Wortham Theater Center
Maybe these are just the moments that downtown finally arrives. Party on the Plaza is in full swing. So is its dynamic corner of the central city, with Bayou Place beckoning the masses across the street. And there, on the magnificent grounds that serve as the front entrance to the Wortham Theater Center, are scores of motorcycles at rest in neatly lined rows. The bikers rumble in to party at the plaza, and what better place to park 'em than on off-nights at the Wortham. All the nightlife available isn't going to be enough if downtown can't loosen up a little. On these evenings, it shows off its finest colors: Electra Glides in blue.
The stuff of public art, hike-and-bike paths, youth programs and parks are pleasant municipal amenities, to be certain. Even residents who don't personally partake of such things can still feel good about having them as part of life in Houston. But all those come after what ought to be the priorities of any public service agency: peace of mind. Sewer lines should work. And trash should get picked up. And -- especially on the freeways of Houston -- we need truck enforcement. The motoring masses shouldn't be regularly terrorized by huge tractor-trailer rigs barreling down on them or sandblasting sedans with refuse from unsecured loads. For 30 incredible years, Houston police largely looked the other way at truck safety violations. As late as mid-1999, police officials gave the excuse that they weren't going to get involved in such "regulatory" functions. Meanwhile, truckers ran amok. After a rash of big-rig wrecks, police finally relented. In October '99, Sergeant C.J. Klausner began the Truck Enforcement Unit with ten full-time officers (another 30 work one day a week for the unit). Statistics (as of July) are staggering. The unit has inspected 5,000 18-wheelers and issued 6,000 citations along with 23,000 formal warnings. After being stopped and inspected, 53 percent of trucks (twice the national average) have been ordered off the road until repairs are made or properly certified drivers are found. Some 500 drivers have been arrested, either for past warrants or other infractions -- or for having no licenses at all. "We've been accepted very well," Klausner says. "Mainstream truckers want to do a good job." And the unit virtually pays for itself through the revenues generated. While Houstonians ought to be horrified at having to wait so long for units that were long established in smaller communities, our hats are off to HPD. When it comes to curbing bad trucks, better late than never.
Mi Luna
Dating is like ordering tapas: You try a whole bunch of different things and you hope you get something you like that agrees with you and doesn't make you sick. Mi Luna is a fun "first date" -- it's like a fancy mall food court, because you each can get whatever you want, from baby clams and poached salmon to stuffed zucchini and veal tongue. (We recommend the B'Stilla, a Moroccan chicken pie with cinnamon almonds wrapped in crisp phyllo dough. It sounds like a bad idea, but you'll like it.) You can tell a lot about someone from what they order. Do you want to date a guy who gets a bowl of goat cheese and mushrooms as his main meal? What about a girl who eats oxtail? Can you kiss her goodnight? If you decide that you can't, Mi Luna is located smack in the middle of Rice Village, right next to Urban Outfitters. If you hate your date, you can go shop away the irritation, pick up a novel at Half Price Books and head home. Or if you're feeling brave, walk a block to The Ginger Man and meet a new person. Maybe he or she will be that special someone who orders something you want to share.
There's no telling where Cynthia Flood and her two children would be living today if they hadn't crossed paths with Mark Davis. Last October, Davis read a story in the Houston Press that recounted how Flood's $250-a-month apartment in the Fourth Ward was in the path of a city-sponsored redevelopment project and was destined to be demolished. She was denied a government-subsidized apartment in the new Historic Oaks of Allen Parkway because of credit problems. Flood had taken out a student loan to attend Hargest College a decade ago, but dropped out when she became pregnant with her son. Her government checks, however, kept going to Hargest, which kept cashing them. Flood, a single mother earning $7.15 an hour checking groceries at Kroger, managed to whittle an $8,000 debt down to $1,700, but the city housing authority nonetheless rejected her application for housing. Enter Davis, a bankruptcy lawyer and estate planner who knew someone with a contact at the U.S. Department of Education. Davis helped Flood with the paperwork for a deferment, which removed the delinquency from her credit report. He also pestered city housing officials until they reconsidered Flood's application. In May, thanks to Davis's generous donation of time and expertise, Flood and her kids moved into a new apartment at the Historic Oaks of Allen Parkway. "She just needed someone to cut through the red tape," says Davis, a solo practitioner. "I think attorneys have an obligation, when they can, to provide assistance to people who need it."
Journey back to your junior year of high school. You just saw a movie while seated next to the crush of your dreams, with your feet propped up on the back of the seat in front of you. Your hands touched in the giant tub o' popcorn. Happiness shot straight through you. You drove separately. Afterward, you walk to your car. Standing outside the vehicle you say you had a good time and you kiss goodnight. (Getting in the car together would be too much of a commitment.) Crowds coming out of the Alanis Morissette concert, or whatever basketball game is playing, thunder by. Wasn't there a cop? you ask, looking around. "There's three right over your shoulder," your date says. But you forget about the pigs in spitting distance as the kiss deepens, and one of you drops to your knees. More people pass, and since you're not 16 anymore, one of you starts worrying about whether this classifies as lewd and lascivious behavior, and your date wonders if he's going to get disbarred -- or lose his medical license. (Damn being a responsible grown-up!) You stand up, kiss goodnight, get a high school hug and a happy memory. Sure, there isn't a meadow or a brook or trees, but kneeling on the concrete by your car, to us, is an essential Houston experience.

Best Reason Not to Take Public Transportation

Smog ranking

Finally, now that Houston ranks No. 1 in something, why should we give that up? You thnk it's easy being top dog when it comes to ozone violations? This year shows all signs of a tough competition with Los Angeles, the traditional winner of the smog crown. Consider this: Houston's weather (hot air and weak winds) should serve to our advantage, since warmer weather is more conducive to forming ozone, yet L.A. has beat us out in the past. Last year we were lucky; weather was on our side. But this year, with L.A. due for some warmer La Nina-inspired weather, we may lose our ranking. By late summer L.A. already had logged 34 violations, while we had only 26. Last year we finished with 52 ozone violation days, beating L.A. by 11 whole days. So keep up the good work! Drive on (preferably in SUVs and vans). Forget about rail. Who needs decent public transportation when there's gasoline to buy and a title to defend?
Seventy-two-year-old Billie Carr has finally retired from her DNC position, and she'll leave plenty of devoted fans behind, including her old friend President Bill Clinton. Having fought her way to the top through the ranks of conservative Democrats who once dominated the party, Carr, by necessity, also adopted many of their hard-fisted tactics. That has left plenty of moderates bruised and dismayed as the party moved to the left over the years. In the process, many of them switched ranks and helped Republicans to their domination of Texas, holding every statewide elected position. After fighting cancer to a draw through radiation and chemotherapy, Carr is now working on her memoirs at her southwest Houston bungalow, and predicts it's just a matter of time before the pendulum swings back to the Democrats. "We seem to go through seasons where people burn out, sell out or drop out, for whatever reason," reflects Carr. "And we have to go back and work some more, because there are certainly more Democrats than there are Republicans. We have a lot of work to do, and I think that we can do it." For sure, there's nobody who has clocked more hours over the last half-century on behalf of Texas Democrats than Billie Carr.
The settlement of the mega-nasty divorce suit between Christopher and Valerie Sarofim in June suited more than just the parties themselves. Former mayor Bob Lanier's adopted daughter Courtney, who had paired off with Chris when he moved out on Val, would likely have gotten a ski ride through the mud. Val's attorney, Earle Lilly, had Courtney fitted out for the role of home-busting paramour, had the drug- and sex-spiced saga gone forward. The Sarofims apparently decided to settle their differences after the Houston Chronicle jumped in, threatening daily dispatches from the courtroom by Clifford Pugh. Instead, Courtney, the daughter of former first lady Elyse Lanier by a previous marriage, now has the son of billionaire Fayez all to herself, and a December wedding is on the drawing board. "He's a professor kind of geek who loves to sit and talk about economics," reports Courtney, head of the acquisitions section of her dad's Landar Corporation. The Laniers and Sarofim also make a chummy foursome. "They get along great," explains Courtney of the bond between Sarofim and her parents. "Christopher and my dad spend four hours talking about business. And what mother doesn't like a man who's nice to her daughter?" Particularly one with a credit line like Sarofim's.
To grab your attention, billboards should be as explosive as a child's temper tantrum, and just as unsubtle. Vasectomy reversal! Who's the father?! When half's not enough! The best billboards are amusing as much for what they don't say as for what they do. "The church found out about our family planning!" "The asshole won't fess up to fathering the kid!" "I'm going to bleed the cheap son of a bitch for every penny he's worth!" Tony's signage on the Southwest Freeway is the perfect example: "Why fly to MANHATTAN?" it purrs, then shouts. "Tony's. Houston's great restaurant." The subtext smacks of residual boomtown arrogance and insecurity: Doesn't everyone dash off to the Big Apple for fresh Atlantic salmon in béarnaise sauce? Tony's alone will rescue us from our own inferiority complex; it will soothe our frazzled nerves and remind us that we don't have to jet halfway across the country for a decent meal, for God's sake. We can finally stop the insanity and enjoy a four-star meal right here in Houston.READERS' CHOICE: Absolut on West Loop 610

Houston boosters are fond of reminding the uninitiated that Bob Hope once said the view from the Warwick penthouse was the most beautiful he had ever seen. If only the Main Street Coalition had as juicy a celebrity quote about the hotel at street level. Light rail or no light rail, the coalition hopes to turn Main Street into Houston's "signature boulevard," lined with plazas, parks, shops, sidewalks and (would you believe?) pedestrians. And if the plans are for more places like the Terrace, then we're all for it. From the wrought-iron chairs atop its sweeping staircase, you can nurse an expensive cocktail and take in a veritable panorama of high culture and Houston civility. To the south is the gurgling Mecom Fountain. Across Main Street, behind a shady tangle of live oaks and sculpture, is the classical facade of the old Museum of Fine Arts building. And to the north, toward downtown, is the animated side of Houston's building-of-the-moment, Rafael Moneo's new Beck building for the MFA. Perhaps we should invite Mr. Hope to stop by for a drink.

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