Brushes with technology in Houston

Cal at the Texas

Every, single, phone in the restaurant went off at once.

Fifteen hours flying to Dallas and then another 90 turbulent minutes on a small plane to Houston left Cal and me like zombies. The good news was that the transit in Dallas which had been worrying me for weeks went like clockwork and we made the connection thanks to the flight from Sydney getting in 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

We’re staying in a hotel in the township of Webster on the outskirts of Houston – close to NASA and nothing else. In a classic US way getting to anything else is designed to involve a car; with walking indicative of extreme poverty or insanity. Our effort in walking to a nearby restaurant had us schlepping across grass berms and getting stuck in dead-end car parks. We eventually found a nice Italian restaurant – the servings were ridiculously huge but nevertheless tasty even as we visibly flagged between the garlic bread and the pasta.

So we were sitting happily and quietly when every single phone in the room, ours included, erupted in a spooky moment that felt like something out of a horror movie. It turned out to be an emergency alert for the whole of Houston about an abducted child.

Back at the hotel we kept ourselves awake a while by watching Fox News on the TV – there was little news and a great deal of fantasy. It turns out President Trump is doing a great job, especially for young black men. A great way to stay awake but too frustrating and annoying to repeat in a hurry.

We slept OK in the circumstances, and then after breakfast headed out to see the battleship Texas. It was a lovely clear day, but turned out to be much colder than we expected or were dressed for, so we shivered our way around the ship for a couple of hours.

The Texas was built in the early 1900s and, for a while, was the most powerful weapon on Earth. It served in both world wars and was the test-bed for a range of new technologies from radar to planes taking off at sea. Now it’s a fascinating insight into technology and society at the time. From the effort put into projecting power through big guns to the fact that coloured people could only serve as orderlies. At the time it was built the Texas was a showpiece for modern technology, and not just military technology: It had innovations such as electricity and running water – things that most of the people serving on the ship wouldn’t have in their homes until decades later.

In a stark contrast, and more in keeping with the core theme of this trip, we then returned to the hotel to sit and watch the Mars landing in real-time. There was a cool contrast in the day between a battleship built at a time they didn’t even think to add anti-aircraft defences and a spaceship landing on another planet.

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