Anyone who’s viewed my sports coverage on NewsChannel 9 — or caught me on ESPN Radio’s “Orange Nation” with Steve Infanti — has perhaps wondered, “Why does this oddball keep saying words like, ‘Y’all’ and ‘folks?'”
I may be a proud SU alum, but I was born and raised in Houston, Texas — meaning worlds are colliding for me this week, with the Orange men’s basketball team’s appearance in the Final Four at Houston’s NRG Stadium (yes, the same place SU won the 2013 Texas Bowl).
So here it is, one idiot’s guide to enjoying the Bayou City as Orange Nation takes in this unbelievable postseason run:
We have two of ’em in Houston — Bush Intercontinental (IAH) and Hobby (HOU).
Bush is the bigger airport, and a main hub for United Airlines. It’s located on I-45 North, about 20 minutes north of Downtown Houston, and probably 40 minutes away from NRG Stadium.
Hobby is a smaller airport, that’s constantly undergoing renovations. This is a good alternative sometimes, especially if you’re taking Southwest Airlines or JetBlue. Hobby is located off the southwest part of Beltway 8, about 20 minutes from Downtown, and 25 minutes from NRG.
Unlike SU’s home-away-from-home in NYC, Houston doesn’t exactly do mass transit. There’s the Metro bus system, but that’s about it. Taxis are sparse, and will quickly burn a hole in your pocket. If you can swing it, renting a car or Uber is definitely the way to go.
And if you thought 690 and 81 in Downtown Syracuse could delay your morning commute, be ready for an entirely new experience — traffic!
Houston is VERY spread out, and you’ll be doing plenty of freeway driving. And as the fourth-largest city in the U.S., those freeways tend to be jam-packed. Allow ample time for getting around, especially during rush hour.
The main freeways run this way: I-10 cuts through the city east-west, while I-45 bisects north-south. US-59 runs from the northwest, through Downtown, and down through Southwest Houston.
The 610 loop circles around Downtown, the Sam Houston Tollway (also known as Beltway 8) then circles around the loop a bit further out, and the Grand Parkway (AKA 99) loops around even further out.
NRG Stadium is located on the south loop — meaning the southwest portion of 610, between I-10 West and 45 South.
It’s hot. Even in March.
If you’re from CNY, bring summer clothes. No need for a jacket or sweater.
It’s also humid. VERY humid. Houston actually sits below sea level, and is built atop several bayous. It’s not an exaggeration to say you will start sweating as soon as you step aside.
Houston is one of most culturally diverse cities in the country, and the cuisine definitely reflects that.
That being said, two things definitely stand out for out-of-towners: Tex-Mex and BBQ.
Tex-Mex is a genre of food unto itself. It may not be 100% authentic Mexican, but it’s still amazing. After trying real Tex-Mex, trips to Chipotle just won’t be the same.
The original Ninfa’s on Navigation Road is a Houston institution. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. And if you’re of legal age, make sure you get a Ninfarita to drink.
It may be blasphemous to say, but for as good as Dinosaur BBQ is (and I say this as a born-and-bred Texan), Houston has a few places that can give Dino a run for its money.
Killen’s is the area’s best spot, with lines out-the-door daily, typically running at least an hour’s wait. And like any good BBQ spot, they regularly run out of meat near lunchtime, as it’s all fresh and cooked-to-order. Killen’s is a favorite of Houston Texans star J.J. Watt. Gatlin’s BBQ and Goode Company are also acceptable alternatives for BBQ-lovers.
So now that you know how to get around and feed yourself, you gotta kill time before or after the game.
Of course, most folks know Houston as NASA headquarters. The Johnson Space Center is only about 20 minutes away from NRG, and is very much family friendly.
Only about 10 minutes from NRG is Houston’s museum district. The Natural History Museum, Houston Children’s Museum, Houston Museum of Art, and Rothko Chapel are all worthwhile.
For the shoppers, The Galleria is one of the biggest malls in the country (featuring numerous high-end shops and the newest merchandise from the big chain stores), and a favorite of athletes/musicians/entertainers when they pass through Houston. It’s only about 10 minutes from NRG Stadium without traffic, but it’s always a zoo getting in and out of the area.
For nightlife, Midtown is your best bet. Located just a few minutes west of Downtown (and maybe 15 minutes from NRG), this newly renovated area is home to numerous bars and restaurants. And you can easily park your car and walk around from one establishment to another.
So there you go. A quick survival guide to my hometown. And given how improbable this postseason run by the Orange is, who knows — you just might need it. It’s a long way to Monday night’s championship game …