Vote early, but not often Be one of the few, the proud ... the voters. Today is the last day to cast an early ballot before the April 9 Democratic and Republican primary runoffs. If you voted in the first-round election on March 12, there's plenty of reason to go back to the polls. For instance, transsexual and convicted murderer Leslie Perez is in a runoff for chair of the Harris County Democratic Party, and there are a few hotly contested second-rounders on the GOP as well. If you didn't vote in March, you're free to vote in the runoff of your choice, but be forewarned: if you voted in the Democratic primary last month, you can't go over and vote in the Republican runoff (and vice versa). That's called "crossover" voting, and it's illegal.
Return of the "King" Party on the Plaza kicks off the weekend with veteran Joe "King" Carrasco and Miss Francis and the Rhythm Fish. Carrasco has been around forever -- or, at least, since the early '70s, when he landed in Austin nursing a serious jones for the spicy border rock of bands such as Doug Sahm, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs and ? and the Mysterians. Over the decades, Carrasco and the Crowns have more than earned their keep as one of the finest Tex-Mex party bands on earth -- and if not the best, then the most enthusiastic, by a long shot. Yep, Joe still wears that big old crown proudly, and it's none the worse for wear. From after work until a while after dark, Jones Plaza, downtown. Free.
Padres and blessings The hoopla of opening day has come and gone; so, too, has the opening home stand against spring training standouts the Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as the fuss over the Astros' first matchup this season with that team's superstar pitcher Hideo Nomo. Now it's time to dig in and play some ball. The home team takes on the San Diego Padres (who, like the Astros, have suffered the shame of icky-colored uniforms) tonight. Darryl Kyle is the scheduled pitcher. Just a reminder: the season-ticket goal to keep the Astros in town and Drayton McLane wealthy has not yet been met. 7:05 p.m. Astrodome, Loop 610 at Kirby, 629-3700. $5$16; Randall's Family Night tickets are $3.
Dutch Oven Cook-off Here's an idea for enlightening (or frightening) those out-of-town Easter guests: take them to the George Ranch for some living history. Out of town guests persist in thinking that Houston is like any other modern, mall-based, cable-watching city. Why let them be smug when you can show them real live cowboys at the spring roundup? The George Ranch is a genuine 474-acre ranch, and the repository of 170 years of Texas history. Two houses, the J.H.P. Davis mansion and the George Ranch house, will be open for tours, and cowboys will demonstrate cattle working techniques and talk about cattle breeds of the 1930s. The demonstrations and tours will be held all weekend, but today only, cowboys will compete in a Dutch oven cook-off. The ranch, located only 30 minutes from the Galleria, is open 10 a.m.6 p.m. today and Sunday. Take U.S. 59 south to Crabb River Road, go south and follow the signs. (713) 545-9212. $6; $3, children.
Splashtown Springfest One way to get ready for Easter is to introduce the kids to a herd of food mascots. Lovable, food-based characters such as Houston Hotshots mascot Pico de Goalie, Little Caesar and Subman will entertain kids -- and then there's more trademark fun! M&M/Mars is sponsoring a giant candy scramble with kids grabbing for candy eggs, Kudos, Milky Way bars, Skittles and Snickers. Along with the greedy grabbing, kids will enjoy storytelling, face painting, games and a performance by magician "The Astounding Brian" and the Encore Youth Performers. Gates open at 11:30 a.m.; candy scramble at 12:30; entertainments and activities through 2:30 p.m. SplashTown Waterpark, north of Houston on I-45, exit Louetta or FM 2920, Spring, 355-3300. Admission is one donation per person to the food banks of the Northwest Assistance Ministries.
Egg contest Cinco Ranch residents are invited out for "baskets of fun" at the community egg festivities. Kids eight and under, divided into three age groups, will hunt for eggs, beginning at 1:30 p.m. Throughout the afternoon, kids can meet the Easter Bunny. And all ages are invited to bring home-decorated eggs in for judging in the egg decorating contest. 15 p.m. Cinco Ranch Park, across from Cinco Ranch Beach Club on South Lake Village Drive, 395-2654. Free.
4 S.H.A.P.E.: A Benefit The S.H.A.P.E. Community Center, in case you hadn't noticed, has been a boon to the community, providing entertainment and educational programs. And right now, S.H.A.P.E. could use a little help. Continuing to provide entertainment, but also looking to raise a bit of money, S.H.A.P.E. presents a variety show with music and comedy. Local comics Clen Vance and Leroy Williams provide the comedy; musicians Jawad and Kinny Abair provide jazz and blues, respectively. 8 p.m. S.H.A.P.E. Community Center, 3903 Almeda, 521-0629. $7.