Best Of :: La Vida
Within Houston, there is a hidden city. No, were not talking about the tunnels, were talking about the behemoth oil refineries and petrochemical plants that stretch along and dominate the Houston Ship Channel, the commercial engine of the city. These industrial complexes are hidden, tucked behind a security wall of chain-link fences and armed guards. The only way to get a good glimpse is by water. Enter the M/V Sam Houston, which has been running public tours along the Houston Ship Channel since 1958. Take the 90-minute cruise and gaze at the seemingly unending sweep of twisted steel and spaghetti-network of tubes and pipes. The ride inside the air-conditioned boat is free, but reservations are required 24 hours in advance, and dont forget to bring a photo I.D. Sadly, security precautions prohibit taking any pictures, which means you cant see this spectacle of engineering any other way.
While everybody else is jumping on the Westbury bandwagon, you'd be wise to check out Sharpstown, which is less a "hidden" neighborhood than it is one that's undervalued and underrated. Like Westbury, Sharpstown offers spacious, mid-century mod houses on generous lots and is pretty convenient to everything worth going to — in fact, perhaps even more convenient, as Westbury's freeway access is poor. Unlike Westbury, Sharpstown happens also to be a riotous cavalcade of pan-American, pan-African and especially pan-Asian sights, sounds and smells, a far cry from that utterly outdated Baby Boomer-era myth of Sharpstown as a Levittown-style suburb of cookie-cutter houses and whitebread values. That Sharpstown has been dead and buried since about 1985. The neighborhood's single-family homes on the backstreets are still a bargain, and that will only increase as those once-scrubby little trees continue to grow and start throwing some serious shade.
These community newspapers in West University, River Oaks, Memorial and Bellaire are as thoughtful and researched as they are feisty. Bellaire Examiner Editor Charlotte Aguilar keeps things going at a steady pace, making sure these papers provoke discussion as much as they celebrate neighborhood achievements. Reporter Steve Mark stays on top of Houston Independent School District business, and not always in the more comfortable manner that some other media members adopt. This is a group of community papers that remains focused on its readers in both print and online editions, and that not infrequently breaks news that its bigger brethren would love to have.
READERS' CHOICE: Houston Press
As everyone knows — because we've been told so over and over — talk radio from the left side of the political spectrum is boring, earnest and dull. Unless you listen to Partisan Gridlock on KPFT-FM Friday afternoons from 3-4. Host Geoffrey Berg, an attorney, is funny and sharp; he gets good guests (from the right as well as left) and doesn't let them off the hook (again, whether they're from the right or left). Entertaining talk radio from a progressive view? Sure, Air America died, but its spirit burns on here in Houston.
When Texas favorites Rick Perry, Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent showed up for a rally at the Berry Center in Cypress, the crowds followed. Wearing camouflage and hats decorated like American flags, the people listened to The Nuge shred the "Star Spangled Banner" and Palin say things like, "A lot of us in our states proudly cling to our guns and religion." But when a Houston Press photographer snapped a picture of one Perry/Palin supporter, thanks to the Internet, the picture became the symbol of the Houston rally. The supporter, apparently homeschooled, held up an errantly spelled sign: "Homescholers for Perry."
Vanity Fair reporter and Barbarians at the Gate author and native Texan Bryan Burrough was raised on tales of the exploits of the great oil men, and The Big Rich is likely the only book you will ever need on their successes and excesses. While Dallas-Fort Worth barons like the wise Richardsons, the crackpot Hunts and the dissolute Murchisons do occupy a broad swath of the tome's pages, Houston is well represented, with a full accounting of the mighty Cullen family and a swift and punchy (literally) retelling of the rise and fall of pugnacious Glenn McCarthy and his Shamrock Hotel. For Burrough, the demise of the Shamrock was the end of an era that began with the gusher at Spindletop, and never has that age, with all its whiskey-soaked infidelities, rampant anticommunist paranoia, family feuds and sheer myth-creating grandiosity been better captured on the page. Read it and weep, if only because they don't craft icy stares (or philanthropic souls) like Roy Cullen's anymore, nor wildcatters like Glenn McCarthy, who could not only inspire James Dean's character in Giant but also probably drink Donald Draper under the table and steal his best girl to boot. (Not to mention kick his ass.) All that, and now forgotten, once ubiquitous local socialite Baron Ricky DiPortanova and his River Oaks swankienda soirees, too.