Best Of :: People & Places
Although the Houston Comets did not win their fifth straight WNBA championship, there were still reasons to celebrate the team's season. One reason was the emergence of guard Janeth Arcain, who in the absence of marquee players like Cynthia Cooper (retired) and Sheryl Swoopes (injured) stepped up and became one of the premier players in the league. At the end of the regular season, the Brazilian native was named the WNBA's most improved player. Little wonder: She ranked fourth in the league with 18.5 points per game, fourth in free-throw percentage at .900, and seventh in steals with 1.88 a game.
Those who follow women's basketball closely probably weren't surprised by Arcain's emergence. In her native country, better known for its soccer than its basketball, she twice was the leading scorer of the Brazilian League, not to mention a multiple MVP award winner. She even earned a silver medal in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta as a member of the Brazilian team.
The 32-year-old Arcain quickly has won over fans in Houston, not only for her roundball skills but also for her wide-eyed enthusiasm. "In Brazil, we don't have as good an organization as here," says the five-foot, 11-inch Arcain. "We don't have as many fans as here. And I enjoy it here. I love to be here."
During the Comets' off-season, Arcain still plays professional basketball in Brazil, with Team Vasco da Gama, named for the Portuguese explorer. The team won its league last year. Because of her hectic schedule, Arcain hasn't had much time to rest during the past five years, and this off-season is no exception. As soon as the Comets' playoff run was over, Arcain headed for home to continue shooting hoops in South America. However, she says she would like to spend more time in Houston, adding that the only thing she really misses about Brazil is her family.
"The place where I live there is on the beach," says Arcain. "But I like the Houston weather."
She also feels at home at Fogo de Chão, the Brazilian-style rodizio on Westheimer where the chefs know their way around a piece of meat.
Right now, Arcain can't stay year-round because of the contract in Brazil, she says. "But I hope one day to stay here and enjoy more of my time and get a little closer with the fans. It would be nice for me."
And for Comets followers.
This professor-on-the-move replaced sleepy Felix Fraga just a year and a half ago and is already developing into the power player of Houston Hispanic politics. Raised in Corpus Christi and Austin, Vasquez came to town as a communications prof at the University of Houston, and quickly began laying the groundwork for a political career. He used his first term as a Houston Independent School District trustee to build a network of support among Anglos in the Heights, and then steamrollered over a barricade of established Hispanic politicos to win a council seat. Since then he has carefully charted a course as an independent between council conservatives and the bloc supporting Mayor Lee Brown. Vasquez recently demonstrated his growing muscle by joining outgoing councilman John Castillo in an attack on Brown aide Carol Alvarado, who's running to replace Castillo in District I. Gabe has made no secret of the fact he aspires to be Houston's first Hispanic mayor, and at the speed he's been moving, that could put him in the race for the top spot in 2004.
Just look up. On bridges, buildings, trains, the backs of freeway signs, the tag is everywhere. It's an inspirational call to the "next" generation, a macho throw-up that conveys the adrenaline, irreverence and illegality of its creation. Most of all, it's cool. But the Houston Police Department's antigang task force doesn't think so. Last March, officers raided a legal graffiti show in a warehouse on the east side. Wearing all black with guns strapped to their legs, the officers said they were looking for "intel." But aerosol artists say the cops were really looking for Next, the most prolific graffitist in town. The task force was out of luck, though. Next was nowhere to be found.
Most courts wouldn't take much time with an 11-year-old troublemaker. But J.P. George Risner did what the Houston school district had refused to do: have the imbalanced youngster checked out by mental health professionals. Now the youth is on medication -- and back on track in school. Risner, in his 14 years on the bench, has proved time and again that he's determined to take his responsibilities far beyond just clearing dockets. He's held court at night and on weekends to be more accessible to the public and to parents. The former Houston building inspector has a rock-solid record in innovative programs to fight youthful problems such as truancy and juvenile delinquency. While Risner has received extensive training, he doesn't have a law degree. What he does have is more than enough: common sense, innate fairness and a keen interest in helping others.
Of course, the travesties continue: tearing down the old Gulf Publishing building on Allen Parkway, bulldozing bits and pieces of the precious past, flushing out Houston's final habitat hideaways for the sake of nothing more than the sameness of another new Rolling-Creek-Timber-Valley-Plantation-Estates subdivision. But the Bayou City shows more indications than ever that it just might be starting to appreciate its heritage. The rebirth of downtown awoke the greediest of developers to the potential for profits in preserving historic structures, even through costly conversions. Blocks of buildings restored as lofts are beginning to line the central city. Commercial uses are coming back as well. It seems that restorations are being considered for many more buildings (at least the ones not owned by Hakeem Olajuwon). Coupled with that are more aggressive wetlands preservation programs and nature centers. However, the most honorable of efforts can't begin to compare to the Restoration of 2001. This one involves several hundred square miles of the region. The rehab bill ran $5 billion and up for a collective project to rehouse about 100,000 residents and restore about half that many vehicles. The very heart of Houston -- the Texas Medical Center, colleges, the criminal courts system and the fine arts institutions -- had to be rebuilt in many ways from the devastation of Tropical Storm Allison.
The best smell? Coffee, of course. And there's no bigger coffee smell in town than the odor steaming out of Kraft's Maxwell House factory, a few blocks (and miles of attitude) east of Enron Field. Most days the prevailing winds blow that smell, ooh that smell, in a northwesterly direction, toward the north end of downtown and away from most eastside residents, many of whom can more or less stand on their porches and read the smoky plume from the one-million-square-foot facility for changes in the weather. And a fine day it is when the winds change, blowing that slightly processed coffee smell back over the near east side, where it mingles with, and partially masks, the cabbagy stink of wastewater treatment facilities and some of the ranker stretches of Buffalo Bayou. Fusion City, indeed.