This story, entitled "A Night Owl's Guide to Houston," was actually written back in 2012 and is based upon an actual experience from that summer. It was such a bizarre experience that I felt the need to write it down, since I wasn't sure anyone else would believe the tale. I hope you enjoy the story and would appreciate any feedback!
Night Owl's Guide to Houston
by James J Meadows III
“Night Owl’s Guide to Houston: Our town is full of all-night venues for eating, drinking and making merry that aren’t full of drunks. We’ll meet at 9pm and choose where to go from a list of more than 100 destinations that are fun for even sober people. By 10, we’ll be en route to great adventures! Guide: Ella Tyler.”
These words in the Leisure Learning Center catalog gripped my interest. As a 30-year old single male tired of spending my Friday nights surfing internet personals ads, a work friend recommended I check out the leisure learning center. They told me it was a great way to learn new things, meet other singles, and have fun in a casual environment. A flip through the catalog revealed endless possibilities including horseback riding, kayak trips, and even classes on how to have winning first dates. Among them all, I found this ad and I was hooked.
This was my chance to meet people in a setting free from drunks and alcohol. It was a chance to learn about night spots and hangouts where I could interact with singles or take future dates. I’ll admit, the rather expensive 45 dollar registration fee and the requisite 40 dollars in spending cash were a touch discouraging. I’m a single parent and rather strapped for cash, not to mention sitters. Still, adventure awaited and I wasn’t about to let a little money stop me. I signed up for the class.
On the designated day, I headed to “Grey’s Café” in downtown Houston to meet the group. Upon entering the 24-hour café there was one thing I noticed immediately. There was not a soul in the place except for the staff and one table in the corner with three customers. One of the customers called out to me.
"Are you looking for the Night Owl’s Guide to Houston?”
I acknowledged I was and they waved me over to the table. I headed that direction surveying my new companions. First of all, I wish to point out that I enjoy foods and deserts. At the same time, I am not a person who spends lots of time eating. I am very conscious about my weight and appearance. Likewise, I tend to prefer hanging out with people who also care about their appearance.
This may be a touch superficial. Still, the truth is: birds of a feather flock together and people typically prefer hanging out with others who have similar values and priorities. You rarely see paparazzi pictures of professional athletes hanging out with people who look like they’ve spent the previous week eating donuts. If you have a work-out fanatic family member or friend, you probably haven’t seen them walk through the door with a date capable of swallowing them and not showing it.
On that note, I can say without a doubt that all three of these people were in shape. By that I mean: round. The table was positioned against a wall and I could hardly squeeze between them and the table behind to reach a vacant chair. There were two women and one man. I was glad to see one of the women, a middle aged African American, wasn’t eating. The other two had pancakes, bacon, hash browns, waffles, omelets, toast, and milk sitting in front of them; and those were the plates they hadn’t already finished.
The woman who called me over, a large Caucasian woman, informed me between mouthfuls of food that she was Ella Tyler, the guide for the class. She presented me with a print-out of available activities and hangouts. My spirits dropped as I perused the list. They were all 24-hour restaurants, including such unique hang-outs as Whataburger and Denny’s.
I searched the table for a second page. I found one. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much better. It consisted of almost all bars. Meanwhile, the few “late night hang-outs” appearing on the page included the Houston Aquarium, which closes at 10pm, as well as the Winter Solstice Wine and Lights Festival - which would have been an exciting possibility...if it wasn't currently July.
My mind began searching for some excuse to get out of this mess when our last three classmates entered the restaurant. The first was a middle aged woman with short black hair; but, the second one caught my eye. She was a beautiful and fit woman in her upper-twenties with long flowing brown hair and green eyes. I started thinking this night might not be a waste after all. That was when a fit, athletic male of about the same age walked in behind her. He took her hand and they headed for the table. My enthusiasm dwindled. Still, it was good to see someone of closer to my own age, and I hurriedly struck up a conversation with them.
The couple was from San Francisco and was visiting the girl’s mother here in Houston. The middle-aged woman who entered with them turned out to be said mother. She was looking for a way to show her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend the sights of Houston. The best part was that they weren’t interested in eating. They wanted to see popular hang outs and fun venues around the city. My hope became rekindled as they expressed this preference to Ella.
The guides readily agreed to this plan and proceed to pack everyone into a compact car for the tour. The Californians and their mother wisely decided to follow in their own vehicle and we headed for the first destination. As I sat in the car with the other three, I listened to them discussing the numerous eating groups they were members of. They encouraged me to join an eating group also. They said meals usually only cost between fifty to a hundred dollars and told me it was a great way to try all the unique restaurant venues in Houston. When I told them I wasn't really interested in an eating group, they became more insistent.
The previous discussion of my eating habits and finances as a single parent probably already tipped you off to this fact. However, in case it didn’t, I will admit that having a group of people who can barely fit in their own car seats pressuring me to join eating clubs so I can go around town spending a hundred dollars on meals wasn’t my idea of a fun ride. Needless to say, I leapt out of the car as soon as we reached our location.
Said ‘location’ turned out to be an empty bridge in the middle of an empty park beside a suite of empty office buildings. Something told me this was not one of the premier hangouts in Houston.
The guides led us through the darkness to the edge of the bridge. There I was greeted with a smell unlike any other in the world: Guano. I didn’t need their explanation or the barrage of siren sounds to know that a swarm of bats lived under the bridge.
Now, I like seeing bats as much as the next person and enjoy watching them fly. Please note, though, that the operative words in the previous sentence both dealt with visibility. Now, please see the first sentence in the previous paragraph referring to the darkness. You couldn’t see anything! We were at least informed there were bats under there, even if we had no way to see them firsthand. We were also told scientists liked to come here to study the behaviors of bats or harvest the guano for agriculture purposes. Then, after loitering about for several minutes, we were led back to the car.
Okay, stop one, not so great. But Ella announced that the next stop would be more exciting. This second stop was a new skate boarding park built by the city of Houston. It was complete with concession stands, modern art and loud music. They said it was a popular hangout for young people. Things were looking up again. There was only one small fly in the otherwise wonderful ointment. We arrived to discover the park closed at 8.
We spent the next thirty minutes walking around the chain link fence so we could stare into the well lit concrete obstacle course. While we did so, I visited with the young couple from California. Since I lived in California during my military enlistment, I found myself sharing stories of life up there and how different it was from Texas.
Eventually, Ella announced our next destination: New China Town. She talked about how the place was filled with stores, restaurants, and other locations which are open all night. She said people are always milling about and enjoying the night life. Again, the idea showed promise.
Hopping back into the car, we began a 40 minute drive out to the small suburb of Sugar Land to see China Town. On the way, the host received a phone call from some old high school friends. These friends wanted to join us for the remainder of the event. The hosts obliged them and told them we were heading to China town, where they agreed to meet us. We arrived in China town and parked in an empty parking lot full of closed buildings. A small still-open coffee shop became our point of rendezvous with the coming high school friends.
We ordered tea and waited for their arrival. I was pleased to see for the first time some signs of life and activity. Neon lights in Chinese and parking lots full of cars stood in a single large shopping center across the way. Unfortunately, we weren’t going there. We were sitting at a coffee shop waiting for the host’s friends to arrive.
A half an hour later, we were still sitting at a coffee shop waiting for the host’s friends to arrive. Forty-five minutes later, we were still sitting at a coffee shop waiting for the host’s friends to arrive. So far the only interesting thing I’d done in China Town was share more conversation with the California natives. When forty-five minutes turned into an hour, however, the California natives were ready to go. Feigning being tired, they excused themselves and prepared to leave. Possessing the good sense to act before my chance passed, I also excused myself, informed Ella that I had a nice time, and convinced the Californians to take me back to my vehicle. The ride was nice. We had a pleasant visit on the way back to the café.
When they pulled into parking lot, we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. Then they were off and so was I. The next morning, I pulled out my leisure learning center catalog and noticed another event I had circled to go on. I hurriedly scratched the event off my list and threw the page away. It read:
“Houston Secrets: See secret Gardens, international and local foods, and fascinating places to shop on this tour of little-known spots in Houston. We’ll meet a 9am and leave by 10. Guide: Ella Tyler”.