Houston, TX was the brightest gem in the short-lived "Sunbelt Era" of American economic history. The 1980 U.S. Census placed the city as the fourth largest in America. The oil glut of the 80s brought on the beginning of a series of woes for this once-proud city, however, leaving Houston a pitiful shell of its former self and a prime example of what's gone wrong in America in the past 50 years.
In the late 1970s, Houston was a city with unlimited potential. The city grew by leaps and bounds, as companies moved their operations to take advantage of low taxes and year-round sunshine, and individuals came from the north looking for jobs. The oil glut of the 80s reversed that trend, however, as high unemployment caused many transplanted Northerners - and some native Texans, too - to go north, looking for work.
The 80s oil glut was the world's last fling with petroleum and the beginning of the end for the multinational oil companies. Spurred on by comparatively low prices and a seemingly endless supply, consumers around the world depleted the remaining known oil reserves in less than 15 years.
Even though declining revenues and increasing unemployment coninued to spell bad news for Houston, there continued to be a characteristic optimism about the future, from the corporate boardrooms to the "tent cities" appearing under freeway overpasses and in many parks. That optimism, along with any hopes for Houston's return to national prominence, was dashed in the Oil Crash of 1993.
The Oil Crash saw fortunes wiped out in a matter of days as the stock prices of all large oil companies dropped to an average of 7% of their former value. Companies that had diversified into other fields survived - though not as oil companies. The rest disappeared. Houston was crippled. Massive downtown office buildings were emptied, with no new tenants. Thousands of families, unable to pay their bills, simply pulled up stakes and left. Entire neighborhoods became deserted, providing a haven for youth gangs, outlaws, and other troublemakers.
The Secession War did not affect Houston much at all, as it was too far away ftom the land borders of the Free Oil States to be threatened, and too unimportant to be considered a target for an amphibious landing. The oil refineries and chemical plants along the Ship Channel came in for some offshore bombardment, but most of the damage was restricted to areas already shut down in the Crash.
Today, Houston exists in name only. There is no effective city-wide government, and no law and order beyond what the residents make for themselves. There are still a few pockets of peace and productive activity, but they are few and far between. Population estimates today number Houston's residents at under 175,000.
1. Houston Intercontinental Airport: Once a busy international airport, HIA still handles some airship and light aircraft traffic, though the airport operators can only afford to protect a small portion of the facility. An airship mooring has been built next to the one terminal still in use - the rest of the airport has been abandoned. HIA runways are a favorite practice ground for duellists, as well as a traditional spot for the settling of gang wars. As long as this activity stays well away from the remaining working sections of the airport, the HIA authorities leave well enough alone.
2. The Astrodome: Dubbed "The Eighth Wonder of the World" when built nearly 75 years ago, the Dome stopped serving its original purpose - a stadium for professional sports - in 1998 when the last tenant, the Houston Astros baseball team, moved to Acapulco to become the third Mexican franchise in the major leagues. Since then, the Dome has been used as a special events arena, a shelter for the homeless, and a warehouse. Currently, the Dome is controlled by the Houston Free Oilers, an AADA-affiliated autoduelling club, who use it and the surrounding parking lots for duelling practice and events.
3. Downtown: The once-majestic Houston skyline now has nothing to offer to anyone but the foolish. Maintenance and upkeep on the buildings ended years ago - very few elevators still work, and the lovely glass coverings of these 20th-century monuments to commerce are now oceans of broken glass shards in the streets - in some areas up to a foot deep. Downtown is now the bottom of the pecking order; people live here because they cannot live anywhere else. The buildings are dangerous, the streets deadly, and the inhabitants, while not very well-armed, are desperate. For those reasons, the Downtown district of Houston has been placed under a Level 3 AADA Advisory, the strongest possible. DO NOT enter this area under any circumstances.4. Ship Channel: Once a man-made channel connecting Houston industry with Galveston Bay, the Ship Channel today is a hideout for numerous gangs that use small boats to move cargo - legal and illegal - up and down the coastal waterways of the Gulf Coast. Many of the boats for hire can get a person or a cargo to places that conventional highway travel won't reach. Large bulk cargoes cannot be handled here - due to the deterioration of the channel and the numerous wrecked and sunken ships, only small boats can still navigate the entire length of the channel.
5. Galveston Bay: For buying or selling large cargoes for overseas delivery, this is the place to come. Galveston was Texas' largest city in the 18th century, and the free trading atmosphere of those times lives again. There is a port authority that handles the buying and selling of cargoes and the contracting of ships, but it is estimated that 60% of the business taking place in Galveston happens on the black market. Be warned - black market goods and services are cheaper, but may not be as reliable.
6. Rice/Medical Center Fortress Area: The only part of Houston that remotely resembles the Houston of the 20th century, the Rice/Medical Center Fortress Area (called the "RiceMed" by locals) covers nearly 10 square miles southwest of Downtown. The RiceMed is a limited-access fortress town, with strong walls and heavy firepower to repel intruders. The RiceMed has its own "provisional" government (the founders insisted on the "provisional" title, assuming that when the Houston municipal government reestablished control, the RiceMed government would fold up. This seems unlikely to ever happen), with a ruling council, courts, and police. All citizens are trained militia members, and the police keep enough weapons stockpiled to arm the entire population in case of attack, but carrying of weapons in RiceMed without a permit is prohibited. Likewise is the driving of armed vehicles prohibited without a permit. Permits are very hard to come by. Visitors entering the fortress area can leave their weapons and armed vehicles in safe storage areas near the entrance gates.
Rice University teaches the same curriculum it has for over 100 years - pure sciences and mathematics, engineering, literature, architecture, and fine arts. While acknowledging the realities of daily life in 2036 (campus police carry SMGs and grenades), Rice offers no combat-related courses of any kind. The Medical Center consists of four different full-service hospitals, two medical schools, a nursing school, two medical research facilities, and a teaching hospital. Doctors, surgeons, researchers, and patients still come from around the world for medical care that cannot be offered anywhere else.
7. Refinery Row: The last of the Texas Gulf Coast petrochemical industry, Refinery Row is actually one working oil refinery and two chemical plants, surrounded by warehouses and security barriers. The yearly outputs of these plants are minuscule compared to the 20th century, but for some of these products - gasoline, ammonia, fertilizers, solvents, and special lubricants - this is the only source in hundreds of miles. Security is tight and prices are high, but visitors - especially visitors who've come to buy - are welcome.
8. Memorial Park: The largest park in Houston, Memorial Park is now home to thousands of people that cannot find or afford permanent shelter. Because of the lack of roads through the park, no cycle or car gang has tried to take control of the park, though some small off-road groups claim portions of the park as their "turf." For the most part, Memorial Park is a peaceful place, as folks try to eke out a living with cooperative gardens and hunting. There is no leadership or legal system, but the residents have a strong sense of right and wrong; vigilante justice is swift in Memorial Park.
9. River Oaks: The swankiest neighborhood in Houston, River Oaks was the area to live in during Houston's glory days. Even when the bad times hit, River Oaks thrived, because instead of the early days of wildcatters and entrepeneurs, the residents were all bankers and insurance executives and lawyers - the type of people who make money no matter which way the economy is going. So River Oaks held on. By 2022, River Oaks became the most luxurious prison in North America - the residents had bought so many security systems and hired so many guards that while the bandits looting the rest of the city were kept at bay, the residents couldn't leave their homes. Finally, a concerted attack in 2028 by a temporary coalition of three bandit gangs sacked River Oaks. It is now a smoking ruin, inhabited only by scavengers.
10. The Suburbs: Houston had vast residential areas in the 20th century that have today been carved up into plots of "turf" and run by various cycle gangs, bandits, cults, and self-defense coalitions. Most residents work small gardens and engage in bartering of skills and labor to get by. Whatever group runs the area gets a percentage of everything in exchange for keeping the residents safe from all the groups that run all the other areas. Actual fighting between groups is rare now that a sort of status quo is reached, but strangers are looked at very suspiciously. For that reason, the Houston Suburbs have been placed under a Level 1 AADA Advisory - Caution Strongly Recommended. Unless you are visiting someone who knows you or are entering on invitation, the AADA recommends avoiding this area.
There are no independently-owned, full-service charge and repair facilities left in the Houston area. The RiceMed has a complete facility owned by the police force for service of their own vehicles - citizens are charged reasonable prices, but municipal vehicles get first priority, so repairs can take a while. Many of the suburban defense coalitions have their own charging stations, and quite a few suburban residents do automotive repair. The dangers of the suburbs have already been discussed, however, and all repair work is on a caveat emptor basis.
Refinery Row also has a charging station that does business with the public, but the proprietors are security-conscious to the point of paranoia - many customers are refused service because they "look suspicious." Gasoline is occasionally available here, but the $300/gallon price tends to discourage all but the most desperate.
Only two roads have received any kind of maintenance since the Secession War - Texas 2 (formerly I-45), which runs south to Galveston, and north to Dallas and beyond; and Texas 3 (formerly I-10), which runs east to Beaumont and Louisiana, and west to San Antonio and the West Texas wastelands. These roads are still passable over their entire length, though debris and potholes are common in the Houston area. The other highways on the map are the other major roads of Houston. These other roads haven't seen a maintenance crew in decades, and the years of traffic, weather, and combat have taken their toll. The routes described on the map can still be followed, but expect collapsed overpasses, rubble blocking certain lanes, and frequent detours and toll stops.
The only police forces you are likely to encounter are in the RiceMed fortress area. The RiceMed police drive well-marked, blue-and-white vehicles armed with Vulcans (burst effect weapons cause too much property damage). The RiceMed force has 35 cars, 18 motorcycles, and five helicopters. The Rice University Campus Police numbers about 15, and they patrol on foot. The Campus police get along very well with the RiceMed forces, and RiceMed vehicles are often used as backups in case of trouble on campus.
There is a continually shifting hierarchy of hundreds of bandit gangs in the area, and any list would be inaccurate and incomplete before we could get it to press. Most gangs fly distinctive colors, however, and going underground is not an option in honor-conscious biker society. So if you can't identify a vehicle's colors at less than 100 yards or so, it's a good bet that vehicle does not have a gang affiliation.
While there is no lack of adventure and vehicle combat, there is very little organized autoduelling going on. The Houston Free Oilers often hold events in the Astrodome - including their annual Presidential Election, a duel in which the winner gets to be club president for the next year - but large-scale events featuring out-of-town duellists are rare. This is mainly because Houston is not geographically near any of the other stops on the AADA circuit, and because of its unsavory reputation as a haven for outlawry. The Free Oilers do hold regular practice sessions and intra-chapter events, and would be glad to welcome any visiting duellist to participate. Contact them at the Astrodome, or by calling 555-THFO.