Houston Traffic

Understanding Houston,
Past, Present, & Future.

A Fractured Fairy Tale written by Rick Archer

Does anyone else think Houston's Traffic Problems are spinning out of control or is it just me??  I think perhaps the whole problem can be traced back to the Battle of San Jacinto. 

Houston's Past

Once upon a time a brave Texan named Sam Yewston defeated Mexican General Santa Ana at San Hacinto in 1836. Sadly, after the battle Sam Yewston found that none of the people who fought for Texas and lived were able to read or write. The only two educated Texans died heroically trying to prove the pen was mightier than the sword. 

After a lengthy search, Sam Yewston met a Chinaman named "An Tone Rose". Mr. Rose, who was Santa Ana's premier road builder, was the only person still alive able to read and write. Mr. Rose, whose nickname was "San", struck up a spirited conversation with the great Texas hero and volunteered to write down this important story for the whole world to read. Sam and San spent the rest of the afternoon getting the details right, except that San wrote the story in Chinese. This unusual twist of fate led to our City's fascinating 200 year preoccupation with the Country of China. 

A young translator down at the Chronicle, Leon Hale, had trouble reading some of the Chinaman's writing and the next thing that happened was the letter “H” disappeared into the witless protection program. When this valuable letter resurfaced, “J” sounded like “H” (as in “Hacinto”, not “Jacinto”), "H" sounded like "Y", and "J" was adopted from Chinese as a word for walking funny. Mr. Hale also misspelled Sam Yewston's name badly in his write-up of the important battle. As a result, here inside our city limits, but nowhere else in the world, “Houston” is pronounced “YEW-STON”.  These alphabetical blunders were to have a major impact in shaping our city's destiny as you will soon discover.

Sadly, many people arriving in Yewston for the first time believe they are in the wrong place since their travel agent said they were going to “Who-ston” or "How-ston" or "God Only Knows Where-ston". 

Houston's Present

The first thing you need to know about Houston is that it is a multi-cultural city composed of many ethnic groups all speaking different languages. Due to the many languages and our historic problem with missing and transposed letters, today in modern Houston the phrase “Y’all” is the probably the only word still understood by everyone. As you remember, Yewston's problems with Language go all the way back to the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836.

Here in Modern Day Houston, Construction of Roads is the number one form of employment here in Yewston. This amazing phenomenon dates back to Mr. Rose, the Chinaman who used his connections with Sam Yewston to become famous for his great roads. Indeed Mr. Rose was instrumental in helping Sam Yewston found and develop what we call downtown Houston today. He became legendary as the "Yellow Rose of Texas".  

Mr. Rose eventually married a local German girl whose first name was "Wertheimer". However Mr. Rose had trouble saying the letter "R". After the new reporter for the Chronicle Maxine Messinger heard Mr. Rose mispronounce her name at the wedding, the new bride became known as "Westheimer" instead. 

According to Maxine Messinger's early columns, Mr. Rose was one of Houston's first big earth movers and shakers. His major accomplishment was building the first suburb of Houston, San Antonio, which he named after himself, and the major street to reach it. Yes, you guessed it, Mr. Rose named Westheimer in honor of his beautiful bride. Mr. Rose's legacy is still felt today. After hearing "All Roads Lead to Rome", in yet another twist of fate An Tone Rose misheard the letter "R". He helped found downtown Houston (as it was now spelled) and dedicated his life to the proposition that "All Roads Lead to Home". 

As a result of Rose's legacy Road Construction people are considered incredibly important. For example despite enormous inconveniences to the vast majority of all Houstonians, Construction crews are not said to be doing their job properly unless they close down all lanes except one during rush hour. This is due to the fact that through the years Road Construction workers have consistently abused their privileged status. Ordinary people began to hate them and would run over any Road Construction worker if given half the chance. Well, this had to stop. However rather than try to be a little more sympathetic to people struggling to get to work, another strategy was seized upon instead. As a result today due to the lane closings no car can actually move fast enough to cause any damage. 

Transportation in Houston can be pretty tricky since the words “Mass Transit” are never spoken due to an intense preoccupation with Roads by former Mayor Bob Lanier. As the result of his inscrutable, almost oriental ways, today Yewston is comprised almost entirely of one way streets. This is attributed to the famous Chinese philosopher Lao Tse who preached about the "True One Way." As a result, the only way to get out of downtown Houston is to turn around and start over when you reach Dallas, Texas, a suburb of our great city that we will probably try to annex soon like we did Kingwood.

If you are new to Houston, there are many Realities that you need to grasp quickly to ensure your safety. Most important of all, you to need to be able to locate "Westheimer" on your map. You need to understand that all directions start with, “Go down Westheimer...” 

It is said that once people move to Houston, they never leave. One reason for this is, like the Buddhist concept of Yin and Yang, is that Westheimer has no beginning and no end. Westheimer is said to span the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean. This odd circumstance is attributed to a mistake in one of Mayor Bob Lanier’s many road-building projects to "Katy". Now it seems "Katy" is a mythical city reminiscent to Shangri-La in that everyone has heard of it, but no one has actually ever seen it. Although many people are said to live there, Katy is essentially unreachable or unfindable, although it is believed Katy is located somewhere near the suburb of San Antonio. 

Bob Lanier was elected mostly due to his campaign promise to reach Katy, but as they say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Due to the many complex and forbidden letters here in Yewston, it seems when a Texan says the word “Katy” and an Asian says the word "Beijing", the words sound nearly identical. As a result of this huge misunderstanding, the road contractor built Westheimer straight to Beijing, which is only slightly further west than Katy anyhow. Since the project was of course a one-true-way street, it continued to cross Asia on its way to Dallas. No one really minded since he brought the road in under budget. Everyone said Katy was mostly for the birds anyway. 

Another reason no one ever leaves Houston is they can barely get out of their neighborhood, much less the city during Rush Hour. One subdivision nearly starved to death recently when the city accidentally blocked the only exit with a Neighborhood Protection Barrier. Rescue vehicles were unable to reach the subdivision since the construction crew also closed down all lanes. Fortunately a mother whose child was late for a piano lesson flattened the barrier with her two-story SUV, saving everyone.

Newcomers and Veterans alike are amazed at Houston's traffic. For example, Houston’s Rush Hour is pretty brutal. The 8 a.m. rush hour is from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m.  The 5:00 p.m rush hour is from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.  Friday’s rush hour starts Thursday morning. Why anyone calls it "Rush Hour" is a mystery to everyone. No one has been able to rush for several decades. The consensus is our Chamber of Commerce made up that slogan.

People get lost in Houston with alarming frequency. Experts attribute this partially to the fact it is impossible to go around a block and wind up on the same street you started on. For one thing, almost all roads either change their name every two miles or disappear for a while and suddenly reemerge on the other side of town. Many of these street names even change languages depending on which ethnic group has currently gained control of the particular neighborhood. Despite these vertigo-inducing road phenomena, in a clever marketing slogan, the Chamber of Commerce advertises Houston nationally as the city of many “Scenic Drives”. 

Indeed, visitors disembarking their airplanes at Bush Intercontinental are greeted by signs saying "Welcome to the Urban Jungle". For a moment these tourists think they are in Kenya, especially because no one pronounces "Yewston" the way their travel agent did. Furthermore after a few "Scenic Drives" these visitors are still not sure where they are because their adventures are unusually full of perilous dead ends, maze-like turns, bizarre one-way streets with changing names, and unexpected barriers (Neighborhood Protection Barriers, Language Barriers). They half-expect to see Tarzan swinging from a sky scraper.  In addition there is a recent danger in Houston's Urban Jungle that no one managed to foresee. Recently Metro had to warn all visitors to be careful to avoid the deadly cul de sacs. This came after many unfortunate tourists were found starving in cul de sacs, their gas tanks empty from hours of going round in circles during their scenic drives.

But nothing is more frightening to the tourists than Houston's infamous "Reversible Lanes." This is understandable because even the "Natives" (as home-grown Houstonians are called) find them terrifying. 

Reversible Lanes are not understood by anybody. The principles of these mysterious streets are based on the primordial Oriental force "ContraFlow", a powerful energy first revealed by the legendary Chinese philosopher Confuse Us. "ContraFlow" is an anti-matter power locked in a dialectic struggle with "ConFusion", an equally powerful force named for the great philosopher himself. These two opposing life forces are sub-particle offshoots of Yin and Yang, the basic forces of Existence. 

As a rule these Chinese principles are much too confusing for most Texans to fathom. Only politicians seem to understand "ContraFlow" which is the main reason why we continually elect them to lead us. 

Nevertheless, let us attempt to throw some light on the matter. Essentially when the anti-gravity Yins of "Contraflow" are aligned properly with the gravitational pull of the Moon's Yangs, a gracefulness and economy of motion never before imaginable in the Western World is attained. However, when our Reversible Lane system was first designed, the English system of measurement was used instead of the Metric System. Since "ContraFlow" is based on the more precise measurements of the Metric System, this enormous mistake created distortions in the Yin Yang force field resulting in an overabundance of "ConFusion" being created. Tragically this elemental mistake has never been satisfactorily corrected. 

As a result of ContraFlow ConFusion, many people have actually been killed in Reversible Lanes by head-on collisions!!  These horrible accidents have caused others to become too scared to use these mysterious lanes. Confuse Us predicted this might happen, saying it is so ironic that people fear that which they do not understand. For another thing, drivers simultaneously discovered that unless they worked Downtown, the Reversible Lanes did not accomplish very much. These two facts help explain why frequently there is only one car driving on the Reversible Lane being watched in silent fury by thousands of cars stuck in the regular lanes.

Fear of the Reversible Lanes is not Houston's only phobia. Confuse Us also wrote of the power of one rain drop to create many ripples in the great pond of life. In yet another tragic display of fearing that which they do not understand, Houstonians are continually paralyzed with an irrational fear of precipitation. This phenomenal ignorance can be partially attributed to the year-round display of signs warning, “Danger: Bridge Slippery Due to Ice”. These signs are kind of amusing since due to Global Warming it never actually freezes here any more. The falling of one raindrop or the rumored falling of one snowflake usually causes all traffic to immediately cease for fear that a bridge has frozen somewhere. 

Further Traffic disruptions are also caused by the change from daylight savings time or an equally disturbing event such as a girl applying eye shadow across the street. In addition, every passing car must slow down to carefully examine the changing of any flat tire. Besides rain however, nothing can stop traffic like a fender bender. More entertaining than even the World Wrestling Federation are fender benders. Houstonians would rather get to work late than miss catching a glimpse of the animated arguments between the drivers of cars that have attempted to mate. The cars, that is, not the drivers. Gee whiz, if the drivers attempted to mate, no one would ever get home.

The Metro Bus System has been credited with creating a strange phenomenon known as the Disappearing Houstonian. Early in the 90s, Metro actually considered a Mass Transit system using buses. In conjunction with our Chamber of Commerce slogan spinners, Metro adopted the Chinese Proverb "Journey of Thousand Miles Begins with One Step" as the marketing approach to selling bus travel. People were encouraged to take the Step whenever "The Bus Door Opens". If you’re standing on a corner and a Metro Bus stops, Houstonians were encouraged to get on and go somewhere. 

However almost like Alien Abduction or the Bermuda Triangle, many Houstonians simply vanished from sight in the early months of this program. Then to everyone's surprise after several years these MIAs started to consistently show up again here in Houston. It turns out by mistake they got on the Westheimer bus which has kind of a long route, especially considering all the stops it has to make at places like Hawaii, Guam, and of course Dallas on the way back. These people, who were gone so long they were legally certified as dead, can be identified by the distinctive “Great Wall of China” tee shirts that they are fond of wearing. Now back in Houston, they quickly became popular because they are able to read those mysterious Asian street signs in their neighborhood. Everyone was shocked to discover the signs all said “Westheimer”.

The Bus Program was started due to road building problems. By the 90s construction on the Gulf Freeway, I-45, and all other Freeways has become a permanent way of life and a perpetual source of depression since no one actually ever gets anything done. It seems by the time the road workers put down the orange cones to close all but one lane, it is usually time for the Road Construction Supervisors to go home since they need to leave early to beat the traffic. Although Houston receives national praise for the beauty and symmetry of its magnificent interlocking freeway system, it turns out to be so highly integrated that if one car stops due to a raindrop on I-10, cars on every other freeway must come to a simultaneous stop as well. Since the Freeways are usually reduced to one lane anyway, everyone eventually learns the fastest way to get anywhere is to take any road conveniently marked by those huge, hard-to-miss bumps in the road. Sadly the writer of this story was unable to think of one single Chinese proverb to relate to these bumps. So sorry.

The 1990s are a pivotal time in Houston's history. At this point An Tone Rose's early road-building legacy has been embraced vigorously by each generation of Houston politicians with Mayor Bob Lanier and his successor Mayor Lee Brown as the most recent advocates. By the 90s Houston has become a very large city as the result of this continual road expansion policy. Everything about Houston seems Big. As a symbol of Houston's endlessness, Gate One at the Airport is built 32 miles away from the Main Concourse. Houston is known as "Space City" for more reasons than just NASA. One enormous problem created by the development of Houston's vast urban sprawl is the growing trend that most Houstonians only know their way home and their way to work. A  frightening by-product of this city-wide disorientation is that by the 1990s no one can actually find any of their sports stadiums any more. Attendance begins to fall and the teams all start to leave or threaten to leave. 

Taking note of this disturbing trend, in a stroke of genius Mayor Lee Brown makes a signature decision. After studying the writings of his spiritual predecessor, An Tone Rose, one day Lee Brown emerges with a stunning vision : "All Roads Must Lead to Home Plate!!" 

Lee Brown decides perfectly good stadiums such as the Astrodome and the Summit/Compaq are now useless. This has a major impact on Houston's development since it means that every single one of our sports stadiums has to be rebuilt Downtown since this is the only place that anyone can actually find any more. Although Houston voters think it is a big waste of money and object to all the stadiums, Lee Brown eventually sells his vision to the people. However instead of two stadiums, we end up building six : one for baseball, one for outdoor football, one for indoor football, one for basketball, one for ice hockey since the basketball and ice hockey team owners don't like each other, and one for a woman's soccer team.  

The woman's soccer team meets a bizarre fate however. Due to trademark difficulties, all the decent names for a Houston sports team are still owned by the many franchises that have gone out of business or moved elsewhere. In an attempt to find any nickname that will establish a strong Houston identity, they decide to call themselves "The Smog Princesses." However it proves to be highly embarrassing for the women to play in their open-air stadium wearing gas masks. Plus it is difficult to take their shirts off over the gas masks whenever they scored. Disgusted, the team owner quickly moves the franchise elsewhere, leaving the gorgeous new two-billion dollar stadium completely empty.

Despite a few bumps in the road, Mayor Lee Brown takes his vision seriously. Houston embarks on a new frenzy of building Reversible Lanes to Downtown, but nowhere else. This strategy is brilliant at reviving our sports teams, especially after Mr. Brown decrees that on game days all roads will be closed except the Reversible Lanes, all of which lead straight to the new Stadiums. 

The effect on Houston's economy is phenomenal. Downtown Houston grows and grows. Reversible Lanes are everywhere. But somewhere along this path to success an enormous cloud begins to loom ominously above us. They call it Smog. 

 The Million Roads to 
Houston's Future

As the New Millennium begins, people start to whisper that when it comes to Transportation, Houston is one big mess. Here in Yewston, the concept of Mass Transit is still unheard of. The 19th Century concept of endlessly widening the freeways is still the only strategy for traffic improvement. As the 21st Century rolls in, this clever strategy has made Houston the Smog Capital of the United States. 

Smog is an enormous problem because Washington has threatened to cut off all of our Road Construction funding as a way to get Yewston's attention. And who says our government isn't smart?? This ploy is brilliant!!  It doesn't take a Roads Scholar to see that losing any road funding would be a major catastrophe in Houston.

Road Construction is clearly the focal point of Houston's economy. It would completely change our way of life. Countless road workers would become unemployed and the freeways would become virtually empty. First all the road workers would stay home since they would have no job to go to, second no one would be around to put out the orange cones, opening up many lanes heretofore never actually used, and third the few people who still had jobs would zip to work so fast you would barely notice them. No one wants to see our magnificent road system wasted on just a few people like this !! 

Most Houstonians everywhere are relieved to note our city fathers take the Smog Problem very seriously. When it comes to Smog, the only benefit the "silver lining in the cloud" types can point to the Bridges don’t ice over any more. But not surprisingly, no one has bothered to take down the terrifying signs about ice on the bridges. 

Others like the Smog because they don't trust breathing air they can't see. But the majority of Houstonians desperately want to avoid losing that Road Funding so people try to think of ways to reduce the Smog.

One of the most creative solutions to the Smog Problem is a clever plan whereby each Yewstonian would not be allowed to use their car one day a week. Instead they would be expected to take the slow bus to China. The thought of using the bus system is frightening since commuters would have to leave for work years ahead of time if they had to take the bus. People can learn to speak Chinese faster than the bus can get them to work. 

It is predicted if our city leaders can somehow keep our Highway Funding from being cut off, Highway 59 is expected to be 200 lanes wide by the year 2525 and everyone will be allowed to use their car three days a week. However, the more things change, the more they stay the same. According to a recently translated quatrain from Nostradamus found hidden in a fortune cookie, in 2525, one of the most common complaints is the average Houstonian's rage at seeing 199 lanes closed off due to road construction. 

Looking ahead to 2525, a recent call to the Psychic Hotline revealed a road to Mars is said to be in the early planning stages. A tunnel to China is halfway completed. Never fear, both projects will feature Reversible Lanes to assist our Sports Teams. In stunning good news, it seems that 8-time Super Bowl Champions the Titans will be coming back to Houston... it seems we annexed Nashville in 2524 to enlarge our tax base to afford more roads. But in an odd twist, Bud Adams, who it turns out was preserved by the same doctor as Michael Jackson, no longer likes his old Tennessee stadium and immediately starts whining about getting a new one in Downtown Yewston. Get out of town!!  What Goes Around Truly Comes Around. Now Houston will have two football teams. Mr. Brown is thrilled and immediately builds two more stadiums for the Titans, one outdoor and one indoor depending on the weather. Plus both have reversible domes. It turns out that both football teams go to the Super Bowl in the first year, giving Mayor Brown the opportunity to build yet another stadium because the two owners can't agree on which stadium to use. Too bad we can't all afford Michael Jackson's doctor just to stick around and see it happen!! 

In 2525 our crystal ball says that Downtown Houston now occupies the entire area once known as "Inside the Loop". It is a source of great pride to Former Mayor Lanier that the entire area inside the old Loop now consists of a maze of one-way streets. In order to accommodate both football teams in Downtown Houston which is now reachable by 100 different Reversible Lanes, Mayor-for-Life Lee Brown decides to have two new stadiums built, putting Bob McNair's team across the street from the Galleria and the Titans where the old Astrodome used to be. These locations are conveniently located at the very edge of Downtown Houston with wonderful access to the old Loop 610 which is now known as the "Big Wagon Wheel" due the spoke-like effect of the 100 Reversible Lanes. No one cares that many of the "spokes" go the wrong way for this illusion to work properly. Everyone agrees that the clever marketing slogan is more important than any particular truth. Mayor Brown has Reversible Lanes installed inside the "Big Wagon Wheel" too. Every day at noon and at midnight, everyone stops and turns their cars around to go from Clockwise to Counter-Clockwise. 

Furthermore despite the future vastness of Downtown Houston, amazingly these days very few Houstonians ever get lost any more. This is because they now sleep at their jobs. No big deal. In 2525 the words "job" and "home" are pretty much synonymous. No one would ever get any work done if they had to use Houston's Road System. Even the road workers sleep at their jobs. They simply park their RVs in the closed off lanes on the freeway. 

Sadly Lee Brown meets a very strange ending. Amazingly, thanks to Michael Jackson's doctor Lee Brown is no longer Brown but White believe it or not !!  Mr. Brown is known across the country as Mr. Reversible. Unfortunately the source of his long, illustrious life also becomes his downfall. While undergoing a routine longevity treatment, Lee Brown dies tragically due to a pigmentation error on the part of Michael Jackson's doctor. 

Although everyone is saddened to see Lee Brown go, he will die famous. As his career is chronicled in the national media, many people see the dichotomy of his Black to White transformation as a metaphor of his grasp of the deepest Buddhist concepts such as Yin, Yang, and "ContraFlow". Indeed Lee Brown's road-building projects have made Houston the dominant power of the 21st century. 

On a down note it seems no matter how great someone is, there are always those few who wish to throw some acid rain on an epitaph. Lee Brown's administration was embarrassed recently by a study that showed bicycles were now able to beat any car in a head-to-head commuting competition. Nevertheless cars remained the dominant form of transportation because over half the bike riders died of heat stroke and extensive Smog inhalation during the study. 

A few other negative people point out that it is a shame no one on Mars can even see our Great Space City because it is hidden under a dense Smog Cloud. This cloud is so heavy that it rests on the tops of Houston's many tall skyscrapers. These people who fail to comprehend Lee Brown's greatness point out that in 2525 skyscrapers not only really do scrape the sky, they hold it up as well. Cars in Houston must use radar to navigate. Fortunately only a few people actually pay attention to these wacko "the sky is falling" idiots. 

In tribute to Lee Brown's genius, vision, and leadership, he is buried next to the only remaining tree from Memorial Park which is kept alive by a two-story oxygenated bubble. His memorial is known as "The Brown Stone." The two one-way streets on either side of the tree are renamed "Black" and "White" in a touching ceremony. 

After this tragedy, fortunately 125-year old cryogenically restored Bob Lanier, who is now black, decides to run for re-election in 2525 to fill the leadership vacuum. He will win based on his campaign promise to annex our newest Western suburb "China" down at the end of Westheimer. Or is it an Eastern suburb? 

No matter. That tunnel to Beijing will come in handy. Due to Global Warming, all the roads in Houston are now under water from the Gulf of Mexico except for a couple of the upper deckers. The dominant form of transportation is now radar-operated Canoes using one-way sea lanes. We used speed boats at first, but the gridlock soon became so bad that pretty soon the speed boats only moved at a snail's pace anyway. 

The big political issue of the day is whether to widen the one-way Sea Lanes and to put in Reversible Sea Lanes as well. Even in the future, people are still deeply suspicious of Mass Transit. 

By the way, Bob Lanier also has plans to widen the Great Wall of China and, yes, put in a Reversible Lane. 


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