As I landed and picked my way through the labyrinth that is Houston International Airport I found myself thinking that it resembled the somewhat twisted logic of the president for which it is named. I fondly recalled Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for vice president, instructing him not patronize her in their famous exchange during the historic 1984 vice presidential debate. I collected my bag and went to the arrival pickup area.
After a short wait I phoned my hosts. Asking if their pick up truck was what I should be expecting I was assured that it was. Upon further inquiry regarding what color the truck was I was told that it was gray. I surveyed the cars in the area which were waiting for arriving passengers. There were no less than 4 gray pick up trucks. Knowing that theirs did not have a gun rack I was able to narrow the possible number of gray pick ups to 2. After a second phone call I was informed that I had misread my arrival time placing it a half hour behind my actual one. After 20 minutes or so, and the passing of a number of other gray pick up trucks, some sporting gun racks, some not, I was after all in Texas, the proper one arrived.
We drove away from the airport and onto the highway. The passing landscape was a mixture of horses grazing in fields, industrial parks and gentle, slow flowing bayous, their banks festooned with midsummer wildflowers.
Houston, like many sunbelt cities, is low and spreads out for miles. Over dinner at a local Mexican restaurant we discussed how, due to the sprawling nature of such cities, devising a public mass transit system is a challenging, if not impossible, task. There is a light rail system downtown, built during a failed bid to host a summer Olympics and a bus system, but service is infrequent and requires hours to get from one location to another. Add to this the blazing Texas heat and it appears from the people seen at the bus stops, that public transit is primarily used by only the most desperate and poor citizens. One option might be a light rail system reaching to the corners of the city with shorter feeder bus routes but this would be costly. Gas lobbyists are a powerful bunch. As long as money, as opposed to common sense, decides public policy reliable and efficient mass transit in the private auto addicted U.S. will remain a pipe dream. When fossil fuel becomes more difficult to obtain, when the price of gas climbs so high that it becomes a luxury item, perhaps we will be spurred to action. Till then I fear public monies will be spent building an increasing number of roads leading us to places we can already get to.