By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Thursday also brings the grand, gigantic, humongous opening of The Main Event, the downtown street festival that boosters say will make Houston a combination of Bourbon Street and Las Vegas. (And Houston.) Unfortunately, Thursday also brings rain.
As a result, much of the 16-block area that's been cordoned off for pedestrians is eerily empty. At 8:30, Molly & the Ringwalds are gamely blasting through "Walking on Sunshine" and "Mickey" on a huge stage in front of maybe 100 people scattered through a parking lot designed to hold thousands. Concessionaires sit forlornly at their stands; there are no takers for their roasted corn or Coors.
Giant video screens show concerts held elsewhere downtown, but no one's watching the big screen at Main and Prairie as it broadcasts KC & the Sunshine Band, performing a few blocks away. As KC strains to hit the notes in a series of cover songs before he gets to his big hits, as he struggles in his sweaty beaded shirt to perform a few rudimentary dance steps, it's hard not to think of him as embodying Houston at this moment: dressed up, working hard to please, but not quite coming through.
The crowds pick up somewhat as the night goes on and the rain slackens. Many seem entertained by yet another "red-carpet" event, this one at the Mercury Room in honor of Upper Deck baseball cards. (Roger Clemens gets a big hand, but seems to be sporting a Queer Eye haircut featuring a brushtop with blond highlights.)
One security consultant, a veteran Secret Service agent now in private business, is coordinating several of this week's bigger events. Naturally (to him) he doesn't want his name used, but he says most of the parties this week are relatively easy to handle.
"The hardest ones are the ones with the rappers, because you've got to get briefed on which rapper has a feud with which rapper, and get photos of the rappers who are going to cause trouble if they get in," he says.
The rain has also grounded the Saturn Ion lightship, which is supposed to be providing pictures of all the fun. Pilot Carl Harbuck did fly during that windy Monday night that chilled the dancers at TSU.
Anyone getting blown about the stadium had to wonder just what it's like to fly a blimp in that type of weather. "It kinda sucks, actually," says Harbuck, who was trying to remain relatively stationary over the George R. Brown Convention Center. "It was pretty dang windy upstairs And that night we were downwind of all the downtown buildings, and that was creating turbulence. You've got a three-story-high rudder on these things, and handling that in 45 knots of wind can be a pretty high workload."
Harbuck cut short his flight when surface winds at the blimp's base, Pearland Regional Airport, got too high.
There'll be no blimps in the air after 12:30 p.m. Super Bowl Sunday; it's all restricted airspace around Reliant Stadium.
"We fly at the World Series, the Daytona 500, no problem, but not at the Super Bowl since 9/11," he says. "I guess it's because you know where it will be so far in advance that they think the bad guys have a chance to plan ahead."
The crowds at The Main Event Thursday eventually cause Metro to stop bringing light rail through the area (Main Street is relatively packed, if not the side streets). So it's a hike and a hassle for those leaving.
We can only hope they weren't heading for The Men's Club, but we gotta say there were some prime suspects in the crowd.
Friday: Maximus Hypus
In a week filled with words like "best ever" and "greatest," the party for Maxim magazine earns its own place: the biggest disappointment of the Super Bowl.
If you're stuck on the red carpet covering arrivals, that is. We're sure anyone who got inside had a wonderful time.
Maxim rented a Stafford ranch and turned it into something called "Circus Maximus," a cross between a carnival and the Wild West. Most attendees arrived for check-in at a large church called the Family Worship Center, a place we assume is full of readers of the soft-core, boobs-and-beer "lad mag." (Church officials weren't around and they didn't return a phone call, so it remains a mystery just how great the heights of rationalization can go in this case.)
Partygoers were ferried from the church to the ranch in plush buses hosted by what the magazine no doubt terms "babes." Much of the route was a potholed two-lane road highlighted by a group of trailer homes -- one still lit with Christmas lights (maybe they were getting in the Circus Maximus spirit).
In an exclusive Houston Press interview the next day that lasted approximately 45 seconds, pop-culture entity Nick Lachey said he thought the trailer homes were "great -- it was like a little piece of Texas."
So it's clear the image-improvement thing was working like a charm -- Lachey thinks of trailer homes when he thinks of Texas. Then again, his wife, Jessica Simpson, thinks Chicken of the Sea involves actual chickens.
If you've ever considered a career in journalism, remember -- there may be moments when you're standing in a tent on a muddy Fort Bend County field on a night when actual fun things are going on elsewhere, you've been waiting for 45 minutes of extreme tedium, and a PR person will approach excitedly to inform everyone that "David Smith is coming! He's the new Joe Millionaire!" Think of this as a public-service announcement intended to steer you to one of those high-wage jobs.