It was like a scene from a touring stage version of The Wizard of Oz at Enron Field on July 23.
The roof was closed to keep out the stifling afternoon heat, of course, but as a freakishly strong storm rumbled across downtown, things got a little dicey in the Astros' new playpen.
Winds whipped the (indoor) flags into a frenzy and sent hot-dog wrappers and other debris into swirling columns of mini-tornadoes. Plummeting rain forced diners to vacate tables at the Ruggles restaurant in center field. Other fans had to fly from their seats in various areas of the stadium, because they lacked the foresight to bring umbrellas to an indoor baseball game.
"The thing leaks like a sieve," one witness said. "Sheets of water pour down that neutral-colored wall underneath the windows and just north of the train [in left center field]."
"There are these huge gaps where the sections of the roof are supposed to overlap," another said. "The rain and the wind were blowing right in."
Not to worry, says Astros spokesman Warren Miller. There are gaps between the three sections of the retractable roof, in order to let in enough air to ensure those right-field windows don't fog up.
The trouble July 23, he says, was simply that the storm was more intense than usual. "When you've got 40-mile-per-hour winds and you've got rain blowing in sideways, you're going to see some stuff like that," he says. "It won't happen with a typical storm."
Too bad, because the special effects might distract fans from the Astros' dismal play at home this year.
You say you didn't know about the indoor typhoon? You must depend on Houston's Leading Information Source for your news.
The strange scene was the talk of the sold-out crowd that day and the next, but the Houston Chronicle didn't deem it newsworthy. Not a peep appeared in the paper, which had been able to provide space in the preceding days for two glowing stories about the stadium's new kids' area.
Astros beat writer Carlton Thompson was on the air for his weekly gig with the KILT-AM morning guys the next day, and a fan asked him about it.
Yeah, I noticed that, he said, or words to that effect. I meant to ask about it but never got around to it.
Miller says Thompson did indeed place a call to get further info, but the two never got hooked up.
Unable to obtain the Astros' spin, Thompson apparently felt the whole bizarre event wasn't worth mentioning.
As we reported last week, the media-giant owners of local talk-radio king KPRC-AM have expressed some concern about the harsh right-wing rhetoric broadcast on their Houston property. One producer has left the station, apparently as a result of on-air comments that were deemed too harsh.
Dan Patrick, who heads the station, hasn't been heard on the air for a while, but station staffers won't say whether he's on vacation or not. At any rate, it's obvious that it's going to take a while for the folks at 950 AM to learn how to be kinder and gentler right-wing nuts.
Filling in for Patrick July 26 was a substitute host apparently named Rolando Basero, or something like that. (Amazingly enough, the station couldn't provide a spelling or bio for its on-air talent.)
Listeners heard a caller open his remarks with this: "I know you got a lot of heat last week for your views on homosexuals ," at which point Rolando X interrupted.
"Oh, I know, I always do," he said. "I just hate queers, that's all."
We guess substitute hosts weren't invited to the sensitivity-training sessions.
It's time to check what they're smoking over at the copy desk of the Chronicle. It's been a banner couple of weeks for headlines.
Some have been mind-numbingly generic, like the one over the lead story in the Sunday, July 23, edition: "Tossup States Likely to Be Key to Oval Office -- Rivals Vie for Electoral Votes." (We can't figure just which is the bigger news nugget here, the fact that states where polls show Bush and Gore to be close are "likely" to be important in deciding who wins the White House, or the apparently heretofore hidden fact that the two guys are vying for electoral votes.)
Some headlines have just been umm dumb, like the one on the lead story of the July 28 front page: "Yo! GOP Gets Ready for Philly." (With the subhed of "Finishing Touches Put on Convention Schedule," this is one story we'd have skipped even without the 25-year-old Rocky reference.) Some have been odd: "Austin, El Paso Targets in ADA Suits," read the headline over a July 27 wire-service story that seemed to deal mostly with a suit against a Houston-area country club.
And then there was the July 4 headline from the national-briefs section, just recently brought to our attention: "Fuses He Couldn't Reoffer." The story was about an Ohio guy nabbed for selling fireworks after he'd been stripped of his license.
We kind of like that last one, to tell you the truth. But we're still wondering what's going on over there.
We Want Bush!
Texas Monthly publisher Michael Levy is continuing his all-out assault to suck up as much as possible to George W. Bush.
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There he was on the front page of the July 21 New York Times, saying, "I personally am starting to get offended" at Al Gore's unbelievable gall in pointing out that Texas basically sucks when it comes to immunizing its residents or protecting them from pollution.
Levy, the Times reported with the proper tone of condescending chuckling, has announced the formation of the Proud of Texas Committee, which has written letters saying that Texas is gosh-darn terrific when it comes to educating its children and keeping them healthy.
Levy has also donated $1,000 to Bush's presidential campaign, according to the governor's official Web site.
The Web site did not list "donations in kind," however, so we don't know the dollar value of glowing coverage in the pages of Texas Monthly.