Alison Cook looks back at 1997: The Year That Bit

To bite or be bitten: The classic Darwinian drama raged throughout our fair city in 1997, a year in which strange eating behaviors -- just ask Evander Holyfield -- made for an entertaining (if slightly indigestible) feast. Even our beloved new boom underscored the point, as humongous malls threatened to eat Katy, Landry's King Tilman Fertitta gobbled up Kemah and Godzilla-sized multicinemas tried to swallow us all. The Rockets -- and their many, many co-dependents -- dined on humble pie. The Astros, having finally made the playoffs, just plain ate it. And the Incredible Shrinking Convention Center Hotel Deal (please, Lord, send us a 1998 in which we don't have to think about this anymore) came down with a bad case of anorexia.

We should have known to assume fight-or-flight posture way back in January, when a cosmic "heads up!" message in the form of countless tiny ice bomblets unleashed itself from every tree limb and overhang. A parade of nasty little twisters visited our suburban shores, and incessant rain turned the landscape into one immense, sodden sponge. Our floods would have taxed Noah. Our ozone counts made it dangerous to breathe. The entire city sprang leak after noxious leak: flammable petroleum gas here, a quarter-million gallons of smelly crude there, a geyser of gas and water over yonder. Toxic-chemical clouds swam through the air -- hydrofluoric acid, nickel carbonyl, Diketene, nitrous dioxide, chlorine. Pity our poor neighbors between Alvin and Santa Fe, whose very garden hoses spewed water you could light with a match -- and pray it's not a metaphor.

What wasn't leaking was exploding, from a vinegar-plant alcohol tank to a quartet of Liberty County oil tanks to Shell Chemical's Deer Park plant, which went boom with a window-shattering blast. Two tanker trucks burst like bombs on two different freeways. Indeed, the transportation gods had it in for us. Dump trucks and school buses and Metro buses ran amuck at every turn, trains insisted on derailing or colliding and (naturally) exploding, not to mention the 225-ton rolling construction crane that mysteriously chose to self-combust. Two different Continental crews managed to land at two wrong airports. Norwegian Cruise Lines' Thanksgiving-week voyage turned into the un-air-conditioned Cruise from Hell, as waiters sweated onto the entrees and passengers hauled mattresses out to sleep on deck. Travel by ambulance proved to be even less pleasant than we thought -- an occasion on which the unsuspecting Houstonian might be molested by a paramedic or have his or her confidential data sold to predatory law firms. Can we just stay home in '98?

Not that there weren't things to feel good about amid the mayhem. Taramania, Deep Gulf drilling fever, a shiny new consumer temple in the form of Saks -- even last year's dreaded Pierce Elevated rehab had a happy, on-target ending. The WNBA Comets and MVP Cynthia Cooper ruled. We had the best fall color ever. The heart swelled with pride at all the Houston connections to world-class events, from the Heaven's Gate apocalypse to the demise of Biggie Smalls to the attempted Republican coup against Gingrich in the U.S. House with our own Tom DeLay playing (choose one) Larry, Moe or Curly. For every stinky golf deal, there was a silver lining: another Charles Barkley outburst to paste into our memory books, another mesmerizing episode in the bizarre spectacle of Lloyd Kelley self-destructing, another weird facet of the Expect the Unexpected image campaign. Hovering over all of it is the lingering image burned onto our retinas by the Power of Houston extravaganza, one of those epic civic feel-good events we feel obliged to stage for ourselves now and again, can-do pep rallies writ very, very large. No surprise that the 1997 version culminated in a hyperbolic fireworks-and-laser battle that made it seem as though all of downtown Houston was -- what else? -- exploding. Just as our skies will this week, with the now-traditional barrage of New Year's gunfire. Put on your Kevlar vests, whip up a few Chupacabra cocktails and toast the year that was.

BITE THIS!

To be followed by a festive Jonestown Tea and Last Brunch at Waco
The Omni Houston Hotel's new chef, Denis Meurgue, re-created the "Last Dinner on the Titanic," following the first-class menu and music from the night the great ship went down.

Rob Johnson was busy that night
Channel 2 reporter Jeannie Ohm appeared on camera with one of those ravening Cabbage Patch Snack Time Kids attached to her tresses, whereupon colleague Susan Lennon produced scissors and cut the little monster off.

Thus making the Snack Time Kid look minor-league
Mike Tyson took two infamous bites out of Houstonian Evander Holyfield's ear during their heavyweight championship bout in Las Vegas -- the second a "wolflike" chomp that carved out a one-inch chunk of cartilage recovered by an MGM Grand employee, who said it looked like a piece of sausage.

It really ruined that ethereal wheatgrass flavor
Whole Foods Market settled a suit in which a Houston customer claimed a shift manager had spiked his wheatgrass smoothie with Visine as a practical joke.

Marvin Zindler chose not to attend
Alligators at the Houston Zoo broke their long wintertime fast with a public feast of raw chicken and dead rats.

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