A glossy US arrival video is playing on a giant screen above our booth, but we have to wait an hour and offer all our fingerprints before we’re free to pass.
Welcome to America.
Obama’s America — but has it really changed?
The freeway towards the city looks just the same. A little less traffic perhaps.
In the hotel at last, I flop my bag and body down and switch on the TV. There’s a programme talking all about energy costs, and today’s phone-in prize is (quite remarkably) a free green audit of your home.
And it strikes me that I’ve never heard this stuff in Texas before.
All fresh and showered by sunset, we walk on Main Street to find a place to eat. It’s hotter than July this evening, but after ten hours in an aluminium tube we’re in no mood for air-conditioned civility. Some al fresco nachos, a cold beer and a simple plate of enchiladas are all we seek.
And then unexpectedly, outside the restaurant, we find surprise again. A parked Mini, with just the perfect bumper sticker. Actual Size.
* * * * *
The morning is always slow in coming, when you wake six hours before the day.
It’s perfect running. If you want to catch America, look above you at the looping freeways. Cast your eyes across the sunrise to a city touching clouds beyond the morning bayou.
We try to find another bridge. Eventually, I ask a runner. No problem — about a mile ahead, she says. And then she adds, mysteriously, You have to go to war.
Her words puzzle me. Because that’s bloody cryptic, from an American to a Brit. We were there with you in Iraq, you know. Even if we didn’t really want to be. But perhaps she means the running — and if she does, then that’s exactly right. In the morning summer heat, a war is precisely how this feels.
The sun is fully up now. We run east towards a distant skyscraper, and finally beneath it, we find our bridge. Waugh Street.
We laugh our way across the bayou as I look up. I’ve never noticed this tower before, but now the corporate logo screams its tale to anyone from anywhere around the globe. It’s AIG.
It’s three miles back to downtown Houston — towards the searing sun — and amidst my struggle I start to wonder. Can America really change?
It’s early days, here in the energy capital of the world. But there are signs. A little less traffic, a smaller car or two. A feature on energy saving on Texan television. A lonely logo on a single skyscraper which symbolises the changing financial climate of this world more strongly than any other image I know.
And suddenly it seems that the tide is turning in this battle, after all.
Copenhagen still lies six months ahead, and a positive outcome may be too much to hope for. But a narrow definition of success or failure at a single conference — however momentous — perhaps that’s not the issue.
The real news this morning is that the world has changed. For now, at least, the economic horizon is painted a different colour.
And on energy and this steamy climate, America will engage.
174. The hidden history of Texas – on Buffalo Bayou, Houston, USA
74. God Jul – from Copenhagen to Crawley
195. The arc of history – USA election 2008
210. The price of oil: 3 – energy economics and the financial crisis
182. The truth about global warming
110. The hands that built America – Houston skylines
133. Tomorrow – Avril Lavigne and global warming
105. A crisis of energy
193. Through the Gherkin’s glass darkly – nightfall and fear in the City of London