Love the Big Bang

Crashing the Bar

There's bad news if you live in the Gulf Coast town of Quintana: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has finished its report on a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal, and basically much of your town could be immolated in a matter of seconds if something goes wrong.

The good news: You don't have to move! Stay right there and put some spice in your life, is what FERC thinks.

Heavily condensed LNG is about as stable as Courtney Love on a bender, but some cash-starved Texas towns have been eagerly bidding to be home for a new port to handle the stuff. Opponents hoped that FERC's report would show officials just how dangerous the material was.

The feds came through with flying colors -- FERC noted that a hole punched in the side of an LNG tanker could result in a major fire. Plastic would melt if it was anywhere within eight-tenths of a mile of the ship. Residents in that same area would suffer severe pain within 13 seconds and get hit with second-degree burns within 30 seconds.

Within the 4,340-foot danger zone in Quintana, FERC says, are "120 to 300 homes," which means either FERC is pretty darn casual about counting homes, or Quintanians are pretty darn casual about home construction. The danger zone also features a bird sanctuary and county beaches.

Not to worry, says FERC -- they approved the project. And they didn't require developers to file bothersome paperwork dealing with things like emergency evacuations or first-response plans.

"They can go ahead and construct it" and file that stuff later, says FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen, who doesn't live in Quintana.

Residents will be exposed to the danger all during the ten- to 12-hour period an LNG tanker is at the dock. But let's be real -- there ain't much in the way of thrills when you live in Quintana. Why should the federal government deny them a chance to live on the edge?

Host of a Chance

All-Star fever is ablaze across Houston, with the buzz surrounding baseball's showcase easily drowning out what passed for hubbub back when the Patriots were taking on the Panthers. Already caravans full of Seattle Mariners fans have pulled into town, booked complete floors of posh hotels and started blithely dropping C-notes on merchants all over downtown.

Or at least we're assuming that's happening, since our deadline is too early to see if all the rosy predictions of the convention-booster types actually came true.

Hosting a baseball All-Star game, it turns out, is a mixed blessing, at least if you're the manager of the host team. Relentless research by the Hair Balls baseball division reveals that hosting the game is a feast-or-famine thing -- of the last eight teams to host, four went on to the playoffs the year they hosted, and the other four fired their manager that year.

So, Jimy Williams, you're on the clock. And it looks like the trend will hold -- if Williams doesn't take the Astros to the postseason, he's got as much job security as a Spinal Tap drummer.

"I'm not going to comment on that," says Astros president Tal Smith, refusing to accept the divine truth of the All-Star Host Thrive-Or-Die Curse. "I think it's an interesting coincidence, but that's all it is."

We'll see, o ye of little faith.

The Well-Dressed Home Invader

In the Hitchcock classic To Catch a Thief, Cary Grant personified style and grace as a suave cat burglar in the French Riviera. Now he's got some competition in the Heights.

Crime Stoppers' Crime of the Week for June 28 was a house break-in that happened in April in the 200 block of Heights Boulevard. The "alleged perpetrator," as the cops say, stormed into a residence and ordered a man and his daughter to lie down on the floor. When he hit the girl, the father jumped on the guy and eventually threw him out of the house, sending him howling in full retreat.

But during the struggle, the criminal genius dropped a camera. It might have fallen from his car, or maybe he carried it in to memorialize his work, or simply to prove to his boss that yes, dammit, he had hit a house that day.

The disposable camera was retrieved, and although it was crushed, several pictures were able to be developed. And they revealed a man who was stylin'. Six feet tall and 270 pounds, sure, but carrying that weight in a snappy black suit with tuxedo pants and a sharp hat. (And a pistol, but we're sure that was just for show.)

"He was dressed for success, wasn't he?" says Crime Stoppers head Kim Ogg. "We've had idiots who've dropped their wallets at the scene -- you gotta love that, that's too crazy -- but this is the first I've come across where the guy drops a camera with pictures of himself."

Although tips are pouring in -- so far, however, no one's called to ask where the guy got that great outfit -- no arrests have been made.

If you know this sharp-dressed man, you can pick up $5,000 by calling 713-222-TIPS.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Everyone knows the mixture of cell phones and driving can be hazardous, but what about when the offender is the person directing traffic?

Houstonian Jennifer Davidow says she's been bothered lately by the number of traffic cops who are jabbering away on cell phones while they direct cars during the afternoon rush hour. Is it too much trouble to ask them to pay attention?

"This seems ridiculously dangerous to me," she says, so she filed a request to see official HPD policy on cell-phone use while on duty.

She found there isn't one.

So the next time a cop waves you into the intersection while apparently concentrating on whether he needs to pick up some milk on the way home, let it slide.

But look both ways, just to be sure.

Crashing the Bar

Take a high-strung group of future lawyers -- just as they're at the last tantalizing step before they're free to earn a living -- and put them in a parking lot with limited exits. What do you get? An attorney demolition derby, with all the snarling, sneaky, me-first mentality that makes the rest of us love lawyers so much.

Bar preparation classes at the Arabia Shrine Center on Braeswood are providing thrilling entertainment these days when classes let out. Students swarm their cars and fight to get out to the street, and things don't always go smoothly. At least two fender-benders have taken place recently; in one incident, the woman who was hit got the license number of the other car as it sped away. It turned out to be a rental car.

At the next class, teachers told the driver of the car to come up to the front of the class. In a sterling display of ethical courage, no one did.

And somewhere an ambulance shuddered, knowing there was a rising young soon-to-be-chaser on the way.

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