Who would want to eat this burrito?
Who would want to eat this burrito?

Offensive Driving

Robert Lee Coggin, an Austin electrical engineer, may be on the 20th minute of his 15 minutes of fame. But the coverage may have missed one item worth noting in his stirring legal fight to establish that drivers can legally flip the middle finger at fellow motorists.

This month, the Third Court of Appeals in Austin threw out Coggin's misdemeanor conviction and $250 fine for giving the one-fingered salute in Lockhart to a too-slow driver, who happened to be a county jailer who thought the event was worth calling 911 over. (The jailer's wife, who'd been in the passenger seat, testified she remained upset for "maybe two or three days" about the incident, which says a lot about life in Lockhart.)

Think calling 911 or getting the vapors for three days was ridiculous? Try spending $15,000 fighting the conviction, as he did.

So Coggin is -- let's be nice and say tenacious -- enough to do that over a small ticket. He's, ummm, spirited enough to tailgate a car, flash his brights and gesture energetically for it to pull over. (Because, it turns out, he was running late for his tae kwon do class.) He's blunt enough to tell the arresting cop, "Yeah, I was on his ass because he was in the left lane and going slow."

But what we like was his later testimony in court. "I flashed my brights…and he didn't pull over even after that," Coggin testified. "So I motioned in my windshield, 'Hey, could you please get over?' "

Such a polite asshole.

-- Richard Connelly

A Slippery Slope

Brace yourself for another round of "news" stories and television stand-ups on kids frolicking atop a mound of manufactured snow on an 80-degree November day. Hidden under all that fluff is the fact that this will be an $8-a-pop annual Snowfest -- a consumer show for winter recreation activities.

The traveling exhibition's Bayou City stop is sponsored by the Houston Chronicle, although it hasn't been quite as much of a lapdog as some papers elsewhere. "Feeling the thrill of the chill," gushed the Austin American-Statesman in a news-section headline last year. "Snowfest puts thousands of Central Texans in holiday spirit."

And it puts the media in the spirit of hype.

Earlier this month, McGill Associates promoters held an "invitation-only media happy hour" to pump the press for coverage. Swilling free booze may not be a brazen conflict of interest, but this event invitation offered far more: drawings every 15 minutes for news types. The prizes were free ski trips for two, including round-trip air, three nights lodging and two days of lift tickets.

Asked about the blatant giveaways, publicist Ryan Rice said he'd heard no media complaints, and that the event was also open to news personnel who weren't front-line journalists. The questions had a definite impact. The next day, an invitation arrived at the Press, sweetened by the gift of an impressively large replica of a wooden sled.

It isn't the snow that's beginning to get knee-deep around this deal. -- George Flynn

Curses! Foiled Again

As for cheap promotional stunts, be on the lookout this Halloween for aluminum foil. Lots and lots of that tin foil. In fact, it's a costume idea that may hit you like a ton of beans -- dress up as a burrito!

Don't expect to win any contests, but Chipotle will reward you for the effort (and for complying with its marketing department). Waddle in to any Houston location on October 31 dressed as a burrito, taco or other menu item and you'll score a free meal.

According to Chipotle spokeswoman Karen Henry, the idea originated four years ago at the company's flagship restaurant in Denver and rolled around the country to great success. Except in Houston, where two years of low turnouts caused them to skip the promo last year, in the midst of, ummm, wrapping up new store openings around town.

"It works better when you have more stores. We're kind of excited to see how it's going to go this year," she says. "They want you to dress up like a burrito."

Watch out for lightning, though. You might just wind up a barbecued beef burrito.

-- Michael Serazio

Walk This Way

The Texas Department of Transportation, builder of massive highway overpasses, creator of 24-lane megaroads, is getting into the sidewalk business.

Or, as the TxDOT brass put it in a September 12 memo to its district engineers statewide, "Our goal for some time has been to better integrate walking into our transportation projects."

The decision on whether a road-repair project should include sidewalks involves ultrasophisticated analysis, if the memo is to be believed.

Among the criteria the agency's engineers are urged to employ in making their assessment: seeing if there is a "beaten-down path" along the roadway. (To the non-engineers out there, a "beaten-down path" -- or BDP, in the jargon -- indicates a human presence in the vicinity. Or maybe a herd of cattle.)

TxDOT doesn't stop with a simple viewing of a static piece of land, though. Another method involves observing moving targets, a much more complicated engineering feat. This criterion for whether a sidewalk is needed? According to the memo: "Pedestrians are observed."

Gosh. No wonder you need a college degree for the job. -- R.C.

Flight School

The Gulf Freeway exit signs and low-flying airliners indicate you must be near Hobby Airport. But when you pull up at this rounded glass terminal, there aren't any planes or even skycaps. And the parking lot's full of school buses.

No, there isn't a huge field trip kicking off. Last fall, HISD opened Daniel Ortiz Jr. Middle School. Because it's less than two miles from that airport, architect Brian Hanson designed the entrance to resemble a terminal and the gym to look like a hangar. The school's Web site says that he chose the concept "to relay the message that knowledge is the transportation that will get our students to the future."

And maybe eventually fly the kids out of a bad Telephone Road neighborhood. Not far away are windowless bars and lounges that advertise mixed drinks, luck and happiness. Next door is the Rabbit's Foot Lounge. The $25 million school itself is at the former location of the Skylane Apartments and Highway 35 Inn.

"We built it on the site where there was an old motel that had been taken over by drug dealers and prostitutes," says HISD spokesperson Terry Abbott. "When we got out there and walked the site to prepare for the news conference, we found a number of needles in the ground."

When the school opened last fall, the Chronicle described the building as having a "unique rotunda." It didn't explain what made the rotunda unique -- that it's supposed to look like an airport terminal.

Get out of the office, guys.

-- Wendy Grossman


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