The Fifth Ward Sign
Story circa July 30th, 1998 | Back to Blog Listing


A map of the area detailing the various streets involved in this excursion
When I was in high school, one of the more interesting and regular gifts that I would get for people were street signs bearing their name. It's not a practice that I encourage, but it had its time in my youth.

Over the summer of 1998 I had started dating Sarah Wagner and wanted to get her one of these signs as well. Since this was still really before the time of internet mapping, I took to my local Target and looked up Sarah's name in one of the key map books. When I've told this story in the past, occasionally someone is not familiar with a key map. So just in case, a key map is a bound book that has a map of every single street within a certain area (usually a city). A key map for the city of Houston probably has about three hundred pages to it.

The map showed that there was a tiny road called Sarah Street in northern central Houston, smack dad in the center of the Fifth Ward. It was late at night, probably after 1am, and I called up my dear friend Victor and asked him if he'd join me. He agreed and even drove. We headed out into Houston from Katy, turned up on 59, and drove into the Fifth Ward. The scenery immediately changed.

Even though it was probably near 2am at this point, there were people walking around everywhere. Cars were parked three and four deep onto lawns at almost every home and there was definitely a sense of discomfort about the whole thing. Victor and I couldn't find the street immediately and had different ideas on how to resolve this. I thought we should just continue driving around looking for it, but being one to trust anyone and everyone, Victor decided that we would ask for directions. Incidentally, Victor is now a real-life ordained Catholic priest.

He pulled up next to some guy standing in the middle of the road and asked him if he knew where Sarah Street was. The guy said he would tell us for a dollar. Victor paid him and he proceeded to give us directions. He told us to go up the block, turn left on Collingsworth and then turn left again at Carr Street. That would take us where we wanted to go. I did not have a very good feeling about this, but we gave it a go.

Victor followed the guy's instructions. We drove to the end of the street when two things occurred to me. Number one was that we had just crossed into a train yard. Number two was that the road we were on dead ended at said train yard. I have no idea if the guy was sending us to get robbed, or perhaps there was a drug house over there he assumed we were trying to buy from, or if he was just sending us away. But I do know that two white kids in a shiny Ford Ranger do NOT want to be at the dead end of a train yard in the Fifth Ward of Houston at 2am on bad information. That is almost as bad as the string of prepositional phrases needed to describe the aforementioned problem.

I didn't really think much beyond that point other than to tell Victor to put it in reverse and to back out quickly. He did.

It was the only sign I never successfully got.