Umm. Houston is huge. A few weeks back, I received notice from Megabus that my bus time from San Antonio to Houston had been pushed back three hours from an 8am departure to 11am and arriving in Houston at 2:30pm. Not a huge deal, but given the fact that my Houston run was shaping up to be my longest, I was in a bit of a time crunch and a bit worried about getting to everything that I wanted to see. The drive into Houston was great. The skyline of the country’s fourth most populous city is pristine, and it immediately had me excited to venture around the city.
Fellow Phi Delt Russell Carman was kind enough to pick me up at the Megabus stop, transport me to my starting point and let me store my bags in his car. Russell is a regional volunteer for the Fraternity and is a passionate Phi. His job intrigues the heck out of me as he works in customs at Houston George Bush Airport. Russell is one of many Americans that works hard to keep this country safe every day, and every day is a new adventure.
On the way to my starting point, we stopped by Adickes Sculptureworx Studio just outside of downtown to take a picture with the many U.S. Presidents’ heads that the artist has done. We soon learned that the Presidents had been transported elsewhere, but we were lucky enough to see the current display – The Beatles. I took the opportunity to thank Neil & Suzanne Alexander once again.
While the Presidents’ heads were gone, a few busts remained, so I jumped in and made myself presidential. Call me Grover Steveland.
I started my run at Tranquility Park, just across the street from Houston’s City Hall. The park provided for a great shot! Here, I thanked my buddy Jason Wise for his donation. Jason and I worked at First American State Bank while I was in college, and we became good friends and share many fun bank stories. Jason works for IBM and recently moved to Ankeny, Iowa. I was able to grab lunch with him a few months ago, and I look forward to many more lunches down the road.
My next stop was the Houston Aquarium. The sun shining in the picture is very symbolic of the day’s weather. Warm weather running is generally not my thing. I’d rather go out in 10 degree weather to run than high heat for some reason. It was in the mid-80’s during the run, making for a very steamy experience. Here, I thanked Bret Zimmerman once again.
As I mentioned before, Houston’s skyline is pretty magical. So grand. So shiny! The picture below only captures a bit of the skyline.
Heading east through downtown, I luckily passed a spot that was on my list but somehow I had forgotten to place on my map. Thankfully, I picked the right road and didn’t forget about it. This is the Houston Is Inspired mural, and it’s pretty awesome as you can see. Here, I thanked my colleague Colin Hueser. Colin is an Iowa State grad, and prior to working alongside of him, I had the opportunity to advise him while he was in college. Colin has done great things for Phi Delta Theta and has a passion for travel. It’s really fun to see the students you work with go on to start successful careers.
Just east of the mural, I arrived at Minute Maid Park, the home of the Houston Astros, or as an unnamed Houstonian referred to them – The Lastros. A large glass of OJ would have been amazing at the stop, but I had no such luck. If you’ve ever watched an Astros’ game, you’ve noticed that the ballpark is oddly shaped. From the outside, it just looks like a giant building that perfectly sits on a block of land. I’m not sure if I’ve ever come across a stadium that is so square from the outside. Definitely unique. I was very proud to thank the Fort Dodge Senior High baseball team here. My good friend and former teammate Blake Utely is the head coach for the team, and the team made my day this summer when they dedicated their Ice Bucket Challenge to my running cause. I’m a proud Fort Dodge Dodger and my baseball experience was a highlight of my high school days. My catcher knees and rebuilt shoulder may think differently! The team is much better today than we were, and I love catching a game each year with the family. It’s also really fun to see Blake coaching and succeeding in the role.
Just down the road from Minute Maid is the Toyota Center, home of the Houston Rockets. I totally should have brought a fake beard to take a James Harden-inspired picture. Here, I thanked Ryan & Nicole Galles for their donation. We tailgate with the Galles family, and they are awesome. We were lucky enough to meet Ryan & Nicole through mutual friends a few years back, and today I always look forward to my time with them. Ryan is one of the most passionate Cyclone fans I know and an optimist to the fullest. They have two adorable girls who are going to give Ryan a run for his money when they start dating, that is if they are allowed to date!
My next stop was one of my favorites of the day. The Preservons la Creation (Let’s Preserve the Creation) is Houston’s largest mural ever produced and is amazing. Seriously, city murals are the absolute best and bring so much life to cities. The artist is from France, so it only made sense to thank my favorite French ex-pat and chapter brother Ben Fleming. Tillie and I ventured around Paris with Ben in February when we were in Europe, and he was an excellent guide and translator when we needed it. Ben is one of the most kind-hearted and generous people you’ll ever meet, and I always love running into him.
I then headed south to the Houston Museum District where I found a collection of grand buildings and fountains. I took the opportunity to thank Keith Brown, another one of Phi Delta Theta’s regional volunteers. Keith is one of many great Phis who have come out of our chapter at West Texas A&M University. The Amarillo area is one area of Texas I still need to get to, and when I do, I know it will be a blast. Keith’s Phi Delt story is pretty great as he was initiated later in life after getting involved as an on-campus adviser. The undergraduates knew a great dude when they saw one, and now he is one of our most active volunteers. I always love catching up and laughing with Keith.
The city of Houston is named after Sam Houston. Sam Houston was an American politician and soldier, best known for his role in bringing Texas into the United States as a constituent state. His victory at the Battle of San Jacinto secured the independence of Texas from Mexico. Simply put, Sam Houston is a big deal around here. Speaking of big deals, I was able to thank my main man Mike Scarlatelli (AKA Scar) at the Sam Houston statue. Scar is a Past President of Phi Delta Theta and is currently the Warden. Basically, he’s the guy that you don’t want to have to deal with if you mess up at a Phi Delt conference! I’ve had many great shared experiences with Scar, and this past weekend, he was able to initate his son into Phi Delta Theta at Michigan State. I know he is a proud father.
Another fun picture from the other side of the statue. Very Washington DC-esque.
I then headed to Rice University for a few stops. All I can say about Rice is WOW! What a beautiful campus. It’s one of those places that you enter and immediately feel at peace. I definitely needed some peace after my first six miles of the day. On the edge of campus, I found an amazing running trail lined with people, dogs and trees. I thanked my colleague Andrew “Drew” Carlson here. Drew was one of my most generous supporters on this trip, and I have a number of thank yous coming for him in Baton Rouge. Drew is one fun dude. Well traveled, cultured, sharp in dress, personable and a great colleague. He’s been working to start new Phi Delt chapters across the country for the past two years and has killed it.
Founders Court at Rice is probably one of the most beautiful campus courtyards that I’ve seen. The picture below doesn’t do it an ounce of justice, but the sun was at a tricky position for pictures. I could have sat there for hours. Here, I thanked Bronk & Jess Harms again.
I stopped for a bit for a few refreshments and had my first “should I go on?” moment. I had six miles under my belt and another three to go until my final stop. I was pooped, but I remembered why I do this run and instantly gained motivation again. After the final three miles, I came upon my final two stops. The Houston Astrodome was the world’s first multi-purpose, domed sports stadium. It served as the second home to the Astros from its opening until 1999, and also to the NFL’s Houston Oilers (WARREN MOON!) from 1968 until 1997. It also had the nicknamed “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” Today, it’s a bit worn out, but it is still impressive. I thanked the Fort Dodge Baseball team again.
Directly next door is NRG Stadium, formerly Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans and future NFL MVP JJ Watts. The stadium is grand, and here’s a little trivia for you. What two teams played the last Houston Bowl in the stadium? My Cyclones lost a close one (we do that well) to TCU back in 2005. The bowl game is now the Texas Bowl. I had to throw out a little Cyclone trivia in conjunction with thanking Ross Roti again. Ross knows way too much about the Iowa State Cyclones, but I haven’t had to buy a program for years because of Ross. He’s the best.
Whew, I was completely spent. Luckily, I had a change of clothes in my running bag and had the luxury of changing into them in a porta potty in the NRG Stadium parking lot before my ride picked me up. Not my finest moment, but two minutes later I pulled off perhaps my finest trick of the trip so far. Walking past a Holiday Inn, I quickly realized that they had a pool. Hmm. Done. I took a nice outdoor swim, didn’t have a towel, but I managed.
I had the absolute pleasure of meeting up with a former high school teacher (Heidi Anderson) who now lives in Houston. Heidi and her awesome dog Herky (she’s a Hawkeye fan) were kind enough to pick me up and drive me back north of town where I was staying. On the way, we couldn’t pass up a stop at Goode’s BBQ for dinner. Amazing BBQ from a family who spells their name just a bit wrong. It was an amazing place, and I took the opportunity to thank Tyler Cronk again. I’ve been trying to convince Tillie for a few years to allow me to hang taxidermy in our house. I’m not even a hunter, but I want an animal head on a wall. Tillie, I’ve found my new leading contender (in picture above).
After dinner, I rode with Heidi north to her place until Russell could pick me up. We enjoyed some classic Hip-Hop hits and reminisced about our former home of Fort Dodge. We also took the opportunity to thank our shared friend Mindy Christensen from Fort Dodge. Heidi coached her in volleyball and Mindy was and still remains a great friend. I’m going to take a second to brag about Mindy, because I think what she is doing right now is probably the coolest thing ever. In a nutshell, Mindy became a bit tired with the rat race, quit her great job in San Francisco, and is now traveling southeast Asia for an extended period of time. I love following her blog as she travels the world and collects amazing experiences. Mindy is a people person and I’m sure that she is capturing the hearts of many.
One last picture that I captured of Herky. Reminds me of my Leena. Next stop New Orleans.