He Won't Back Down

The mayor was threatened -- or maybe he wasn't

Mayor Bill White's battle with the city's Wild West tow-truck drivers has been inspiring, at least to those people who get deeply immersed in tow-truck policy.

But White's crusade has not been without drama, if you listen to him.

"I've been besieged by tow-truck companies," he said in a May 25 luncheon speech. "I've been physically threatened by tow-truck companies…If we want to take our government back from special interests, citizens have to get involved."

He asked listeners to help him "stop the madness" of the current policy.

Physically threatened? It's easy enough to picture the scene -- the mayor strolling out of City Hall to his car after a long day of madness-stopping, jauntily whistling "Deep in the Heart of Texas." Parked beside his ride is a flag-festooned tow truck, leaned upon by a driver idly cleaning his nails with a switchblade.

The driver sullenly looks up and menacingly says, "We know where you park." With a meaningful look, he closes the blade and drives away.

Or maybe not. White wasn't available after the speech, but spokesman Frank Michel was. And if White is ever looking for someone to cover his back when it's Go Time, we're guessing Michel's not the guy.

The mayor, Michel says, actually hasn't been…you know…threatened…per se.

"I think he was using hyperbole," Michel said. "If he was threatened, he didn't mention it to anyone around here. He has a driver who's a policeman -- if anyone really threatened him, I'm sure they'd be wrestled to the ground, or we'd at least have an investigation."

Okay, we got it -- it was just hyperbole, not any outright lie.

Or was it…madness?

The Party's Over

For almost 40 years the Shamrock Hotel was a piece of Vegas in Houston -- stars like Sinatra, publicity stunts like waterskiing in the pool, money tossed around like confetti by partying big shots.

The glamour had faded by the time it was torn down in 1987 for an expansion of the Texas Medical Center, but at least the bourbon-soaked history was honored by keeping alive the Shamrock Drive street name.

Now that's going, too. Instead the street will be named after a lawyer.

TMC spokeswoman Mary Shiflett says the center is extending Herman Pressler Boulevard to Galen, which is what Shamrock Drive becomes once it crosses Main. "We're connecting three streets that are about a block each and which all have a different name," Shiflett says. "And since Herman Pressler was one of the leaders of the Texas Medical Center, we're using his name."

Yeah, but did Herman Pressler ever double up on some beehived chorus girls when his oil well came in? (Probably not, since his son Paul is famous for leading the ultraconservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

The Medical Center's move doesn't sit well with Tom Horan, the former Shamrock Hotel publicity specialist who, from 1987 to the 50th anniversary of the opening five years ago, gathered 100 or so folks at the site for a whiskey toast each St. Patrick's Day.

"They refused to let us put up a plaque," he says of TMC. "And now they're taking away the last vestige of it."

In lieu of flowers, mourners are encouraged to bang a cocktail waitress.

The Spirit of Giving

Today's youths are go-getters striving to make the world a better place, whether they're rockin' the vote or tryin' to get Dave Stovall's tattoo removed.

Stovall, 17, attends a Christian high school we've agreed not to name; he got a tat and was told he couldn't get back in school until it was removed. (The edict was later amended to requiring Stovall to wear long-sleeved shirts.)

But removal costs $3,000, and Stovall's parents balked. (The geezers.) So www.savedave.net was created to take donations and sell T-shirts.

Behold the energy, the vim, the enthusiastic, detail-driven entrepreneurship of today's Youth in Action:

Q. I had some trouble actually figuring out what the tattoo was.

A. It's just, like, a flame design. Like, it's sorta…it's just some design.

Q. Why'd you get it if you knew you weren't allowed to have them in school?

A. Um, basically 'cause I really didn't think I was going to get caught. 'Cause I had planned it for about five months by just drawing it every single day [Hair Balls note: Five months? If only they'd planned post-war Iraq as thoroughly.]…I'm sorta in a band right now, and like, a lot of guitarists have tattoos on their forearms.

Q. What was your parents' reaction?

A. Oh, they were pretty pissed.

Q. How many shirts have you sold so far?

A. We've sold about, ummm…I think 50 so far.

Q. You've still got a long way to go, then.

A. I'm going to be getting a job over the summer…I wouldn't think of trying to raise money like that. That'd be insane…I might be checking out Randalls in a week or so…but I mean, like, anywhere, basically. Like, just somewhere close by where I can get to, 'cause my parents aren't going to want to drive me around.

No, but when you're the CEO of a Fortune 500 tattoo-removal company, Dave, those parents will change their tune fast enough. RIP, Tank

The redesign of the Houston Chronicle's sports pages (see "Alamo Envy") did more than just inspire yawns. It also killed off Tank McNamara.

The consistently humorless comic strip runs in hundreds of newspapers daily, but it had a special history at the Chron: Its co-creator and writer is Jeff Millar, who for 28 years wrote a humor column for the paper until he retired in 2000. The Chron was one of the first papers to pick up Tank in 1974.

How dead is Tank? "If there is enough outcry it may be added [back] to the daily comic-strip lineup," Chronicle reader rep James Campbell said.

In other words, it's pretty darn dead.

Aspiring to Greatness

We're wondering why Mayor Bill White waited until after the election to discourse on his latest theory of what Houston should be like. Maybe it's because that theory boils down to "Aspen Bad, Port Arthur Good."

White told a real estate/developer group last week that he was fed up with all the permit roadblocks the city imposes to deter good, honest American Dreamers from putting up another strip mall. "If you don't want to live in a growing city, move to Aspen!" he said.

White said a developer told him the city needs to improve customer service in dealing with routine requests for building and remodeling permits. The man said Houston should be as hassle-free as Port Arthur, which is that city you smell on I-10 on your way to Mardi Gras. There, "they were just glad to see somebody coming to build anything," White says the builder told him.

White didn't seem to be joking too much. So we fully expect his first mayoral vacation to be in the lovely Golden Triangle. The Janis Joplin museum is still open, we think.

Wrong Number, Dammit

Sex slaves were back in the news lately, despite the fact that it was a sweeps month on TV.

At any rate, in Hair Balls' never-ending effort to provide the most comprehensive sex-slave reporting in Houston, we noticed that the U.S. State Department's sex-trafficking hot line is 1-888-373-7888. Which turns out to be one toll-free prefix away from 1-800-373-7888 -- "the hottest phone sex line in America."

We called the 888 prefix.

Q. Hello, is this the hot line for sexual slavery?

A. Well, it's for human trafficking.

Q. How does this work, then?

A. If you have a tip or if you yourself are a victim…that kind of stuff.

Q. Oh, okay. So how do we begin?

A. You can tell me what you're calling for.

Q. I'm calling for sexual slavery.

A. You know someone that's being…? Tell me more.

Q. I was just calling to speak to a sexual slave.

A. We don't have that here.

Q. Isn't this 800-373-7888?

A. Mm-hm. We don't have sex slaves here. This is the human trafficking hot line.

Q. Do you have French maids?

A. [Click.]

Alamo Envy

For years, San Antonio was that city south of Austin that most Houstonians gave hardly a thought to. Then Jeff Cohen became the editor of the Houston Chronicle.

Cohen, who cut his journalistic teeth in San Antonio, brought in San Antonio Express-News columnist Rick Casey to much fanfare. The fanfare didn't include any warning that the Chron's Metro column would now be devoting a lot of space to San Antonio, but that's all right. Because Casey isn't alone -- these days the Chron newsroom is looking like an Express-News alumni party.

And suddenly Chronicle readers are supposed to be fascinated by what is apparently called the "Alamo City." (In the two years before Cohen came here in June 2002, the phrase "Alamo City" showed up in news sections just four times. Since then, 20 times.)

Not content to simply sound like the San Antonio Express-News, the Chron is apparently determined to look like it, too. The sports section is the latest to introduce the long-planned makeover of the paper's design, and it's really, really innovative.

If you haven't seen the San Antonio paper. Or any recently redesigned paper, for that matter.

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