Best Of :: People & Places
For too many years, Houston school superintendents have depended on spin to save them from problems. Abelardo Saavedra, finishing his first year in the position at HISD, has shown a welcome ability to deal with controversy rather than just duck it. He addressed persistent stories about widespread cheating on standardized tests at some schools and created an office of inspector general to investigate future complaints. Even more shocking, he's de-emphasizing those tests as much as possible, trying to steer HISD away from the philosophy of "teaching the test and nothing else." He's toughened seventh-grade English classes, made pre-K available for all eligible kids and reorganized the district's hardened bureaucracy. He's had some missteps -- trying to privatize three black high schools and proposing what critics called cuts in math and science requirements -- but he's out there trying things. And the school board doesn't always approve, which makes for more entertainment, and better government, at what used to be rubber-stamp meetings.
Forget the unwieldy handle, and remember this about the UTMB-TAMUG 2005-2006 Classical Concerts series: It's absolutely free. You can spend an evening at fine arts venues in Houston and fork over a pile of Benjamins for some of the same concerts that book dates for free in Galveston. Sure, the scheduling is a bit haphazard, and some concerts are announced only a week or so in advance, but the price is right. This year's series opened with an evening of flamenco music and dancing by touring Houston ensemble Lucia & Valdemar with Gitanerias Flamenco. Check the Web site for upcoming shows. And when we say leave the wallet and plastic at home, we mean it: There's plenty of street parking around the UTMB campus, and -- we're not making this up -- free punch and cookies are typically served at intermission.
In a city where not having a car is a death sentence for your social life, we'll give the Bissonnet Village Apartments a nod for being strategically close to one of the hottest singles scenes in the city: Rice Village. Auto-challenged residents of "The BV" can stroll -- if need be -- to the nearby Village restaurants and bars, or just hang at the neighboring Goode Co. Taqueria. The complex is a haven for young Med Center professionals and college kids who cash in on the generous student discounts. And we love that the Marquis II bar -- a favorite of the frat/sorority set and one of the best joints in town to pick up drunken coeds -- is just a brief jaunt away, should you find yourself bleary-eyed and staggering on a Tuesday night (not that we would know anything about that...).
If you want to get a real look at the people populating our hippest little multicultural area, just mosey on over to the Taco Cabana at the corner of Montrose and Westheimer, order a plate of nachos and a margarita, and pull up a chair. You'll see transvestites hailing down cars for dates, homeless youths who look like Blink-182 gone wild hawking everything from stolen CDs to crystal meth, tow truck drivers hell-bent on knocking somebody out, street hustlers with pit bulls, and ordinary prostitutes who are holding on to that slice of land as if it were decreed to them in the Declaration of Independence. And we won't even talk about the folly you'll witness coming out of the condom shop next door. There's a million and one stories written every day at that highly trafficked intersection. You're guaranteed to witness about 20 in ten minutes.
Readers' choice: The Galleria
Many a balmy Houston night has been made cooler and more comfortable thanks to the efforts of the Houston Symphony. Beginning in June, when it first presented Summer Symphony Nights at Miller Outdoor Theatre, our skies have been filled with sweet sounds designed to make us forget that we've still got sweat dripping off our brows. The symphony's Lord of the Rings Symphony brought us into the air-conditioning of Jones Hall on a couple of hot July nights to witness its haunting musical retelling of the classic trilogy, and we returned for its excruciatingly fun take on Bugs Bunny on Broadway. But after that, it was back outside for more music, including a night at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, where the symphony backed disco diva Donna Summer.
Readers' choice: Air-conditioning
Picking the best charity is harder than it sounds. What are the criteria: the condition of the recipients? The overall effectiveness? How the money is spent? Well, if you consider all of those, then Houston's Shriners Hospital just might be the best charity to donate to this year. The hospital provides free -- yes, free -- medical care to children suffering from major bone, joint and muscle problems. These include scoliosis, brittle bone disease, limb deficiencies and spina bifida, among many others. The staff includes orthopedic surgeons, orthopedic subspecialists and pediatricians, according to spokesperson Raquel Espinoza-Williams. Many of the city's finest private practitioners also volunteer their services to the 40-bed facility. Why? Because offering excellent medical care for free isn't cheap: Last year's tab was $18 million. Why not pony up your share?