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April 10, 2015 / philosophermouseofthehedge

Building ghosts

The stains on the floors. Footsteps hesitant as somewhat sticky coatings try to hang on to soles with each step. Hindering any rapid departure or escape.

Was that a memory scurrying down the hall? Or some homesteader slipping into shadows to avoid eviction?

Perhaps, nothing but an eddy from your own motion.

Why. Why bother coming back. Looking for what? Redemption or absolution.

Sometimes buildings’ porous walls seem to suck in and hold the screams, the yells, the cries while the bubbles of cheers and laughter evaporate.

Because sorrow lasts longer than joy?

Unsettling idea.

Astrodome 1965 night game/Sporting News Archives.Rozumalski/USPD.pub.date/WIKI

Space age inspired. Night life attired. (Astrodome 1965 night game/Sporting News Archives.Rozumalski/USPD.pub.date/WIKI

It’s 50 years old. Still young in other places, not here.

The Houston Astrodome was touted as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” in 1965 when it opened as the first domed indoor air-conditioned sports stadium.

It was a wild and crazy era: Space mania. Jetsons. Sputnik. John Glen. Cape Canaveral.

Between innings, ground crews (Called “the Earthmen”) wearing space suit costumes with helmets would groom the baseball diamond. Mini-skirted “Spacettes” ushered visitors to seats.

Originally the glass roof was clear, but outfielders soon complained high soaring fly balls disappeared in the glare. In addition, patrons were forced to wear sunglasses and certain seats became far too toasty as the sun beamed through the glass. So they painted the roof. Then the grass died from lack of sun. Enter AstroTurf!

Elvis, George Strait, Billy Graham, Evel Knievel, Muhammad Ali, the Supremes, Judy Garland, Seleena, rodeos, tennis matches, football games – all filled the seats.

Astrodome's "Earthmen" sweeping the field/Sam C. Pierson/ Houston Chronicle

“Earthmen” sweeping the field (Pierson/Houston Chronicle)

The private parties of the skyboxes were legendary. Jet Set swooned.

There was Judge Roy Hofheinz’s ornate office suite and apartment taking up seven floors.

Once called Houston’s gaudiest  apartment, it was decorated as “Early King Farouk” (Bob Hope) or”early whorehouse” (Sports Illustrated). Amid the red carpet, zebra print chairs, psychedelic wallpaper were conference rooms, a putting green, bowling alley, puppet theater, shooting gallery, chapel (with interchangeable stained glass panels for each faith), and private terrace overlooking the playing field. Did I mention the Asian dragon statues? (Shiver. Exactly what outsiders think of Texas: Over the top excess.)

Admit it. You want to see pictures. Click here. (Time Life images)

Dwarfed by the behemoth NRG Stadium sitting a stones throw away, the Astrodome has been mostly vacant.

NRG and Astrodome. map. 2010:Astornaut photo by Expedition 25 crew/ USPD/Commons.wikimedia.org

Aerial view from real space guys. Now NRG instead of Reliant. The big green vacant lot at the bottom was Astroworld Amusement park with a great old wooden rollercoaster. (2010.Astronaut photo/Expedition 25 crew/ USPD/Commons.wikimedia.org)

One of the old dowager stadium’s finest hour was in 2005, when the Harris County judge ordered the Astrodome doors be opened and said “Send them to us”. Bus load after bus load of Hurricane Katrina evacuees arrived to shelter there.

Citizens of Houston and surrounding areas ringed the Astrodome fence perimeter with clothing, shoes, and toys after the Red Cross (who eventually arrived on the grounds) refused local items and said “We only want money.” Actually the families needed clothing immediately. Volunteers organized items by type and sizes and assisted people in finding what they needed. The Red Cross was outraged and tried to have cops arrest volunteers. Uh, no. People here have always had a close relationship with New Orleans – business, party-time, family connections. Neighbors help neighbors.

2005. Hurricane Katrina evacuees/ Dallas Morning News.com

If only they could figure out how to dim the overhead lights a bit. 2005. Hurricane Katrina evacuees settled in. (Dallas Morning News.com)

Which brings up the question as to what should be done with this huge historical building or eyesore depending on your point of view.

It would cost as much to tear it down as to fix it up. There have been proposals and interest from private investors, but the old dear still waits her prince.

It could be a science, space, or history of the area museum?

Someone wanted to turn it into a hotel with shops and restaurants around a garden with trees and waterfalls. Another time it was turn it into a ski slope. There was the giant indoor amusement park idea. A water park. A grassy event arena.

A parking garage? Right there by the football stadium, the rodeo, or with the rail connections to downtown/medical center, some much needed parking for daily inner city commuters?

2005 view of Astrodome roof from inside/USPD released/WIKI)

Looking up. The old stadium tries to stay positive. (2005 view of Astrodome roof from inside/USPD released/WIKI)

Anyone remember Civil Defense shelters?

There used to be signs on downtown buildings with basements that were set up to house/feed/medical supplies for a set number of inhabitants if necessary.

Considering recent hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, and wild fires, it seems obvious that there will be disasters and people in harm’s way, so how about a massive shelter waiting all stocked and ready?

The US military might consider relocating their “urban warfare” exercises in there.

Plenty of room and they could build any kind of environment they wanted for practice. Hollywood could help with all the sets and special effects.

Better in that contained area than roaming outside in actual cities and neighborhoods as scheduled. Less disturbing for the locals who are not really excited about being “swarmed with special op military attempting to operate undetected among civilians in massive military exercise.”

What better place for boys to be boys and play their games than the Astrodome?

1999 Aerial view of Astrodome/LoC/Highsmith:USPD:WIKI

Seriously, it looked like a space ship had landed. (1999 Aerial view. Astrodome/LoC/Highsmith/USPD:WIKI)

Fifty years ago on April 9th, the Astrodome opened with a baseball game.

April 9, 2015, there was a big party there so people could once again walk inside and be stunned at how gigantic the place is.

Built and supported by taxpayers who are tired of studies, pie in the sky ideas, treading water, and watching the building deteriorate.

1969. First animated scoreboard Astrodome/Bill Wilson/Flickr/WIKI

A huge cavern of a stadium required something new: the first animated scoreboard, 1969. Everyone hoped to see that sign light up in all its’ glory. See how little the players look on the field? It’s big. (Bill Wilson/Flickr/WIKI)

It’s Houston.

Come on, decision makers, we make things happen. Charge ahead and once again push the boundaries.

It’s time. Love it or list it. But do something.

Texas always dreams big, they say.

Built to this point in time.

Phil, the Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge.

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39 Comments

  1. Kate Crimmins / Apr 10 2015 1:17 pm

    Interesting history. I didn’t know the Red Cross got their panties in a knot because of volunteers. What did they think. We all would have given our clothes to the survivors if we had been nearby.

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    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Apr 10 2015 2:27 pm

      It was insane. They were yelling at people bringing clothing, blankets, and stuffed animal – whatever they would want if it was happening to them. The “free store” volunteers became very organized – a drop off group to grab stuff from cars to prevent traffic from being slowed, all around the fence were little signs showing item type and size. Drove the Red Cross nuts – they kept screaming “Don’t bring stuff. Give us money.” All over TV here, probably no where else.People may not have spare money, but are willing to share items that they do have.
      It’s a big old place. Surely there’s some use for it.
      Thanks for wandering around this town.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Paul / Apr 10 2015 1:33 pm

    Giant Rats! Wayward cats! Whew.those are some heavy duty residents. I wouldn’t want to wander too close. Ha! Cool story Phil.

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    • Paul / Apr 10 2015 1:34 pm

      P.S. What does RC cat think of this?

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      • philosophermouseofthehedge / Apr 10 2015 2:37 pm

        RC Cat: “The fat cats often spoke fondly of the dome. But not being a sport cat, We were not impressed. A happy paw wave for your kindness in remembering We exist. Staff has seemed to forgotten that this past week. We are distressed that a tissue box can take Our place…although, better tissues than sticky fur. Fond adieu.”

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        • Paul / Apr 10 2015 3:06 pm

          There was a song written about that RC:

          “Some cats and rats and white elephants, but sure as you roam,
          The loveliest of all was the Astrodome.”

          Although I don’t know why the Irish Rovers would have written that – perhaps they visited at one point. Sounds like staff is improving RC – i hope the service gets better. I’ll leave an open tin of tuna at the door. Paw waves.

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          • philosophermouseofthehedge / Apr 10 2015 3:24 pm

            RC Cat: “You can’t top the Irish for their tales and songs. Perhaps the Realm should import a bard? We shall muse over that thought while enjoying your delightful treat! So considerate. We shall get by with a little help from Our friends, as they say. Toodles. Paw waves!”

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    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Apr 10 2015 2:34 pm

      WHo knew they were there? Sometimes you’d see birds who managed to sneak in flying around ( but not for long…they netted them, right? Couldn’t risk a hole in the roof from birdshot?) But the hunting cats, guess they were cooling their heels in some sweet suite during games. Thanks for sauntering in to chat. Hope you are doing well this week

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  3. Ally Bean / Apr 10 2015 3:03 pm

    I wonder if every large city has a building like the Astrodome, in the sense that it’s huge and old– and no one knows what to do with it. Around here the eyesores with a long history are all old multi-story shopping malls that were to become the new town centers. The concept did not catch on and the buildings languished; having now gone through many transformations they exist but remain closed, waiting to be rescued or destroyed. Sounds like the same deal with the Astrodome.

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    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Apr 10 2015 3:16 pm

      Part of the problem is that the building is county owned on county/taxpayer property and right by the NRG stadium There’s probably still bond money owed on the darn thing as both the NFL and baseball leagues kept demanding renovations and more upgrade – then they left for new stadiums.
      Several of our old multi-story barn-type malls have been torn down and rebuilt into the Town Center open air designs. Much nicer. Houston has a bad reputation for tearing down building much too fast – historical buildings. Actually this post started out about a couple of them, but I got stuck with all the curiosities of the Astrodome and it got too long.
      One great recent loss is a building from 1905. I’ll have to do that post. Thanks for constructing a comment!

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      • Ally Bean / Apr 10 2015 3:49 pm

        Interesting. If there’s money still owed, then you’ll be seeing the Astrodome morph into something new. I’m always sorry when interesting centuries-old buildings are torn down. They’re so cool, but these multi-story characterless malls are a different story. They are ugly– and useless. Always happy to see them go.

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        • philosophermouseofthehedge / Apr 10 2015 4:50 pm

          This is supposed to be of architectural importance. It does have a lot of local history/significance. They really should repurpose it. Things get torn down much too quickly around here – and it is so typical of that period.

          Liked by 1 person

        • philosophermouseofthehedge / Apr 13 2015 2:06 pm

          If there’s money owed is a little fuzzy. But if it cost the same to tear it down as to fix it, they should keep it. Yesterday they were talking making a big indoor park with grassy areas for concerts – which would be great for summers and rainy weather. (A park with no mosquitoes would be a real wonder). We’ll see what happens. It’s not what I would consider a really old building, but it does have architectural significance…and Elvis was there…maybe still in there somewhere?

          Liked by 1 person

      • shoreacres / Apr 11 2015 1:20 am

        I heard Michael Berry’s interview with the good Judge yesterday (?) and it seems that the debt has been discharged. That’s part of the issue. Since it’s owned free and clear, and since tearing it down will have significant cost, too, it’s worth trying to figure out if there could be a creative use for it.

        I’d forgotten about that business with the Red Cross. I haven’t given them money for years. After Ike, I went down to San Leon and contributed through the community church down there. It was far better to put necessities directly into the hands of people who needed them. Cynical? Me? No, just experienced.

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        • philosophermouseofthehedge / Apr 13 2015 2:40 pm

          It all seems a little fuzzy about money owed or not.Free and clear should make it easier to find a renter – but soem many of them seem to want tax payers to pay for renovations before they move in. If nothing else, the county/state should stabilize the condition, move in the state national guard stuff- trucks and all, and make it an emergency shelter….and there would still be plenty of room left over …
          The judge is on his way to Sweden (I think) to visit a huge indoor beach/tropical park destination there. Although I vote for the ski slope, the county should turn over development to Schlitterbaun, they’re the experts in water parks and resorts.
          Although no one is talking about it, we all know why Astroworld closed: gang activity – many who lived in walking distance.The shootings, fights, assaults freaked out parents who learned you had to get out of there before the sun went down. Violence is what ended their wonderful Halloween and Christmas events. (and yeah, I actually do know managers who worked there and saw it all happen. Really sad. Maybe if Six Flags hadn’t let it get so run down the last few years it would have helped.)
          Red Cross. Yeah. Those in disaster areas all know who they are – and aren’t.Not one penny. Did you catch their whining and complaining that no one was donating to ebola victims? – they had a very short running ad begging for money immediately – immediately – after the nurse got sick in Dallas. Never let a disaster go by without grabbing money (But they haven’t changed – they pulled some horrid ugly tricks on WWII soldiers in the battle zone areas – another day’s story.) Thanks for pulling up a comment

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  4. amkuska / Apr 10 2015 4:37 pm

    We don’t have any huge old buildings here. 🙂 At least not that I know of!

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    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Apr 13 2015 2:11 pm

      Most places have some sort of old structure/architecture, but often they have just been covered up or changed so much it’s impossible to see what was there. Thanks for wandering in and constructing a comment to leave

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  5. heretherebespiders / Apr 10 2015 8:30 pm

    I don’t know what to think about this. I’m not emotionally invested, but at the same time ‘Houston Aerodrome’ is a phrase I know. I think I have to leave it to you bigger and better in Texas people to figure it out!

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    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Apr 13 2015 2:20 pm

      Also an old Texas tradition is to stay within a budget and it will probably come down to the cost of repairs/maintaining it. The best outcome would be for a private company to come in for a long term lease and create something – but tax payers do not want to give any private company money to “help” them build a profit making business. (The NFL constant demands for more and more improvements, then they walked away for a few years – taught the city something).
      It’s a huge structure. Should be of some use – and apparently one of architectural/some cultural history’s importance. Where’s the magic wand and leprechauns when you need them? Thanks for riding round the dome and dropping off a comment!

      Like

  6. robincoyle / Apr 10 2015 10:15 pm

    I had no idea the Dome has so much history . . . good and bad. That apartment looks just like my house! How dare they call it gaudy!

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    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Apr 13 2015 2:22 pm

      Want to take bets Elvis is still in the building somewhere? (You have 7 floors? No way I’d manage to get the dusting done. Giggles!) Thanks for partying along

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  7. PiedType / Apr 11 2015 2:21 am

    Well, my opinion of the Red Cross just dropped another few notches. People will give what and how they want to give, not what and how the Red Cross dictates. I learned my lesson after 9/11, when I quite naturally trusted the Red Cross as the most legitimate charity to make sure my donation got to NYC — only to find out later that you can’t “earmark” donations to the Red Cross. Everything goes into one pot and they spend it where and how they want, not where donors specify/request. I haven’t given them a penny since then.

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    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Apr 13 2015 3:22 pm

      How interesting. After Hurricane Sandy, the Red Cross was saying to “earmark” donations specifically for Sandy victims. (The Red Cross response there was typical of them.) There was a huge scandal when someone leaked the Red Cross redecorated their offices with Katrina donations.Nice expensive chairs in meeting rooms and more…they got real huffy about it and “promised to do better”.
      It’s obvious to many here the Red Cross is more interested in themselves and less compassionate than the say. When the buses of Katrina victims started arriving at the dome, the County Judge and Mayor Bill White couldn’t understand why people were being held on the buses or standing in huge lines. They personally went down there and realized the Red Cross had set up registration tables and were insisting every single person fill out multiple pages of their forms before being allowed inside.The judge and mayor were livid and rerouted everyone directly inside to get showers, food, clean clothes, and beds. Obviously the Red Cross people have never themselves been disaster victims. Registration was done later to give out vouchers and meal tickets once people had a chance to rest. (The local volunteers organized the immediate food service from local business’ meals/prepared donations. Red Cross totally pissed…their emergency procedures not followed….kinda sounds like the CDC when actually had to face a real crisis with ebola instead of fictional zombies)
      Noticed the day that nurse came down with ebola in Dallas, there were Red Cross ads on tv here begging for ebola victim donations…then the RC complained and whined people weren’t responding. The ads didn’t play very long.Let no disaster go by without grabbing some money.
      Not one penny to them. Right now the Salvation Army does a good job in this area.
      We’re 3 inches above normal rainfall right now. (Why isn”t there some way to move nationally spring flood waters to holding lakes in areas that need it? Didn’t the Romans figure out something? If there was will, it could be done…easier to whine and complain than work on solution) Bumper crop of wild flowers and cloudy days are cooler. Summer’s here. Thanks for rolling by to chat (will wander your way shortly, been a bit low speed for a few days)

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  8. marthaschaefer / Apr 11 2015 12:29 pm

    Interesting history. I had no idea. Perhaps it should be a museum and public space? Or you guys could make a run for hosting the Olympics some day?

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    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Apr 13 2015 3:28 pm

      We’ve had the Summer Olympics before – and Super Bowl which is returning shortly. It’s there. It’s huge. It should be used for something – it has been used for just about everything…and it all looked dwarfed. Hard to explain how big the interior is – especially when the newer even bigger NFL stadium is right next door (which international soccer games fill to the rafter – that’s so loud, it’s scary…the local soccer team has it’s own new outdoor stadium. Soccer is big sport here)
      We’ll see. They are thinking indoor water park/hotels/beach destination which might work really well…if they also put in a roller coaster…we miss ours. Thanks for swooping by to chat

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Sun / Apr 12 2015 2:51 am

    dome buildings, so unique…i hope it can be saved, somehow.

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    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Apr 13 2015 3:33 pm

      People are really getting tired of tearing stuff down just because they want something new, or it’s out of style. It’s big. It’s odd. It could be used for so many things – and it will cost the same to tear it down as to fix it. So they need more parking spaces for football? Hey, there’s room in there for parking and more. They used to shoot of fireworks in there, the only thing that seems limited would be flights by the Blue Angels. Zip lines, roller coaster, ski slope, climbing walls – no problem!Thanks for running by to cheer the dome.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. jmmcdowell / Apr 16 2015 11:13 pm

    At 50 years of age, it meets the first criteria for being a historic property. And its significance at the national level would be hard to argue against. Then there’s the potential for regional and local significance. Has anyone proposed nominating it for the National Register of Historic Places?

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    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Apr 16 2015 11:59 pm

      The historical societies have been after it. In 2014 it was listed in the National Registry of Historic Places after it was listed in 2013 as one of the 11 most endangered places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. But apparently that doesn’t prevent anyone from tearing it down. It was retrofitted after the disabilities act, but it needs repairs soon in order to protect it from getting past possibility of repairs. Still all up in the air. The county judge is in Sweden I think looking at a huge indoor park/beach/resort/water park they have there. Not a bad idea….with the rain and winter we’ve had…parents would vote overwhelmingly in support. Thanks for bringing up the big preservation hopes.

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  11. jannatwrites / Apr 19 2015 6:23 pm

    It’s a shame if a piece of history like this is lost. Instead of discarding old buildings, it would be nice if we could preserve the history. There are stories and memories held inside those old structures….

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    • philosophermouseofthehedge / Apr 21 2015 12:33 am

      There’s a really old (1905) building going down. Sad. Sad. (maybe a later post) Houston is so difficult to drive around as you “landmark” buildings can disappear overnight. Still no decision about the dome – last week it was used for a “try to find the bomb” drill for city rescue/emergency workers…the media was calling it a treasure hunt. It would make a monster-sized haunted house for Halloween…Christmas? Sleigh rides, music, gift/flea market, “sledding’ slides, Rudolf zip lines?…they could even have ice skating rink and a snow man building area? Plenty of ideas. All that’s needed is someone to make it happen. It’s weird – it’s the first domed stadium…hate to see it doomed. Thanks for rolling in to chat

      Like

  12. Russel Ray Photos / May 8 2015 6:11 am

    Well, THAT brought back a lot of memories!

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    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 8 2015 4:24 pm

      That old place. Still awesome after all these years. Thanks for tossing a comment across the plate

      Like

  13. Russel Ray Photos / May 8 2015 6:42 am

    I had to go back and read this post again because it brought back so many memories. I actually did not know that AstroWorld had been closed and demolished. I lived in Houston from May 1977 to April 1983. So many great times at the Astrodome and AstroWorld.

    In 1980, I went to the Astros-Phillies playoff game which went extra innings. I also had tickets to the Texas A&M-University of Houston football game that day, which was supposed to start at 7:30 p.m. The length of the baseball game pushed the football game back. It didn’t get started until 11:30 that night, ending at 2:30 in the morning, making it college football’s only two-day football game.

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    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 8 2015 4:33 pm

      Houston was a wild and crazy place during that time. (The traffic in the dome area when there’s an event hasn’t improved at all) A 2-day football game – talk about unique. (Yawn…oh, younger then – no problemo…and everyone else was in the same condition) By ’87 or so Six Flag Corp was treating AstroWorld like a step child and it began to look shabby – needing landscape repairs.Then the gangs started buying season passes, families knew to leave before dark, kids were getting knocked down and shoved aside as the undesirable elements jumped to the front of the lines, and the cart vendors started getting beat up and robbed. The shootings finally did the place in. Did you go to the Halloween /Christmas special holiday weekend openings? Those were fun in the earlier days – cool weather and roller coasters are a perfect match. Always loved that bridge with all the flowers. Sigh. Oh, well, lots of land there, so fa not an apartment project yet. Fingers crossed something cool shows up again. Thanks for climbing along for the ride

      Liked by 1 person

      • Russel Ray Photos / May 9 2015 9:01 am

        I made it to some Halloweens there but not Christmas. I was already out of the Christmas spirit by the time I graduated from A&M in 1977.

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        • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 9 2015 10:40 pm

          Wonder how many people ended up with Astroworld trinkets in their Christmas stockings – or large stuffed animals? Roller coasters are pretty much perfect for the holidays: you’re up, then crashing down, then rolling back uuuup, and falling….We should write a piece with Astroworld rides as a metaphor for everything in life (HA HA)

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