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Members of the U.S. House of Representatives don't come much whiter than Houston's Chris Bell. Raised in Dallas's tony Highland Park, he was the kind of University of Texas frat boy who ends up as president of the interfraternity council.
His census form officially lists his ethnicity as "Really Earnest Anglo." (We think.)
None of which was a barrier to getting elected to the House, since his district included the yuppie strongholds of Meyerland, West University Place and the Medical Center. But the redistricting plan rammed through by Republicans now has him fighting in a district that is 79 percent minority.
On February 9, that battle took him to Sunnyside Multi-Service Center on the south side of town. That's where he heard primary opponent Al Green, longtime justice of the peace and legendary political speaker, tell the crowd that he intended to bring "a mountain of soul to District Nine," adding, "And I'm the only man who can do that, by the way."
One questioner told Bell, "it's quite obvious you're not in a minority group" (Hey, now -- there aren't many Democrats coming out of Highland Park!) and asked how he could possibly represent his new constituents.
To which Bell gravely replied, "I ask people not to focus on the color of my skin but on the size of my heart."
Green was having the time of his life. "Don't vote for the white man!" he thundered. And paused -- maybe a beat too long -- before adding, "Don't vote for the black man! Vote for the right man -- and that's me!"
The next day, Bell said Green's comments "speak for themselves." He says -- earnestly, of course -- that he'd prefer that not-so-subtle racial references weren't coming up before the March 9 primary.
"I wish that wasn't a part of it," he says. "It's a little disingenuous."
"Disingenuous" is, apparently, the white man's version of a "dis."
Residents failed in their bid to block the closing of Spur 527, the main exit for downtown commuters using the Southwest Freeway, so side streets like Richmond and Alabama east of Shepherd are expected to see a glut of cars and 18-wheelers for the next three years.
"We fear that there'll be so much traffic that people won't be able to pull into our business," says JoyAnn LeVelle, who works at Fat Cat Flats, where pets get pampered.
And while civic groups have raised the alarm, some of the less precious shops in the area haven't taken to the barricades.
"It could either suck or be pretty good," says "register jockey" Bob Showdown of Smoke 'N' Toke. (That's Smoke 'N' Toke, 1737 West Alabama, on the way home for all you stressed-out drivers frazzled by traffic.)
Then there's the porno shop Talk of the Town III, offering booths and a wide selection of anal films.
On the one hand, Mr. Commuter might just get so fed up trying to head home that he'll decide to distract himself somehow. On the other hand, the line of cars idling endlessly in front of the shop -- instead of zipping by -- might include Mr. Commuter's boss or pastor, so he might not want to risk getting spotted ducking in or out.
Manager Tim Thiessen wasn't even aware of the impending crisis when we talked to him. Peak hours at the place, however, are lunchtime, 3 p.m. (Why? Who knows?) and after the bars close at 2 a.m., so rush-hour tie-ups shouldn't affect him much.
Still, as he sits among the Jenna Jameson boxes, the bongs, the vibrators and lube, he thoughtfully puts aside his pornographer's hat and becomes a full-fledged traffic engineer.
"It's not built for congestion like that out there," he analyzes.
Impressively done, sir. Then again, we're sure there are some traffic engineers who could offer an astute critique of Jameson's Up and Cummers 17.
You Got Served...Crap
The cinematic epic You Got Served opened as the No. 1 film in the country and grossed $26 million in its first two weeks.
The piercing look at hip-hop culture got nothing but guffaws, however, from Houston's internationally renowned B-boy crew Havikoro (see "Big Steps," October 23, 2003).
"It's the fact that everyone's doing such obvious bullshit and choreography in it," says member Marlon Perla. "Like Michael Jackson choreography and shit. It's these obvious suburban-area white kids coming and dancing." (There are blacks in the movie but few Hispanics, despite their influence on street-battle dancing. "I thought that was insulting," Perla says.)
Best moment of unintended hilarity? Maybe when Steve Harvey's character signaled the end of a battle round by waving a flag like it was a drag race in American Graffiti. "You don't control things like that -- there's no rules," Perla says.
And the dialogue, with talk of "straight hood format" and "taking it to the streets"? "You would get laughed out of there," he says.
Still, the two hours spent at the theater weren't a total waste for the Havikoro crew. The movie was so bad they're thinking of incorporating footage of it into their next video. Marketplace of Ideas
Attending a meeting of the Houston Chronicle's editorial board might seem like torture to some, but apparently there are a lot of masochists out there.
River Oaks Elementary had its annual fund-raising auction recently, and item 7097 was a chance to meet with the Chron's editorial board. "This is a coveted thing by potential politicians, corporations and non-profits," the item read.
James Campbell, the paper's ombudsman and a River Oaks parent, was the donor. He ombudsmanly assures us auction winners won't get a guaranteed endorsement of their position.
But it doesn't sound like they receive much else: "All the winner gets," Campbell says, "is a chance to sit in on a Chronicle editorial board meeting of their choosing and listen to the discussion." (Be still our hearts -- the drama, the palpable tension as the board decides whether this is the week to heartily endorse rail again or instead just heartily endorse NASA. Again.)
The winning bid was $350, by someone we couldn't reach. But we hope they get their money's worth.
-- As told to Richard Connelly