Best Of :: People & Places
Europeans may build great cathedrals, but Americans have a genius for bathrooms. At Prague, the WC marries old-world elegance with Yankee utilitarianism. When nature's irrepressible call rises above the club's techno beat, you can drift down to this swank unisex chamber of flickering candles, period furniture and a full-service bar to answer. The style might be described as bathroom baroque. A dripping chandelier throws just enough light to reveal the glinting accessories of nubile fashionistas and their well-groomed mates. The music keeps a respectful distance, allowing one to clear one's mind and bladder in one of 12 stalls set tastefully behind black doors. Roughly the size of a confessional, these immaculate stalls seem designed for a religious experience of one sort or another.
Tucked in the armpit of West U, Bellaire and the railroad tracks, Little Woodrow's seems out of place and time. Few of the mostly working-class regulars who frequent the area's only neighborhood bar live in the monstrosities that have sprouted in the adjoining neighborhoods, displacing the modest middle-class ranch-styles. But those regulars are fiercely loyal, thanks in no small part to Betty Campbell, bar manager since forever. Betty knows her customers so well that she recognizes many of their cars; by the time they enter the place and belly up, their brand of choice is already waiting on the bar. The crowd likes to drink, but disturbances are almost nonexistent, also in no small part because any transgressors would have to deal with Betty (as a few permanently banned customers have discovered). And if you need to vent about life's dirty deals, Betty (who has heard enough whining to board-certify in clinical psychology) fits the bill.
On June 16, the New Black Panthers had every right to be pissed. They'd dressed all in eye-catching black. They arrived at the state GOP convention in Houston in a rare Hummer limousine. And most of them came to the protest party armed with all manner of menacing weapons: rifles, shotguns and an AK-47 or two. They were hunting, all right -- hunting for attention. And that kind of preparation ought to attract ample publicity. Instead, it was A.J. McClure, a 71-year-old nobody Republican delegate from Kaufman County, who grabbed the limelight. What started as a verbal confrontation with the Panthers ended when he either fell or was pushed by a member of the militant entourage. For the next few days, the battles sifted to state legislators and city councilmembers and police and a mayor all arguing over the charge and actions -- or inactivity -- of the police. Meanwhile, McClure's tumble took him, or at least the footage of him going to the mat, onto the national network stage. Stories that touched on the incident totaled more than 2,000 words in the Houston Chronicle and on the Associated Press wire. Yep. It was a prime-time dive. Lots of old-timers may go headlong -- A.J. went headline.
Just another example of how overrated pop music songcraft is. Since a catchy five- or ten-second hook is usually described as genius, the little bit of pop profundity known as the Mossy Nissan commercial jingle also deserves as glowing a description. Over a snappy beat, a male voice sings the name of the dealership over and over. "Mos-sey Neeee-sahhhhn / Mos-sey Neeee-sahhhn / Whoooooooo!" Okay, so the lyrics aren't as deep as, say, "Oh, baby, baby," but they do roll easily off the tongue. The jingle is the brainchild of L.A.-based A&M Advertising.
Maybe these are just the moments that downtown finally arrives. Party on the Plaza is in full swing. So is its dynamic corner of the central city, with Bayou Place beckoning the masses across the street. And there, on the magnificent grounds that serve as the front entrance to the Wortham Theater Center, are scores of motorcycles at rest in neatly lined rows. The bikers rumble in to party at the plaza, and what better place to park 'em than on off-nights at the Wortham. All the nightlife available isn't going to be enough if downtown can't loosen up a little. On these evenings, it shows off its finest colors: Electra Glides in blue.
The stuff of public art, hike-and-bike paths, youth programs and parks are pleasant municipal amenities, to be certain. Even residents who don't personally partake of such things can still feel good about having them as part of life in Houston. But all those come after what ought to be the priorities of any public service agency: peace of mind. Sewer lines should work. And trash should get picked up. And -- especially on the freeways of Houston -- we need truck enforcement. The motoring masses shouldn't be regularly terrorized by huge tractor-trailer rigs barreling down on them or sandblasting sedans with refuse from unsecured loads. For 30 incredible years, Houston police largely looked the other way at truck safety violations. As late as mid-1999, police officials gave the excuse that they weren't going to get involved in such "regulatory" functions. Meanwhile, truckers ran amok. After a rash of big-rig wrecks, police finally relented. In October '99, Sergeant C.J. Klausner began the Truck Enforcement Unit with ten full-time officers (another 30 work one day a week for the unit). Statistics (as of July) are staggering. The unit has inspected 5,000 18-wheelers and issued 6,000 citations along with 23,000 formal warnings. After being stopped and inspected, 53 percent of trucks (twice the national average) have been ordered off the road until repairs are made or properly certified drivers are found. Some 500 drivers have been arrested, either for past warrants or other infractions -- or for having no licenses at all. "We've been accepted very well," Klausner says. "Mainstream truckers want to do a good job." And the unit virtually pays for itself through the revenues generated. While Houstonians ought to be horrified at having to wait so long for units that were long established in smaller communities, our hats are off to HPD. When it comes to curbing bad trucks, better late than never.