Thursday, November 13, 2008

Letter to Harris County Commissioners

Via U.S. Mail and email to

The Hon. Ed Emmett
Harris County Judge
1001 Preston, Suite 911
Houston, TX 77002

To the Honorable Judge Emmett,

I write today to give my support for a soccer-specific stadium in Downtown Houston. More than that, I write to give my support for the Houston Dynamo.

I did not grow up with the beautiful game. I came to it in college as an announcer for the Fighting Kangaroos of Austin College in Sherman, Texas. Traveling in Europe in the summer of 2000, I was unexpectedly thrust into the beating heart of the Euro Cup. In a city square in Copenhagen I watched with 10,000 Danes as their national team was eliminated, having failed to score a single goal in the competition. I escaped the mayhem in Brussels on a summer night set alight after England beat Germany. I saw both the immeasurable joy of triumph and the extraordinary cruelty of defeat as I crossed the continent.

I continued to follow international football with at least enough interest that I was intrigued when the San Jose Earthquakes relocated to Houston. My first Dynamo game was their 2-0 victory over Pachuca in the first leg of the semifinals of the 2007 Champions Cup. On gazing over the sea of orange for the first time, I was instantly aware that the atmosphere was unlike any other in Houston. Here, in the songs of the Texian Army and the canciones of El Batallon I found that spark of the passion and enthusiasm I had seen throughout Europe.

I dutifully attended the home games this past season. I grew passionate about the team. I tailgated. I learned the songs. I brought friends, who then brought friends. I grieved with them the loss of Kyle Ritcheske, our friend and fellow fan whose life was cut tragically short this summer, and out of whose death the Ritcheske Dynamics was born. I stood with them in sorrow as our beloved Dynamo fell to New York last Sunday and their campaign to once again hoist the Anschutz Trophy came to a brutal and heartbreaking end.

More importantly, I watched as the Dynamo carried the colors, and the name of the City of Houston to far-away lands, from the defeat at the hands of the Purple Monster in Costa Rica to their historic point in front of a very hostile UNAM Pumas crowd in the Estadio Olympico in Mexico City. I watched as many of our young players, Corey Ashe, Ricardo Clarke, Patrick Ianni, and Stuart Holden, himself a Houstonian, took their games to the world stage with service on the U.S. Men’s National Team at various levels. I reveled as the team received yet another gift from San Jose in the form of Kei Kamara, the pride of Sierra Leone, the Lion of Houston.

There will be in this discussion many supporters and many detractors. This is a decision fraught with political peril. Stadium issues always are, and all the more so for a sport that still lags in popularity behind the other major U.S. sports. But there are those of us who believe this tide is turning. One need only look to the attendance at last Sunday’s game, played opposite the Texans, as proof that the Dynamo Nation is on the rise. Sadly, I am all too aware that even this rise will never convince the opponents of the stadium project who see only public money being thrown at a team they do not support, and a sport they do not understand. They have endured many years and billions of dollars in tax revenues used to build palaces for two iconic sports franchises, and one extraordinarily mediocre franchise that, God willing, will one day get its act together. I cannot say they are right to be reluctant, but I understand their apprehension.

This stadium presents a much different scenario. AEG has offered to front nearly all of the costs of construction, which are currently downward-trending as the cost of raw materials goes down. Oliver Luck said it best this morning when he noted that, in this economic climate, a lot of projects are being put on hold, but the Dynamo are ready and willing to make this investment. Needless to say, with the County’s participation, this project will provide an immediate source of employment for numerous trades otherwise left idle while other projects are put on the backburner.

The land has been purchased, and all that remains is the County’s agreement to participate in an East End TIRZ, which funds will primarily be used to offset the costs of upgrades to the public infrastructure serving the location. These upgrades will ultimately benefit the area and allow for further development on the city’s east side.

I implore you to keep an open mind about this project. This is an incredible opportunity to close the loop started downtown with the construction of Minute Maid Park and Toyota Center. One day, families will be able to picnic on Discovery green before walking over to catch a Dynamo match, a concert, a TSU football game, or any one of a number of youth-sports events that could be hosted at such a venue. The Houston Dynamo are, without question, the last bastion of affordable family entertainment in Houston sports.

In closing, I strongly urge you to vote to participate in TIRZ 15. The Dynamo have given us two championships and, hopefully, many more to come. Build a stadium for them. Build it for the fans, who pour their hearts, souls, guts and money into every game they can. Build it for every one of the 250,000 youth soccer players in the greater Houston area whose parents schlep them to and from practice and games, week-in and week-out, and who may one day aspire to set foot upon that field clad in orange.

If anything, build it for Kyle Ritcheske, so he can watch the games in heaven. I thank you for your consideration. Dale Dynamo!


Eric Carl Nordstrom

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Long live the Greater Heights Flyers! Viva el Projecto Bicicleta Althea!

The Greater Heights Flyers is a fledgling bicycle club based out of my LBS, I Cycle Bike Shop. I Cycle is a no-frills, low-intimidation-factor bike shop owned and operated by Matt Wurth, who offers folks interested in bicycling an affordable and accessible alternative to wasting money on a bike shaped object from Wal-Mart or its kind.

In fact, I Cycle has to some degree developed a niche market of servicing customers referred from other bike shops once it is realized the customer isn't interested in dropping $1000-$2000k on a new high-end road or mountain bike.

I have been threatening the GHFs for some time that I would be accompanying them on the weekly rides once the fabled Althea Bike Project became road-worthy enough to ride in a group without serious risk of bodily injury or death to myself or the other participants.

The Althea Bike Project is the culmination of six months of providence, labor, and trial and error which began back in May with the discovery of a 1986 Peugeot frame and fork (Reynolds 501, non-lugged) in the trash can of my neighbor's house down the street. Complete with Campy front derailleur and Shimano 105 crank, the only thing lacking was a set of wheels. I immediately set about securing a set of wheels via bartered labor services at the Third Ward Bike Shop. I was never particularly satisfied with the less-desirable 501 Reynolds frame, and was especially wary of the internally-welded frame. Lugs breed confidence.

Just as I was nearing completion of the wheel set, providence came around as though I were Perseus in the colliseum, the Gods placing all I needed in my hands.

Two months after finding the Peugeot at one end of the street, I came across a 1986 Schwinn World Sport (Lugs!) in the trash pile at the other end of the street, complete with Araya wheelset. All that was needed could be harvested and recombined to complete the Althea Bike Project. In the spirit of patriotism and freedom fries, I eschewed the Peugeot in favor of the American goodness of the Schwinn (albeit made in Asia).

With some sweat equity invested, as well as $12 for a new set of derailleur cables, the Althea Bike Project was finally deemed road worthy after a lenghty Thanksgiving bike ride.

With this in mind, I set off last night from I Cycle with Matt, Adam, John & Benjamin for a light cruise through the neighborhoods forming the Near Northwest Side of Houston proper. I have never ridden in a group before, with the exception of a couple of critical mass rides in Houston. In addition, I've never ridden with a cyclocomputer, so I have no idea how fast I'm capable of going or maintaining over distance.

That being said, the five of us weren't a particularly large group, especially after two peeled off early. The highlight of the evening had to have been the encounter we had with the yuppie lady while crusing through Garden Oaks Section One.

The street in that neighborhood is narrow with no center stripe. We were riding three abreast and carrying on a casual conversation when a car behind honked. I drfited back and we all fell in line. Then the lady in her Lexus decides to pass literally within 6 inches of us, a transgression that could not go unresolved.

Intrepid Leader and I sped up to catch the transgressor. After hurling a colorful epithet, I continued on. When I looked back to see where everyone was, I saw that Intrepid Leader was stopped by her driveway, and she attempted to peel out and run over him, but he did not budge. I turned back to render assistance. Intrepid Leader, completely calm and composed, engaged Lexus Lady in a dialogue regarding her need to brush by us so closely when we're on bicycles and completely exposed. During this time, Intrepid Leader was kind enough to keep his billion candlepower helmet light out of her face while so engaged.

Lexus lady, clearly slurring her speech, attempted to defend the indefensible, inquiring "if you going to ride a bike, why don't you stay out of the middle of the street?" To which I replied, "If you're going to drive a car, why don't you drink less?" I don't know if she heard me or not, but I got my two cents in and felt good about it. Intrepid Leader "apologized" for mistakenly thinking she was intentionally trying to pass too close, and we sped off into the night, invigorated by the confrontation. Both of us agreed that, while unpleasant, the confrontation was necessary for the safety of bicyclists everywhere. Intrepid Leader is well-versed in the issues of bicycle safety and advocacy, and let her know it in a very calm and articulate manner why she was completely in the wrong.

I think if we'd have been argumentative and verbally abusive, her first inclination if confronted with a similar situation in the future would be to try and piss off the cyclists. However, the way it was handled, I think, would probably cause her to give the bikes some room the next time round. In this way, I'd say that the episode encapsulated everything that the Critical Mass movement is supposed to represent, but usually doesn't.

The Schwinn held up to the test, and will be put through a more rigourous club ride Saturday Morning - hopefully without incident.

Lesson to all: Don't mess with the Flyers. Or, to borrow a phrase from the West Side Husslas "Cross Cripple Creek with caution. Don't cash no checks your ass can't withdrawal."

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Houstonist, Brought to you by Moved and Shaken

Once upon a time, I set about to document a side of the City of Houston only capable of being seen from astride a bicycle. I decided I would name this endeavour the Houstonist, and it would be good. Then, nature took its course, I once again became a deadbeat blogger, and my well-intentioned experiment was left dormant, like a bear in slumber, waiting for the spring. Then somewhere along the way, those that carry the mantle of the Gothamist descended upon the bayou city, stealing away the magic and respectability that was the two-wheeled adventure of the Houstonist.

What's a man to do when confronted with such affrontery? Nothing lads, nothing at all. Simply continue the deadbeat bloggery, nay, imbrace inaction.

Until now.

Thursday brought a bike commute to work, and with it, at wife's suggestion, the camera. I've been meaning to bring the camera along on the ride to work for some time, but in the mornings its usually too dark to take any decent shots, and I'm preoccupied with actually getting to work in reasonable time.

Thursday afternoon I left work early for a haircut in Rice Village. Afterwards, I had some time to kill, so I thought I'd ride east to the new Columbia Tap trail the City of Houston is building through the Third Ward as part of the rails-to-trails program. I had to cross Rice University and Hermann Park to get to the Brays Bayou trail that links up with Columbia Tap on the east side of town.

On campus at Rice.

The old and the new.

The obelisk and reflecting pool in Hermann Park, with the Kona Smoke in the foreground.

The Columbia Tap trail looking south from the campus of Texas Southern University.

Looking north from campus.

Let me be the first to say that the Columbia Tap trail may be the most forward thinking, progressive public works project the city has undertaken in a good long while. Not only has it been an incredibly fast moving construction project (groundbreaking was in May, with construction really beginning in earnest around late July). It's a bicycle highway, with entrance points along the way in various neighborhoods throughout the ward. It's great that it's being built in a part of town where a poorer demographic, more inclined to use bikes as primary transport, will get to put it to real use in their everyday lives. I can't speak highly enough that the city has had the foresight to undertake this project, and I hope it catches on in other areas of the city.

The George H.W. Bush monument along the banks of Buffalo Bayou on the northwest side of Houston. Say what you will about the man and his progeny, but I have to confess that I want one, too.

Until such time, moved and shaken I remain.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My Kona is a Man-Killer

So I'm still a deadbeat, and it'll likely be another three months at least until my next post, but I thought I'd go public with an official word of endorsement for my Kona Smoke.

I bought the Smoke last May as my all-around commuter bike. I've been toying with bicycle commuting for a couple of years now, but this spring decided I would really try to leave the car at home at least one day a week. So far, its working pretty well, I've developed a reliable route, and I truly enjoy getting out in the morning and making my way through the Houston traffic.

So far, the Smoke has taken quite a beating from the H-town streets with nary a complaint. Yesterday, on the way home, I was riding down the service road of Loop 610 for about a quarter mile, on a section I've never ridden before. Keeping my head on a swivel, I was nervously aware of all traffic around me, and was constantly checking behind for approaching cars. All of a sudden, I simultaneously feel and hear the sound of a bottle exploding underneath my front tire, showering me with glass (thankfully, sunglasses saved the day). I pulled off to the side of the road to check everything out, thinking surely I was going to get to test my roadside tube patching skills. To my surprise, nothing happened. The Kona, armed with its Tioga City Slickers, ate that bottle for lunch. Nonetheless, I pedaled directly to my LBS to pick up a spare tube.

(Don't try this at home, kids.)

The Kona Smoke, for the money, is one of the best commuter rigs available. Not the fastest, and by no means the lightest, but an absolute workhorse of a bicycle. Thanks to the guys at West End Bikes for putting a bug in my ear.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Architect Speaks in Half-Truths

A copy of stategy memo authored by a 22 year old Karl Rove in connection with his bid to become president of the College Republicans has surfaced in the Nixon archive. The New York Times has the story here. When asked about the memo, Rove stated that he could not recall all of the specifics of his proposals, but was not surprised that it had come to light.

“When you send something to a White House person,” he said, ‘’it tends to be collected and remain.”

Indeed, that used to be the case.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

This new-fangled whirlygig

Blogger locked me out. That would explain the nearly year long absence since I first Richardised this url from Greg Palast.

I'd like to say it'll be different in the future. Expect more of the same.

Monday, July 17, 2006

It's hot, and world war 3

Maybe this thing pans out where other have fizzled. Maybe not.

World War Three has apparently begun, and I can't seem to lay hands on the goddamn Starbucks cinnamon roll. Those things are in pretty high demand.

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