Monday, January 30, 2023

Houston's bad driving habits

Jay Jordan wants Houston drivers to stop sucking:

Everyone in Houston is guilty of a little bad driving now and then. Especially now that we’re out of practice, it’s easy to slip up once in a while and perform a traffic faux pas. But these bad driving habits show up day after day, week after week. They’re Houston’s unwritten surly rules of the road, and they need to come to an end. Please, make it stop.

Local driving practices that draw Jordan's ire are: crossing multiple lanes to exit a freeway, chasing down other drivers in fits of rage, not merging when one is supposed to, and driving slowly on the freeways:

The slow poke 

What’s just as bad as speeding 90 mph on the freeway? Driving under the speed limit.

I get that it’s completely legal to drive slower than the speed limit. That’s great and all, but is it right? No. The freeway is meant to facilitate high volumes of traffic efficiently, and puttering along at 45 mph isn’t helping anyone, even you.

Car isn’t fast enough? Don’t feel safe at highway speeds? Towing something? That’s great. Take the feeder roads and spare the rest of us.

This is especially true for people who drive slow in the left lane and is a supreme peeve of mine. If you're driving under the speed limit, or otherwise significantly below the flow of traffic, on a freeway, you are creating a safety hazard that is just as dangerous as somebody who is driving at excessive speed.

Houston motorists have other bad driving habits that Jordan could have mentioned as well, for example people who don't let you into their lane when you want to move over (it's like they see your turn signal and take it as a challenge), people who are too busy texting on their phones at traffic signals to notice that the light has turned green, or assholes who litter. When it comes to driving in this city, there's no shortage of bad behavior.

So why do Houston drivers tend to engage in such dangerous and sociopathic practices? I think a lot has to do with selfishness. People think that their trip is the most important one being undertaken on the city's roads; screw anybody who gets in their way! I'm not sure what can be done about it, either, short of massive law enforcement crackdowns that aren't going to happen because local police have more important things to do than pull over every slow driver or lane cutter.

Which means that we're just going to have to continue to put up with these shitty driving habits on our city's streets and highways. 

Be courteous and drive safely. Please.

The Pantheon

Of all the sights in Rome I wanted to see during our trip to Italy last November, the Pantheon was at the top of the list. It is perhaps the best-preserved structure of ancient Rome, having been in more-or-less continuous use (as a temple or a church) since it was built around 125 AD. It has been significantly studied and has had a significant influence on western architecture.

The Pantheon's dome remains an engineering marvel, remaining the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome almost two thousand years after it was built. The dome's thickness tapers as it rises, and lighter materials (e.g. pumice) are used in the concrete towards the dome's top. Recent research suggests Romans may have also used a special ingredient in their concrete that allows it to withstand the test of time:

[Researchers] found that white chunks in the concrete, referred to as lime clasts, gave the concrete the ability to heal cracks that formed over time. The white chunks previously had been overlooked as evidence of sloppy mixing or poor-quality raw material.

"For me, it was really difficult to believe that ancient Roman (engineers) would not do a good job because they really made careful effort when choosing and processing materials," said study author Admir Masic, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"Scholars wrote down precise recipes and imposed them on construction sites (across the Roman Empire)," Masic added.

At the dome's center is the oculus, an opening that lets natural light into the interior space. It also lets in rain, which is why the center of the building's floor was roped off the drizzly afternoon we were able to enter so people wouldn't slip on the slick terrazzo.

In addition to serving as a temple and a church (masses are still held there), the Pantheon is also a mausoleum: two of Italy's kings are entombed there.

Since it is an operating church, the Pantheon is free to enter. However, in order to manage crowds on weekends reservations are required to enter. We made our visit on a dreary Tuesday, and I finally got to take a selfie underneath the ancient dome I had first learned about as an architecture student over thirty years ago.

The Pantheon was only one of many significant landmarks we saw during our three days in Rome last November, yet we felt like we barely scratched the surface of the city. You could spend an entire month in Rome and not see everything!

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Spanish Village says adiós

This makes me sad:

Alas, another Houston restaurant staple is shuttering—Spanish Village. The Tex-Mex restaurant has been a part of the city's dining scene since it opened 70 years ago in 1953, but the last customer will be served on March 31.

Current owner Steve Rogers promised in a statement that Spanish Village will be honored in an upcoming project that is yet to be announced.

First slated for closure in 2021, Rogers kept Spanish Village open while he worked through redevelopment plans for the property and an adjacent tract of land. Although details on those plans haven’t been made public yet, “the restaurant’s legacy will live on in an upcoming project to be announced at a later date,” according to a release about the closure.

I've been eating at Spanish Village for as long as I can remember; my parents started dining there before I was even born, so the venerable restaurant with the concrete tables and year-round Christmas lights has been a fixture in my life. I've met friends there and taken dates there. There's even a picture of me and an infant Kirby on the restaurant's famed "polaroid wall."

When it was first slated for closure in July of 2021, my parents and I made sure to eat there for what we thought was the last time. That evening we learned from the then-owners that Rogers's offer had been made on the restaurant and it would not be closing after all. We were relieved at the news, but I was suspicious that the developer might only have been keeping the restaurant operational while he made plans to redevelop the site. Turns out my suspicions were correct.

Top be fair, the existing building that houses the restaurant - essentially a converted residence from the 1920s - is dilapidated, while ongoing redevelopment in its neighborhood at the edge of Third Ward and the Museum District is putting upward pressure on land prices. It makes financial sense for Rogers, who owns the restaurant property as well as an adjacent piece of land, to redevelop. Rogers, for what its worth, indicates that his new development will pay homage to Spanish Village.

Which is great, but it won't be a substitute for the sizzling fajitas and knock-you-on-your-ass margaritas that have sustained me for so many years. Needless to say, I have a few final trips to Spanish Village to make before it closes for good at the end of March.

Culturemap and Eater Houston have more.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

UH wins and attendance, 2022

The 2022 college football season ended on a rather anticlimactic note last week, as Georgia completely embarrassed TCU to win its second-consecutive national title. Now that the season is over, its time to update my wins-versus-attendance graph:

The Cougars averaged 24,793 fans per game during the 2022 season, which is a slight decrease - 280 fans/game - from their 2021 average. I had originally expected the program's 10-win season in 2021 to result in an attendance bump for 2022, and indeed, over 30 thousand tickets were sold for Houston's home opener against Kansas. However, the Cougars performed very poorly in that game - it was their second loss in a row  - and interest in the program dwindled. By the time the Coogs hosted Tulsa to close the regular season, an attendance of only 21,785 was announced, with the actual number of people in the seats being much, much smaller. 

Ticket sales are likely to increase this fall because the Cougars are joining the Big 12 and local fans and ticket brokers alike will likely be interested to see Houston host schools such as Texas Tech, the aforementioned TCU, and (if rumors are correct) the Texas Longhorns. Non-conference opponents Texas-San Antonio and Sam Houston State will also bring a good continent of fans. 

Whether the Cougars can win any of those games, however, is a different story. Given last season's disappointment and head coach Dana Holgorsen's apparent refusal to make any adjustments to his coaching staff over the offseason, I'm not optimistic.

The 2023 schedule should be released by the end of the month.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Another word about Houston Cougar basketball

It's been almost three years since I last said a word about Cougar basketball, and with the team currently ranked #1 in the nation (for the first time since the Phi Slama Jamma era of the early '80s) I thought it would be a good opportunity to note their success on this otherwise football-centric blog.

I rarely make it out to basketball games, but a friend of mine was unable to attend last week's game against South Florida so he transferred his tickets to me. Corinne and I got to see the nation's top-ranked team in action: 

The Cougars host South Florida at the Fertitta Center on January 11, 2023. 

The Cougars, playing without one of their key players, had to face a very focused South Florida team as well as poor officiating and for awhile appeared to be in danger of losing for only the second time this season. But between the Cougar defense stepping up to stifle the Bulls in the second half as well as Marcus Sasser scoring a career-high 31 points, Houston was able to tough it out and avoid the upset. Which is what good teams do, even when they're not having a good night.

Although the Coogs are currently #1 in the AP poll (as well as the coaches poll, as well as Sagarin, as well as Pomeroy, as well as NET, and are predicted to be #1 seeds in both Fox Sports's and Joe Lunardi's March Madness brackets), if you go on message boards or social media you'll find no shortage of haters who think that the Cougars do not deserve to be ranked #1 and that Kansas or Purdue or Alabama (the only the to have beaten UH so far this year) should be the top-ranked team instead. 

And maybe they're right. This team is not perfect. They sometimes have the tendency to go on long scoring droughts, and they need to improve their free-throw percentage. 

With that said, it really doesn't matter who is ranked #1 right now anyway. All that matters is who's number one at the end of the NCAA Tournament. 

Could it be the Coogs? There's a lot of basketball left to be played, but consider for a moment that the 2023 Final Four will be here in Houston at NRG Stadium, and that it will be UH alum Jim Nantz's last gig announcing for CBS before he retires. Wouldn't it be the perfect opportunity for the Cougars to finally win the national championship that has eluded this program for so long?

It may be too much of a fairy tale to come true. But the 2022-2023 Houston Cougars are well equipped to get there. And I'm enjoying every minute of it.