?

As they drew closer, I heard the manager ask Corinne if she had her identification on her. Corinne responded that it was still in her purse at the table. Automatically figuring that it would not be a good idea to leave her purse unattended at the table, I walked back to the corner table and grabbed it to bring it to her. That's when I began to realize what was actually happening.

No way.

It turned out that her card was the one the manager had pulled out of the bin, He had called her name, but when nobody inside the restaurant responded - I obviously couldn't hear to respond on her behalf - he and our waiter (who had us write his name on our entry cards) came to the outdoor seating area to call for her. Corinne answered, the manager and waiter came over to the table to tell her that she was the lucky winner, and she, in a moment of complete astonishment, left her purse at the table as she got up to claim her prize.

Seriously. No way!

I made my way through the crowds to the front of the restaurant with Corinne's purse, and discovered her and the manager standing together while another employee took pictures and videos of them. Corinne would later tell me that she was certain she didn't look too enthused in the video simply because she was too stunned to process what had just happened.

Corinne showed the manager her identification so he could verify that she was indeed the person whose name was on the winning card. He got her contact information and told us that the owner would give us a call to discuss how to deliver our tickets to us.

NO. FREAKING. WAY.

We paid our bill and profusely thanked our waiter. I sent out a couple of stunned text messages to my friends: you're not going to believe this, but... We walked out of the restaurant, still in disbelief, past  all the Astros faithful at the inside tables who neither got to see their team win nor got to win tickets to the next game, and it was then that a weird feeling - one I've never had before because I've never won anything before - hit me: winner's guilt.

These folks were wearing their Astros hats and their Astros shirts and their Astros scarves and their Astros boots and were waving their Astros pennants. They were cheering loudly throughout the entire game. They were probably regular attendees at regular season games, while our attendance at Astros games is, eh, much more sporadic (our limited sports budget is largely devoted to UH Cougar football and Dynamo soccer). Yet none of these bigtime Astros fans ended up with the tickets they came to King's Bierhaus in hopes of winning, while the actual winners turned out to be that middle-aged couple in the corner of the outside seating area who weren't even wearing any Astros gear...

ASTROS GEAR! I still had an old hat bearing the 2000-2012 logo and color scheme, but all my other Astros clothing had long since been retired and never replaced. I couldn't go to an Astros game - a World Series game - without an Astros shirt!

So we drove down TC Jester and made a stop at the Heights Wal-Mart (I'm not a big Wal-Mart shopper, but it will do in a pinch) to pick up some clothing. The stocker who walked by us while we were looking at t-shirts and polos said that we had to be die-hard Astros fans because we were buying clothing even though they had just lost. We chuckled; if he only knew the real reason why we were scrambling to buy clothes late on a Saturday night.

The shock had still not worn off by the time we got home. We won World Series tickets? Out of all the people at an event that made the local news, Corinne's card was the one that got pulled? How does that happen? We never win stuff like this! I put my head on the pillow. Maybe this is all a dream. 

But it wasn't a dream. The owner, Philipp, called Corinne on Sunday morning to ask how we enjoyed the previous evening, to see how excited we were, and to discuss how to get the tickets to her. Shortly later, they appeared in her email and I printed them out. These were real MLB World Series tickets. This was actually happening.

Rather than trying to fight traffic and shell out money for jacked-up parking fees around Minute Maid Park, Corinne and I decided instead to take METRORail from my parents' house near the University of Houston. We needed to visit my dad anyway, as his birthday was that day and because he had just recently gotten home from the hospital, where he had been in for surgery (had he been in a bit better physical shape, he might actually have gone to the game in place of one of us). We drove over to my parents' house, and after visiting and watching the Texans play the Seahawks for a bit, bid my mom and dad farewell - they instructed us to scream loudly for them - and walked a few blocks to the train station at the edge of the UH campus. I purchased a couple of day passes on my METRO Q-ticketing app - I'm not a freeloader! - and before long, Corinne and I were on a Purple Line train full of other Astros fans headed to the stadium area.

The crowds were large, but moved fairly quickly. Our tickets were scanned, and we spent some time enjoying the pregame festivities along Crawford Street before finally going inside Minute Maid Park for the start of the game.

Astros faithful wait to get into the stadium. Astros management did an excellent job moving the crowds fairly quickly.

Paul Wall entertains the crowd outside the stadium before the game. 
We eventually went inside the stadium, and found our seats, in right field behind the bullpen, right where King's advertised they'd be.

It was real. We were here. At a World Series Game.

If you had told me where I'd be twenty-four hours before this picture was taken...
That alone would have been memorable, a bucket list item, a story to tell grandkids I'll probably never have. But there was still a game to be played. Little did we know we were about to witness first-hand one of the most amazing games in the 114-year history of the World Series.

The weekend had already been an improbable one in terms of local sports. My heretofore struggling Houston Cougars had upset the #17-ranked South Florida Bulls in Tampa on the previous day, thanks to a third-string quarterback and an unreal conversion on 4th and 24. The Houston Texans, meanwhile, came very close to upsetting the Seahawks (and probably would have, had they had anything resembling a pass defense) in a crazy, back-and-forth game in Seattle. So I guess it should have been expected that the Astros were due for a barn-burner of a game as well (never mind that they already had one of them earlier this series).

It didn't start out awesome, of course. Astros ace pitcher Dallas Keuchel gave up three runs in the first inning; by the time the middle of the fourth inning arrived, the Astros were down 4-0 and Keuchel had been pulled from the mound. The Astros were in a big hole, and the Dodgers' star pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, was keeping the Astros bats silent. The crowd was beginning to get nervous. Nobody wanted this team to go back to Los Angeles facing elimination.

In the bottom of the fourth, the Astros finally broke through. Carlos Correa batted in the Astros' first run on a double. Yuli Gurriel was next up to bat, and he sent Kershaw's very next pitch into the Crawford Boxes. Given where we were sitting, we couldn't actually see the trajectory of the ball after Gurriel launched it until it actually landed. We didn't need to; the reaction of the Dodger outfielders - instead of running back towards the wall, they simply stood and watched in disgust - told us everything we needed to know. Minute Maid erupted in celebration.

The celebration didn't last, however. Astros reliever Collin McHugh took over on the mound in the next inning but struggled, allowing Dodger batters to reach base. Then Cody Bellinger smacked a three-run homer of his own, and LA went back ahead by three runs. I got frustrated and decided to walk around the (very crowded) stadium to see what other concessions were available and to see the field from other vantage points:

The view from behind the Crawford Boxes. A standing-room-only crowd of 43,300 was on hand for this game. 
I got back to my seat just in time to see LA's lead disappear. In the bottom of the 5th, Kershaw got two Astros hitters out but then walked two batters in a row and was replaced by reliever Kenta Maeda. José Altuve fought Maeda to a full count and then did this:



And our section did this:



(That's 3 [three!] three-run homers in an inning and a half of a World Series game, if you're counting.)

The top of every inning was agony, as Astros pitchers struggled to get strikes and outs. The Dodgers weren't able to score any runs in the sixth, but they did score a run in the 7th after George Springer misplayed a Cody Bellinger hit in the outfield and allowed Enrique Hernandez to reach home. However, Springer atoned for his mistake in the bottom of the seventh, hitting a solo home run onto the railroad tracks to tie the game up once again. Alex Bregman then got on base, and then José Altuve hit a double to get Bregman home, and then Carlos Correa did this:



Right after this, a streaker ran out onto the field and got arrested; it would have been kind of funny had it been an actual ecstatic, drunken fan, but as it turns out it was just some dickhead who goes around the country doing stunts like this to generate YouTube views. (He gets no links from me.)

The Dodgers scored a run in the top of the eighth to cut the Astros lead back to two runs, 11-9. But the Astros got that run back in the bottom of the eighth with a Brian McCann homer to right field; the ball landed a few sections over from us. The Astros were up by three with only three outs remaining, and the crowd was beginning to feel pretty good about the 'Stros getting out of there with a win and going back to Los Angeles needing only one more win to clinch their first-ever World Series.

It's the bottom of the eighth and fans in my section were ready to go home with a win. The Dodgers had other plans. 
Alas, the Dodgers were not going to go quietly. In the top of the ninth, they roughed up Astros reliever Chris Devenski; this time it was Yasiel Puig's turn to slam a two-run homer into the Crawford Boxes to cut the Astros lead to one. There was still a chance that the Astros would win; Chris Taylor came to the plate with two outs and was down to his last strike when he smacked in a run to tie the game, 12-12. Los Angeles was unable to score any additional runs to take the lead, however, and with the heart of the Astros' order coming to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, the fans were still hopeful that the team could win without having to go to extra innings.

However, the Dodgers also had a formidable weapon in the form of closing pitcher Kenley Jansen. He got Altuve and Correa out on a total of four pitches. He then surrendered a double to Yuli Gurriel, which brought the crowd to life - as loud as it was in our section, I can't imagine what the noise must have been like on the field - but then got Josh Reddick to fly out to end the inning.

Fans were clearly deflated. Corinne and I slumped back into our seats and prepared for extra innings. I looked at the clock on my phone. It was after midnight. How much longer would this thrilling yet agonizing game go on? The way these two teams were playing, we could be here all night. And how do we get home if the trains stop running?

Astros reliever Joe Musgrove made it through the top of the tenth without surrendering any more runs to the Dodgers. I went to the gift shop in the concourse behind my seat to get my father a birthday present - an Astros cap with a World Series logo - and returned in time for the bottom of the inning to start. I couldn't say that I was particularly optimistic that the Astros would be able to score any runs off a closer as good as Jansen, however.

Sure enough, Jansen got the first two Astros batters out. But then he threw a bad pitch that hit Brian McCann, sending him to first base. He subsequently walked George Springer. McCann moved to second, where Astros manager C.J. Hinch replaced him with speedy baserunner Derek Fisher.

Then Alex Bregman got up to the plate. And then this happened:



And in my section, this happened:



It's hard to describe the mix of ecstasy, exhaustion, relief, delirium and joy we all felt at that moment. Being at a World Series game because we won tickets was awesome enough. But being an in-person witness to the Astros winning one of the most amazing games in World Series history? A week and a half later, I still can't find the right words to describe the experience.

We eventually made our way out of Minute Maid Park, high-fiving people all the way. We walked through the jubilant crowds to the light rail station and got on a train back to campus (props to METRO for keeping the trains running after the game, even though it would normally have been after the end of service). Everybody on the train seemed to be feeling the same mix of "OMG I can't believe the Astros just won!" and "OMG what kind of baseball game did I just witness!" We got off the train in front of Moody Towers and made our way back to my parents' house; the couple walking behind us - I'm not sure if they lived in the neighborhood or had just parked there - began to talk about flying out to Los Angeles to see next Tuesday and Wednesday's games. Mom and dad were still awake when we got to their house, even though it was well after their normal bedtimes. But who could sleep after a game like that!?

We spent time excitedly yet hoarsely recounting the game - or trying to, at least - with my parents, who saw the whole thing on TV. Dad got his Birthday World Series Astros cap. Corinne and I finally made it back to our apartment around 2 in the morning. I was a little bit late to work the following day, with an explanation that must have sounded to my boss like the worker's equivalent of "the dog ate my homework." I didn't care; I was still hoarse and my ears were still ringing from the game the night before.

The Astros would, of course, eventually win their very first World Series in franchise history, getting past the formidable Dodgers in seven games. That alone is a wonderful feeling for a lifelong fan such as myself. But actually getting to be at one of the games, and getting to witness a wild, back-and-forth slugfest, all because my girlfriend improbably won tickets at a local German restaurant?

It's nothing short of magical.

Finally, a shameless plug for the reason we were able to attend the game: King's Bierhaus is located at 2044 East T. C. Jester, just south of Loop 610. Here is their menu. (For all you south-siders, the original King's Biergarten, at 1329 East Broadway near Pearland's border with Friendswood, has a somewhat more extensive menu.) A special thanks to Hans and Philipp Sitter, as well as the wonderful staffs at both their Heights and Pearland restaurants, for making this amazing memory possible.

They also do drawings for trips to Munich during Oktoberfest.

Hmm... Maybe lightning will strike twice.

The Heights is no longer dry

Over the course of two election cycles, a century-old local example of the state's screwy liquor laws has finally gone by the wayside:
With 2 successful ballot initiatives in successive years, the rules that for more than 100 years restricted alcohol sales within the portion of the Houston Heights that was once a separate city have now been whittled down to a single prohibition: Grocery and convenience stores in the area are still not allowed to sell liquor.
I don't think grocery and convenience stores anywhere in the State of Texas are allowed to sell liquor, actually, so there's nothing special about that. The Heights is now just as wet as the rest of Houston.
In yesterday’s election, 1,479 Heights residents voted in favor of allowing the sales of mixed drinks in the district — in effect ending the quirky gotta-join-a-club loophole run through by alcohol-serving restaurants. 960 voted against.
I've yet to order a mixed drink in a Heights bar, but having dealt with the "private club" regulations when I lived in north Texas - they were absolutely ridiculous and didn't stop anybody from getting drunk - I know bar owners and patrons are glad to see them go.

The alcohol prohibition in the Heights dated back to 1912 and remained in place after the town was merged into the City of Houston two years later. Houstonia has more.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Houston Press ends print publication

The latest victim of print media's slow-but-steady death spiral is the local alt-weekly:
Print is dead. Long live digital. Long live the Houston Press. In dot com form.
As of today and going forward, there will be no more print copies of the Houston Press. We’ll be online-only at houstonpress.com, a business decision brought about by declining advertising revenues seen throughout the print newspaper industry and more specifically for us, the mini recession caused by the downturn in the oil and gas industry that did nothing good for the Houston economy.
And then, of course, there was Hurricane Harvey. That was the topper. The massive flooding destruction it caused appeared to directly target restaurants and the arts community – some of our biggest advertisers – who faced with declining revenues of their own found they had other, more pressing expenses to consider.
In addition to scrapping its paper publication, the Press also laid off its entire editorial staff, with the exception of Editor-in-Chief Margaret Downing (who wrote the article linked and excerpted above.)

As a long-time reader of the Press, this really isn't a surprise to me. The print edition of the Houston Press had steadily been becoming thinner over the years: fewer stories, fewer restaurant, theater and art reviews, and (most importantly) fewer revenue-producing advertisements. It had been awhile since I had even picked up a paper edition of the Press.

It remains to be seen if the Press can continue as an online-only operation for the long haul, given the current state of the digital advertising market. It's hard for publications to sustain themselves on digital advertising alone, especially since so much of it is consumed by just two companies. I'll be rooting for the continued survival of the online-only Press, because locally-focused journalism is both critical and severely threatened. But, sadly, I can't say I'm optimistic.

The publisher's official explanation for the move is here. Kuff and Jeff Balke have some thoughts of their own.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Houston 52, East Carolina 27

The Cougars gain bowl eligibility with a win over the Purple Pirates of East Carolina yesterday.

The Good: It was D'Eriq King's first ever start at quarterback, and he proved that he deserved the start by completing 15 of 21 passes for 330 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for a touchdown. The Cougar ground game added another 142 yards; RBs Duke Catalon and Mulbah Car both had rushing touchdowns. East Carolina turned the ball over three times (one of which resulted in a pick six for the Coogs) and missed a field goal. The Cougar defense held the Pirates to only 36 rushing yards.

The Bad: As bad as ECU's secondary was, UH's pass defense wasn't much better. The Pirates scorched the Cougar defense for 468 passing yards and three touchdowns, and outscored the Coogs 17-7 at one point during the second and third quarters. Although the Cougars were able to end the game against a lesser opponent, their playcalling left a lot of people scratching their heads at times. I'm not impressed with either of HC Major Applewhite's coordinators at this point; some changes probably need to be made after the season is over.

The Ugly: Gonna go with John Royal, whose dispatch from TDECU for the Houston Press may have been his last:
TDECU Stadium was far from packed, and it is evident that the enthusiasm the Tom Herman-era Cougars generated among UH fans and Houstonians has dissipated. By the end of the game, the stands across from the press box, from the lower level up to the upper deck were nearly empty. The weather was hot and humid, and the team has not been very exciting, so that may have worked against attendance, but a bowl-bound UH football team should still be able to generate some level of excitement. 
The conditions in the stands were hot, humid and brutal, and the announced attendance of 29,810 was probably twice the amount of actual people in the stands for this game. A lot of people who had tickets for this game simply stayed home.

I know that the league and the networks dictate kickoff times. And, arguments about global warming aside, Saturday's brutal weather was unseasonable and unexpected. But an 11 am kickoff kept a lot of fans at home, devastated UH's normally-robust tailgating culture, and doubtlessly ruined the homecoming festivities a lot of colleges and alumni groups wanted to have. UH administration needs to use whatever power they have to push back against 11 am kickoff times in the future. They might work for the Big 10 or ACC, but they just don't work for Houston.

What It Means: The Cougars secure a winning season (they play only 11 games due to the fact that the UTSA game was canceled) and bowl eligibility with the win.

They get next Saturday off before they make a road trip to play Tulane. Because I can rarely turn down a opportunity to travel to New Orleans, I'll be there.

Astros win 2017 World Series

They earned it! (And Sports Illustrated was right!)

 Not only did the Astros clinch their first championship in the franchise's 56-year history, but they also:
  • Became the only team in Major League Baseball to win a pennant in both leagues (even though I'm still not a fan of their move to the AL, I think the fact that the Astros can now claim league championships in both leagues is cool).
  • Beat the two teams I hate the most, the Red Sox and the Yankees, in order to get there.
  • Did it in a seven-game series that will be remembered as one of the best World Series in the history, featuring two of the craziest and most thrilling World Series games ever played (and my girlfriend and I were, rather improbably, in attendance for Game 5 - more about that in an upcoming post). 
There was even a marriage proposal during the post-game celebration!

As a lifelong Astros fan, I gotta say that this really feels a bit surreal (especially since they won it all just a year after I predicted that I would never see the Astros win a World Series in my lifetime). I'm old enough to vaguely remember the 1980 team that twice came within six outs of going to the World Series, only to be topped by the Phillies. I clearly remember watching Kevin Bass strike out against the Mets in the bottom of the 16th inning in game six of the 1986 NLCS (and I clearly remember myself crying like a baby afterward). I saw all those great "Killer Bs" teams of the late 90s and early aughts win NL Central titles and promptly get dispatched by Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs. I saw the Astros finally break through in 2005, only to get swept by the White Sox (my brother and I watched those games over breakfast while I visited him in Japan). I remember this team losing 111 games just four seasons ago (turns out, that was all part of the plan). I remember Nolan Ryan and Alan Ashby and Jose Cruz and Mike Scott and Glenn Davis and Billy Hatcher and Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell and all the other Astro greats who were so good but who never won the whole thing.

Until now.

This is such a joyous moment, not just for the players, but also for their long-suffering fans like me, or for other lifelong Astros fans (such as my 95-year-old aunt or 76-year-old father, who finally got to see their team "win it all"), or for all those Houstonians in need of a morale boost in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Harvey might have made the Astros a sentimental favorite to win the World Series, but the Astros weren't entitled to a World Series title any more than New York was entitled to a championship after 9/11 (the Yankees lost to the Diamondbacks in the 2001 series). They had to earn it. They did.

Granted: this Astros victory will not pay anybody's rent, or find anybody a job, or magically clean up all the damage from Hurricane Harvey. Therein lies the fundamental absurdity to spectator sports: why do we invest so much of our emotion and so much of our identity in the successes and failures of a bunch of highly-paid athletes, none of whom (save for pitcher Will Harris) are actually from Houston? When those players put on those jerseys that just happen to have the name of our city embroidered upon them, they somehow become "ours." Those players represent us, and they become the guardians of our hopes.

It's weird. It's (quite frankly) illogical. But it's what happens, and it's magical. They won, which means "Houston" won, and it makes us happy and proud and creates a common sense of community. Especially for a city that, Other than the 1994 and 1995 Rockets (and, to be fair, the 2006 and 2007 Dynamo), simply doesn't have a long list of championship teams as compared to some other cities.

The World Series is a tradition that is 114 years old. This year, the Houston Astros finally added their name to that tradition.

And I could not be happier that they finally did.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Houston 28, #17 South Florida 24

I have to admit that I wasn't expecting this. I didn't even watch the game; since I figured it would be a blowout, I opted to go the museum with my girlfriend and her mom instead. So yeah, I missed out on a tremendous upset, featuring an insane 4th-and-24 conversion late in the game.

The Good: The Cougars went with their third quarterback of the season, with positive results. D'Eriq King replaced an ineffective Kyle Postma behind center early in the game, and after a slow start to the first half - the Cougars were scoreless and had only 82 total yards of offense at halftime - King ended the game having completed 12 of 20 passes for 137 yards  and a touchdown. He also rushed for 83 yards and two touchdowns, including an 11-yard scurry with 11 seconds left in the game to seal the win. Mulbah Car, who assumed RB duties for an injured Duke Catalon, amassed 137 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown of his own. Meanwhile the same Cougar defense that had been torched by the Memphis Tigers a week before held its own against USF, holding the previously undefeated Bulls to season lows in both rushing (137 total yards) and points scored. The UH defense held USF to just 7 of 23 third down conversion attempts (including six three-and-outs) and got two stops on fourth down.

The Bad: Aside from the slow start, the team suffered some critical injuries. In addition to the aforementioned Duke Catalon (ankle), offensive tackle John Jones (MCL sptrain), and kick returner John LeDay (concussion) had to leave the game. And although the UH defense did key in on the USF running game, they still had problems defending the Bulls' air attack: South Florida QB Quinton Flowers completed 23 of 38 passes for 325 yards (but, notably, no touchdown passes). The Cougars also suffered the game's only turnover.

The Crazy: Did I mention that the Coogs won this game because third-string quarterback D'Eriq King completed a jump ball pass to Courtney Lark on 4th-and-freakin'-24?!?!

What It Means: Aside from this being Houston's 7th victory over a ranked team in 8 tries (which makes that loss to Memphis all the more bitter), this game also breathes some life into a program that up to this point had been limping along. It also brings up some questions about the program's future, e.g. is D'Eriq King the next Greg Ward, Jr?

The Cougars host East Carolina on Saturday. They will become bowl-eligible with a win.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

55 years, 6 months and 15 days.

That's the amount of time that elapsed between the Astros' (then known as the Colt .45s) very first game as a franchise - an 11-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs on April 10, 1962 - and their very first World Series win, which occurred last night.

Not only was it their very first World Series win (they were swept by the White Sox in 2005), but it was also a thriller - one of the crazier and more memorable games in World Series history.

And we were alive to see it.


Keep it up, fellas! Let's get three more!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Houston 38, #25 Memphis 42

A second-half defensive meltdown prevented the Cougars from upsetting the #25-ranked Memphis Tigers at TDECU stadium last Thursday.

The Good: The Cougars looked good in the first half, and led the Tigers 17-0 at halftime. The UH offense, in fact, did everything they needed to do to win the game. Kyle Postma passed for 315 yards and a touchdown, and Duke Catalon and Dillon Birden combined for 171 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

The Bad: The second half. Although the Cougar offense continued to perform, they were completely let down by a defense that allowed ther Tigers to score on every one of their second half possessions. Cougar special teams surrendered a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, as well. The UH secondary had no answer for the Tiger passing game in the second half, being lit up to the tune of 471 passing yards (Memphis only had 30 rushing yards, but why run the ball if the Cougars can't defend the pass?!).

The Ugly: If there's one spot in the game where the offense failed to perform, it was late in the game with the Coogs still ahead by three. The Cougars had second and one but failed to gain any yardage. They tried another ineffective running play on third and one. Major Applewhite elected to punt the ball on fourth down, thereby putting the game into the hands of his reeling defense. Memphis, obviously, scored what would be the game-winning touchdown on the ensuing possession. (So why not just go for it anyway?)

But wait... there's more! On replay, it looked like the punt was intended to be a fake, but the play was so poorly executed that the ball landed into the hands punter Dane Roy anyway.

What It Means: Houston falls to 4-3 on the season and is essentially out of contention for the AAC West title. Their streak of six consecutive wins over top-25 opponents is also snapped.

The Cougars next go to Tampa to play, and presumably get destroyed by, the South Florida Bulls. I honestly don't know if the Cougars are going to win another game this season.

Harvey videos

This final Harvey-related post was inspired by my (finally) downloading a couple of months' worth of pictures and videos from my iPhone to my computer. Included in these downloads were a handful of short videos I took from sixth floor sky lounge of my new apartment complex during the storm.

I posted these videos on Facebook so folks who weren't in Houston could see what things looked like during the deluge. It seems appropriate to share them on my blog as well.

Saturday August 26th: I took this video in the evening, about 24 hours after the storm made landfall and as heavy rain bands began moving through the city. Up until his point rainfall totals throughout the city had more or less been manageable; however, things would quickly get worse. It was only a few hours after his video was taken that Eric Berger introduced the phrase "super mega-rainball of doom" to describe Harvey's deluge.


Sunday August 27th: At this point, the flooding was at its worst for much of the city. The area around our apartment complex, however, remained relatively well off. There was an eerie quiet between rain bands - although we could hear lots of rescue helicopters off in the distance - when my girlfriend, her dog and I went up to the sky lounge Sunday afternoon. The sky lounge is located on the southwest corner of our complex, giving us good views of both Greenway Plaza and the Uptown/West Loop area.


Monday August 28th: The rain continues! Although by now it was coming down at a lighter pace than before, it still wasn't allowing flooded roadways to drain, or making rescue efforts any easier.


Tuesday August 29th: After four days of non-stop rain, the deluge had finally slowed to a trickle. There's even traffic on the Southwest Freeway again. Mercifully, the rain finally cleared out of the area overnight, and blue skies even made a reappearance on Wednesday.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Houston 17, Tulsa 45

My girlfriend and I were in New Orleans with some friends of hers last weekend, so I was luckily able to avoid watching this shitshow of a game. The Cougars, needless to say, were humiliated by the 1-5 Golden Hurricane in a game they were double-digit favorites to win.

There was nothing good, and everything bad, to write about in this loss. The Cougars led at the half but gave up 38 points to Tulsa in the second half. The defense was steamrolled for 288 rushing yards. The offense was stagnant and turned the ball over three times. As for the ugly, I'll let John Royal explain:
Tulsa lost by a 62-28 score to Tulane last week. Tulsa has also suffered losses to Toledo and New Mexico. Against the Cougars, Tulsa looked like the best team in the American Conference. This game was so ugly to watch that it can compete with losses like those to Texas State (Tony Levine’s first game as head coach) and to UTSA (the first ever game played at TDECU Stadium). There were no moral victories. There was nothing redeeming about the loss. 
“We didn’t play well at all,” head coach Major Applewhite said. “We didn’t play well enough to win the game, but give credit to Tulsa and to Coach Montgomery. They came ready to play; we didn’t. We didn’t come ready to play and that’s on me. We talk about it all the time, but week in and week out, you’ve got be ready to play your A-game every Saturday.”
Coach AppLevine Applewhite apparently went on to state that water is wet, that the sky is blue, and that the University of Houston settled for him instead of hiring a "name" coach to continue the program's momentum, and therefore now risks falling back into mediocrity.

Next up for the Coogs is a Thursday night home game against Memphis. UH will do well to not give up more points to the Tigers than they did to lowly Tulsa.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Houston 35, SMU 22

The Cougars bounced back from a 7-12 deficit in the first half to defeat the SMU Mustangs at TDECU Stadium last Saturday, avenging last year's miserable loss to the Ponies and winning that all-important first win in division play.

The Good: Running back Duke Catalon had a career game, rushing for 177 yards and two touchdowns; UH's ground game accounted for 265 yards overall. QB Kyle Postma completed 19 of 27 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown pass from D'Eriq King on a trick play, and was never sacked. The defense intercepted SMU QB Ben Hicks twice and also sacked him twice. The Mustangs struggled against the UH defense on third down, converting only 5 of 14 opportunities. SMU also missed a field goal right before halftime.

The Bad: Hicks and his receivers were nevertheless able to do damage, torching the Cougar defense for 397 passing yards. Postma had two interceptions, both of which were the result of poor decisions to throw into double coverage. Although he had a good game overall, Catalon also dropped a sure touchdown pass.

The Ugly: Although the Cougars were only flagged for four penalties overall, two of them were rather stupid and unnecessary personal foul penalties. The ability - or lack thereof - of the UH secondary to tackle in space is atrocious.

What it Means: the Cougar offense finally found two things that had eluded them up to this point in the season: a strong running game and an offense that could score in the second half. I can only hope that this is a sign of things to come.

The Coogs are now 4-1 and travel to Tulsa to play the struggling Golden Hurricane.


Thursday, October 05, 2017

There are no answers.

A bit over ten years go, I pondered about "the search for answers" after a deranged student went on a shooting rampage on the Virginia Tech campus and killed 32 people. At the time I wrote that:
[A]t the end of the day, it might be the only explanation: there are crazy people amongst us, and sometimes they do crazy, violent things, and sometimes people are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Since the time I wrote that, more crazy people have done the same thing, time and time and time again. An elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. A movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. A church in Charleston. A nightclub in Orlando. Fort Hood. San Bernadino. There's a list.

Sometimes they've been motivated by religious or ethnic hatred. Sometimes they're just mentally deficient. In every case, they are crazy and deranged people that take advantage of our (uniquely American) society's penchant for easy access to firearms to do damage and take lives.

And now, 59 dead in Las Vegas. Courtesy of some guy who seemed like a perfectly normal person. Days later, they still can't find a motive.

Maybe we'll know the gunman's motivations as the investigation continues. But maybe, the "search for answers" is pointless:
At the moment, no one has any idea why Stephen Craig Paddock brought a deadly arsenal up to the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, hammered out a window, and opened fire on a crowd of country-music fans two nights ago, killing at least 59 and wounding more than 500. 
Eventually, the full story will come out. It has to, given the number of investigators currently on the case. And when it does, it’ll be morbidly fascinating, especially given Paddock’s lack of any sort of criminal record and the apparent absence of any hint of online anger or radicalization. But his story also, in a very real sense, doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because we already know many of the reasons why America is a dark outlier when it comes to gun violence in the developed world, with rates far, far higher than those found in similarly wealthy, developed nations. 
This might seem like an odd thing to say. Certainly there are important lessons to be learned from Paddock’s motives and thought processes, and from how he acquired his weapons. In a limited sense, yes. But from a policy perspective — from the perspective of actually figuring out how to prevent more massacres — no, not really. If the United States’ political system weren’t utterly broken with regard to gun policy and gun research, we’d be well on our way to ameliorating this problem based on the information we already have.
We'll offer meaningless "thoughts and prayers" about this, we'll have debates that go nowhere, and we'll deal with this again. Maybe next month. Maybe next spring. Maybe a year from now or maybe tomorrow. It won't matter.

There's nothing that can be done. There are crazy people, there are hateful people, and there is easy access to firearms that this nation's death merchants gun lobby will never allow to be limited, in the name of selling more firearms second amendment freedoms.

There are no answers. There is no solution. This will continue to happen.

God bless America.


Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Houston 20, Temple 13

The Cougars flew up to Philadelphia and flew home with a win.

The Good: Kyle Postma took over as starting quarterback and completed 25 of 36 passes for 266 yards and a touchdown. He was also the team's leading rusher with 81 yards. The Cougar defense only allowed Temple to complete 4 of 16 third down conversion attempts and intercepted the Owls three times.

The Bad: At times, the offensive playcalling was what could only be described as "bizarre." This was especially true in the second half, when the Cougars only scored seven points (I'm just not understanding the coaching staff's zeal for sideways screen passes that fail more often than they gain yardage!). Ed Oliver left the game with a knee injury late in the first half, and the defense was markedly worse without him.

The Ugly: The receivers dropped way too many catchable passes. Houston was penalized 12 times for 108 yards.

What It Means: It wasn't a pretty win, but it was an in-conference win on the road and that's all that matters. But as the season progresses, it's becoming clear that there are significant problems with the Coogs' offense.

Next up for the Coogs is a critical game at home against a strong (4-1) SMU team.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Depeche Mode at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion

Although they're among my all-time favorite bands, Sunday evening's concert was the first time I had seen Depeche Mode live in 16 years. (I don't do a lot of concerts...)

A band that has been around as long as Depeche Mode (37 years!) always faces a dilemma when they tour to support their latest album in that they need to strike a balance between the new material that they want to promote and the older material that their fans really want to hear. The Generation-X-centric crowd at the Pavilion clearly wanted to hear the older stuff.

The view from the lawn at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
To that end, the band provided, reaching back as far as 1983 with "Everything Counts," playing two songs off of 1984's Black Celebration ("A Question of Lust," "Stripped"), three songs from 1990's Violator ("World In My Eyes," "Enjoy the Silence," "Personal Jesus"), three songs from 1993's Songs of Faith and Devotion ("In Your Room," Walking In My Shoes," "I Feel You"), and one song apiece from 1984's Some Great Reward and 1987's Music For the Masses ("Somebody" and "Never Let Me Down Again," respectively).

They balanced this out with five songs from their "newer" albums (which I consider to be anything from 1997 onward, after Alan Wilder left the band), five songs from their latest album (note to self: listen to new album before going to concert promoting said album), and an excellent cover of David Bowie's "Heroes." Dave Gahan, who is pretty spry for being 55 years old, handled most of the singing duties and did a great job interacting with the crowd and moving about the stage as he did so. He handed vocal duties over to Martin L. Gore for a handful of songs, including "Home" (off of 1997's Ultra).

Martin L. Gore provides a heartfelt rendition of "Somebody"
Of course, there are only so many songs that can be fit into a two-hour set. This meant that several iconic Depeche Mode songs I (and many of those around me) would have liked to have heard - "Master and Servant," "Blasphemous Rumours," "People are People," "But Not Tonight," "Strangelove," "A Policy of Truth," etc., - didn't make the setlist. That just goes back to the previously-referenced dilemma faced by long-lived bands with deep back catalogues like Depeche Mode: you're not going to be able to play everything everyone wants to hear.

This isn't to say I was disappointed; to the contrary, I had a great time, and I introduced my girlfriend, who was aware of only a handful of Depeche Mode's more famous older songs, to a sound I've enjoyed since I was in middle school.

This was the first time I watched a concert at CWMP from the lawn. (Like I said, I don't do a lot of concerts.) My decision to purchase a pair of cheap but functional binoculars from Academy right before the concert turned out to be a good one. Unfortunately, they could only do so much to cut through the haze of marijuana smoke that persisted throughout the concert. I get that Depeche Mode is the kind of music that lends itself to being listened to while stoned, but at times it looked (and smelled) like a freakin' Grateful Dead concert up there!

Texas Tech 27, Houston 24

Turnovers and an inability to do anything on offense sealed the Coogs' fate against Texas Tech at TDECU Stadium last Saturday. The final score makes the game look closer than it was, thanks to a pair of touchdowns the Cougars scored late in the game after Kyle Postma replaced Kyle Allen at quarterback.

The Good: The Cougar defense held its own against Texas Tech's potent offense, holding a squad that averaged 54 points over the first two games of the season to half that. Wide receiver D'Eriq King, who missed the first two games of the season due to injury, scored his first touchdown of the season. Special teams Kicker Caden Novikoff kicked a career-long 45-yard field goal. John Leday had a 47-yard kickoff return, giving the Coogs excellent field position, which the offense promptly squandered. Which brings us to...

The Bad: Where to begin? The offense was inept and ineffective for most of the afternoon. Kyle Allen had two (rather stupid) interceptions, snaps from the center to Allen were continually low (which resulted in one turnover), the receiving corps dropped too many passes, the Coogs were a pathetic 6 of 18 on third down conversions, and the running game was anemic (it says something when your leading rusher is a quarterback - Postma - who entered the game late in the fourth quarter). The Cougars turned the ball over a total of five times. While the defense played well overall, they also got their asses handed to them by the Red Raider offense on a few big plays, including a 83-yard run from scrimmage and a 77-yard touchdown pass.

The Ugly: The game was sloppy - Houston and Texas Tech combined for 21 penalties for 167 yards - and poorly-officiated. Neither defense appeared to tackle very well. Texas Tech missed two field goals and a dropped a sure touchdown pass that would have made the score worse than it actually was. Quite frankly, neither team looked like they are anything more than mediocre programs in their respective conferences.

The Really Ugly: 11 am kickoffs in September suck! Not only do they limit valuable tailgating time, but they also make for an oppressive game-watching experience. Temperatures during the game were in the low 90s, with stifling humidity, little breeze and only intermittent cloud cover. Many of the announced crowd of 36,383 (which was a good showing, by UH's historical standards, but almost certainly would have been a sellout of 40,000+ for a 6 pm kickoff) left at halftime, while thousands more crowded the shaded concourses to watch the game.

I realize that television dictates kickoffs, and that the regional exposure on ABC that Houston received during this time slot is generally good for the program. But I really wish the ESPN executives who make these decisions would make their way down here from Bristol, Connecticut to understand for themselves just how brutal these conditions really are. It's not just about fan comfort; it's about safety.

What it Means: This was a disappointing loss for many reasons: the Cougars lost to a school from a Power 5 conference, lost to a former SWC rival and in-state program with which it competes for recruits, and Houston's 16-game home winning streak is snapped. Even worse, this game exposed some real shortcomings with Houston's offense and also called in to question Kyle Allen's status as starting quarterback. How Major Applewhite and his staff address these shortcomings will say a lot about their nascent coaching abilities as well as the Coog's chances for a successful season.

Next up for the Cougars is a trip to Philadelphia to take on the Temple Owls.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Why were homes built inside the reservoirs, anyway?

A previous post included an aerial photo of the Canyon Gate subdivision in Fort Bend County that was flooded when water from Barker Reservoir backed up into it. Which begs the question: since Canyon Gate was clearly behind the dam wall of the reservoir, why was it allowed to be built to begin with? And did the homeowners in that development understand the risk that the reservoir presented to their homes? Naomi Martin at the Dallas Morning News discovers that, for the most part, they did not:
Many of the victims knew little or nothing about the risk they faced. They never purchased flood insurance. They had no clue their homes were built within government reservoirs engineered in the 1940s to fill with billions of gallons of water in case of heavy rains. The undeveloped, government-owned land inside the reservoirs had a 1 percent chance of flooding in a given year. But residents' homes just upstream, in the so-called maximum pool of the reservoirs, had a significant chance of being intentionally flooded in the event of a major storm. 
"I feel cheated," said Binay Anand, 46, an engineer who lived with his wife and two kids in a $275,000 home in Canyon Gate, a subdivision in the maximum flood pool. "I was not aware — and none of the residents were aware — that this was flood-prone. If they would have told us, I would not have taken it." 
Anand said he and his neighbors only learned since Harvey that Fort Bend County had issued notice about the corps' plan to use their property as a reservoir on the original plat, which is the county's public land record approving the subdivisions. 
Politicians knew it. Bureaucrats knew it. Developers knew it. But homeowners appear to have been offered little to no notification. 
Even providing the most basic information in the plat's fine print was a political fight at the time, Fort Bend County officials said. 
"It took a yeoman's effort because the developers were saying, 'You can't make us do that,'" said Richard Stolleis, the Fort Bend county engineer. "It was a pretty significant battle — a high-level discussion — before these were put on the subdivision plat." 
County officials believed the plat's warning would be passed through the property's title to every prospective owner at closing. However, many residents said they never saw it. They may have overlooked it or missed it in a stack of documents, or their real estate agents and title workers may have not clearly explained the risk. State law doesn't require disclosure of such notes, experts said.
Not being in the real estate business, I don't know how often plats - and the language contained on them - are included in the pile of documents every homebuyer is presented with at closing. As somebody who used to process plats for the City of Denton, however, I do know that there is oftentimes critical information on that document, which is usually printed in a 24"x36" format, making the text and disclaimers impossible to read if it is reduced down to the legal size documents normally associated with real estate transactions.

As to why subdivisions such as Canyon Gate were allowed to be built inside the reservoir's dam walls to begin with, the simple truth is that there was nothing prohibiting them from being built there. They were outside of the 100-year floodplain property owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers:
The corps didn't feel the need to acquire all the land at the time the reservoirs were built, Long said, because that land was nothing but rice farms and fields where cattle grazed. 
It didn't stay that way. In 1997, developers came before Fort Bend County government for approval to put subdivisions on the pastures. Aware of the flood risk to the area, the county was in a bind. It didn't have the authority to prohibit development or establish zoning rules, said County Judge Robert Hebert, who has been in office since 2003.
Which, tangentially, brings me to something I've wanted to rant about: the idea that the lack of land-use zoning (the City of Houston being famous for being the largest city in the nation without it) is what "caused" Harvey's flooding, or made it worse than it otherwise would have been. This idea (which has been debunked here, and here, and here, and here, and here) isn't even relevant to Canyon Gate, because it is not inside Houston's city limits, and unincorporated areas under county jurisdiction do not have the authority under state law to implement zoning controls.

Beyond that fact, what I've come to understand is that, oftentimes, "zoning" is popularly conflated with "planning," even though they're not the same thing. The latter is a process a city undertakes to guide and regulate its development; the former is just one tool that a city can use in that process. Even though Houston doesn't have zoning, it is not a development free-for-all, and municipalities around Houston that do have zoning laws on the books, such as Bellaire, Missouri City, Friendswood, League City, Dickinson and Baytown, flooded as well.

The region (whether inside or outside of Houston's city limits) obviously needs better regulation in terms of construction in flood-prone areas, floodwater retention infrastructure, and preservation of pervious cover. But land use zoning (e.g. designating what properties can be single-family residential, multi-family residential, retail commercial, office commercial, industrial, institutional, agricultural, etc.) wouldn't make a difference: it would simply mean the same buildings, with the same impervious cover, would have been built in different places. (But what do I know? I'm just a native Houstonian and AICP-certified planner who did zoning work at the City of Denton.)

Getting off tangent, what is the future for homes in flood-prone areas, and entire subdivisions like Canyon Gate? I honestly have no clue, and I feel for the homeowners in these areas who have a lot of tough decisions ahead of them. Entire communities have hard choices to make in the wake of Harvey, and Memorial Day '15, and Tax Day '16. These events may represent a "new normal" that the region needs to come to terms with, and all options need to be on the table in order to confront it.

Buyouts and demolitions of at least some of the homes, apartments and other structures in areas that are chronically prone to flooding will obviously be required (this process has already begun, albeit at a very limited pace), but will not be suitable (or financially feasible) for every home that flooded during Harvey. Perhaps more homes will need to be elevated out of the floodplain or even retrofitted water-resistant materials to make them "floodwater ready." That won't be cheap, either. Nor will the construction of new stormwater detention and discharge structures, including, perhaps, a third flood control structure to augment the beleaguered Addicks and Barker Reservoirs.

As a final thought, the one thing we can probably do in the short term is to throw out the current floodplain maps. Not only have they done a poor job of predicting flooding, the entire concept of the "100-year floodplain" probably needs to be reconsidered as well.

Kirby Lloyd Harding 1927-2017

Although I am no longer married into his family, hadn't seen him in years, and know he had been in ill health for some time, I am going to miss Kirby Harding.

Kirby was as hilarious and as mischievous as he was cantankerous. He made the best seafood gumbo. He was a fan of UH football from the very beginning of the program and even gave me the copy of Jerry Wizig's Eat 'Em Up, Cougars - a history of UH football from its inception to its 1977 Cotton Bowl victory - that currently sits on my bookshelf. And he adored the fact that my son is named after him.

Kirby died just a month shy of his 90th birthday and 70th wedding anniversary. This is his obituary as it appeared in the Galveston County Daily News; however, Lori's cousin read a much longer and more interesting obituary at the funeral service on Monday. If I can get my hands on a copy, I'll replace this one with that one.
Kirby Lloyd Harding born October 16, 1927 in Waco, Texas and went to be with the Lord on September 15, 2017 in New Braunfels, Texas. 
Kirby was preceded in death by his mother, Willie Ables Harding and his daughter Synthia Marie Harding Stevens. He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Charldeen Jeanette Watts Harding; three daughters, Sandra Wicker (Tom), Sherry Cass (Ron) and Sharlene Bailey (Brian); and a son-in-law, Larry Stevens;13 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren and 3 great-great-grandchildren. 
Visitation will be at Crowder Funeral Home in Dickinson, Texas on Monday, September 18, 2017 at noon, with a service to follow at 1:00 pm, and a graveside at Forest Park East.

Houston 38, Rice 3

The first Bayou Bucket since 2013 carried more meeting than usual in a city still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey. In a show of thanksgiving and solidarity, both teams met at midfield for a pre-game handshake. The Rice MOB joined the Spirit of Houston at halftime for a tear-rending performance of "Amazing Grace," and Mayor Sylvester Turner was on hand to recognize first responders. The game itself, however, was pretty one-sided, as the Cougars bested their crosstown rivals for the fourth time in a row.

The Good: Houston QB Kyle Allen had an excellent evening, completing 31 of 33 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns. Running backs Mulbah Car, Duke Catalon and Dillon Birden each scored a rushing touchdown. The defense forced three Rice turnovers and kept the Owls out of the endzone. The Coogs had no turnovers of their own and were only penalized two times for ten yards.

The Bad: Kicker Caden Novikoff's 46-yard field goal attempt was short; he is now just 2-4 on FG attempts for the season. Rice's two offensive playmakers, QB Sam Glaesmann and WR Samuel Stewart, were forced out of the game with injuries. And, although I know it was because the Cougars were well ahead at the half and decided to put in their second string offense (including QB Kyle Postma), this is the second game in a row that Houston has failed to score any points in the second half. The Cougars went for it on fourth and goal from wth Rice one yard line early in the third quarter and still weren't able to score. I don't care if it is your second team; you should still be able to score in that situation.

The Ugly: Rice fan attendance. I'm not sure they even had a thousand fans at the game, and that includes the MOB. It never ceases to amaze me that so many Rice fans cannot be bothered to drive seven whole miles from their campus to support their team.

What it means: The Cougars looked a lot sharper than they did a week ago against Arizona, which suggests that last week's sloppiness truly was the result of rustiness and hurricane-related distractions. That being said, Rice is not a very good team so it's hard to use this game to determine just how "good" the Cougars really are this season. The real test will come next Saturday, when the Coogs host  former SWC rival Texas Tech in a nationally-televised matchup.

The Cougars now lead the all-time series against Rice, 30 games to 11.

A wake-up call for our elected officials

I don't always agree with former mayoral candidate Bill King, but sometimes he is absolutely right. In suggesting that the State of Texas use some of its $10 billion "Rainy Day Fund" to pay for a least a portion of flood control projects in the Houston region, he writes:
If we fail to address these risks there will be long-term, adverse economic consequences for our region, the State and indeed the entire nation.  The Houston region accounts for almost 30% of the State's total GDP.  As goes Houston so goes the State.
After a week of nonstop national news coverage about how vulnerable Houston is to flooding, what corporation is going to relocate here?  Would you schedule a convention in Houston during hurricane season?  How many companies are going to build a new plant in a place where it could be inundated by a 25-foot storm surge?
Now is the time for bold leadership, not Republican primary posturing.  There is nothing conservative about failing to make investments that we know are needed to avoid future losses.  In fact, it is grossly irresponsible not to do so.
A hundred years from now no one is going to remember anything about bathroom bills or even know what that the hell a sanctuary city was.  But, as we remember the construction of the Galveston Seawall over a century after it was built, our grandchildren will remember whether we, as a generation, stepped up and ended the threat of devastating flooding to our region and the State's largest economic engine.
King believes that rainy day funds could be used to leverage federal dollars to construct flood and storm surge infrastructure such as the "Ike Dike" and a third reservoir to supplement the beleaguered Addicks and Barker Dams.

Unfortunately, I think King is going to discover that the folks who currently run this state (and, for that matter, country) are more concerned about pandering to their wingnut base than they are to protecting the people and economy of the Houston region. Especially when that protection is going to require new revenues to fund it. However, I'd love to be proven wrong.

Harvey was, indeed, a wake-up call. But then again, so were the Memorial Day floods. And the Tax Day floods. And Ike. And Allison...

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Houston 19, Arizona 16

It wasn't pretty, but it was a much-needed win to start the season.

The Good: Ed Oliver took up where he left off, disrupting offenses and pressuring quarterbacks. He had eight solo and three assisted tackles in spite of being double-teamed for most of the evening. The defense also scored a safety, and safety Garrett Davis intercepted Wildcat QB Brandon Dawkins late in the game to secure a win. Wide receiver John Leday broke off an 81-yard kickoff return to set up Houston's second touchdown.

The Bad: Although it was good from Houston's perspective, Arizona QB Dawkins was exceptionally bad. He had poor accuracy, his bumble of a snap led to the Cougars' safety, and he missed a wide-open WR in the endzone in the second half that would have put the Wildcats ahead. Truth be told, if Dawkins were even an average quarterback, the Cougars probably would have lost this game.

Also bad: the Cougar wide receivers' inability to block on screen plays, the secondary getting burned on several passes, quarterback Kyle Allen throwing two interceptions (although one was the result of his receiver slipping), and new UH kicker Caden Novikoff's miss of an easy field goal.

The Ugly: The Cougars were penalized ten times for 110 yards. Although some of those penalties were rather ticky-tack, it was nevertheless emblematic of a sloppy game. Although Kyle Allen had a respectable performance (completing 25 of 32 passes for 225 yards and a TD), the offense was clearly out of synch and didn't score any points after halftime. Playcalling was particularly ugly, at times bordering on absurd; the Cougars had a decent running game, but several times on third and short they abandoned the run in favor of bubble screens and sideline routes that didn't work. One time they even tried to run the option - to the short side of the field!

Truth is, the game was ugly all the way around. Arizona is not a good team and head coach Rich Rodriguez is probably out of a job at the end of the season.

What it means: I’m willing to look past this week's sloppiness, because the end result was a win, on the road, against a P5 school (albeit a bad one). The Cougars were dealing with siginifcant distractions and interruptions because of Hurricane Harvey, and they were playing their first game of the season with a new QB and coacihng staff. But significant improvement is going to have to be made if the Cougars are to have a winning season. Furthermore, if this is the type of placalliyng we can expect from Major Appllewhite and his staff, then we may be in for a long, frustrating season.

Houston's game against UTSA, which was postponed due to the hurricane, will not be rescheduled this year, which means the Cougars will only play 11 games in the 2017 regular season.


Harvey, survivor guilt, and self-absorbed local writers

I did not suffer flooding damage at my apartment. None of my family experienced property damage, or had to be rescued from floodwaters, either. The power never went out. The internet service never got interrupted. My office was closed and my employer covered our salaries through an emergency leave account. So for me, Harvey was essentially a week-long staycation from work. This is not to say it was particularly enjoyable to spend the week trapped in the apartment, glued to the TV, scrolling through horror stories on Facebook and otherwise going stir crazy. But for me, Harvey was little more than an inconvenience, as if somebody had pressed the "pause" button on my life for a week. I found Harvey to be much less onerous than Ike, when we went for two whole weeks without electricity.

Compare my experience to that of a friend of mine, who recently moved back to Houston after her husband died to be close to her mother. She rented an apartment in a complex in the Meyerland area that backs up to Brays Bayou expressly so her two teenage sons could attend Bellaire High School. She and her sons safely got out of the apartment before the flooding hit, but they lost all of their possessions - including keepsakes belonging to her late husband - and are now staying with her mom.

Compare my experience to my girlfriend's coworker, whose house on the east side of Baytown flooded and who, along with her family, had to be rescued by boat. They're fine, but they've lost cars and furniture and their house, along with every other home on their street, is currently being stripped of waterlogged carpet, sheetrock and cabinetry.

Compare my experience to those who bore the brunt of Harvey's initial landfall, whose business and homes have been blown away. Towns like Port Aransas and Rockport have been essentially wiped off the map.

Should I feel guilty that I was spared while so many others are suffering right now? Abby Koenig at Culturemap Houston certainly does:
I feel guilty just writing this. Hurricane Harvey came to Houston, and my home and family and I are fine. 
On the Thursday before the storm, my husband told me that his office would be closed the next day, and probably the following Monday. “This is so stupid,” I replied, “It’s not even supposed to start raining until Friday night.” 
The whole thing was a bother, even more so when I found out my sons’ daycare would also be closed that Friday and probably the following Monday. That meant I’d have my twin three-and-a-half year-old boys for four days straight! Ugh. 
On Friday, the boys and I went to the mall and walked around and window shopped. It started raining lightly around noon. 
“It’s not even going to do anything!” 
But it did. A lot. 
Friday night it began to pour and pour and pour. My husband and I began to worry. We had been in Houston through Hurricane Ike but not in our current home, and even though we had not had any troubles previously, it was becoming quickly apparent that this was different. Like most Houstonians we turned on the news Friday night and didn’t stop watching for the next three days. 
Once Harvey made landfall the texts began. “You guys OK?” “What’s going on there?” “We’re watching the TV, is it bad?” 
Like many in the city, we are transplants. Our friends and family watched the horrors on the national news with little context of how the city functioned. 
But we were fine. Like… fine.
[...]

We saw friends. Their stories were the same. So lucky. Dodged a bullet. Never even lost power. Can’t believe it. #Blessed. Grateful. Can you believe it? Like nothing happened. A little water but really fine. Fine. Just trying to figure out how to help. And can you believe the pictures? Terrible.
We uttered the same words in the same hushed tone: Survivor Guilt. 

Koenig describes how she tried to assuage her "survivor guilt" by volunteering and donating. She clearly is also trying to assuage her "guilt" by writing this article, which quite frankly comes off as self-absorbed and overwrought.

Survivor guilt is the condition by which a person experiences remorse or feels somehow at fault because they survived a traumatic (and oftentimes life-threatening) event that others did not. It is experienced by everyone from survivors of terror attacks to combat veterans to cancer survivors. It is technically considered by the DSM-IV to be an aspect of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Which means it's not a condition that Keonig is entitled to experience.

First, Koenig's experience is nothing special. It's not like she survived a form of cancer that kills 90% of its patients or was a handful of people to live through a plane crash. Most Houstonians "survived" Harvey in that they did not experience flooding or had to evacuate.

Although the national media might have painted a picture of an entire city underwater due to Harvey, the fact is that it was not. Harvey may have affected as much as 14.2 percent of the local housing stock, and given that there are estimated to be about 1.66 million housing units in Harris County alone, that's a lot of homes. However, the majority of Houstonians are "fine," in that their homes did not flood and they are not currently ripping out drywall, haggling with insurance adjusters or living in shelters.

This is not to belittle the immense toll the storm did take: lives that are lost or will never be the same again, property that was destroyed, priceless heirlooms that will never be replaced. It's worth noting that a lot of people may have avoided damage to their homes but still lost their cars to the flood, or lost a week's worth of wages as their businesses were closed or unaccessible. But the truth is that much of Houston got through this ordeal relatively unscathed.

This is why there were long lines of volunteers at places like the George R. Brown Convention Center. Most Houstonians got through Harvey just fine and wanted to help their fellow residents in need. Unlike Keonig, they simply didn't feel the need to draw attention to themselves through a column in a local webzine.

Second, Koenig did not experience anything that could be considered traumatic. She was not one of those who had to be rescued from their car, or plucked from a rooftop by a helicopter, or evacuated from their home in a bass boat with little more than the the clothes on their back. While she certainly had every right to be concerned about the amount of rainfall she was experiencing, she was spared the experience of standing helplessly in her living room as floodwaters crept up around her.

While others spent Harvey experiencing real trauma, she spent the storm watching the news, reading Facebook and drinking wine. While she understandably feels awkward and contrite because she comfortably weathered a storm that devastated so many others, she did not undergo an experience likely to cause her PTSD in the future.

Finally, nobody gets to feel "guilty" or otherwise at fault for a naturally-occuring, albeit extreme, weather phenomenon that dumped as much water on the city in three days as it normally gets in an entire year and flooded neighborhoods that have never flooded before. The people who got flooded out of their homes didn't do anything wrong; they were simply located where there happened to be too much rainwater and no place for it to go. Those of us who didn't flood didn't do anything wrong either; we simply happened to be in places where those conditions did not occur.

Whether or not you flooded was simply the luck of the meteorologic and hydrologic draw. Even my friend who got flooded out of her apartment with her two kids realizes this. "Just bad luck I guess. We'll be fine," she messaged me.

Koenig's article might have been stronger had she focused on the fact that while she and her family were "fine" in that their house didn't flood, nobody in this city is truly "fine" right now. All of our daily routines have been altered in one form or another. We're all mourning the loss of local heroes. We're all dealing with horrendous post-flood traffic (although it's gotten better this week). We're all going to have to absorb the economic hit this region is going to take. We all know people who have flooded out of their homes and we are helping them accordingly. We're all going to have to work together to make things "fine" again (and, to prepare for the next time one of these events occurs, but that's a topic for my next post).

I feel fortunate that I, like most Houstonians, made it through Harvey without any loss.

But I don't feel like I survived a trauma, because this experience was not traumatic for me; to claim that it was would be to trivialize and demean the people who truly went through horrific experiences.

Furthermore, I do not feel guilty. Neither should Abby Koenig.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

United adding nonstop service to Australia

After the ravages of Hurricane Harvey, we could all use a trip Down Under:
United Airlines will begin offering daily, nonstop service between Houston and Sydney on Jan. 18. 
At 8,596 miles, it will be United's second-longest flight. Its Los Angeles-Singapore flight remains the longest. 
Patrick Quayle, vice president of international network, said the new international flight is possible because United is rearranging flights at Bush intercontinental Airport this fall to make connections more efficient. 
The new route will provide more than 70 cities across North America with one-stop service to Sydney. For example, United customers originating in Charlotte, N.C., currently have to fly to Chicago to connect to San Francisco to get to Sydney. With United's new flight from Houston, customers would have just one stop. 
"We're not just going after the Houston traffic," Quayle said.
Well, yeah; that's not the way hubs work. But Houston is big enough, and there are enough people with ties to Australia living in it, that there will nevertheless be plenty of local traffic on this flight.

The Houston-Sydney route, to be flown using Boeing 787-9 Deamliner aircraft, will create a second linkage to that region of the world, complementing Air New Zealand's service to Auckland. Today in the Sky has more.

In addition to this service, United is also resuming non-stop flights to Mazatlán, Mexico (which were halted five years ago, when the airline threw a temper tantrum regarding the city's decision to allow Southwest to fly internationally out of Hobby). Additionally, Bahamian carrier Bahamasair is introducing flights from Nassau to IAH in November.