Seeing the city

A walk through Houston's neighborhoods can reveal all kinds of good surprises

Jovan Abernathy is an international marathoner and owner of Houston Tourism Gym. To claim your free tour, contact her at info@tourismgymhtx.com

Let's talk gentrification or shall I say improving to conform to middle-class taste. (I looked it up) Wait this sounds like a trick. That depends on who is telling the story. So, I'll tell you my story of gentrification.

As always, this story starts with a walk. This time in Rice University. My foot steps onto the cinder path. I can hear the pebbles underneath my feet. The trees were swaying and the sky was blue.

I had run this path so many times during marathon training. I remember running into regulars that I used to wait on at a local restaurant. I used to see Julie every Saturday on this path. She once told me that her favorite part to training for her own half marathon was seeing "Flower Man."

I had never met him, but he was somewhat of a legend. They called him "Flower Man" because the flowers that he used to adorn the basket on his bicycle. I smile to myself and continue my walk.

From Rice University, I walk through the Museum District before boarding the light rail. I believe that was about 4 miles already, but whose counting? I'm looking for something special today. I'm not stopping until I find it. I step off the Metro at the Ensemble stop.

As soon as I step onto the platform, I knew I was in a different world. I could already see that this neighborhood was full of surprises. I was definitely not in Rice University anymore. I stand in one spot and look all around me. Without even moving, I could see the culture. Ensemble Theatre. Breakfast Klub. Double Trouble. And a number of murals.

I walk over to the Ensemble Theatre to get a better look. Just my luck. It's not open, but I could see a description of the theatre. Apparently, this is Houston's first professional African American theatre. It produces it's own in house shows. What's coming up next? Freeda Peoples and Pipeline. We will have to come back to that. On to the next.

As I walk along the Metro rail, I see Double Trouble. I've heard of this place. It's a coffee shop that serves cocktails and opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 2am. Bring your computer or bring your dog. I walk to the end of the street and turn the corner towards the Breakfast Klub. I have to push through an unexpected line of people.

"How long have you been in this line," I ask the closest person to me. "I've been here since 8 a.m." I look at my phone. 11 a.m. How good can it be? He hands me a menu. Wings and Waffles and Catfish and Grits. I think it's worth it, but not right now.

From driving by on the street, I noticed there was an impressive black and white mural of Barack Obama. I think now is a great time to finally get that picture I've been wanting. I move past the crowd to cross the street. I wonder who the artist is. It looks like it could be Icy and Sot (the Iranian brothers who painted the black and white mural in Graffitti Park) I look for a name….Reginald Adams. I proudly look at my photo. Time to keep moving.


I walk to Truxillio. I heard that there was a brewery here called Under the Radar. As I walked down the street, I looked at the old wooden houses that lined the street. It always gives me a good feeling to see old houses.

What's on the left? The Buffalo Soldiers Museum. I had no idea that Houston had one of these. In fact, I don't even know what a buffalo soldier is. That's why I bring my phone with me. The buffalo soldiers were African American soldiers charged with keeping white soldiers safe from American Indians. They were called buffalo soldiers by the Indians because they were strong and built to last making them hard to kill just like a buffalo. That goes on the list to must visit too.

I find Under the Radar a couple of houses down the street. If it were not for the hanging tea lights and and the picnic tables. I would have missed it. I go to the bar and look over the menu. Dirty Blonde. Radar Love. Midtown Bock. Mid Frequency IPA. I'm an IPA girl, so I place my order. I savor my first taste. It's a winner. I finish my beer and time to keep it moving.

I'm still on Alabama St. Just over the bridge, I see a red brick house. It's a little different from all the other houses near it. There is a lot of sculptures in the front yard. Because it is time for me to be curious, I don't hesitate to go in. This house is called the Gite Gallery. It's owned by Lloyd Gite. Through his many travels to Africa, he developed a love for Afro-Cuban art. He now shares this art with the public. African masks, Colorful paintings, Tribal sculptures are among his offerings. I'll let you in on a secret. Lloyd Gite was a journalist before. Around his gallery, there are many photographs he has taken with celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, and even Rosa Parks.

Back out on the street, I see that I am approaching Emancipation Ave. I turn left. I came out today because I wanted to check out Project Row Houses. For those of you who don't know, Project Row Houses is a row of Shotgun Houses that have been repurposed into galleries. Each home has its own theme and is created by a different artist.

Project Row is much more than that. This 30 building campus also serves as an incubator for black business. NuWaters is a co-op that sells organic fruits and vegetables to the Third Ward Community. This produce comes straight from the NuWaters farm. Step in and listen to the manager, Carmen tell light hearted stories of how to keep rabbits out of the garden.

Next door, you will find Crumbville Bakery owned by Miss Ella. Miss Ella, who greets everyone with a hug, specializes is cupcakes stuffed with cookies. With favorites like her strawberry cookies called Cookie Minaj, carrot cake, and banana pudding, its easy to see why its hard to keep stocked.

I'm in the shotgun houses now. I saved them for last. Some of the exhibits have an overtone of frustration. Some have a note of inspiration. I came to the last house. When I opened the door, the first thing I saw was a sign on the wall with the instruction to elect my Third Ward hero. There were small pictures on the wall of people of the neighborhood. Beside each photo was their name and something special about them. I walked the wall and looked at each picture before coming to the last. I stopped in front of it and read the note: "I elect Flower Man as my Third Ward hero."

I could feel the goosebumps forming. I came out looking for something and I found it. I left the house in an energetic comptemplation.

Back to the gentrification issue. When I think gentrification in Houston, I think about Third Ward. There has been much controversy over the changes that are being made. I, personally, like to focus on the positive changes. Project Row Houses does much for the community. They purpose to bring voice and community to Third Ward. I say that they have done just that.

By the way, Flower Man, whose real name was Cleveland Turner, was a gardener who worked in River Oaks. He was also an artist who kept not only his bicycle colorful, but his front yard too. He used art to celebrate his sobriety. When he passed, the neighbors came to his house to claim their own Flower Man original work of art.

Jovan Abernathy is an international marathoner and owner of Houston Tourism Gym. To claim your free tour, contact her at info@tourismgymhtx.com

The intro says that I am an international marathoner. Guess what I used to do before that. I have probably served you a meal at one of the restaurants where I've waited tables in Houston. I know your next question….How does a waitress afford traveling to places like China, Africa, and Iceland? Sometimes more than once a year. I have three words for you….Frequent Flyer Miles! They are your best friend and if you are not a rich, but you want to travel, they should be a priority in your life. Few people know this method, so I'm going to do better than tell you. I'm going to show you.

All major airlines have a rewards program. I fly United Airlines because I like all of the airlines they partner with in Star Alliance. Their rewards program is called Mileage Plus. It is free to join. The big question is: How do you earn enough miles to afford an international trip?

To come up with this answer, we need to ask ourselves three questions:

  1. If I could go anywhere in the world, where would it be? (Sky is the limit, literally).
  2. Who am I as a person? Describe my lifestyle.
  3. What do I spend my money on every single day?

We are about to turn the answers to these questions into miles into the dollars we will save off of our trip. I'm going to use myself as an example. I've always wanted to see Machu Picchu. There is a marathon this year on the Inca Trail. What's the first thing I do? I go the United.com to look up how much the flight to Lima, Peru would be. Lima is the closest international airport to Machu Picchu. After looking the cost of a round trip in October, I find that the price is $2275. Do I want to pay this? No way.

Let's redo the details of this trip, but using a reward miles search instead ofdollars. Now we know that this trip will now cost 40,000 miles and $73.36 in taxes and fees. Wow, from $2275 to $74. Can this be true? Yes, it can. Next Question.

Who am I as a person?

We are all different. I do not spend money like you and nor do you like me. I am a woman who does not like to shop for expensive clothes. I don't like trying them on in the store. I rent, but I do use services like electricity under my name. I spend money on maintaining my older car, light makeup and hair products, but I love going out to eat at restaurants (restaurants are in my blood). I also own my own business, so I have business expenses like marketing materials. We will stop there. I think that is enough information. Next question.

What do I spend money on every day?

With this in mind, go to the earn rewards section of your rewards program. Start researching on how you can earn as many miles as possible. We are looking for miles only. Here are a few things that jump out at me that I can begin implementing in my life.

United GoBank Card:

Without even taking out a new line of credit, you can use this card to purchase everyday items, like gas, groceries, and whatever. You earn 1 mile per $2 spent up to 2500 miles (15,000 miles for six months)

Change your energy provider to Reliant using the Milage Plus promo code:

This action gets you 27,000 miles. There a couple of conditions: You will only get 21,000 by October and you have to sign a two year contract with Reliant at .15/kwhr. It's kinda high, but you decide how bad you want to go to Machu Picchu.


Milage Plus Shopping:

You can earn points by shopping online at the places that you shop all of the time. I'm looking at the stores. I need contacts, business cards and posters, running shoes and clothes, hair products, tires for my car, and a brake job.

1800 Contacts $4/mile

Saucony Running Shoes $3/mile

Auto Zone $1/mile

Kerastase shampoo $2/mile

Vista Print $2/miles

Discount Tires $2 mile (just as long as don't send tires to my apartment.

If you add everything together, these items could mean 3,850 miles. You can bump that up by making all these purchases with the GoBank card and increase your miles to 5,775.


Gift Cards

You can purchase gift cards through the rewards programs to your favorite places. This could also help you budget your spending better or could be gifts that you were going to buy anyway. These are the places that I use:

Buffalo Wild Wings $4/mile

McCormick and Schmicks $5/mile

Hello Fresh $4/mile

Saltgrass Steakhouse $5/mile

Charming Charlie's $3/mile

After doing some figuring, I could easily earn 4,004 more miles by the gift card method.

Downloaded Apps

If you download certain apps to your mobile devices from the United Plus website, anything you order from them have automatic miles attached to them. Groupon jumped out at me. I'm always looking for a deal on oil changes, massages, and other stuff. You can earn $11/mile. So, the eye exam I needed that could cost $120 or more, will cost $60 and I'll earn 660 miles and so forth. Looks like I'm going to be on that Groupon app often. Let's say, I'll spend $400 on Groupon. That's 4400 miles.

Grand Total

So let's add it up and see what we have miles we will have by October I'm so excited!

GoBank 15,000 miles

Reliant Switch 21,000 miles

Shopping 5,775 miles

Gift Cards 4,004 miles

Downloaded Apps 4,400 miles

Total: 50,179 miles

Guess What? I'm going to Machu Picchu with some miles left over. You can also use miles to make hotel reservations, too. There you have it. Now you can be a world traveler too.

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