Being an Astros fan is never easy. If the team breezes to a division title, it gets knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. (If it struggles to a division title, it gets knocked out just as early.) The team seems inherently incapable of taking the big step to the next level. Last year, fresh off a series of playoff appearances, they moved into a stunning new stadium, filled each night with enthusiastic standing-room-only crowds and...they had an absolutely hideous season, flirting with the 100-loss mark. They've rebounded this year but remain frustratingly inconsistent. It's that frustration, though, that makes them the Astros. Even when they're winning, they tend to do it by winning two and losing one, never quite putting together a dominating streak. No fan will ever be truly confident until the last out of a clinching World Series game, but until then, it's enough to suffer along with the flashes of brilliance from Billy Wagner, Jeff Bagwell and Moises Alou.

Galveston's Stewart Road is unknown to all but the most curious of island day-trippers. Running parallel to FM 3005 from 61st Street all the way to 13 Mile Road, this scenic byway cuts through the live oak-studded pastures and salt marshes that offer up a hint of what Galveston must have looked like when Jean Lafitte was afoot. These same features offer up a variety of habitats for hundreds of species of birds, ranging from tiny golden warblers to shocking pink, primordial, pterodactyl-like spoonbill ibises. (Also, there are sometimes grisly remains of birds snagged on fishhooks that dangle from the power lines thanks to the erroneous casting of some anglers.) This is an ornithological adventure, tailor-made for the car-happy Houstonian. You rarely have to step out of the wonders of a/c for a fruitful trip.

Galveston's Stewart Road is unknown to all but the most curious of island day-trippers. Running parallel to FM 3005 from 61st Street all the way to 13 Mile Road, this scenic byway cuts through the live oak-studded pastures and salt marshes that offer up a hint of what Galveston must have looked like when Jean Lafitte was afoot. These same features offer up a variety of habitats for hundreds of species of birds, ranging from tiny golden warblers to shocking pink, primordial, pterodactyl-like spoonbill ibises. (Also, there are sometimes grisly remains of birds snagged on fishhooks that dangle from the power lines thanks to the erroneous casting of some anglers.) This is an ornithological adventure, tailor-made for the car-happy Houstonian. You rarely have to step out of the wonders of a/c for a fruitful trip.

All things being fairly equal in the equipment and weights department, what makes a gym stand out? For us, it's cleanliness. Immaculate describes Fitness Exchange, with personnel making sure it stays that way all throughout the day. A smudge on a mirror lasts less than an hour before someone comes to wipe it away. The floors are vacuumed every night, even if there isn't a speck in sight. The locker rooms are always tidy, which brings us to another reason Fitness Exchange is head and deltoids above the others. The men's and women's locker rooms have their very own wet and dry saunas, as well as hot tubs for relaxing after an arduous workout. Located in the Montrose, the clientele is representative of the neighborhood, but not exclusive. Unlike some downtown gyms, the parking is free, and the club is so accessible, you can't use traffic as an excuse not to work out. And when it comes to working up a sweat, we need to eliminate as many excuses as possible.
All things being fairly equal in the equipment and weights department, what makes a gym stand out? For us, it's cleanliness. Immaculate describes Fitness Exchange, with personnel making sure it stays that way all throughout the day. A smudge on a mirror lasts less than an hour before someone comes to wipe it away. The floors are vacuumed every night, even if there isn't a speck in sight. The locker rooms are always tidy, which brings us to another reason Fitness Exchange is head and deltoids above the others. The men's and women's locker rooms have their very own wet and dry saunas, as well as hot tubs for relaxing after an arduous workout. Located in the Montrose, the clientele is representative of the neighborhood, but not exclusive. Unlike some downtown gyms, the parking is free, and the club is so accessible, you can't use traffic as an excuse not to work out. And when it comes to working up a sweat, we need to eliminate as many excuses as possible.
Nicks Sports Bar & Grill
Ain't nuttin' fancy 'bout Nick's. And "nuttin'" is definitely the way it's pronounced around here, where the Up Nawth atmosphere is thick (the Web site offers links to the official team sites for the Rockets, the Astros and the Green Bay Packers). Nick's ain't no flashy, Vegas-style establishment with TVs on every table and the all-too-standard display of jock paraphernalia on the walls. It's just a neighborhood place for people with a sports jones and a healthy appetite -- for both big burgers and the occasional lingerie show (dat Nick, he's all class). The kitchen stays open late. You got your pool and darts, and you got people screaming at the big-screen TVs like they were at the stadium -- especially if that stadium is Lambeau Field. Sure, it's a long way out Westheimer, and parking can be a hassle, but Nick's is an unpretentious antidote to the big-bucks sports bars you can find all over the city.

Ain't nuttin' fancy 'bout Nick's. And "nuttin'" is definitely the way it's pronounced around here, where the Up Nawth atmosphere is thick (the Web site offers links to the official team sites for the Rockets, the Astros and the Green Bay Packers). Nick's ain't no flashy, Vegas-style establishment with TVs on every table and the all-too-standard display of jock paraphernalia on the walls. It's just a neighborhood place for people with a sports jones and a healthy appetite -- for both big burgers and the occasional lingerie show (dat Nick, he's all class). The kitchen stays open late. You got your pool and darts, and you got people screaming at the big-screen TVs like they were at the stadium -- especially if that stadium is Lambeau Field. Sure, it's a long way out Westheimer, and parking can be a hassle, but Nick's is an unpretentious antidote to the big-bucks sports bars you can find all over the city.

Not all tennis stars are raised on pristine country club courts under the watchful eye of a sweater-wearing coach named Rex. Some make it through the local communist athletic program. Venus and Serena Williams had neither luxury. Instead, they sweated it out on the public courts of Compton, in California, with a lot of talent and a father's dream. And you might very well find a tennis phenom on one of the 18 courts at Memorial Park. What rising star wouldn't want to hone his or her game on these smoothly surfaced, well-lit courts? True, using the courts will cost some cash and, since they're often booked, setting up a match will require some planning. But it's the only place in town where you can set up lessons, get your racquet strung and grab a smoothie after your match for such a small fee.

Not all tennis stars are raised on pristine country club courts under the watchful eye of a sweater-wearing coach named Rex. Some make it through the local communist athletic program. Venus and Serena Williams had neither luxury. Instead, they sweated it out on the public courts of Compton, in California, with a lot of talent and a father's dream. And you might very well find a tennis phenom on one of the 18 courts at Memorial Park. What rising star wouldn't want to hone his or her game on these smoothly surfaced, well-lit courts? True, using the courts will cost some cash and, since they're often booked, setting up a match will require some planning. But it's the only place in town where you can set up lessons, get your racquet strung and grab a smoothie after your match for such a small fee.

When Katy Mills opened in 1999, it sent a press kit out that had all sorts of useless trivia about the gargantuan size of the place, such as "Telephone wire: 2,600,000 feet, enough to go around Loop 610 13 times" and "The amount of dirt used to build the berm could fill 413,000 sandboxes." Only one fact is relevant to mall-walkers, though: The distance of the outer path in the mall, which comes full circle, is about one mile. Though Katy Mills doesn't open for shopping until 10 a.m. (and not until 11 a.m. on Sundays), it opens its doors to mall-walkers at 8 a.m. Once finished trotting through the brightly colored, Disneyfied mall, walkers can get their walking record filled out with how much they walked and how long it took at the information booth between Entrances Four and Five. In the past the mall has offered incentives, such as prizes like gift certificates and even Reebok shoes once they reach certain goals. Not bad, plus they don't have to deal with the Texas sun or heat strokes with all that air-conditioning (4,500 tons of air-conditioning units, enough to cool 1,324 homes).

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