There's no need for baggage check when you're flying 
    with Castaways Travel.
There's no need for baggage check when you're flying with Castaways Travel.

No Fun Allowed

No city knows how to throw a parade better than Houston. New Orleans and New York are dilettantes when compared to us.

Those towns go for the big brutish spectacle of thousands of spectators having noisy fun; here in Houston we favor the chamber-music form of parade: a few scattered folks on the sidewalk, looking up in confusion as a couple of frumpy floats pass by or an open-air car rolls on featuring a waving "celebrity" who doesn't exactly ring any bells.

Whether it's St. Paddy's Day, Cinco de Mayo -- any festive occasion, really, except for the hideously New Orleans-ish Art Car Parade -- Houstonians revel in the quiet loneliness that the best parades provide.

Who couldn't enjoy the Zenlike serenity of an utterly unwatched Martin Luther King Day parade? City Councilmember Mark Goldberg, that's who.

Goldberg wants to impose a moratorium on parade permits until he gets details on just how much the city is spending to put on the damn things. He says the Public Works Department's budget for parade-related activities is $700,000.

You have the floor, Mr. Spoilsport: "I know a lot of these groups hold these things as fund-raisers," Goldberg told City Council. "And it is my understanding that we may spend more on a parade than they even bring in. If a parade costs [the city] $40,000 or $50,000 and only raises $10,000…then we're in the wrong business."

But surely bringing a smile to a dozen baffled pedestrians is: "And it's a business we shouldn't be in anyway," he said. "Because I know if I hold a fund-raiser, the city doesn't provide police protection for me. So maybe what I will do is make my fund-raiser a parade and I get all the free police and EMS protection."

That's a great idea! What would be the theme?

Something involving a green suit, Dr. Seuss and the voice of Boris Karloff? We're there!

Free Willy

The single most annoying thing about taking a plane to a resort? It's not the security hassles. Not the packed coaches and late flights. It's the clothes.

You know the feeling: You're sitting in the middle of a row, knees banging into the seat in front of you, a fat guy smashing his elbow into your arm -- and the one thing you're thinking is "Christ, I wish we were all naked."

At least you do if you're a client of Castaways Travel in Spring, which has carved out a niche in the tourist industry by chartering nude flights to clothing-optional resorts. Once the plane hits cruising altitude, the clothes come off.

Donna Daniels, co-founder of the agency, says her clients include "FBI agents, CIA agents, school superintendents, fire chiefs, police chiefs, your lawyers, your doctors, political people, DJs." (What are DJs doing on that list? And does a CIA agent really give his job description when he's booking a nude flight?)

The first flight was in 2003, to Mexico. Most of the travelers are in their fifties, and many are new to the experience. Daniels counsels the males to wrap themselves in a towel if they get too thrilled with their surroundings.

"For the guys who have never experienced public nudity -- and guys are very visual -- the idea of a woody is very possible," Daniels says. "You know, okay, so the first time you see a bunch of nude ladies, you're like, 'Holy cow!' But you know what? After a day or two, no biggie."

No biggie indeed. Another question Daniels gets all the time: Is she nude when she's working in the office? No.

"There is an etiquette about doing business, where you have the FedEx guy coming in and the postal service guy," she says. "But I can tell you, when we're working our hearts out at home, we're stark naked."

So remember: The next time you're crammed into a Southwest Airlines flight, and you take a look around at your fellow well-fed Americans and wish everyone were nude, call Castaways Travel in Spring to make all your dreams come true.

Stepping on Toes

Anyone familiar with the history of the Houston school district will not be surprised to learn that the promised effort to open an all-Montessori magnet school (see Hair Balls, "Promises, Promises," January 20) is not going as smoothly as it might.

The district picked Wilson Elementary in Montrose to be the site of the program, news that was sprung somewhat out of the blue to Wilson's parents and staff. Teachers who aren't certified in Montessori are worried about losing their jobs, and parents are angry about losing their neighborhood school to a magnet program.

And the Montessori proponents aren't that happy either. They're taking steps to qualify as a charter school because the more paranoid among them think HISD is implementing things this way in order to stir up controversy and delay the program.

" 'If they were trying to torpedo it,' you ask, 'what would they do differently?' And the answer is 'Not much,' " says Brent Sullivan of Houston Friends of Montessori.

That's not torpedoing -- that's just bureaucracy, HISD-style.

No Such Thing as

Free Speech

Fort Bend schools have blocked students' access to a popular Web site where they can anonymously rate their teachers (called, imaginatively enough, The site is up in arms.

"A quarter of all our traffic nationwide comes from within schools," says site co-founder Michael Hussey. "So if all that were blocked, it would be significant."

FBISD spokeswoman Mary Ann Simpson defends the district's action. Students still can get to the site from their homes, she notes. "While this Web site may contain some educational information, its main purpose is to rate teachers, and many of the comments are very derogatory," she says.

Like this one, about a teacher at Elkins High: "So not cool, and she grades the most trivial details ridiculously hard." Or about another at Elkins: "She knows absolutly [sic] nothing about what she trys [sic] to teach, and I wish that a principal would fire her!"

The best one, though, is about an English teacher at Kempner High: "Just because he is really fascinated by the extremely BORING history of our language doesn't mean we are," one student writes.

Everyone's a critic, man.


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