Leaving Houston, Texas, feels a lot like being released from jail early for good behavior. Make no mistake, I very much enjoy visiting with my friends there and just kicking back with them, but from as someone who has travelled extensively across the United States I feel that I’m not entirely unqualified to say that Houston truly is a bloody awful place.

It would seem that in Houston trees are as offensive as Janet Jackson’s left nipple is to a republican. The city seems to have a policy to cut down and destroy as many trees as possible, leaving in their wake characterless office buildings, parking lots, and ugly brand name malls that look like every other mall in America. Houston can claim to be the true site of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre as, among the cities many unflattering accolades, it has chopped down and ‘redeveloped’ more forests and urban woodland areas than any other city in the United States.

The disappearance of vast numbers of Houston’s trees has also played not small part in the fact that the city now rivals Los Angeles for the title of having the worst air quality in the United States. Smog hangs in the thick air that surrounds the city which like all cities is getting hotter year upon year.

Of course it’s not hard to see why thick acrid smog poisons the air here. You can’t go anywhere without a car it would seem. Everyone drives everywhere, and everything seems so damn far away. Multi-lane highways link endless strip malls with yet more malls punctuated with apartments and office buildings and still yet more stores with huge parking lots spread before them like great lawns of concrete.

You would have thought than in one of the commerce hubs of America and indeed the world, Houston would be able to boast an impressive mass transit system, to rival that of London, Chicago, Tokyo or New York. But no, buses trundle from place to place near empty but for those who somehow don’t own a car. I’m even told that rather than invest in a new state of the art mass transit system the city will instead be expanding one of its already huge highways to twenty four lanes!

The need to commute everywhere by car might then have something to do with another unfortunate record Houston can claim. It is one of, if not the most, fattest city in America. Obesity is fast becoming the biggest health issue we are dealing with in todays western society, moving ahead of the now largely socially unacceptable behavior of smoking.

Another fascinating contradiction of Houston is the fact that in this city on the fringe of America’s so called ‘Bible belt’ and where a great many people attend church religiously, there seems to be as many adult video stores or strip clubs as there were gas stations. In fact, rather comically Erin, Jon and myself visited a huge 24hr adult video store on the way home from watching Jackass 2 at a movie theatre where they served red meat sandwiches and beer to you right there in your seat. I spoke with the guy at the counter of the porn store and asked him how many people actually visited in the middle of the night. He reported than it was mostly dead at such hours aside for pranksters like us, but the fact remains that in this city where the dollar is praised as much as Jesus, such a store wouldn’t remain open if there was no profit in doing so.

I did get to escape Houston for a day with Erin and Jon (both of whom are looking to escape the city for good themselves at some point to). The three of us headed to Austin. I’d heard a lot of good things about Austin and on this briefest of visits I was not disappointed.

We spent a couple of hours kayaking along the river through the city, basking in the sun not far from turtles that had much the same idea as us. Afterward we got smoothies from a cool place called Daily Juice where the the plastic cups they were served in were made from compostable bio-plastics, evidence that we were indeed in a city that thinks very different to its neighbors not so far away.

As ever though, my trip to Houston, as awful as the city itself is, was still thoroughly enjoyable. I find myself always wishing I had more time to spend with my great friend Erin and her oh-so-laid-back boyfriend, Jon. I also wish I had more time to hang out with the people people I’ve come to know through the Xanga blog community too. Hopefully some of them will take me up on my offer and come out to the UK sometime too, if nothing else I’d be able to introduce them to trees!

Next stop Colorado.