January 21, 2004
You're not fully dressed without a smile

If we can just make it through the friendliness blitz over the next two weeks without grinding our teeth into dust, we'll be OK.

Drag a comb through your hair, shake out the rugs and, for goodness' sake, tell the cabdrivers to smile. We've got visitors coming from out of town.

That's the message -- or something like it -- that Mayor Bill White and Houston's other top cheerleaders plan to promote for the next dozen days as football fans, dignitaries and media migrate this way from all over the world for Super Bowl XXXVIII.

And in a city that seems to sprout billboards as prolifically as Green Bay sprouts cheeseheads, a major part of Houston's new image blitz will hinge on -- what else? -- billboard advertising.

"There is no better PR for a city, no better way to change a city's image, than by word of mouth," White said Tuesday as he unveiled the campaign and its theme: "Put Your Smile On. Company's Coming!"

"We can always improve our image," the mayor said. "Houston can do a better job of showing itself for what it is: We are the friendliest big city in the United States."

OK, on the one hand, as a PR person notes elsewhere, I don't think Houston's problem is that we're thought of as a surly sity. Unattractive, polluted, car-centric, waaaay to eager to prove that we're just as good as anyone else, sure. But unfriendly? I've never heard of that.

On the other hand, it's hard to argue with the assertion that good word of mouth will do more to help Houston's image than anything else. All I'm asking is that we relax and quit obsessing so much about it. Not pounding visitors over the head with See How Nice We Are! messages would be wise.

Oh, and for the love of God, someone please send Elyse Lanier on a two-week trip to Pago Pago. The next reporter who calls her for a quote about Houston's image will forever be on my list.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 21, 2004 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack

These "rules" should be handed out at ALL rental car agencies or at our Texas borders:

Houston Rules

For those who will be visiting the fair city of Houston for the Superbowl, the first rule is to learn to pronounce the city name. It is "U-stun," not "Hue-stun." Oh yea, the street is pronounced "San Phal-ee-pay," not "San Phil-eep" (San Felipe).

2. Forget the traffic rules you learned elsewhere. Houston has its own version of traffic rules...Hold on and pray. There is no such thing as a dangerous high-speed chase in Houston. Because we all drive like that.

3. All directions start with, "Go down to Loop 610,"... which has no beginning and no end.

4. The Chamber of Commerce calls getting through traffic... a "Scenic Drive."

5. The morning rush hour is from 6:00AM to 10:00AM. The evening rush hour is from 3:00PM to 7:00PM. Friday's rush hour starts Thursday morning.

6. If you actually stop at a yellow light, you will be rear-ended, cussed out and possibly shot. When you are the first one off the starting line, count to five when the light turns green before going, to avoid getting into any cross-traffic's way.

7. Kuykendahl Road can ONLY be pronounced by a native Houstonian.

8. Construction on I-10, I-45, US 59 and Loop 610 is a way of life and a permanent form of entertainment.

9. All unexplained smells are explained by the phrase, "Oh, we must be in Pasadena!!!."

10. If someone actually has their turn signal on, it is probably a factory defect.

11. All Suburbans have total right-of-way.

12. The minimum acceptable speed on Loop 610 is 85 mph.

13. The wrought iron on windows in east Houston is NOT ornamental.

14. Never stare at the driver of the car with the bumper sticker that says, "Keep honking, I'm reloading." In fact, don't honk at anyone.

15. If you are in the left lane, and only going 70 mph in a 60 mph one, people are not waving when they go by.

16. The Sam Houston Toll Road is our daily version of NASCAR.

17. If it's 100 degrees, Thanksgiving must be next weekend.

18. When in doubt, remember that all unmarked exits lead to Louisiana.

19. You don't have to wait for an exit to get off a freeway, just follow the ruts in the grass to the frontage road like everyone else. This is how
Houston residents notify Texas Department of Transportation where exits should have been built.

Posted by: Michael Todd on January 21, 2004 9:30 AM

...I don't think Houston's problem is that we're thought of as a surly sity. Unattractive, polluted, car-centric, waaaay to eager to prove that we're just as good as anyone else, sure.
I think you forgot "fat" in there....

Posted by: Kriston on January 21, 2004 9:36 AM

At least we're not the fattest any more.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on January 21, 2004 9:40 AM

I cannot think of a worse place to try to drive a car than Houston. I don't have the words to describe the feelings of frustration and terror I have experienced while driving in your city.

That said, it is one of the friendliest places I've ever been. Once, about 4 years ago, I was attending a conference downtown. I decided I needed to purchase a mini-tape recorder. The concierge geve me directions to a radio shack about 5 blocks away and I started walking. However, I was unable to locate the store. I stopped into a little music shop to ask for directions. The owner shut down his shop (it was about lunchtime anyway) and walked to the Radio Shack with me.

Whatever else one might say about Texas' second city, unfriendly is not one of them.

Posted by: Retrogrouch on January 21, 2004 10:24 AM

There are many places to drive a car that are worse than Houston. Houston's freeway exits/entrances are actually quite sensible -- nice feeder roads, generally well marked, turnarounds under the freeway.

Compare to Dallas or San Antonio even within Texas (both cities have stretches of freeway with odd feeder road behavior, or nonstandard exits, or both) -- or Austin, for that matter (elevated and nonelevated portions of I-35 -- huh?!).

The drivers can sometimes make it an adventure. But the freeway system itself is pretty good in Houston, compared to quite a few places.

Posted by: kevin whited on January 21, 2004 12:50 PM

Have any of you ever driven in metropolitan Los Angeles? Houston's a cakewalk compared to that. You have the bad traffic, but you have very good freeway signage and a pretty well-designed system.

And how is Houston the state of Texas' "second city?" What would be the "first city?" Dallas? Come on.

Posted by: Double B on January 21, 2004 5:11 PM

I think we all should be as surly and unpleasant as possible to the visitors, especially to the newspaper reporters.

My motto for Super Bowl week: "Keep Houston Underrated and Inexpensive!"

Posted by: Steve Casburn on January 21, 2004 8:24 PM

Houston *does* have a self-image problem, doesn't it? I thought of that tonite while watching the first part of American Idol -- "in Houston, Texas" -- I know Houstonians HATE that. You don't hear 'em sayin' Dallas, TEXAS, now do ya?

Seeing as around half the folks coming out will be from North Carolina, they'll understand the car thing. And Bostonians won't even flinch at Houston drivers. Trust me, the folks in the North East are much "worse."

And it's pronounced "Ker-ken-doll" right?

Posted by: mh on January 21, 2004 8:26 PM

I've never driven in Houston, but I'll concur with the judgment above about LA. Most poorly-signed place I've ever driven (and I did it for about a year). Combine that with its denizens' habit of calling freeways by their names rather than their numbers, and the poor benighted visitor is guaranteed to be frustrated and lost. Often.

Posted by: Linkmeister on January 21, 2004 8:47 PM

My personal least-favorite places to drive:

San Francisco
Anyplace else in CA
Did I mention Boston?

Houston's not so bad, once you get used to streets that change names and that fact that US 59, a north-south road, runs directly east-west through a good part of town. It's way easy to get around on highways, which is a blessing and a curse.

And yes, it's pronounced KER-ken-doll. Don't ask me why.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on January 21, 2004 9:12 PM

Charles done said:

"And yes, it's pronounced KER-ken-doll. Don't ask me why."

The same reason Manchaca (near Austin) is pronounced MAN-shack and Mexia is pronounced MUH-hair -- we're in Texas. :)

(Ever wonder why it's YOU-stun and not HOW-stun?)

Posted by: nh on January 22, 2004 12:26 AM

there's a street in New York City that's pronounced "How-ston" but spelled just the same as our beloved Houston, and you haven't seen any kind of bad driving till you've seen them damn yankees up thar in New Jersey and New York

Posted by: Scott on April 5, 2004 2:35 PM