Written for "The Unlikely Muse" Houston Sidewalk, 1997
Let's face it, there's something Orwellian about Texas City. Even with it's proximity to Houston, extremely affordable living, and the title of 1997 All-America City, most people would need more than a nudge to live there. All the perks in the world, and the cutest downtown can't conceal the foreboding skyline of the Texas City Industrial Complex — annual manufacturer of billions of pounds of petrochemical products. And 50 years ago this past April, Texas City earned a third name, The Texas City Disaster, when a chemical fire in the harbor led to a litany of explosions and a small tidal wave — an apocalyptic event of Biblical proportions that left 4 percent of the population dead.
But Texas City, like its sister cities of Gary, Indiana and Newark, New Jersey, has many lives and many secrets: This sacrificial lamb by day is transformed at sundown into an alluring futuristic landscape teaming with activity. Driving through the Industrial Complex at night, one might wonder if this is where the Nexus 6 replicants are assembled. This fantastic skyline of glimmering lights and fiery torches has a hypnotic quality that's strangely soothing, like the moment you decide to uncover your eyes and watch a televised surgery. In between the refineries and veiled by perpetual fog, an occasional patch of green grass is a reminder that nature once lived here. The towering smoke stacks and electric transformers all blend together in a endless network of metal and monkey bars. Some manmade canals and modest attempts at landscaping along Bay Street appear as alien as palm trees on the moon. Just follow the grid-like, numbered streets (we recommend 5th Avenue for its irony) until you find the best view of this awe-inspiring twilight zone. If you park your vehicle to gaze upon the complex's glory, don't be surprised when your visited by a Rutger Hauer-like security guard, just move on...slowly.
From Houston: Take 45 south 30 miles to exit 16, FM 1764. Follow this road east to 146 south, then take 1765 east to the Texas City Industrial Complex.
Image: © BP p.l.c.