Houston is not as bad a city as vigorous northerners may suppose. A laissez-faire anarchy characterizes it more than anything else, so yes, strip malls, franchise restaurants, pollution and abandoned buildings dominate the cityscape, while corrupt Republicans and highway construction outfits wield the majority of political power. But it's also a huge city, geographically and culturally, and it's too diverse to submit completely to capitalist homogeny. The city's inner neighborhoods, shaded under ancient live oaks, support a very progressive and creative population, with excellent international cuisine and a low cost of living to boot. I don't know if the people we met were so friendly because of southern hospitality or because there's such a small pond of people who share our interests, but we made some unforgettable friends there, and we enjoyed ourselves tremendously.
I might still be there if it hadn't been my misfortune to arrive there just in time for the beginning of summer. Houston is a city of over four million, but, when I arrived there in April a week after leaving Zealand Falls Hut, I felt more crowded by the eighty degrees of mercury piled in the local thermometers. Jess and I later endured triple-digit temperatures on a regular basis throughout Houston's six-month summer. Has my tolerance for the cold been ruined? I'll find out tomorrow night.
The winter caretakers will rendezvous tomorrow at Pinkham Notch for lunch. Then we'll collect our groceries for the week, stuff our backpacks, and I'll be on my way up the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail to Gunsight Gap, the Lakes of the Winds, and Carter Notch Hut. It's good to be home.