Best Time and Place to See Street Racers


From the Galleria past Beltway 8, as Saturday night gives way to Sunday, the strip-mall parking lots on Westheimer host impromptu car shows, with ball-capped guys checking out each other's mods. You hear words like "cams" and "noz." You feel the sub-bass rumble of Corvettes eager to exceed the speed limit. You see the racing stickers and parking lights that separate racing imports from "civilian" cars. The racers cruise in packs up and down Westheimer, challenging each other at stoplights by tapping their brakes, honking at their friends and watching, always, for someone new to take on.
Not only is University of Houston grad Judy Hay one of the best straight shooters in town in her dealings with the media, but she would surely be the last flack standing if Survivor had peopled its island with public relations types. Hay joined the agency in 1970 with a freshly minted sociology degree and became its spokeswoman in 1975. In the quarter-century since then, she has been a calm and credible face for child welfare in some very troubled times. "The saddest interview I have to give is when a child is hurt and we weren't able to protect him," says Hay, who concentrates on providing factual information to reporters rather than spinning or whitewashing for her agency. "I want people to have the perception that we're honest, we're accessible, and we're accountable. I've never known a reporter to go around me and set up a hidden camera, and I think that's because if something's bad, I'll tell you it's bad." Hay is proudly promoting a newly released HBO documentary on child abuse, Broken Child, which includes a number of Houston cases. Hay worked closely with the producers on the three-year project and has nothing but praise for the results. "It is beautiful," she says. "If you don't get the consequences of child abuse after watching this documentary, you never will."

Best Postcollegiate Fraternity Experience

Bronx Bar

From the street, music blares from the Bronx Bar like a warning. Thump-thump-thump, the numbing bass line declares. At the sidewalk gate, a broad-shouldered bouncer clad in a black T-shirt gives the coveted silent nod. Inside, members of the mostly young and Caucasian crowd navigate around, trying to shout to one another over the obnoxious thump-thump. It is packed. Another weekend night in the Village. On the patio, a young woman called Missy, clad in a low-cut tank top and shimmering skirt, holds her cigarette in her languid, manicured right hand. Her nails glow a fierce deep pink as a young man with a crew cut leans forward across the table with his lighter. Her friends giggle. His swish their beer bottles. If they had met at a wild fraternity party of their college lore, maybe they'd be making out by now in the corner. But these days, they are young professionals, aspiring to own SUVs. Missy shapes her painted lips with effort, forming the words before she says them. In her Minnie Mouse voice, she excuses herself to the ladies' room. Instantly one of her friends follows, designer handbag at her side.

In a world where the phrase "White House intern" elicits sniggers and blow-job jokes, we all can say we're relieved that Monica "I don't take dirty dresses to the dry cleaners" Lewinsky wasn't from Houston, but Kristen Jones is a White House intern we're proud of. The 20-year-old University of St. Thomas sophomore broke her neck and crushed her spinal cord three years ago when she dived into a shallow backyard pool. The accident left her paralyzed from the neck down. Instead of sitting around feeling sad, Kristen started writing letters. She was elected the youngest person on Houston's City Commission on Disability and applied for an internship at the White House. She was one of just a handful of differently abled interns. Kristen worked last spring in the Office of Public Liaison and Disability Outreach. It was a typical internship; she answered mail and met with disability groups and advocates, and maintained a listserv. Those three months, and then another two working in the Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, helped her decide to pursue a double major of political science and special ed. She liked the White House. Does she want to work there again? "It depends on who's elected," she says. "I don't think I'd want to work under a Republican."
How can you get lost on a circular freeway? Easy. Other large cities have a natural barrier such as an ocean or mountain. In Chicago, you can go east only as far as Lake Michigan. The Atlantic gets in your way in Boston, Baltimore and Miami. Seattle has Puget Sound or Mount Rainier, and San Francisco has the bay. But in Houston, you have a whole lotta flat and not a whole lot more. In Los Angeles, if you're lost but see the Pacific, you just turn your car around and head back the other way. But woe is unto the fresh transplant to our fine city who finds himself lost on the 610 Loop. There is no beginning and no end. You just go round and round. For those not in the know, directions like North Loop East and West Loop South are a good enough reason to get a cellular phone, a compass and a stress appointment with a therapist.
A downtown fixture as venerable as Warren's would be incomplete without a fine jukebox to complement the (Houston Press) award-winning decor, martinis and staff. And there, placed innocuously inside the main room, sits the late-model Rowe Ami. It's not the flashiest box in town, but what sets it apart are the options within: one classic disc after another, perfectly fitted to Warren's singular ambience. The blues according to Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James. Folks whose first names suffice: Miles, Aretha, Billie, Muddy. Texas legends Lightnin' Hopkins, Kinky Friedman, the Texas Tornados, Bob Wills. Vintage jazz from Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan. Tears in your beers with Reba McEntire, Patsy Cline and k.d. lang. For romance, Tony Bennett and Louis Prima. Dylan and the Beatles. Not a loser in the stack. The music enhances the mood, whatever it may be, to whomever it may belong.

While Houston has light-years to go before becoming a truly bike-friendly city, it is finally beginning to get at least tolerant of the two-wheelers. Nothing shows the détente with motorists better than the pathway system along Brays Bayou in the southern sector of the city. Paved lanes swoop from street level down to the water's edge, ascend again and bisect the railings of high-power transmission towers, twisting and turning enough to keep the blahs at bay on this bike route. The trail has ample rest stops and amenities. There's no need to look out for armadillo crossings -- the (sculptured) critter's permanently affixed to the water fountain.\
Like a hand-hewn beam, Charles Max Jennings is both rough-cut and a commodity. He may come off as a crude old fart with an attitude ("You're goddamn right" is one of his favorite phrases), but Jennings is the worst nightmare of a corrupt bureaucracy. In his case, it's the City of Houston Water Production Department, the subject of a 1999 Houston Press investigation. Jennings delights in documenting the wrongdoing of the department, which he chronicles in detailed, tabbed (and amazingly accurate) notebooks to make life easy for reporters and law enforcement staffers. His latest crusade has attracted the attention of the city Office of Inspector General and the FBI, though whether they have the guts to act on the information remains to be seen. Unlike most other whistle-blowers, however, Jennings isn't afraid of being fired, exiled or otherwise retaliated against, and readily identifies himself. "I put my name on every letter I write," he says. "My name is not spelled "Anonymous.' "
"Downtown...," sang Petula Clark, "...where all the lights are bright." And she's exactly right -- it's where all the flashing red lights are brightest. Perhaps the trade-off, the sense of security from crime, is worth it. But downtown cops seem dead set on writing up damn near every driver that ventures anywhere near the downtown district. On certain weekday mornings, horse-mounted patrols stand by major intersections (Milam at Texas, for one) in stakeouts for those most dreaded of criminals -- motorists whose car licenses or inspection stickers have lapsed. Otherwise, there's a wealth of choices from the legions of citation corps: squad cars, UH-Downtown campus cops, Metro police in cars, Metro police on bicycles, HPD bike cops, HPD officers on foot and more. Hardest-hit are occasional drivers into the central city; those trying to obey traffic laws while figuring out how to run the maze of one-way streets, no-turn intersections, detours for construction and dearth of on-street parking. Then there are those trying to do it drunk. Thousands of Houstonians do manage to navigate the labyrinth without municipal court citations. They return to their cars, breathe a sigh of relief and make it home -- only to notice the meter maid's parking ticket tucked under the wipers.

Houston-based Drew Carter's combination of law enforcement sleuthing and social working with the family of serial killer Angel Maturino Resendiz resulted in the killer's bloodless surrender last summer. Carter, with less than one year's tenure with the Rangers, had become involved five months earlier, when the Rangers were called in to assist in the investigation of the bludgeoning murder of West University physician Claudia Benton. Benton's murder was then linked to the killing of a Weimar couple, and the nationwide search for the train-hopping killer was under way. Carter would play a key role by gaining the confidence of Resendiz's half-sister, Manuela Karkiewicz. She eventually alerted him that Resendiz told other relatives he wanted to give himself up, and the surrender was set for the international bridge linking El Paso and Juarez. During Resendiz's subsequent murder trial, he accused Carter of violating a promise to his family that he would not face the death penalty. Carter denied the claim and replied that he didn't feel compelled to put his credibility against that of a mass murderer. Resendiz subsequently received a death sentence. Even if Carter had to stretch the truth to get a rampaging killer off the streets, it's a fib we can live with.

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