When I call Iris Rodriguez, she is packing for a military training weekend in Mississippi. A six-hour drive she isn’t dreading because she is making a pit stop to help a woman affected by Hurricane Harvey pick out a new home after hers was destroyed in the storm. After Harvey hit, Iris, a local fire station captain, sprang into action helping as many individuals she could and formed the nonprofit Texas Local Disaster Recovery Squad.
Her passion to help others and neighborly attitude mirror what she considers to be Houston’s best quality: It’s loving and giving spirit. Case in point, when I made an off-the-cuff remark about needing to achieve my “summer body,” she insisted on taking me to two training sessions with a trainer at Against All Odds gym.
Iris is not just an active member of the community but could be seen as an LGBT Houston historian. She has witnessed the evolution of Montrose and surrounding neighborhoods. She can recall bar raids, the first AIDS blood drive at a local lesbian bar and once fixing a drink for Gloria Steinem (margarita of course) at a local lesbian bar. She has been a part of the LGBT scene for about 40 years and has her finger on the pulse of the best Houston has to offer.
What are your favorite things to do in the city?
I love the arts and entertainment here. Not just the big shows at places like the Hobby Center, but also the local theater groups. Recently, I actually hosted an event for the Landing Theater Company in my house because they are such an amazing group putting on thoughtful shows. I love the abundance of local artists, musicians, museums – people don’t realize how many Houston has – and the festivals. I feel I must also mention the sports because I am a huge Astros and Texans fan.
What would you consider to be the best food in Houston?
Well the first house I grew up in was part of Patrenella’s, an amazing Italian restaurant off Washington. So, I love Italian. I’m a big fan of sushi and love dining out at places like Blue Fish and Uchi.
You mentioned working out a lot, where are some of your favorite to stay active?
There are so many fun places to do things to exercise here. I live in sixth ward and Buffalo Bayou is right there, I call it my backyard. It’s my favorite place to go walking, running, kayaking and riding my bike. With all the good food here, you have to move your body.
What do you love to do to blow off steam in Houston?
I love going to concerts. I recently saw St. Vincent and was just amazed by her. I like places large and small, like House of Blues, White Oak Music Hall.
What makes Houston unique to you?
I love the different neighborhoods. Each one has their own style and things to offer. Other cities don’t have that quite like Houston. Houston is a big ole country town with a bunch of little cities in it. I think of Houston like the rainbow flag – it is array of colors and things to love.
What advice would you give an LGBT person visiting for the first time?
I would say, go to a place like Hamburger Mary’s, or someplace on Montrose that has information, like magazines, on the Houston LGBT scene. Visiting Montrose is a must so you can get a sense of what the LGBT community evolved from. I think that is really important because if you don’t know where we started, you can’t appreciate where we are now.