A Beard Across America: Hidden Underground Tunnels and The Beginning of a Kolache Obsession

This Excerpt from #TFoTG – Essays from A Beard Across America

As I departed New Orleans, I had absolutely no idea of what to expect from Texas. It would be the furthest I had ever traveled west and in all honesty, I wasn’t even sure of the geographical order of the cities I would be visiting in Texas. For example, I had told my father as I was leaving Nola that I’d be in Austin that night. That was not the case. After looking at my itinerary, I was going to CouchSurf with a guy named Abhijit.

I arrived in Houston at the same time Abhi was getting home from work. I had to get some work done on a project and it couldn’t have come at a better time since my host had to go to a friends house for about an hour. I gave him the beignet from Cafe Du Monde that I had brought for him from New Orleans and he gave me his front door key, a key to get into his gated community, set me up on his internet and explained that the only rule was that I would need to take my shoes off when I entered his house.

Abhi returned and I was about half way done with the work I needed to get done. He told me that was fine since he was going to be hosting a meeting for the chapter of a nonprofit he works with that evening for a couple hours. The nonprofit helped underprivileged kids in Abhi’s homeland of India. They were planning a karaoke event that was scheduled to happen a few weeks from then in an attempt to raise money and sponsor children. Once I finished working, I was glad that they were still meeting as I was able to learn more about the nonprofit and provide some feedback for the event they were planning.

Towards the end of the meeting, Abhi went to the refrigerator and pulled out a birthday cake. I was confused at first since nobody was surprised by it. Come to find out, it was their friends birthday who had just happen to go to the restroom at the right time for Abhi to bring out the cake. When she returned, we surprised her by singing happy birthday. Then, started taking pictures of each of them feeding her the cake, one at a time. They explained that it’s an old tradition in India to bring/feed the birthday girl/boy sweets. So, when the fork got around to me, I picked up a piece of cake and smiled at the camera as I fed her… when in Rom… Houston!

After the meeting, Abhi let me know of a meetup that some of the CouchSurfers in Houston had set up at a local bar and grille so we headed there. We had a drink and mingled with some of the locals in the area, but quickly decided to go grab some food since neither of us had eaten. We headed towards a part of town called Montrose, which is apparently a younger part of town, and quickly found a bar called Anvil – Bar & Refuge. Before we grabbed a drink, we went to a food truck that was parked outside a bar across the street and had dinner. As we ate, Abhi told me that Anvil was known for their cocktails, many of which are made from whiskey, bourbon or rum. I was fascinated by one drink in particular, although I didn’t dare order it, called the Ramos Gin Fizz. It was priced at $20, and rightfully so taking ~8 minutes to prepare with the ingredients including gin, lemon, lime, cream, egg white, soda, and orange flower water. The bartender told us of a busy Friday night when a guy came in with a group of friends and ordered 10 of them. He warned the guy it would take about an hour and 20 minutes and cost $200, but the guy insisted. So, the bartender proceed to make them all, shaking each drink for roughly 8 minutes. We finished our drinks and headed further into Montrose to a dive bar for a nightcap, then returned to Abhi’s apartment.

We were deciding where we’d like to eat breakfast the next morning and Abhi suggested I try a Central and South West Texas staple called Kolache. The pastry dish originates from a Czech descent, but are now very popular in states like Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Minnesota. I agreed and we went to a chain called Kolache Factory. There, my obsession with the food was born.

The next few hours would prove to be very educational for me, not only about Houston and Texas history, but also about a perspective on Gandhi I had never heard before. We left from breakfast and headed towards the Texas Medical CenterWikipedia claims, “The Texas Medical Center is the largest medical center in the world with one of the highest densities of clinical facilities for patient care, basic science, and translational research.” TMC was literally like it’s own city. We drove around for about 20 minutes and never left the area. At one point, Abhi pulled into one of the drop off areas so I could run inside one of the waiting rooms and it was nicer than most of the hotels I’ve ever stayed in.

Our next stop was to head towards Downtown Houston. Along the way, a little history on Sam Houston. As we passed a statue of him, Abhi explained to me that Sam Houston was ingrained and very well favored in Texas history and was elected President of the Republic of Texas twice in the 1830’s.

We arrived in Downtown Houston and began looking for an entrance to what Abhi explained to me as a, somewhat secret, system of underground tunnels that connected the skyscrapers and businesses to one another. Sounded farfetched, but sure enough, we entered a bank with a staircase heading down into a tunnel that looked similar to a New York City subway stop, but with no trains. We explored the tunnels, while people watching professionals in their day-to-day business.

Houston was great city and I had a great time. I think a lot of my experience there is due to Abhi’s hospitality and knowledge of the Houston. It’s a very large town, but I feel I got to see the best parts of it. Thank you, Abhi!

Tyler Goelz will be writing about his experiences in each city and posting them periodically. For a full listing of the cities he visited, check out this link: http://www.tylergoelz.com/trip/2013/america/


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