I’ve been on the clock as a full-timer at the National Trust for Historic Preservation for seven months and a little bit of change.
In my mind, that’s hardly a blip on the radar. After all, I recently had to ask a co-worker how to photocopy something (there are strange codes involved), and I still have no clue how snail mail reaches my desk (it magically appears in my chair during Diet Coke runs), much less how to send it myself.
My own hang-ups as a perpetual late adopter aside, if you were to ask Dolores McDonagh, our vice president for membership and one of the loudest cheerleaders on the squad for our This Place Matters campaign, she would say without blinking that seven months is more than enough time to have taken at least one picture in front of a near-and-dear space or place.
She’s absolutely right, and truth be told, I’ve had a plan all along. For me, my first stab at documenting the places that tell my story simply had to happen at the place that matters the most – 1,412 miles away from my home today at the corner of Westheimer and Yoakum in the Houston gayborhood of Montrose.
A week ago today, while on a tour of my old stomping ground in the Lone Star State, I finally made it happen. Now, you’re probably thinking, “It took seven months and a flight across the country for you to take a photo in front of a wall?” Point taken, but I assure you: that wall is the backdrop to a place that means the world to me.
You see, I attended high school in one of the countless master planned communities that are inorganically grown on Houston’s fringe. Dubbed First Colony, this massive development straddles land that was among the first to be granted to Stephen F. Austin in his quest to colonize Texas. Now, with a fascinating lineage like that, it’s easy to imagine there being a historical marker every fifteen feet or so. Instead, the suits who engineered First Colony took a big bite out of the sprawl playbook and mechanically spit out a non-place where the pioneering efforts of the Father of Texas are commemorated by miles of impervious nothingness, trees that grow in straight lines, and “neighborhoods” that are marketed on billboards by income level.
One Sunday afternoon, a sixteen-year-old version of myself received a jaw-dropping AOL instant message from a handsome guy by the name of Leo, a fellow junior at my non-place high school who had recently come out. It was a point-blank invitation to an afternoon in Montrose. I knew immediately that his friendly e-vite was predicated on two weeks of rumors that had started and then swirled after my screen name was spotted in a gay chat room. However, in that moment, denial was suddenly not my gut reaction. With the cursor and my heart pulsing at near-equal intervals, I remember looking down at the little yellow AOL man who was running – sprinting – in an endless loop at the bottom of our instant message window. He just kept going and going and going…
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Jason Lloyd Clement is the associate director for strategic campaigns at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.