What with so many different local businesses from which to choose, we avoided the temptation to go with any guy holding up a wad of cash; a man wearing a bean bag chair; two dapper fellows who knock knuckles over clothing prices; a self-described "crazy" man with a double-billed baseball cap selling cars; a chef flailing his arms out of sync with classical music; any tough, smart lawyers; and the hand surgeon whose daughter is growing right before our eyes. No, we decided to go for an advertisement campaign featuring local chefs promoting the fresh produce at Fiesta Mart. The ads were practical in that they passed along cooking tips, with chefs from restaurants we know right here in the Bayou City. The commercials looked professional. The lighting and audio were good, unlike so many local commercials, and it didn't overuse character-generated text or fancy but unmotivated special wipe effects or loud, repetitious slogans. In other words, these commercials actually respected the viewer.

Sure, the Clutterless Recovery Group has its merits, and a good many more of us should be visiting Anger Management, but when it comes to mutual support, the Genesis Ballet is tops in our book. Interestingly enough, the dance company didn't start out that way. According to the troupe's founder, Marie Plauché-Gustin, it was chance that all their members happened to be suffering from either cancer, abuse, addiction or cult brainwashing. This nondenominational liturgical interpretation of creation simply allowed them to cope with their particular problems through the art of dance. Vive la différence.
When the good women from Blue Willow Books on Memorial Drive discovered that Jill Connor Browne, author of The Sweet Potato Queen's Book of Love, didn't include Houston in her book tour of her most recent release, God Save the Sweet Potato Queens, they took matters into their own hands. Well, arms really. They challenged the tiara-wearin' writer to an arm-wrestling contest to get her to come to Houston. Donning T-shirts that read, "Tough Broads vs. Tammy's," the women from Blue Willow Books put on a party fit for the Boss Queen and her loyal royals. The event was held at the Mesa Grill on the west side before it closed, and women from all over Houston showed up, decked in their very own royal finery. Some wore cowboy hats and star-shaped sunglasses instead of tiaras and called themselves the Texas Tater Tarts. Others wore wigs, feather boas, sequined dresses and crowns. While sipping margaritas, the official drink of the Sweet Potato Queens, the women engaged in raunchy, ribald revelry. At the same time, they raised money for Houston's Pink Ribbons Project, a benevolent act by a group of majestic queens.

Best Place to See Houston's Cannibal Ducks

Hermann Park

It was a sunny spring day. We were killing time before an IMAX movie; we'd already bought a shiny rock from the Museum of Natural Science gift store and grabbed some McDonald's hot fudge sundaes and wandered outside. We walked along looking at the green, green grass, thinking about what a pretty day it was and talking about life and love and relationships gone bad as we walked toward the duck pond. Ducks are happy, and we have happy childhood memories of feeding ducks endless bread crumbs. But the ducks were very hungry that day, and they wanted more than stale sourdough. Toward the edge of the pond we saw one duck eating the eyes out of another duck. We'd always thought ducks were vegetarians. At first we thought maybe the first duck had died and the other duck was kissing him goodnight and good-bye, the way Grandma gently grazed her lips against Grandpa's closed eyelids as he lay in his coffin. But we kept looking, and the duck wasn't giving the other one a gentle peck. He was eating him. So, please, people -- get these birds some bread crumbs.
All day long, cars pull into the driveway of the RecycleXpress center; car doors fling open, and conscience-minded citizens separate their colored and clear glass, bimetal cans, paper, cardboard and plastics (nos. 1 and 2 only, please) through square slots into great mounds. Even though some of them drive SUVs and many of them don't read the instructions and forget to do things like take the caps off their milk jugs, or flatten their cardboard boxes, at least they have the right idea. On the weekends, sometimes someone brings a kid along, but most of the time it's just single folks driving decent cars, passing strangers by as they trek back and forth from the car to the recycling bins. Okay, so we don't know if they're all single, but everyone seems to be checking everyone else out.
We're not sure that radio guy John Granato is being completely honest with us when he says that, in addition to a great product line, there are cocktails and girls in bikinis on hand at Trailer, Wheel & Frame, but we like the idea. Where else can you get your hands on things like ritzy-rails, bug-guards, big wheel juniors, T-trailers and dual tandems? What are they? We don't know, but we like saying the words.

Oral satisfaction all in one location. Inside the industrial-looking building you can chow down on a sandwich or chili dog, and then step across the hallway and get your teeth cleaned or cavities filled. But for the dentist's sake, go easy on the onions.

Buffalo Bayou, the stream that spawned Houston in 1836, is well on its way back from city cesspool to civic asset thanks to a combined public-private $25 million effort. Landscaped hike-and-bike trails now run on both the north and south banks of the bayou from Shepherd on the west under the I-45 freeway interchange to the Wortham Theater Center and the soon-to-be-demolished Fire Station No. 1. The city's federally mandated upgrade in wastewater treatment has not yet brought the bayou up to swimming standards, but catfish and perch routinely are caught (if not eaten) by enterprising urban fisherman. A project is under way to renovate Allen's Landing, the spot at the confluence of Buffalo and White Oak bayous where the first of a storied line of fast-talking land developers set foot on our fair soil. Next in line is a $1 million master plan for the bayou funded by the city, the county and the Buffalo Bayou Partnership to lay the groundwork extending the improvements to the Ship Channel turning basin. In a city renowned for demolishing its heritage, the comeback of the bayou hopefully heralds a new civic mind-set.
You can tell a lot about Houston, past and present, by driving along the in-transition thoroughfare. As in many parts of the city, new upscale condos and town homes are springing forth, even across the street from historic Glenwood Cemetery, where Howard Hughes Jr. and several Texas governors are taking their eternal rest. Several of our favorite eateries also are located amid the used car lots: Good chicken-fried steak can be had at Pig Stand No. 7 -- the last of its breed. Some of the best coffee and tortilla soup can be had up the street at El Rey. George's Diner provides old-fashioned steam-table excellence. You can also hear live music at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, Mary Jane's or the Rhythm Room. Wet your whistle at any of the numerous watering holes up and down the street.
What exactly is meant by "No hostages beyond this point" is hard to discern. That message, posted on the inside of several doors in such fine establishments as Keagans State Jail in downtown Houston, greets anyone about to exit the jail and enter the lobby where visitors must turn in their IDs and be dressed in proper attire to walk through the doors. In fact, the words grace two doors, one right after another, so which point exactly, are the signs referring to? Perhaps the second sign is there in case you missed the first one. But who could miss such a warning, which implies that "Negotiating beyond this point will not work -- everyone will be shot."

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