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.

Yes, there are other cruising routes -- out on Airline or Irvington, say -- but this western stretch of Richmond club land is the oldest and biggest and most reliable. If the weather's good and the cops aren't swarming, car-watchers will be rewarded with a combination parade and dance competition. All along the strip, you'll see gorgeous paint jobs and custom interiors, but for action, watch carefully at stoplights: If one low-rider pulls up next to another and begins to buck and bounce, it's a challenge. May the best hydraulic system win.
A bus stop is pretty much a bus stop here in Houston. But there is one location that offers a little variety, not to mention style. Outside the Sears in the Garden Oaks neighborhood, north of the Heights, is a 1950s gem, with a space-age roof featuring the curves of an artist's palette and long benches that put to shame the torture devices used in more modern installations as a way to discourage loitering. The vaguely art deco neon sign of the Sears store, framed by shade trees, fits nicely in the tableau. The No. 50 bus, which will take you from Garden Oaks though the Heights to downtown (or vice versa), stops here.
Even in the justice system, silence can be golden. While the 14th Court of Appeals has been in seemingly continual controversy in recent years -- justices even sued their chief justice at one point in a long-running dispute over administrative authority -- the First Court of Appeals has been a relative sea of calm jurisprudence. The reason is obvious: First Court leader Chief Justice Michael Schneider. He walked into potential pitfalls in early 1996, as a state district civil judge inheriting the appellate administrative duties after Alice Oliver-Parrott unexpectedly resigned midway through her term. But Schneider is a rare breed on the bench. His background -- that all-important life experience so essential to a quality judgeship -- is perhaps the most varied of anybody wearing a black robe in Harris County. He's a former high school teacher, a veteran prosecutor and the first consumer fraud chief ever for the D.A.'s office, a globe-traveling corporate specialist, a suburban muny court judge, and the jurist who oversaw the hectic high-stakes era of breast implant litigation. And don't forget his 12 years as a Habitat for Humanity volunteer. Schneider's operation of the appellate court reflects the kind of consensus-building efficiency and common sense that's a no-nonsense model for other officeholders, both inside and outside the justice system.
Last time we checked in with La Porte jack-of-all-junk Butch Forest (see "J-U-N-K in the Y2K," December 30, 1999), the conversation revolved around a complicated four-way horse trade involving a gutted 18-foot Airstream trailer in Manvel, a 14-foot fiberglass bass boat in Houston, a Hi-Lo camper in Dickinson and a canoe described in full by Forest as "green." That proposed transaction is still pending, but before Forest hung up the phone, he wanted to know if we had survived the Y2K scare unscathed. We had. The several hundred dented cans of food he'd given us as a preventative Christmas present still constitute the bulk of our kitchen decor -- but that, of course, was not the point of the question. For if the rest of the world watched the calendar change without a hitch, Butch Forest -- ever the contrarian -- had taken a hit, and because he is even more storyteller than contrarian, he wanted to tell us about it. Seems Y2K came and went without incident in La Porte as elsewhere, leaving Forest with a mobile home full of stockpiled canned goods and, more to the point, boxes upon boxes of crackers and cereal and pasta and other grain-based foodstuffs. Eventually, perhaps inevitably, neighborhood mice discovered Forest's stash, and so Forest purchased himself a pile of rodent poison to staunch that budding plague. Only it turned out that the corn-based poison he purchased to kill the mice was itself riddled with weevils, which quickly outclassed the rodents as the infestation du jour. Yes, Forest said, the Y2K bug sure bit him. Who knew it would be a weevil?

Best Of Houston®

Best Of