Elegance and efficiency. Durability with at least a dab of uniqueness. Houstonians aren't that different from drivers elsewhere. We want the best of all worlds: tungsten toughness combined with soft leather. Consumers pick the SUVs, the E-cars -- Ford Expeditions and Explorers, Caddy Escalades -- or the Suburbans, or even the Zee-Me-Now BMW sportsters. Others try to find the perfect pickup pick-me-up. The results? Before long, the most luxurious and badass behemoths have been battered by the beasts lurking beneath and above Houston. Roadway debris devastates undercarriages; sinkholes and chuckholes chew up finely tuned steering; high-water and higher ruts bring on the earliest of death rattles. So park those pathetic hybrid imitators. He-men and she-wimmen want the might of Desert Storm, the Hummer, the successor to the military jeep that went civilian in the early '90s. Houston cloudbursts? Hummers don't even fret until floods reach almost window level. Street sinkholes? This baby can barrel up the steepest of 60-degree bayou banks. The 3.4 tons of machine sit on a wheelbase as big as a semi's rig, with a hard steel body and full independent suspension. It can dance the orange-barrel polka around construction sites. As for creature comfort, options include automatic locks and windows, Monsoon CD audio system, armrests and other finery. Hummers aren't fast. But if the truck ahead causes problems, you're equipped with the perfect accessory for the job: a 12,000-pound front winch (that's winch -- not wench). All the extras might make that sticker price pass $80,000. Who cares? These vehicles kicked Iraqi butt. Of course, the package doesn't include machine-gun mounts -- yet. Charlton Heston's still working on that one.

READERS' CHOICE: Humvee

If anyone wants to dent a squeaky-clean political image in the course of one evening, look no further than the unfortunate 39-year-old Bert Keller for pointers. First the councilman, who was already estranged from wife Susan, took off after an Astros game for the inner sanctum of Centerfolds topless bar on Richmond. There, he got an up-close and personal inspection of a city-regulated sexually oriented business, one whose employees were responsible enough to cut him off at the bar after it became apparent Keller was more than three sheets to the wind. Keller then headed out in a leased Ford Expedition and smacked into a parked truck near his bachelor pad off San Felipe. Compounding the mess, the barely coherent councilman then stumbled off into the night without waiting for the police and slept off the mother of all hangovers in seclusion. After coming to his senses, Keller played penitent, letting celebrity DWI attorney Rusty Hardin plead him out for a fine and community service.
The poor Dome. The former Eighth Wonder of the World has to sit there helplessly and watch as, right across the parking lot, construction crews build the new NFL stadium that has a contract out to kill it. The humiliation is compounded by the endless speculation and discussions about what to do with the white elephant. In July the Houston Chronicle wrote a piece (headline: "Dome Business Picking Up") trumpeting that the old warhorse will host 18 high school football games this season(!). The tone of the article was optimistic, almost enthusiastic: Look, there's still life in the old fart. It was like we're supposed to be proud that a school district tossed a couple of crumbs its way. For a stadium that once hosted Nolan Ryan, Earl Campbell, the Rolling Stones and Elvis, it's an embarrassment beyond words for the Dome to cater to a bunch of drippy teenagers, half of whom couldn't spell Evel Knievel, let alone know that he once broke the world indoor motorcycle-jump record in 1971 at the venue. We have far grander plans for the place that put Houston on the map: mock naval battles. Seal the Dome up tight, invite competing corporations to build small fleets, and let the bloodsport begin! Think it's too unsophisticated for us? Consider this: The Romans did the very same thing with the Coliseum. And look how well that venue has stood the test of time.
Some folks think they're creepy, but we like the various foods that have taken on the personae of animals in the company's billboard campaign around the city. They have a banana that looks like an octopus, cherries made to resemble an ant, a watermelon as a turtle, and several other charming characters. If only the groceries and produce they delivered looked as charming.
Most of the animals at the zoo don't seem to care too much about visitors. They eat or pee or groom themselves or loll about, oblivious to the prying eyes and children's cries. But the orangutan knows what's going on. When a crowd gathers on the other side of her glass wall, she'll wander over to say hello, using her hand to shield her eyes from the glare so she can get a better look at you. She'll work her audience from left to right, and then, when she tires of you (which inevitably happens before you tire of her), she'll twirl her chewing gum -- yes, chewing gum -- like a bored teenager and head back over to the grassy knoll to finish her nap. You'll walk away, too, feeling a bit more like an animal yourself after gaping at a confined creature with 97 percent of the same DNA as a human.
Producer Huey Meaux was a perfect fit for Houston. Something of a wildcatter of Texas music, Meaux never showed any interest in history. His focus was always on the new thing: the next single, the latest thrill, the youngest girl. The past was only a tool to acquire something in the present, or the future. It wasn't surprising, then, that in 1996 when Meaux was sentenced to 15 years for, among other things, sexual assault of a child, he had allowed his massive catalog to gather a thick layer of dust at Sugar Hill Recording Studios. Decades' worth of recordings, historical works covering important Texan artists ranging from Freddy Fender to Johnny Copeland, were this close to being lost to history. Enter David Thompson, a former general manager at Sugar Hill. He made a pitch to Meaux's ex-wife, who owned the recordings, and proceeded to catalog and preserve those delicate tapes. It was a painstaking process; some tapes had suffered from poor storage, absorbing tiny but nearly fatal amounts of humidity. Thompson had to cook them in an oven to dry them out enough so he could get one good DAT recording. Once finished, Thompson began marketing the catalog to labels, eventually finding suitable homes at Edsel and Westside, imprints of the UK-based Demon Records. Back in the States, you can find them on the shelves at Cactus Music & Records.

It's not hidden if you live there, of course, but for plenty of us who've arrived at thinking-about-home-buying age in the last few years, it's all about -- in words lifted from the housewarming invitation of one recent arrival -- "East side, baby!" East side means different things to different people, and the rising Heights-like affluence of close-in neighborhoods like Eastwood is way too well established to qualify as hidden, but as usual, drive a little farther out (though still inside the Loop, natch), and you can pretty much have your pick of hideaways still largely absent -- though not likely for long -- from the real estate pages. Our current favorite is Forest Hill, a nugget roughly bound by Brays Bayou, 75th Street, the bucolic Forest Park cemetery and Lawndale. What you've got is homes primarily from the 1930s through '50s, some fixer-uppers and some showpieces, set on quiet streets, shaded with canopied hardwoods and planted on anachronistically deep lots. What you get is easy access to I-45, the Gus Wortham golf course (hey, as a landscape neighbor, it beats the hell out of a mall), big parks, that pretty cemetery and a stable population that, according to local realtors, doesn't move much. What you can get it for, if you're willing to wait for the opportunity, is often in the exceedingly un-Heights-like range of 70 to 80K. What's not to like?
On a Thursday morning last December, two automobiles collided at the T intersection of Hillcroft and Skyline. One car, traveling south on Hillcroft, was attempting a left turn onto Skyline when it slammed into a northbound vehicle. It's impossible to tell, by virtue of the police report, which driver was to blame. The woman driving the southbound car gave a statement that read, in part: "There was plenty of room for me to turn. I started to turn, and suddenly, they were there." A witness said the southbound traveler was driving recklessly, having "gunned" the vehicle to "where the front wheel came off the ground" to cross in front of the northbound car in time. The driver of the northbound car said plainly, "she pulled out in front of me." But of all the players, the passenger of the northbound car provided the most poetic insight into the ordeal. "I don't know what happened," she told police. "I had a hold of his cock, and then we were flying." Good thing there was only one accident.
For a year, Vijay Grrala called his dry cleaners, located in a strip mall at Westheimer and Kirkwood, The Kirkwood Dry Clean. Situated down the mall sidewalk from an H-E-B and Half Price Books, it seemed a boring little name for a boring little dry cleaners, with cheap, plastic-framed decorations of sunny landscapes on the wall. So two years ago, Vijay renamed it, putting a funny-looking question mark in its name. "He thought that would be neat," says Pamela at $1.39?, of her father. Vijay also owns Flamingo Cleaners at Westpark and Gessner, where the clothes are taken for treatment. What's funny now, though, is that sometimes people forget the question mark exists and assume that any article of clothing costs a mere $1.39. Most things do cost $1.39 at $1.39? Dry Clean. Shirts? $1.39. Pants? $1.39. Two-piece suit? $1.39 per piece. Silk? An extra 50 cents. But some customers get a bit carried away. "People bring in huge comforters. That's not $1.39. It's $10.99. Wedding dresses are $150 to dry-clean," Pamela says. Sometimes people even bring in a whole load of laundry. But don't forget, Pamela warns, that $1.39 times 20 pieces of clothing still adds up to a lot of money.

Three years ago, the square block of land surrounded by Shepherd, Durham, Blossom and Floyd was a debris-filled mess that did little more than depress the few drivers who bothered to notice it. Richard Roederer, owner of the Blossom Street Gallery, cleaned the place up and used it to display work from regional artists such as Herbert Long, Michelle O'Michael and Daryl Colburn (the piece most beloved by kids, an impressionistic statue of two larger-than-life basketball players, is by Gery Wyche). The block, between Washington Avenue and Memorial Drive, is now an attractive and fun place to stop or drive by. Roederer's cleanup job has increased the value of the land, so there's always a chance someone will come in and cover it all with town homes, but for now the place is safe.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of