Visitors' Guide

Get Bowled over by the best of the real Bayou City

Harris is now serving a 20-year sentence. Her attorneys recently filed an appeal, arguing in part that the jury should have been allowed to convict her merely of reckless driving.

But how can it be reckless when your aim is so good?

3. Scent of a (Bad-Smelling) Woman

Lakewood Church has to expand Compaq 
Center to make it adequate for their humble needs.
Daniel Kramer
Lakewood Church has to expand Compaq Center to make it adequate for their humble needs.
Just another festive Huntsville night as Texas kills 
John Childs
Just another festive Huntsville night as Texas kills again.

On your way back from NASA, take the scenic route: up State 146 to State 225. It's the backdoor way to return to Houston. And Christ, does it smell like it.

State 225 takes you through the heart of Pasadena's refinery district, a pleasant, idyllic Elysium of a place, if you're into sulfur. Or odors that make you wish you were smelling sulfur.

It's the smell of money, someone will no doubt tell you. It's the smell of cancer, too, but it's doubtful someone will tell you that.

This is where John Travolta and Debra Winger set Houston's reputation back 20 years in Urban Cowboy. This is what pays for much of the sophisticated stuff you see downtown. Opera, museums, symphony? They owe their existence to the foul-fumed ugly relative stuck out there on 225.

Midtown Manhattan has its Perfume District; this is as close as Houston gets. And really, you're only imagining that some sales clerk is spraying samples at you as you drive through.

If you want to do the jaunt up right, break out your old CD and put on Phil Collins's "Something in the Air Tonight." But don't feel bad if you give up and just hold your breath halfway down the road.

We won't think you're a wimp. We're just used to it here.

4. Basketball Jones, Pastor

If you're looking for a cheap way to sum up Houston -- and if you're a visiting journalist, God knows you are -- look no further than Compaq Center, at the Southwest Freeway and Edloe.

That's where the Houston Rockets won two NBA championships; it's where the career of Ralph Sampson took full flight, in the "Spruce Goose" sense of taking full flight; it's where L.A. Laker James Worthy dialed up and ordered two pregame hookers who turned out to be Houston cops. (Worthy was actually in a neighboring hotel, but what the hey.) Oh, and political correctness demands that we mention that the WNBA Comets won some championships there -- and are apparently still in existence! Good seats available!

Compaq Center, which had been known for years as the Summit, will serve all your Cheap Houston Symbolism needs in several ways. Although perfectly usable, the 25-year-old building was declared unfit for current NBA needs because of a crushing lack of superboxes. So taxpayers built a palatial new facility downtown. (By taxpayers, we mean you visitors. Those outrageously high rental car and hotel room taxes you're paying this week? Rockets fans say "Thanks!")

As for Compaq Center? It is being transformed into…a church. A church with 85,000 square feet for a children's area, a new five-story administrative wing, a choir loft that fits 250 singers -- and a food court. The $75 million renovation will provide seats for 16,000 worshipers.

Wretched excess? Churches indulging in tasteless, flamboyant luxury while piously professing to do the Lord's work? Gentlemen and ladies of the press, start your cheap symbolism!

5. A God Among Us

Maybe you'll happen to drive out from downtown on Allen Parkway. It's advisable, since that is the only road that almost never has traffic.

You'll see a large construction project going up near the site of the old Allen Parkway Village, a former housing project that endured years of controversy before being torn down a few years ago.

The new 280,000-square-foot building is massive enough to overwhelm its neighbors. City officials will tell you it's a new facility for the Houston branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, but that's just a cover story.

What is actually being built is a combination monument-museum to the most famous resident of Allen Parkway Village: the one and only Kenny Rogers.

The Gambler got his start at APV. In fact, a significant school of thought among Rogers scholars claims that the project is where he first learned to hold 'em. (The hard-learned lessons of when to fold 'em came later, in Matamoros.)

The Kenny Rogers Project will feature a diagnostic center where you can drop in to find out what condition your condition is in; it will have a gallery dedicated to the people shown on the actual Web page; and of course the Verizon Wireless wing will be available for those who were inspired by Rogers's 1994 phone-sex scandal.

6. Tits "R" Us

Team practices are closed to the public, but perhaps you want to visit Rice Stadium anyway. We suggest you take a brief detour to the nearby Texas Medical Center, specifically Baylor College of Medicine, off M.D. Anderson Drive.

For it is here that two fearless, dedicated doctors created something that has come to say "Houston" as much as Pasadena's refineries. It is here that was invented…the silicone breast implant.

Just over 40 years ago doctors from Baylor -- and if you know Baylor, and the definition of "irony," you're permitted a smile -- first put a silicone breast implant into a local woman. Houston has never been the same.

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