Best Of :: People & Places
Ever since Tropical Storm Allison, many Houstonians have found themselves a lot more interested in severe weather than they used to be. Houston weather has always been about extremes, of course, but when one of those extremes causes $5 billion in damage, people start to pay attention. TV stations know this and flog a threatening-weather situation for every last viewer they can scare into watching; tropical depressions anywhere in the western hemisphere always seem to have potential projections taking them right up the Ship Channel. So a voice of reason and sanity is well appreciated, and Channel 2's Frank Billingsley provides it. He won't hype a storm that doesn't deserve it, but he'll let you know when you should be concerned. And when a severe storm hits, he's more willing than most to say when the worst is about to be over, as opposed to telling folks to "stay tuned" to see just how long this thing will last.
Houston's signature waterway has been a murky mystery since before the Allen brothers followed it upstream and planted the future Space City on its banks. But at least back then its green-brown waters were clear of the flotsam and jetsam of modern civilization. Starting this summer, a vessel called The Mighty Tidy is aiming to rectify the situation. It cruises the bayou five days a week from Shepherd to the East Loop, scooping up tons of floating garbage. It's also equipped with attachments to pick trash off the bayou banks and out of overhanging trees. Credit its unusual colors to those zany Art Guys, Michael Galbreth and Jack Massing, who turned the quarter-million-dollar boat into a flamingo-pink nautical vacuum cleaner.
Talk about perfect timing. On June 26, just two days before the 25th anniversary of Houston's Pride Parade, the U.S. Supreme Court knocked down Texas's homosexual sodomy law by a 6-3 vote. The law, which outlawed sodomy only when practiced by gays, was challenged by two Houston men named John Lawrence and Tyron Garner, who were arrested in 1998 when police discovered them having sex in Lawrence's apartment. Speaking for the court, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy declared, "The state cannot demean [homosexuals'] existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime." While conservative Justice Antonin Scalia said the court had "taken sides in the culture war" and had "largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda," activists across the country pooh-poohed him and gathered to celebrate. At a City Hall rally in Houston, Ray Hill, a longtime local warrior for gay rights, happily declared, "We can't -- by this decision -- ever go back."
Alicia Lee's son is a resident at Willow River Farms, a division of the nonprofit Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation. Every fall the residents of this Brookshire, Texas, facility made fruitcakes. That is, until Barbara Bush, for whom Lee had once volunteered at the White House, suggested they expand their repertoire to include gingersnaps. Six years ago, Lee sent a tin of Willow River Farms gingersnaps to Bush at Kennebunkport. The former first lady liked them so much, she sent out tins to all of her friends at Christmastime. Since then Lee has also added mouthwatering cheese snaps to the Farms' list of offerings. The cookies sell for between $15 and $25 a tin. And last year, Lee sold $215,000 worth of treats. The proceeds have paid for electronic doors for wheelchair residents, extra hospital beds and clinic refurbishing. Get your holiday orders in now.
If it's September, it must be Stanton Welch -- as artistic director of Houston Ballet, that is. But it was a long good-bye for now-emeritus artistic director Ben Stevenson. He first resigned back in February 2002, but a change of heart kept him here through June 2003. Well, in spirit at least. Stevenson wasn't around much after he resigned a second time and the board selected Welch as his replacement in January of this year. Other assignments, most notably with the Dallas-Fort Worth ballet, kept him on the road. It will be interesting to see what sort of continued presence Stevenson has at HB and how that will affect Welch's direction of the company. It's a tough job to take over from a living legend.
We like our quotes short, to the point and all-encompassing, and Dave Hickey's definition of Tex-Mex fills the bill on all three counts. In the Houston Press issue of December 26, 2002, in an attempt to clarify an earlier pithy quote ("Rock and roll is like Mexican food. As it improves in quality it stops being what it is"), the Texas-born critic said he meant to say Tex-Mex, not Mexican food. What's more, he likes Tex-Mex more than the stuff from across the Rio Grande. "My commitment is to Tex-Mex," he told the Press. "Which I define as the absence of fucking vegetables."