I missed that momentous occasion on 9 April 1965. I was a 31 year old engineer at the time working for RCA way up north in Indianapolis (Or as some of us used to call it "Indianoplace"). But I read about it in the Indianapolis Star – Judge Roy Hofheinz' dream come true – the world's first domed, air conditioned stadium.
I missed last Thursday's birthday party too, because I was in Mexico. But even if I had been in Houston, I don't think I'd have gone to join the overflow crowd that came to see her and to relive old memories of her glory days.
I think it would have been a little like going to see the battleship Texas, corralled forever in a little puddle at San Jacinto when she was built to roam the boundless seas and fight hurricanes and serve her country proudly and heroically. Somehow, the Texas reminds me of an old veteran, still wearing the faded campaign ribbons from a war that nobody remembers.
We all have our memories of the Astrodome. We remember watching Oiler games from a skybox back in the 80s when Houston was awash in oil money. We remember the chili cook offs that kicked off the Houston Wildlife Show and Rodeo. (If you don't know why I call it a wildlife show, you ain't never been there.) And we remember the rodeo itself. Who can forget the barrel races and calf scrambles and the Budweiser Clydesdales. And who can forget Tanya Tucker belting out "When I Die, I May Not Go To Heaven," or the last time the Gatlin Brothers sang "Houston" at the dome in 2002?
And we remember the old girl's finest hour in 2005, when Houston showed the world that if Louisiana couldn't take care of her own, Texans were willing and able to step up to the plate, and the Astrodome became a giant dormitory and relocation center for thousands of refugees from hurricane Katrina.
Now she stands there, gaunt and alone, like an old abandoned castle whose concrete tunnels still echo with the hollow voices of people long gone and whose empty concession stands still harbor memories of the aromas of overpriced beer and giant soft pretzels.
She reminds me of an old horse, standing all alone in the middle of a south-east Houston pasture, spavined and a little swaybacked, but full of rich memories of the hours and the days we spent together – and sill anxious to be saddled up and taken for a brisk run out on the Katy prairie.
There's talk of making her into something else – an indoor park or a shopping mall. But whatever they do to her, they'll never recreate the memories. Whatever they do to her, she'll never again be the Astrodome. She'll never again ring with the rich baritone of Elvis Pressley as she did that February and March in 1970, and she'll never again echo with the cries of 'Stros fans when Nolan Ryan ties into a homer in the ninth inning.
I don't know what's to become of her, but it seems to me that trying to make her into something she never was would only dilute the memories – the memories of a time when the dome meant Houston – memories of the days when she stood tall and proud as the eighth wonder of the world, with the Goodyear blimp hovering over her silver dome in the south Texas sunshine.
I miss her, but I think I'll miss her more if they change her into a cheap parody of what she once was. She'd be like an old race horse, reduced to wearing a ridiculous straw hat and pulling a milk wagon. Maybe it would be better to keep our memories intact, and just let the old girl rust in peace.