Welcome back to Houston, Texas.
After leaving my new friends Jeanie and Big Ed in their trailer park in Houston, I jumped back into my sexy hired sports car to see an old friend of mine, Doug Harris. We made plans to meet at his office.
I got to know Doug as a Broadcast Marketing Consultant for his company Creative Animal. For the past 20 years, he has also been running Noisemaker Communications. Here, he and his team work with businesses that want to make some noise and grab some attention.
Doug is known for his crazy, creative, noise-making ideas. For instance, when one of the Star Wars films was about to premiere, he came up with the idea to offer $1,000 to the first listener that would legally change their name to Obi-Wan Kenobe. That got them some attention for his client’s radio station, and the idea was later copied by stations all over.
And I remember him telling me about his all-time favourite publicity stunt that never saw the light of day as the client got cold feet. He represented an electric razor company and pitched the idea of taking out a full-page ad in the newspaper offering Fidel Castro $1 million to shave his beard with their electric razor. The client was worried – what if the leader of communist Cuba actually took a capitalist bribe to shave his famous beard?
It’s ideas like these that pop up in the mind of this man that you’re about to meet. So, strap in…
“Houston is a cruel, crazy town on a filthy river in East Texas with no zoning laws and a culture of sex, money and violence. It’s a shabby, sprawling metropolis ruled by brazen women, crooked cops and super-rich pansexual cowboys who live by the code of the West — which can mean just about anything you need it to mean, in a pinch.“
These are words by famous American journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson.
MEETING AN OLD FRIEND IN HOUSTON, TEXAS
After receiving a warm and friendly welcome from my old friend, we jumped into his car and immediately began reminiscing. Doug and I first met at a NAB radio event in London years ago and ended up sharing a hotel room “purely in the interest of camaraderie and economics”. Our paths again crossed in Mumbai a few years later when the Indian government had just launched independent radio. We’ve certainly been to some interesting places together. And here we are together again in Doug’s hometown of Houston.
Doug tells me a few interesting facts about Houston, such as it is home to one of the finest medical centres in the world, Texas Medical Center, which receives many patients from all over the world. Houston is also home to a fabulous theatre district, second only to New York City (when you calculate the number of seats). Additionally, Doug tells me that it is also home to the “greatest Mexican food and BBQ on the planet”.
Doug is super well-travelled and a man of the world. But he’s also a true Houstonian. He loves his city and knows a lot about it. So, he’s the perfect tour guide for me as we’re driving on our way to an original Texas BBQ lunch at Doug’s favourite restaurant, Charlie’s BBQ.
“This city is amazingly diverse. We have a huge Hispanic community and a growing Asian community, consisting of distinctly Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese communities who have found their home here because Houston is a really welcoming place. It is a warm mix of culture and people, and there is a lot of opportunity here. There’s something about Houston – we do things bigger and better here.”
Doug tells me he wants to take me to visit Houston’s famous National Museum of Funeral History and tells me some fascinating things about what to expect. He also plans to take me to the Art Car Museum because he wants me to tell the world the people in Houston don’t “ride horses to work and there isn’t primary sagebrush/tumbleweed floating across the streets.”
SIX FUN FACTS ABOUT HOUSTON, TEXAS
- No one is actually from here. If you ask most Houstonians, most of them are from another city, state, or country altogether.
- Houston has an underground pedestrian tunnel system. The tunnel is 20 feet below the ground and runs for seven miles, linking 95 city blocks.
- There are no zoning laws. You will see a sex shop next to a mansion that’s right down the block from a school that sits alongside what seems to be a Buddhist temple.
- They don’t really wear boots and hats because they’re not really cowboys. The only exception is during rodeo season – when they put on the finest bolo ties, hats, boots, and buckles they can find and totally pretend to be cowboys.
- The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is one of the biggest rodeos in the world. This month-long rodeo attracts over 2.5 million attendees each year.
- And finally: don’t bother doing your hair in August. Humidity wins —it always wins.
A substantial portion of Houston’s population are ‘new arrivals’. In this tradition, Doug’s family is originally from Greece. His father came over to Texas at the turn of the 20th century to work in his uncle’s meatpacking plant.
“That’s how things work here, this country was born from immigrants. My father managed to serve in the United States Army, after which he got into medical school, married a local gal, built up his medical practice, had two sons, and lived the American dream as it was in the 20th century. We’ll see how that American dream turns out in the 21sr century”.
When I got to know Doug, he was always one of the speakers at radio conferences I attended, talking about how to be more creative. He spoke about how to spark creativity and nurture a creative environment in a boring workplace. And just one of the tricks he suggested was: bubbles.
I remember the European radio conference where we shared a room (in the spirit of camaraderie and economics). He was speaking to a room of 4-500 people, and everyone was blowing bubbles. They were all over this big conference room, and people were laughing and feeling creative. I don’t know; there’s just something about blowing bubbles that brings out the creative kid in us.
He always notices when someone is pulling off a marketing stunt that is a bit out of the ordinary. While we’re driving around Houston, he points out a billboard with a great idea.
Doug excitedly tells me about a marketing campaign that a local furniture store is rolling out that basically offers people their money back on recently purchased mattresses if the local baseball team, the Houston Astros, win the World Series.
Our drive through the city sees us talking about a range of interesting topics relating to Houston. Although the Houston skyline isn’t as typically picturesque as a European city, “I still love it here”, Doug insists.
We eventually arrived at the restaurant for some delicious Houston BBQ.
After devouring the delicious BBQ lunch, Doug decided he needed a haircut. So, we made a quick stop for his appointment. I took a seat at the bar to get a cup of coffee – yes, there is a bar inside the barbershop, and it’s unlike any barbershop I’ve ever seen before.
The Gents Place is a beautiful barbershop that you should absolutely visit if you need a haircut, a scalp massage, a shoeshine — or just want to get away and hang out with friendly people for a bit. On their website, they write ‘A Great Haircut is Just the Beginning’. Check out this video to see how cool this place really is.
Alissa from The Gents Place:
“We sell an experience, not a haircut. People can hang out in either of our two lobbies, our Members Lounge, or our bar, and have a couple of drinks. We do haircuts, hand and foot repairs, eyebrow, nose and ear waxing, massages, everything really. Members come in and hang out before and after work. We’ve created a cool place to hang out.”
Check out this excerpt from their website:
Enjoy a place where distinguished gentlemen gather for conversation and drinks while receiving luxury grooming services such as steamed towel treatments, neck and shoulder massages, and facial hair maintenance. With our men’s grooming clubs, we strive to bring back the gentleman in all of us.
Life is not an errand, nor should we treat it as such. When it prompts us to attend a task with regularity, we might as well attend to it while surrounded by like-minded gentlemen, complimentary top-shelf drinks, and curated advice. Such is the path to looking our best, feeling our best, and becoming our best.
After Doug’s new trim, we headed to downtown Houston to visit Buffalo Bayou. This lovely recreational park used to be a large ditch where the famous Allan Brothers founded a city named after the hero of the Texas Republic, Sam Houston, in the mid-19th century.
The park has many running tracks and hiking trails, including the river where people can kayak and enjoy the outdoors in the middle of the city.
Doug is the kind of person who gets into conversations with the strangers he meets. He’s got this aura around him that says, “Hey, I’m a nice guy, talk to me”, and it’s not put on or fake — it’s just who he is. Like, when we saw a dog in the street, Doug effortlessly made conversation with the dog and its owner as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Doug offers a Master Class on how to establish rapport and get into a conversation with random strangers in the streets of Houston.
- Greet the dog warmly with compliments.
- Greet the owners by introducing me, saying that he’s showing me around Houston.
- Compliment handsome dog again.
I’m pretty sure that Doug doesn’t give this kind of thing a second thought, but I feel that this simple interaction sums up what kind of great and outgoing person he is.
Heartbreak Hotel and aircon-park
We get back into Doug’s car and continue our way through the city as Doug tells me interesting things about almost everything we pass by — including The Heartbreak Hotel and an outdoor park that is air-conditioned. He loves telling people about Houston and showing them around because he wants people to come to visit.
As you probably can sense, Doug is a man of many words, so I’ve got more from my drive with him around Houston in the next episode.
My name is Palle Bo, and I gotta keep moving. See you.
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