Training Day

Light rail's first day brings one high after another

The dignitaries were thick on the ground for the grand opening of Metro's light rail system, if by "dignitaries" you mean contractors, bureaucrats and elected officials. Not to mention reporters wondering who they had to blow to get out of future thrilling assignments like covering this train ride the morning after New Year's Eve.

But what a day it was, the crowd was repeatedly told. With all times approximate, here's how it went:

10 a.m. Showing utterly expected banality in musical taste, the sound system at the Fannin Street station breaks out in Kool & the Gang's "Celebration" and whatever that synthesizer piece of crap is that begins with "Y'all Ready for This?" Both selections available, in continuous loop, on the K-Tel CD Forced Public Gaiety, Vol. 2.

10:01With then-mayor Lee P. Brown at the controls, the first train breaks through a banner and pulls up at the dignitary-festooned station. And sits there. For several awkward minutes. Frozen behind the large glass window, waving robotically every so often to show that he is indeed alive, Brown looks like a cross between Disneyland's animatronic presidents and Lenin in his tomb.

10:07The ribbon is cut by a half-dozen politicos; "Celebrate" blasts again; County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Metro head Shirley DeLibero all move in ways that convincingly approximate dancing; the males, on the other hand, all try to out-stiff Brown. Which is like trying to out-sing Pavarotti.

10:17The first train, loaded with what we are going to go ahead and call dignitaries, leaves the station. Most of the media and lesser dignitaries get in a second train.

10:25 For eight minutes the media and lesser dignitaries have been entertained by watching the doors to the train close and then open, close and then open. After a while it takes on a hypnotic Zen-ness, inspiring serene contemplation, if not confidence in the rail system.

10:26 The train moves! Is there no end to the wonders?

10:26:02 The train has moved one yard. Figuring the $324 million cost of the 7.5-mile line, that's almost $25,000 worth of real estate covered.

10:26:02 -- 11:06The ride is smooth and uneventful, although if you're tall you're going to get really intimate with the person sitting on the opposite bench from you. Plenty of legroom for those under five foot seven, though.

11:06 -- eternity Among quiche, fruit and a tuxedoed jazz band, revelers at the end of the line at UH-Downtown listen to an endless litany of politicians congratulating each other. U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison demonstrates a sure sense of a great exit line, engendering thunderous applause as she tells the contractors and bureaucrats, "You will get the federal funding you so richly deserve!" Mayor Brown tells the crowd he's been bullshitting them all these years whenever he's called Houston a world-class city: "I've never seen a first-class, world-class city without a rail system," he admits.

1 p.m. The same people gather to inaugurate the fancy fountain system at Main and McKinney. Hair Balls has taken the first train back, though, and misses the speeches. We assume someone declared it a great day.

He Coulda Been a Contender

The University of Houston's Sigma Chi Fight Night is always entertaining, and the 29th annual edition of it December 18 was no exception.

More than 600 attended the charity fund-raiser, watching an eight-bout card of UH students pummeling each other.

Picking a Fight of the Night was a no-brainer. Most participants followed the boxing basics of staying balanced, not leaving themselves open, jabbing with the left, etc. One, however, forgot another tip: Don't show your ass.

Danny Casino -- who's got a helluva name for a boxer -- learned this hard lesson in his bout against Josh Simpson (with a moniker like Josh, he does not have a helluva name for a boxer). The two 170-pounders were in the second round when Simpson went to the canvas with a dislocated shoulder and a trip to the ER at St. Luke's.

Casino was declared the winner, but apparently the crowd agreed with Simpson's allegation that he'd been the victim of a head butt.

Boos and jeers rained down on the newly crowned champ, who mounted a cogent defense of his actions -- by mooning the crowd. Officials found his argument, or the method of expressing it, lacking in sportsmanship and awarded the bout to the injured Simpson.

Chief official Ricky Webb provided the analysis: "That could've been an unsafe act -- it could've broken out into a riot."

"Bad Moon" Casino -- he of the unsafe ass, the Rioting Rectum, the Buns of Brutality! -- was unavailable for comment.

H for Hypocrisy

Since his days as Houston school superintendent, U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige has proved himself to be a master at public relations. He loves few things more than posing for grip-and-grins with followers who endorse his version of the Houston Miracle, the one that hopes you don't read the fine print too closely.

So it was no surprise to see Paige recently pictured horsing around with such Harlem Globetrotters as Curley "Boo" Johnson at the announcement of a new program called CHEER, which will teach students the need for Cooperation, Honesty, Effort, Enthusiasm, Respect/Responsibility and the need to ignore extra words that would mess up acronyms.

On second thought, it was a surprise. After all, four Globetrotters -- including Curley "Boo" Johnson -- were at the mansion of former NBA star Jayson Williams in February 2002 when Williams allegedly shot his chauffeur. According to a legal brief filed by prosecutors (available on www.thesmokinggun.com), the Trotters were upstairs with Williams when the incident occurred.

Williams "told the Globetrotters and other guests that they must all agree that the shooting must have been a suicide by the victim," the brief says. "He wanted all of them to lie to the police and tell the police that they had all been downstairs when the shooting had occurred."

Which they all did, the brief says, until cops noticed one non-Globetrotter acting nervous. That witness eventually said Williams had fired the shot (by accident, Williams now claims). "With this new information, all of the witnesses were re-interviewed. Some began to admit that they had lied about their location when the shooting had occurred," the brief says. (No charges have been filed against any Globetrotters.)

Let's see: Cooperation; Honesty -- maybe not. Enthusiasm, sure -- it wasn't the Globetrotters acting nervous. An A for Effort, definitely, and full marks for Respecting their pal Jayson. And hey, "Responsibility" doesn't fit in the acronym anyway.

Knowing Paige, he probably thinks it's the media's fault that the guy's dead.

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