The racetracks of NASCAR -- from the "Too Tough to Tame" Darlington Raceway to the blazing-fast Talladega Superspeedway -- are intense cauldrons of competition where the slightest mistake can trigger a chaotic crash.
But they're mere scenic-route drives compared to the mean streets of Houston.
In order to crash at a NASCAR track, the cars need to be zooming around at 200 miles per hour, barely under control. Here, they just have to be parked.
A half-dozen brightly painted NASCAR cars sat unmoving by the curb of Allen Parkway in the predawn hours of July 4, ready to be seen later that day by folks attending the Freedom Over Texas event.
University of Houston Cougars Football vs. UCF Knights Football
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Parking on that particular street may not seem a great idea if you're familiar with it, but the thing was the parkway was closed at the time. Barriers blocked anyone from getting on it between Taft and downtown.
Those barriers proved to mean little to one allegedly shit-faced driver, though, who breezed through them on his way from downtown about 2:30 in the morning.
And then, finding himself seemingly in the Daytona 500, flashing by high-tech, high-priced racing vehicles, he did what came naturally: He went all Rusty Wallace and plowed into them.
Sophisticated race fans call it "trading paint." Houston cops called it "DWI."
"I've seen DWIs go up over curbs and into homes, so this wasn't that unusual," says HPD Sergeant David Crain. "A lot depends on how impaired the person was."
The cars were part of a display by Chevrolet Racing. You'd think the people at Chevy would get a good chuckle out of the whole thing, seeing how cars that survive the rigors of NASCAR get totaled just sitting on a Houston street.
You'd be wrong, though. "Chevy has no comment on the incident at all," says spokeswoman Lydia Rickard.
It's difficult to talk, we suppose, when you think you know all about tough driving and then you try to bring your weak-ass game to Houston.
Gone But Not Forgotten
Houston's premier gay activist, Ray Hill, got a lot of publicity with the announcement of his recent retirement, but it seems his role model for leaving the public stage is not so much J.D. Salinger as it is Cher.
He's still doing his radio show, and he's still going to man the barricades whenever he thinks the cops are hassling someone.
And he's still getting into trouble. The latest is a lawsuit filed against him last month by a TDCJ employee that includes claims of defamation, invasion of privacy and, apparently, causing a car accident.
Prison employee Michelle Woolsey's suit says Hill did all this on his KPFT-FM prison show. The suit itself isn't the most clearly written legal document, and Woolsey's lawyer wouldn't comment on it or let us talk to his client.
Hill says he and Woolsey have been going back and forth for a year. He says Woolsey is a TDCJ officer and she was telling other officers which inmates were sex offenders.
He says he went on the radio and said, "I understand that Officer Woolsey down on the Ramsey [Unit] is a great believer in putting other people's business on the street. What say if in a couple of weeks, if she persists in doing that, [we] run her home address on the air on The Prison Show?"
Woolsey called Hill and, he says, "She said I placed her life in danger and she was so upset about that she had some kind of accident and, of course, that was my fault. She's very unspecific about the accident." (The suit asks to recover "medical costs and expenses resulting from the accident complained of herein," but doesn't describe the accident herein, therein or anywherein.)
Hill, like any self-respecting gadfly, is hoping the case goes to trial. "I would love for all these issues to be aired in court, which would give my lawyers an opportunity to depose inmates and employees on the Ramsey Unit," he says with a laugh.
Enjoy that retirement, Ray. But how can you have a comeback tour if you don't go away?
Hands Across the Water
The city of London may have been wracked July 7 by a series of deadly bomb explosions, but it didn't take long for them to feel a whole lot better about themselves. A few hours after the blasts, Harris County Judge Robert Eckels sent out a press release expressing sympathy.
"London is a great city, a strong city," Eckels announced. "Prime Minister Tony Blair is a staunch ally of the United States, and with President Bush has shown steadfast resolve in the war against terror."
Blair, speaking from the scene in England, said, "I, like all Londoners, thought of packing it in after this latest attack. Expressions of support from the G-8 leaders were all well and good, but as the minutes ticked by and we hadn't heard from Harris County, I must admit my stiff upper lip began to waver. Thank God we eventually received word."
Or maybe he didn't say that. We'll have to wait for his press release.
Release the Hounds
Tucked away behind trees and greenery off the corner of Dunlavy and Westheimer, Brasil coffeehouse has long been a hipsters' hangout with a laid-back attitude. Dogs were more than welcome, and many a hound passed a morning lounging under the table of his aspiring-screenwriter master.
No more. Dogs are verboten at Brasil.
Co-owner Dan Fergus says he doesn't really care to talk about it -- "I don't want to piss anyone off, whether it's the city or otherwise" -- but someone apparently complained to city officials.
"It sucks because I think there are plenty of reasonable people that are not offended," he says. "It just takes one person and you have the health inspector there."
Brasil is trying to break the news to its regulars as gently as possible, he says, telling them that "next time" they can't bring in their dogs.
He admits some of the animals can get unruly, either barking to distraction or shedding too much, but it's never really been that big a problem.
"If you look at the health manual, we should all be dead by now," he says. "It's crazy."
In the Red (White and Blue)
If you don't include the drunk guy crashing into the NASCAR cars, this year's Freedom Over Texas event was generally considered a success. (Inasmuch as any event can be considered "a success" when it involves stifling, muggy heat; a pervasive in-your-face, America-right-or-wrong attitude; and Clint Black and LeAnn Rimes as stars.)
One thing it isn't -- yet -- is profitable. Or break-even, for that matter.
The city has ramped up considerably the effort to attract big-bucks sponsors, so almost all of the $1.8 million in costs was borne by private entities, says Susan Christian, special-events coordinator for the city. Still, the city shelled out $95,000 in employee services, mostly for police protection.
That's less than the old days, when the city put the event on pretty much all by itself and didn't charge admission. (How much less? Hard to tell -- Christian didn't have info on events farther back than last year.) Begun in 1987, the event waned through the '90s; since then various attempts have been made to make it big, big, big.
Mayor Bill White's efforts to do so began in 2004. Christian says next year may be the turning point.
"What we hope to do is grow everything in year three -- and you know, there's no guarantee in that, all the signs have to align correctly. We're hoping to be able to recoup either all of the city cost or a portion of that city cost. We're just not there yet," she says.
Hey, $95,000 in city funds for the chance to pay six bucks to see Clint Black and LeAnn Rimes? It's a bargain, even without the fireworks. Or the dented race cars.
Let There Be Peace
The acrimonious divorce between the old guard at West End Baptist and the hip young Ecclesia group (see Hair Balls, June 30) has been temporarily patched up.
Originally the church gave Ecclesia pastor Chris Seay 45 days to vacate the premises; a compromise has been worked out and Seay's group will continue to meet at West End until September 4.
And then he's kicked out. Some things just weren't meant to be.
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