Carrie Schneider and Alex Tu revive the 1987 Human Tour.
Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see.
–Henry David Thoreau
Carrie Schneider and Alex Tu are seated at a long table dressed in white, polyester onesies. The restaurant, Nattachee’s Supper ‘n Punch on Main Street, is stuffed with a brunch-time crowd and countless pieces of Americana: a Willie Nelson concert poster, a fiberglass advertisement for RC Cola, a tie-dye rendering of ZZ Top. People around the restaurant are sneaking glances. Alex couples his onesie with a square and equally white head cover that looks borrowed from the Beastie Boys’ video for “Intergalactic.” The two artists are about to embark on a month-long project called the “Human Tour,” a series of ten walks covering 34 miles of Houston streets. They are joined by several people who will walk three-and-a-half miles with them today.
Today we will complete the first leg of the Human Tour. Carrie and Alex will retrace the steps of the original Human Tour, completed in 1987 by Michael Galbreath, who is at the table as well and is best known as one of the two Art Guys. The ten routes form a human shape on the city’s map.
The televisions in Natachee’s are tuned to an episode of The Brady Bunch. Peter Brady is twirling a baton and doing a little jig in the living room. I think of how the Brady family would fit in well in Houston. They would certainly live outside the 610 Loop or, more likely, outside Beltway 8. Mr. and Mrs. Brady would seek somewhere “nice” – that is, suburban, homogenous, and car-centric – to raise their children, and they would relish the array of choices: Pearland, Sugar Land, The Woodlands, Friendswood, Kingwood, Tomball, Spring, Clear Lake, Cypress, Katy. Anyone who has lived in this city for a considerable time will say it: in Houston, to be middle class is to spend a lot of time in a vehicle.
Overtly and refreshingly, the Human Tour challenges this type of existence. I almost ask Carrie and Alex what they hope to accomplish with this project, the first they’ve collaborated on. However, as a native Houstonian who just spent fifteen minutes looking for a free parking spot, I don’t need to ask; the answers are intuitive. The Human Tour asks us to experience the city in a visceral, more compassionate way. It invites us to observe things we may not have before–a label warehouse, a beautifully decrepit print shop, the gust of the METRORail as it whisks by you. With these charms in mind, you are finally asked to conceive a more personal Houston lurking beneath the concrete. The Human Tour implores you to look at a map and say, “We don’t have to live like this.”
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Pomp and circumstance aside, this is a terrible day to walk three and a half miles. There are clouds, wind, and misty rain, the annoying type that doesn’t quite demand an umbrella. It’s as if Houston is doing its best impression of Seattle.
After eating, we walk out to find mostly deserted streets. I am wearing a tee shirt, red shorts, and New Balance sneakers. Carrie and Alex hold up their umbrellas as I do the same. There are several of us in all (my fellow “tourists” seem to be friends of the artists). After kicking back her legs like a bronco, Carrie gets us going. A few supporters take photos of us as we cross the intersection. Michael, waving like a guardian, tells us to enjoy the tour.
The walk offers me more face-time with Carrie and Alex, who have complementary styles. Alex sports a beard, ponytail, and dark-frame glasses. He talks like he walks – leisurely. Strolling behind him, I notice that his onesie has a large opening at the buttocks, an opening that is held up by three large buttons along the tailbone. He ambles with his toes pointing slightly outward. This quality, along with his posture, lends him the air of a dandy–in other words, a good person to walk with. In our convoy, he’s the first person people notice. The “Intergalactic” headgear doesn’t hurt.
Carrie’s onesie is outfitted with a small, Princess-Leia-esque hood, below which she tucks her dark blonde hair. She’s wearing reflective white sunglasses. She spends the walk at different points of the line, talking with each of us. We have a discussion about whether Houston is a Southern or Southwestern city.
“In Houston, any building older than ten years is ancient,” she says.
I laugh and agree.
“I would suppose that’s a Southwestern quality,” I say. “Southern cities have more old buildings.”
Fortunately for the Tour but unfortunately for this piece, nothing crazy happens on our walk. We don’t jump a guy getting out of his Hummer H2 or shoot dice behind the Sears near I-59. At one point, two fellows talk to us near the Central Campus of Houston Community College.
“What’s with the get-up?” one asks Alex, prompting him to summarize the Tour.
“You’re walking in that?” the guy says, running his eyes up the onesie.
“Yeah,” Alex responds with a smile.
Later, a homeless man near the Lawndale Art Center simply asks, “Aren’t y’all cold?”
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With the rain gone and our bodies damp, we finish the walk downtown in front of the First Church of Christ, Scientist. The original plan was to take the METRORail back to the restaurant, but Carrie asks if we’d prefer to walk the half-mile back. Emboldened by our trek, we say, “sure,” and turn near the Greyhound station. My toes feel like warm sausage links, a weirdly satisfying sensation. Like an astronaut, Alex removes his headgear and takes a robust breath. We’re suddenly on Main again, the restaurant visible in the distance.
“This will put us over four miles,” I say to one of the other walkers, a local painter. She cheerfully nods.
When we’re a few blocks away, Alex draws our attention to a weathered tree near the sidewalk. He bends down and picks up a ball of some sharp yet fuzzy vegetation.
“Spanish moss,” he says, breaking off a few chunks. Maybe Houston is Southern, I think.
He places a golf-ball-sized wad in my right hand. I’m surprised by how soft it feels. The moss is a tangle of wiry gray stems. It resembles a bird’s-eye view of Houston’s highway system; the stems merge, intersect, and form little congestions at the center. Controlled chaos. I walk about twenty feet and stuff the wad between the rivets of a street sign, making it visible for the next walker.
by Edward S. Garza