Jeff Millar: The Urban Cooler


The column was originally published in the Houston Chronicle on September 30, 1979.

After a brief discussion of the rural origins and urban permutations of this venerable Texan version of the British pub, the class will take a field trip to several Houston coolers to examine the socio-cultural and architectural factors that make each institution unique. Come thirsty.

FEE: $ 5

Meet at 1 p.m. on Sunday, October 21

– from the course catalog of an informal school without credit

The van made a final arabesque above the gutters of the parking lot and came to a stop. The instructor, humming “Room Full of Roses”, jumped out of the driver’s seat and slid out the side door.

“I saved the best for last,” he sang. “You won’t find a more compelling model of socio-cultural and architectural factors in Houston. … “

The students slowly extricated themselves from the back of the van. The instructor, immersed in “Room Full of Roses”, had not heard the faint whispers of discussion among his students en route from Cooter’s Ice House (“exquisite redneck … notice the fine patina the beer jet gives to the students. bases on gumball machines … “). There was a consensus that their brief stay at the “Jewel of Telephone Rd.” could very well have been the cornerstone of this meeting with Urban Ice House. It was agreed that any further study would just be redundant, maybe even dilute the experience, and to prevent it maybe the best thing would be to just dive out of the van windows and run towards it. However, the fire had changed and the instructor had turned on Alabama.

Mr. Harris, only two weeks old from Indiana when he signed up for the class, carefully climbed down on the carpet from the annular zippers, favoring his left foot a little. He had been entered as a judge in a VW lift competition at 4-G’s Beer & Ice on Mykawa Rd. And was knocked down on him by the guy who finished second.

Miss Edwards considered herself lucky to observe the Ladies Room showdown at Beverly’s Pic-‘Em & Pak-‘Em on Airline Dr. However, having in fact become part of it (mistaken identity) exceeded, to be frank, his interest.

Mr. Blumenthal, newly transferred to Houston from Massachusetts, still noticed the colorful game of “Texas darts” (“… the unmistakable history of Anglo-Saxon pubs …”) the class had stumbled upon when they got to explore No Neck’s Fine Foods & Motor Oil on Canal St. After regulars noticed Mr. Blumenthal’s outfit (he had bought his typical Texan clothes at a boutique in Galleria II), it was decided to make Mr. Blumenthal the next dart. Therefore, Mr. Blumenthal’s remarks were to the effect that the only conceivable way to get out of this van until he was safely back at Terminal A, with an Eastern boarding pass Airlines in hand, was under general anesthesia.

“I think he just wants to digest things for a while,” said Mr Blumenthal’s instructor, who was trying to squeeze even further into the backseat. “So much information today …”

The class walked around the hatchback (“… an early ’60s Ford apparently …”) outside the door and entered. As in previous coolers, the class organized around the walls and listened to the sotto-voce remark.

“For the spiciness of the general mood, no cooler can touch it,” he said. “Notice the 1973 schedule … the image of the Houston Mavericks team … the naive but functional architectural flow of the interior space beyond the air conditioning compressor drip line to the tables outdoor picnic … the use of natural materials, like dirt and that green stuff out there in the corners … “

“Excuse me,” whispered Ms. Bellamy, “but is it a socio-cultural or an architectural factor? “

“One way out,” said the instructor, giving the object a soft blow. “Gnggh,” Travis, the convenience store muttered, turning his cheeks on the table. “If it’s two o’clock, open one more and put another can in my pocket …”

“Socio-cultural,” whispered the instructor. He nodded in the direction of the darker corner of the cooler. “In its rural origins, the ice house was a source of refrigeration when electrification was scarce. Ice house owners began selling food in addition to ice.”

“Hey, Joy Clara, what’s that over there?” said Curtis, the other tow truck driver.

” From where ? said Joy Clara, who was busy popping another set of Long Necks for Ma Bell, Stickshift, J. Jack Quarterpanel and Lester Lloyd Diboll, who were discussing Dan Pastorini’s merits against an 80-year-old grandmother as Oilers quarterback.

“Over there next to that rack of beef jerky.”

“It’s the product department,” Joy Clara said.

“Product department? Curtis said.

“Function is still observed in the urban cooler …” the instructor whispered.

“Joy Clara, what kind of product is black and gray …?”

“… but,” the instructor added, “the supply function has become rather vestigial …”

“… and I know, my daughter,” Curtis said, “this product is supposed to be Stationary. “

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