A seat on a Greyhound bus from Tampa, FL to Houston, TX will cost you $133.76 USD, provided you book online. Departing at 9:15 a.m., the journey takes a whopping 26 hours, with stops throughout the Sunshine State: Lakeland, Orlando, Ocala, Gainesville, Tallahassee, Panama City, Fort Walton Beach, and Pensacola. After one stop in Mobile, AL, it's off to Louisiana: Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Lake Charles. Finally, Texas: Orange, Port Arthur, Beaumont, Baytown, and -- mercifully -- Houston.
Sounds like fun, doesn't it? I'd tell you what it was like, but you're crazy if you think that's how I actually got to Houston. I took to the skies, with the fine folks at U.S. Airways, for $237 CAD. While Greyhound was certainly cheaper than flying from Tampa to Houston, via Charlotte, NC, I didn't exactly have 26 hours to spare. And 20 or so hours of my life not spent losing my mind on a bus -- just thinking about what that epic bus ride would have done to my back and posterior was painful -- were absolutely worth a c-note to me.
Don't take a cab from George Bush Intercontinental Airport to downtown Houston. It'll cost you billions; at least $45. Houston METRO has your back: 30 minute non-stop bus service, leaving every 30 minutes from the airport to downtown, for $15 one-way.
Unfortunately, my visit to Houston coincided with a massive energy conference in the city, which made it impossible to land a cheap hotel room. In the end, after multiple unsuccessful bids on Priceline.com, I paid $130 USD for one night at the Crowne Plaza Houston Downtown. I may or may not have wept for a couple of minutes after my credit card was charged.
My first order of business as soon as I got off the bus downtown, my bags in tow: a haircut. The bus stop was only a few feet away from a barber shop. And what better place to talk about the Houston Astros?
"The Astros?," said my barber. "Have you seen the standings? Let's not waste your time or mine talking about the goddamn Houston Astros."
Touché. Because the 2010 Astros are more like the Lastros. On my visit to Houston, the ball club was indeed holding down the basement in the National League's Central division, behind both the Milwaukee Brewers and -- aghast! -- Pittsburgh Pirates.
"Let's talk football, kid," my barber said. And before I could say a word, I was being told all about Matt Schaub, and how he will soon be leading the Houston Texans to the NFL's postseason for the first time in franchise history.
Minute Maid Park
She's downtown, and celebrated 10 years this past April. If you're staying in the city centre, you can walk to her gates. I didn't, actually, on my way there; I used the Crown Plaza's complimentary shuttle, and it was no more than a seven minute drive. (After shelling out for my room, I had to get every dollar out of my stay.) I walked back after the ball game and, from essentially one end of downtown to the other, it took a half hour. If walking isn't your thing, Houston's Main Street Square light rail station is only six blocks from the ballpark, and will cost you $1.25 each way.
Minute Maid Park's got it all: a retractable roof, for those days when Houston's heat makes you want to off yourself; real grass; a brick facade; statues of Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio outside the ballpark (with, in a nice touch, Biggio throwing to Bags at first base); odd dimensions; a ridiculous hill and flagpole in centre field; and even a moving train on her left field wall.
She was designed by Populous; who else? The architectural firm based in Kansas City is behind almost every beautiful ballpark in baseball. Thankfully, Populous is also designing both of Florida's new ballparks: in Miami, for the Marlins, and for the Tampa Bay Rays, wherever the hell they decide to build their new home. Hopefully, years down the road, Populous will design Toronto's new baseball stadium, too. They better.
Blessings from the baseball gods
I may have spent billions to get to, and in, Houston, but when it came to my evening at Minute Maid Park, the baseball gods were once again on my side.