Bob "Alwalee" Lee proclaims himself "Da Mayor of Fifth Ward." This retired social worker is already a legend in his northeast Houston community for his person-to-person efforts to help the disabled and elderly. And he's backed by a prime political connection. His brother is none other than Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee. Those on Da Mayor's mailing list are also treated to a stream of politically oriented collages that poke fun at everyone from preacher pimps to former Enron chairman Ken Lay. He has labeled State Senator Rodney Ellis an "honorary white boy" and skewered former city councilman Michael Yarbrough as "Yardboy." A recent mailout pictures Houston City Councilman Michael Berry and Congressman Tom DeLay, while blasting "opportunistic white politicians who chase our votes by kissing black babies, old folks and pretending to like fried chitlins."
Most fixations require cross-dressing midgets, trailer-park love triangles or an element of Satan worship to be worthy of the tabloid TV circuit. But the odd obsession of this industrial filmmaker is a touchy-feely affair. Yaqi, who derives his name from Carlos Castaneda's Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, believes tickling is the road to enlightenment. Yes, there's some tying to bedposts involved (his subjects can't be allowed to get away, now, can they?), and they are videotaped in their underwear (the skin must be exposed, you see, for his wandering fingers to have the maximum effect). But when all's considered, this fetish is about as benign as they come, yet is still strange enough to have made this New Age pornographer a regular on Howard Stern, and to be featured by other chroniclers of weirdness on MTV and elsewhere.
Soudavar flew back from a visit with her Iranian relatives to find a greeting party of HPD robbery detectives at Bush Intercontinental Airport awaiting her arrival. A friend, Christina Girard, had ratted Soudavar out to the police for allegedly stealing some pricey earrings and a watch from her home and peddling the baubles at a posh Galleria resale shop. Soudavar wound up spending several days in Harris County's five-star jail while authorities investigated her immigration status. She fared better in Judge Jim Wallace's court, pleading guilty to misdemeanor theft in exchange for a year's probation and 80 hours of community service -- all to be served in Paris, France. Quelle horreur!

Bo is his real name, Pumbaa his stage name. Our zoo was able to acquire the five-year-old critter from a Denver zoo with a little help from Disney. The corporation felt, not unreasonably, that the Lion King franchise would benefit if thousands of parents dragged their offspring past his pen and said, "Look, it's Pumbaa." An actual warthog, however, offers more lessons than the flatulent fictional beast. Warthogs take no guff from anyone. Not on the savanna -- in their natural habitat warthogs use their impressive tusks to drive cheetahs away from fresh kills. Not in the zoo -- he interacts well with his keepers, but Bo is sometimes shirty with his pygmy hippo neighbors. Though slimmer and leggier than your average pig, the warthog is no beauty and entirely unconcerned about appearance. Most mornings, Bo can be seen trotting around his pen with his puny tail -- in characteristic warthog style -- straight up in the air. Despite his double-ugly name, a warthog is happy as long as he has mud for wallowing and plenty of grasses and tubers for nibbling.
Drag. Some have attempted to explain the source of the word as Shakespearean. Bard Willie would often leave the costume directions "dressed as girl" in his scripts. Others say it's a reference to cross-dressing actors' long frocks dragging across the stage. The roots of the word (bleached, highlighted, tinted or otherwise) we may never know, but quite a few fellas have a grand old time in the spangled, feather boa'd world of transvestism. But when should a tranny be a tranny, and when should a tranny don a wardrobe of masculine plain-olds? That's the question our fave dragster faced this year. Rusty Mueller, and his elegant, extravagant alter ego, Crystal Rae Lee Love, were crowned male grand marshal for Houston's Pride Parade. "This is the first time a drag artist who has been chosen grand marshal has been given the option to be either persona in the parade. Before, they had to go as a man. It was gender-specific," explains Mueller in the June issue of OutSmart Magazine. At the parade, we were a tad disappointed to learn that Crystal chose to bow out gracefully and defer to Rusty. Not that there's anything wrong with Rusty, that tall drink of water. His drag persona is just such so lovely and elegant. She looks like a film star from the glamorous '30s or '40s, so it's difficult to believe there's a soft-spoken, flat-topped gentleman who works in the insurance industry beneath the wig and makeup. Never judge a book by its cover. Don't get the wrong idea from Mueller's choice. Crystal Rae Lee Love has not retired. As she puts it, "I am the empress who won't step down."

Gina Gaston tried for the big time, leaving Houston three years ago to take a job with MSNBC in New York, and ended up coming back last year. Given how few people tune in to MSNBC these days, she probably got out while the getting was good. At any rate, Houston's been the better for it -- Gaston has an electric smile and a welcoming presence that livens up Channel 13's afternoon broadcasts. The 36-year-old California native has a bright future at the station, unless the siren song of the East Coast calls again.

What does a city full of businesspeople need? How about a radio station that follows the stock market? Brent Clanton's morning drive-time show updates listeners on yesterday's market movement so they'll be ready for the opening bell. Street Talk, the afternoon drive-time show with investment planner-financial adviser Lance Roberts, wraps up the trading day and provides more specific stock and market trend advice. Sandwiched between those weekday financial heroes are all kinds of helpful programs, from stock and fund shows to the popular Dave Ramsey, who advises folks on how to get rid of their credit cards and stay out of debt. Weekends offer everything from a fitness program to the only show about advertising for advertisers. The caustically witty two-hour event called The Ad Show actually proves entertaining to the layperson as well, with vintage commercials played between breaks.

Wayne Dolcefino has become a brand name in Houston -- the name that government bureaucrats hate to see on their "While You Were Out" message pads. His melodramatic touches can be a bit much -- and Lord knows he doesn't need to do anymore strip-club pieces -- but the fact is Dolcefino, 45, comes up with some impressive stuff each sweeps month. Whether it's City Hall types wildly overcounting the amount of parkland in Houston, the number of potholes they've allegedly filled or the total of truck-safety violations given, watching Wayne put their feet to the fire is always a cheap thrill.

Where in the world is traffic reporter Susie Loucks (a.k.a. Elaine Closure) after the Clear Channel blowout? (And to make things perfectly clear, she was not fired but replaced by Clear Channel's own in-house traffic service.) These days, you can find her wild and wacky style of traffic reporting on 95.7 FM with Rick Lovett, and on their sister stations Business Radio 650 AM and KILT Sports Radio 610 with John and Lance. Since leaving Sunny 99.1 and Rock KLOL (remember phone sex traffic?), the comely Susie was snatched up by the folks at Infinity Broadcasting, where she now stretches her comedic talents reporting on traffic and weather with her candid, often controversial twist on traffic tie-ups. She often lapses into impersonations. There's Sharon Osbourne, Anna Nicole Smith and her dog Sugar Pie, Cha-Cha Closure and "Kim," her naughty nail technician of sorts. "I've lived in Houston my whole life. Traffic sucks here, so why hype it up and freak people out? Instead, let's have a good laugh," she says. That's our Susie. Often copied, never duplicated. Tune in.


Quick, finish this sentence: "We believe in new beginnings, we..." If you answered "believe in you" without skipping a beat, you are one of the thousands who have gladly been sucked in with one of the best marketing campaigns in Houston history -- that of Lakewood Church. The catchy jingle is the brainchild of Joel Osteen, our pick for best religious leader. Osteen, who took over the position as head pastor when his father, John, passed away a few years ago, has managed to expand the megachurch while retaining the same folksy charm that made him popular in the first place. A modest, quiet man, Osteen concentrates on spreading God's love instead of his damnation, and his sermons are full of feel-good messages that would cheer up even Winnie-the-Pooh's Eeyore. With that approach, it's no wonder the church is bursting at the seams. Next on Osteen's agenda? Shepherding the roughly 30,000 members of the church into Compaq Center.

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