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."

Performance artist Dr. Alkebu Motapa, legal name Carl Austin, is a dreadlocked dervish who paints, chants and talks up a storm at City Council and anywhere else people will listen. His rhetoric, a mixture of Rastafarian theology and civil rights-era jargon, is not always welcome. When Motapa took to calling a staffer at the Cultural Arts Council to complain about not getting an arts grant, CACCH officials called HPD. Although the investigation was quickly closed, it gave Motapa another subject for his speechmaking: police persecution.

Tropical Storm Allison annihilated the county's justice system, crippling the criminal courts building for months and mauling the Family Courts Center as well. In the ensuing mayhem, even judges sometimes didn't know where their temporary courts, salvaged files or trial settings would turn up. But the news media had to know. And that's where public information officer Fred King proved invaluable. King was perhaps the only media relations person to rush to press, publishing a special flood edition of the district clerk's Hearsay newsletter, giving the office's 500-plus employees updates. He aided District Clerk Charles Bacarisse on the contingency plans and fielded blizzards of questions from baffled reporters. Even in the best of times, the clerk's office -- it processes roughly 100,000 cases annually, ranging from civil suits to felony and misdemeanor charges -- looms as a mysterious labyrinth. King is a master translator into understandable terms. Local public entities regularly insulate themselves with PR people, and more and more seem to be the alter egos of the glib Ken-and-Barbie glamour types that first invaded local television. They may ooze with charm and offer ample sound bites, but know nothing about the real information within their own agencies. Credit Bacarisse (himself a former White House communications staffer) for landing a media pro with proven credibility.
Mayor Lee Brown chief of staff Jordy Tollett got his start under mayor Jim McConn and has been accumulating titles and turf ever since. He's head of the city convention center and entertainment facility complex, the president of the convention and visitors bureau, and currently the little drummer boy who sets the pace for Brown's staff. Tollett was once a lightning rod for controversy when he took city clients on the public dime to savor the heady atmosphere of the topless Rick's Cabaret. He survived that episode, and the only misstep he's made recently occurred when he slipped at a pool party and cracked several ribs. Tollett, a nightlife aficionado, can now be found on many evenings schmoozing at Downing Street with buddy Dave Walden, this year's best lobbyist.

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