Friday, March 19, 2010

Trip to Houston, part 1

So much happened this past week that I'll split it into two parts. There was some mixed reaction to my presence at Church of the Redeemer as not everyone there was wild about "Days of Fire and Glory" but no one had any qualms about the most popular member of our entourage: Miss Veeka. I showed up at Redeemer my second night in town to explain how my book came about. I'd say 80-100 showed up, which is a fabulous crowd for a Friday night event there and a few folks even drove in from Austin. Sending out all those personalized invites brought results! A few people from Redeemer's long-ago past, such as Charles Meisgeier, the University of Houston scholar who researched the place years ago, put in an appearance as did people I had not seen in two decades.
Fortunately some of the folks who were unhappy about the book when it came out finally read the thing and changed their minds 180 degrees after they saw the complexity of the story and appreciated the massive amount of work it took to put the book together over a four-year period. For two full summers and a 3-month stint in 1994, I worked on the book full-time, which didn't do much for my bank account. Those were the days before the Internet and before no-cost long distance calls, so you can imagine how expensive and time-consuming it was to do fact-checking.
Redeemer, as it turns out, is barely making it financially and its staff had to all take pay cuts recently but all the same, the folks there are really hoping the book can bring some needed healing to the place. I got lots of help from former members Eric and Stevie Sawyer who drove in to handle the book table, which was a godsend as I was embroiled in conversations the whole evening after my speech. But the person who was the star of the show was Miss Veeka, shown here with a banner as she joined the dancers in the aisle.
I returned Sunday morning just to be there and soak up the memories and talk with as many people as possible. Another photo shows Veeka seated in the arms of the rector, Nan Doerr.
I met with other friends around Houston and reintroduced myself to the wonderful local Mexican food. Monday, Veeka and I trapised up to Brenham, about 70 miles northwest of us, to try to find some bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush. Unfortunately, because of a cold winter, the flowers were late by several weeks, so the photo here of Veeka standing in a field of blue were the ONLY bluebonnets I could find up there. We had a great time visiting a museum on the Brazos River that told the history of Texas as an independent country between 1836-1846 including many factoids I'd never known before. Sort of wish I had gone there many years ago when I first moved to Houston.
The one part of the trip that did not work out was getting any kind of media attention from the trip. I contacted TV and radio places to no avail. Either I got ignored or was told by one anchor that if my work was not related to that of the Osteens (the ruling family over Houston's largest church), she was not interested. The local media are fixated on this church: Lakewood. Finally near the end of my trip, one network affiliate expressed some interest, so I am hopeful. The Houston Chronicle ignored me; some bitternesses run deep, apparently.
Houston had changed a lot since I'd been there 12 years ago for a short visit. One way were all the new freeways and tollways west of town, which confused me quite a bit. Houston is the LA of the south in terms of all the road concrete out there. I was also amazed at the super-low housing prices. I could afford a lake-front mansion down there.

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