There is that cafe, the bakery perhaps, the restaurant where the food is typical of so many others, but something about the place – the decor or lack thereof, the staff were helpful or acted rude in a charming way, perhaps you are eating at the bar and struck up a dinner friendship with a regular, maybe you just sit eating your chicken and rice lost in your own thoughts. Whatever ingredients were present, it made the place special. Where you live I am sure there is a list of places. When traveling, especially to new places, I am surprised at how quickly I become attached to some little location as strong as to those favorite places where I live. And places I know I may not return to again but I will never forget them, even if it is just a cafe or a little eatery, or a bar with an outdoor seat and nothing on the tap but Budweiser.
I am going to sound old now. Before YelpIpediaZagiTripAdvisor.com, one had to use a guidebook to get around. Or worse, just blunder about looking for something eatable. When traveling in the Old World, this adventure would mean traipsing down streets Ze Book* in one’s hand, always searching for some “local flavor” even though you knew it was going to be either full of expats all with Ze Book or blundering into some eatery where only boiled hog was served and you were tricked out of your Petro Dollars for an espresso, “what do you mean I am charged to take a seat, how is that extra?!” In the New World (developed) this meant driving out of the way, perhaps passing by the McKenTacoHuts by the highway cloverleaf and pressing on to the wilds to find some roadhouse or diner full of redneck hunters or hicks or townies… the same type of people college students spent a lot of time and energy finding in foreign countries so they could brag to the other girls in Antro. 108: Introduction to the Ecology of The Self and Other they had “lived with a lived with Thepeople” or stayed with a Localfamily(tm).
In the Developing/Third/Step World, it was a risk to eat anywhere and usually one lunch was the same as any other. In some places, they told you what you were eating. Sabato, la Lunche Carne d’mystery con boiled tubers and varios cosas. Again, perhaps some of the less adventurous turned to Ze Book for recommendations and attempted to follow the directions that were never written in very clear terms. “Just walk down Calle De Rembrandt until you get to an alley that branches off and then take the wide that doesn’t smell quite as foul.” How many times I yelled at Ze Book for sending me in vague streets and down directions which are “non-tourist” because they are not interesting.
However, it was on these occasions and with luck that I would stumble across some place, establishment, or some other little moment that sticks with me and I will never forget that park with the ice cream vendor in Vladivostok with the stale ice cream certainly made before the Soviet Union dissolved, or the breakfast made by a stout woman as about me ran coy and children in what was clearly a familyroom cum restaurant, the plastic tables in the hot dusty sun where the specialty was soup made of hot dogs and noodles but the waitress came and sat at the table to practice her English.
It doesn’t have to be “exotic” to be one of those places that I now can “favorite” on whatever social media I may use, broadcast to my friends and strangers my approval, but there is that private moments that I think of the coffee I had in such-and-such or the steak and eggs or the park where I read a book or the little, cramped hotel room in the not quaint hotel that was still charming in its eccentric set up or the outside pool that was oddly warm on a chilly night and I want to return. Maybe I associate these places with the wish to stop time. To hold on to a moment. Which is strange, since travel is all about movement and change. Or maybe I associate these locations with the joy of travel. I associate them with the times in my life I am (for the most part) free.
And so, I have also found these places in Houston. It took some time. First to get used to the scale and organization of the city, second, to identify different areas and look past the reviews on media services, to understand the landscape, and to appreciate what different areas offered, or lacked. I guess the process could have been faster, however, I sampled and now know the city and not just followed the trends or relied only on the Interwebs to dictate my activities and for this I discovered a lot that is kept on the silent, great little small things, as well as experienced the terrible places where the human scale no longer exists and transit impossible. I will perhaps not return to Houston for some time. However, if I do, it will be to reconnect with my favorite haunts – the little cafe, the hotel with the kitty, the place with the cheap beer and loud music. Until then, I will press on to new vistas, and in time discover additional places in the locations I go and add to that list of places I wish to return.