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Let There Be Gifts

Partyin' for the Lord isn't cheap.

I.V. Hilliard is the black Joel Osteen -- a telegenic preacher at a Houston megachurch who hobnobs with celebrities and lives the good life.

It appears he's like Osteen in one other way: He's got a high-maintenance wife.

Osteen's wife, Victoria, famously got in a ruckus with Continental flight attendants in December, as she and the brood were heading to Vail for a vacation. Hilliard's wife, Bridget, hasn't been tossed off any planes that we know of, but if the church's Web site is any indication, she is a woman who knows what she wants and isn't afraid to ask for it.

Everyone in town -- even you! -- is cordially invited to attend "A 50th Birthday Celebration Honoring Dr. Bridget Hilliard," to be held at the Hyatt Regency downtown March 12. Tickets are only $100, cheap when compared to…to…the price of a movie ticket these days, we guess.

Click further on the page and you'll see a link for "suggested gift ideas." And what is the preacher's wife willing to receive? A helpful list is provided, in a suitably classy wedding-invitation font. We quote: "Monetary gifts. Designer handbags: Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton. Gift Certificates: Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Escada."

So that Blockbuster gift card probably isn't a good idea. And while "monetary gifts" isn't defined too specifically, we're guessing you shouldn't exactly be, as the song goes, like Aaron Burr and drop a Hamilton.

First reaction: WTF? Second reaction: WWJD? Third reaction: This has to be a hoax. Some secular humanist must have hacked the New Light Christian Center's Web site and wreaked havoc.

We tried to check all this with church officials, but they wouldn't return our calls. So, just to be sure, we called the Hyatt. And they confirmed that there is indeed an event scheduled there March 12 honoring Bridget Hilliard. They didn't know anything about Gucci handbags, though.

So go, have fun, honor the lady. And bring the long green.

Hit the Heights

Residents of the Heights tend to get upset if people mess with any of the Victorian-type homes in the historic neighborhood, but they went absolutely nuclear January 30. And with good reason.

A historic two-story home at 1801 Ashland, long known for being a low-key tea house, was demolished. And demolished in the epitome of Houston's long-standing tradition of saying "fuck you" to history: The demolition permit was granted Wednesday, January 25; residents generally didn't learn of it until it was posted on the city's Web site Friday, January 27; the house was rubble by 10 a.m. Monday, January 30.

"It's not like we're against change. It's the secrecy and the outright lying that was so painful," says resident Sheila Sorvari.

Others were more pissed: "I am a firm believer there is a special place in hell for people like you," resident Gilbert Perez said in an e-mail to the developer.

That developer is Ryan Hildebrand, who plans to put a restaurant on the site. And how does he feel about the first impression he's leaving with his neighbors and potential customers? "I feel horrible about it," he says.

Hildebrand says he had planned to renovate the building, but engineers told him it had too much structural damage. Renovation was impossible, he says, as was any other method of saving the building.

"In fact, we had a guy come out and consult with us, and that guy said the house wouldn't stand the stress of moving it," he says.

He admits he completely blew the job of communicating to residents what was going on. He says he spoke with business groups, but somehow forgot about the Houston Heights Association. "That is the lesson to be learned on our part," he says.

He says the replacement building will be "very Heights," but Sorvari fears it will be very "Main Street at Disney World."

Welcome to the neighborhood!

Buses Welcome

If there's one thing that sticks in the craw of Midtown developers, it's the Greyhound bus station. People who take Greyhound are not exactly the hip, young Starbucks-craving demographic the developers are after.

Unfortunately for them, the bus company has shown no inclination to move from its convenient downtown location. What to do? Get Metro on your side.

The mass transit agency recently awarded a $1.6 million contract for preliminary architecture studies for a huge transit center north of UH-Downtown expected to cost upwards of $150 million.

Voters who approved Metro's large transit referendum in 2003 might be forgiven for not realizing they had okayed such a project. Was it listed in the referendum language or campaign materials? "That's a good question. I'll have to look," says George Smalley, Metro VP of external communications.

At any rate, veteran Metro critics like Barry Klein say moving the Greyhound station out of Midtown is at least partly the motivation for the project.

Smalley disagrees but says Greyhound "is an example of a private company that would lease space" in the new facility.

Score one for the sensibilities of hip young Midtowners.

Mean Streets

Andrew Medina has been pounding the streets of downtown for a long time. He is currently celebrating his 20th anniversary as a bike messenger. Here's his take on various subjects.

Safety on the job: "I think the last accident I had was probably six years ago. I was riding into work and somebody ran a stop sign and I ran into his fender and flew over the car…I just kind of bruised my arm and the side of my buttocks. I had a big strawberry on it."

Obeying traffic laws: "I'm gonna be honest. Sometimes we'll run a light and ride down the sidewalk just to get around the building."

Getting caught doing that: "Every year they crack down on us. HPD. A few months ago, when they were doing the jaywalking [crackdown], I got two tickets from that, for riding on the sidewalk."

The hotness of law-firm secretaries: "There are a lot of beautiful women out there. There are gorgeous women out here that work in law firms."

Has he been hit on? "Yeah, I have. You can see the vibe, you know, the line they'll probably tell you. They'll say, 'You're sweating' or 'Nice legs.' I always tell them, 'Well, you know couriers got endurance and stamina.' "

He says he has no plans to give up the job. So keep your eyes open if you're walking on the sidewalk, okay?


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