Major Thoroughfare Proposal How often do the city and all its bigwig decision-makers invite us lowly citizens to participate in that high-in-the-sky decision-making process? Okay, so if you were obsessed with city government, you could go as often as you wanted to City Council meetings. But many city government decisions won't affect you -- and let's face it, most are simply not interesting. But roads and their location affect us all at the most primal level. (Just think about being stuck on Bellaire at 5 o'clock, needing to be at Hobby Airport at 4:30.) Here's your chance to tell those city planners what you think and to find out whether there really is a plan behind that chaos euphemistically referred to as our "road system." Through early September, the City of Houston Planning and Development Department is conducting public meetings in southeast and southwest Houston to discuss the designation of certain streets as "major collectors" on the city's Major Thoroughfare and Freeway Plan. Tonight's meeting is 7-9 p.m. at the Dobie High School cafeteria, 11111 Beamer. (See Thrills, Politics for other dates and locations.) For more information, call 754-0125.
Ballunar Liftoff Huge and blowzy and brightly colored, hot air balloons are almost mythical in their proportions, not just metaphorically, but literally. They are our first real flying machines, dating all the way back to 1783, and for some reason we haven't been able to abandon them to history, even though they are not particularly reliable modes of transportation and can only go where the wind takes them. Perhaps it is that distinctly romantic notion -- of letting the wind take you where it will, floating with sweet surrender through the enormous sky -- that has kept ballooning alive. This weekend, at the Ballunar Liftoff Festival, you can see real hot air balloons, close-up and tethered to the ground, awaiting liftoff into the wild blue yonder. This evening's events include competitive balloon flights, a performance by the RE/MAX Skydiving Team and a parade in which balloon pilots will march past a cheering crowd. Afterward, at the magical twilight hour, there's the Balloon Glow: The balloons are filled and lit from within but remain tethered to the ground. Think of them as giant night-lights. 6-10 p.m. on the grounds of the Johnson Space Center, 1601 NASA Road 1 (see Thrills, Events for other days and times). For more information, call the Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, (281) 488-7676. $2; free, children age 11 and under.
City Lights Charlie Chaplin's silent film classic City Lights requires a grand theater setting. Video fails this film as sadly as TV does, and small "art film" houses aren't much better. But tonight's venue -- the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion -- seems fittingly large. Even better: Chaplin's film will be accompanied by the Houston Symphony. This chance to see the movie the way it was meant to be seen, large and (ironically) loud, is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Miss it at the risk of suffering regret for the rest of your days. 8:30 p.m. Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands, (281) 364-3010. $10 and $8.50, reserved; $7, lawn.
Strikes Against AIDS Almost everybody bowls, or at least knows how to watch bowling; it's a sport so silly that you can have fun even if you aren't any good. Tonight, the People With AIDS Coalition wants you to join them and their honorary chairpersons -- former World Heavyweight Champion George Foreman and Miss Universe 1995 Chelsi Smith -- to watch or play in the "Rock 'n' Bowl-A-Rama." Besides the obvious attraction, there will also be live music, plenty of food and a silent auction featuring art, jewelry and gift certificates. 8 p.m. Palace Lanes, 4191 Bellaire, 522-5428. $25; proceeds benefit AIDS patients in Houston and ten surrounding counties.
Gulf Coast Turtle & Tortoise Society How many little boys and girls are out there right now, tugging at their mama's elbow, pleading for a turtle? Before you give in to the whining and begging, wiggle your little tadpole down to the Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center for a program on the natural history and biology of native turtle species. After the presentation, several society members will offer tips on the care of pet turtles -- information that can help your child appreciate the responsibilities of reptile ownership. 10 a.m. Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center, 20634 Kenswick Drive, Humble, (281) 446-8588. Free.
NASA/Johnson Space Center Open House Space is less mysterious than it used to be. We walked on the moon decades ago, and lately we've been so irreverent as to litter Mars. Even so, the last frontier still holds our collective imagination; aliens dominate our summer movies, and trapped astronauts are still our heroes. If you're among those fascinated by that great blackness out there, make your way down to NASA, where today you're invited to tour buildings, labs and simulators that aren't usually open to us ordinary folk. You'll get to step into a real space suit, handle the remote controls of a robot, build bottle rockets and taste astronaut food. Speaking of astronauts, they too will be at NASA today, ready and willing to sign autographs and shake hands with awed admirers. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. NASA/ Johnson Space Center, 1601 NASA Road 1, (281) 483-5914. Free.
Eighth Annual Fiesta de la Hispanidad Sexy, slow and tightly wound, the tango offers some of the most provocative and visceral, in-your-body music coming from Latin America. On the other hand, jazz, which sounds so free, loose and coolly North American, is also terribly sexy in an entirely in-your-head sort of way. Pianist, composer and nuevo tango specialist Pablo Ziegler draws from both worlds, mixing traditional tango music with jazz-like improvisations and acoustic piano melodies to create his "evolution of Argentine music." He replaces the traditional violin with a piano, guitar and bandoneon, and the sound that results is hot and loose, with all the frisson of cultures in collision. 8:30 p.m. Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park, 520-3290. Free advance tickets for covered seating are available at the box office today from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
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Fourth Annual Theater District Open House One of the best things about the theater is the strangely ordinary otherworldliness of backstage. Actors trimming their toenails in the dressing rooms, wearing nothing but pancake makeup and boxer shorts; sweat-dripping dancers limping up a long staircase to the bathroom; a union stagehand reading Ann Landers, deaf to the tragic cries from La Boheme's Mimi as she dies her consumptive death one more time: All these images are kept from the audience in the name of art. Art, however, doesn't just happen; art is made. And that is perhaps the most glorious thing about it, that out of ordinary lives can come the extraordinary moments that make theater, dance or opera so deeply moving. Today, the residents of Houston's theater district are opening the doors to their backstages, allowing peeks at some of the work that goes on there. See sets that aren't set up and costumes hanging on the rack, as well as slide shows and live entertainment. There will even be food, and kids are most definitely encouraged to attend. They, more than anyone, want to know where all the pretty men and women on stage go when the curtain comes down. Participating groups include the Alley Theatre, Da Camera, Houston Ballet, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Symphony, Society for the Performing Arts and Theatre Under the Stars. 1-6 p.m. Start your tour at any of the following addresses: Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Ave.; Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana; the Music Hall, 810 Bagby; Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas. For information, call 853-8039. Free.
Big Brothers Big Sisters Annual Meeting and Awards Dinner So you're one of those altruistic folks who have often thought that being a Big Brother or Sister would be incredibly fulfilling. But it's kind of scary getting into something that you don't know anything about, especially something as involved as helping a child in need. Tonight, the gods of volunteerism are smiling on you. Each year BBBS hosts this awards evening to recognize volunteers who have made an outstanding contribution to the agency and, for the first time, the event is open to the public. One of the evening's highlights will be testimonials from program participants, allowing you to hear the story straight from those who have volunteered before you. The rhythm-and-blues horn band Ezra Charles and the Works will perform after the program, and there will be dinner, of course. 6 p.m., music and mingling; 7 p.m., seated dinner and awards, Houston Marriott Westside, 13210 Katy Freeway, 271-5683. $45.
Greater Tuna If you missed the show when it was first performed over a decade ago, you can see it now with the original stars who made it so funny. Joe Sears and Jaston Williams portray 20 different characters, all of whom hail from the tiny fictional town of Tuna, Texas. It's a place so conservative that residents believe the Lions Club is too liberal. Meet Vera Carp, who leads the Smut Snatchers of the New Order, biddies who clear library shelves of offensive works such as Romeo and Juliet. UFOs are sighted, animal rights are discussed and everyone but everyone is gossiping about a celebrity murder. The show is both timely social satire and very, very funny. 8 p.m. The Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice, Galveston (see Thrills, Theater for other dates and times), (409) 765-1894. $10$24.
Eating Disorder Screening Eating disorders are more than the subject of countless bad TV movies. Real girls and women (and in smaller numbers, real boys and men) get them, and if you suspect you or someone you love needs help, Baylor College of Medicine will help you find out. Today the school offers an eating disorder screening test for adolescents and adults. Participants will hear a brief talk on the causes, symptoms and treatments of anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating, and will discuss the results of the test with a mental health professional. Registration is limited and necessary. 1-4 p.m. Baylor College of Medicine, One Baylor Plaza at the corner of Moursund and Bertner, 798-4896. Free.