Press Picks

August 21
Major Thoroughfare Proposal How often do the city and all its bigwig decision-makers invite us lowly citizens to participate in that high-in-the-sky decision-making process? Okay, so if you were obsessed with city government, you could go as often as you wanted to City Council meetings. But many city government decisions won't affect you -- and let's face it, most are simply not interesting. But roads and their location affect us all at the most primal level. (Just think about being stuck on Bellaire at 5 o'clock, needing to be at Hobby Airport at 4:30.) Here's your chance to tell those city planners what you think and to find out whether there really is a plan behind that chaos euphemistically referred to as our "road system." Through early September, the City of Houston Planning and Development Department is conducting public meetings in southeast and southwest Houston to discuss the designation of certain streets as "major collectors" on the city's Major Thoroughfare and Freeway Plan. Tonight's meeting is 7-9 p.m. at the Dobie High School cafeteria, 11111 Beamer. (See Thrills, Politics for other dates and locations.) For more information, call 754-0125.

August 22
Ballunar Liftoff Huge and blowzy and brightly colored, hot air balloons are almost mythical in their proportions, not just metaphorically, but literally. They are our first real flying machines, dating all the way back to 1783, and for some reason we haven't been able to abandon them to history, even though they are not particularly reliable modes of transportation and can only go where the wind takes them. Perhaps it is that distinctly romantic notion -- of letting the wind take you where it will, floating with sweet surrender through the enormous sky -- that has kept ballooning alive. This weekend, at the Ballunar Liftoff Festival, you can see real hot air balloons, close-up and tethered to the ground, awaiting liftoff into the wild blue yonder. This evening's events include competitive balloon flights, a performance by the RE/MAX Skydiving Team and a parade in which balloon pilots will march past a cheering crowd. Afterward, at the magical twilight hour, there's the Balloon Glow: The balloons are filled and lit from within but remain tethered to the ground. Think of them as giant night-lights. 6-10 p.m. on the grounds of the Johnson Space Center, 1601 NASA Road 1 (see Thrills, Events for other days and times). For more information, call the Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, (281) 488-7676. $2; free, children age 11 and under.

City Lights Charlie Chaplin's silent film classic City Lights requires a grand theater setting. Video fails this film as sadly as TV does, and small "art film" houses aren't much better. But tonight's venue -- the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion -- seems fittingly large. Even better: Chaplin's film will be accompanied by the Houston Symphony. This chance to see the movie the way it was meant to be seen, large and (ironically) loud, is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Miss it at the risk of suffering regret for the rest of your days. 8:30 p.m. Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands, (281) 364-3010. $10 and $8.50, reserved; $7, lawn.

Strikes Against AIDS Almost everybody bowls, or at least knows how to watch bowling; it's a sport so silly that you can have fun even if you aren't any good. Tonight, the People With AIDS Coalition wants you to join them and their honorary chairpersons -- former World Heavyweight Champion George Foreman and Miss Universe 1995 Chelsi Smith -- to watch or play in the "Rock 'n' Bowl-A-Rama." Besides the obvious attraction, there will also be live music, plenty of food and a silent auction featuring art, jewelry and gift certificates. 8 p.m. Palace Lanes, 4191 Bellaire, 522-5428. $25; proceeds benefit AIDS patients in Houston and ten surrounding counties.

August 23
Gulf Coast Turtle & Tortoise Society How many little boys and girls are out there right now, tugging at their mama's elbow, pleading for a turtle? Before you give in to the whining and begging, wiggle your little tadpole down to the Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center for a program on the natural history and biology of native turtle species. After the presentation, several society members will offer tips on the care of pet turtles -- information that can help your child appreciate the responsibilities of reptile ownership. 10 a.m. Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center, 20634 Kenswick Drive, Humble, (281) 446-8588. Free.

NASA/Johnson Space Center Open House Space is less mysterious than it used to be. We walked on the moon decades ago, and lately we've been so irreverent as to litter Mars. Even so, the last frontier still holds our collective imagination; aliens dominate our summer movies, and trapped astronauts are still our heroes. If you're among those fascinated by that great blackness out there, make your way down to NASA, where today you're invited to tour buildings, labs and simulators that aren't usually open to us ordinary folk. You'll get to step into a real space suit, handle the remote controls of a robot, build bottle rockets and taste astronaut food. Speaking of astronauts, they too will be at NASA today, ready and willing to sign autographs and shake hands with awed admirers. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. NASA/ Johnson Space Center, 1601 NASA Road 1, (281) 483-5914. Free.

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Lee Williams