Whether you're going north or south, get your kicks for free anytime you like with hot merging action. Spin out into the frenetic traffic after taking a hairpin curve on this wily on-ramp. Feel your senses come alive with the zooms, whirs and honks of passersby. Recent landscaping on the north side raises the stakes by obscuring the uphill view of other drivers. Think of it as a putt-putt course -- for motorists. Or maybe as a living version of Frogger, and you're the frog, but this time you have your own set of wheels. Take a deep breath, keep both eyes open, check your blind spot and space cushion, and remember: Driving is a privilege. Get yer Fahrvergnügen on, baby. Vin Diesel's got nothing on you.

After Tropical Storm Allison, the Wortham Theater Center, home of the ballet and opera, had six feet of water in its basement. The two bottom floors of the Alley Theatre were totally submerged, ruining the stage, rehearsal hall and electrical systems. Jones Hall, home of Society for the Performing Arts and the Houston Symphony, was so full of water that desks floated away and expensive musical instruments were ruined. But the can-do spirit of the city prevailed, and a little over a year later, things are not only back to normal, they might be better than before. While the cancellation of some performances was inevitable, the arts groups got back on track as soon as possible (the symphony, for example, presented all its summer concerts at substitute locations). Jones Hall reopened in September; the Alley used the opportunity to enlarge its restrooms and lobby and work wonders with its smaller Neuhaus Stage. Under the guidance of Barry Mandel, executive director of the Theater District, and with the assistance of donations and federal funds, the city's arts groups truly embodied that dear old sentiment: The show must go on.

Galveston needed a four-star hotel, and the San Luis gave it one, complete with a truly fabulous steak house (one of the top ten in Texas), a completely redesigned pool area with swim-up bar, and all the little niceties any sophisticate would expect. What you might not expect, but what you do get nonetheless at this upper-crust refuge, is good old-fashioned Texas friendliness. Even the room service attendants remember your name and stop to chat about the weather and what's going on around the island.
If you want to see really funny pictures of your friends, and possibly yourself, making waves in Houston's nightlife, this is the site to visit. There are pages and pages of pics from Houston's clubs and their raucous partyers. From the Lotus Lounge to the Social, you can peruse photo albums of people gettin' jiggy with it. Some of you should log on just to make sure there's no incriminating evidence on you. If you have a friend coming to H-town who's looking for the lowdown on the hottest party spots, send 'em here. It's interesting to see how the nights progress (these pics are not for the faint of heart). If anyone should say Houstonians don't know how to get their groove on, the Pimp will prove them wrong with a bitch-slappin', off-the-hook site.
Face it. Even the friskiest Fido eventually gets bored doing those leg lifts in the same old neighborhood spots. And the Great Dane becomes mundane when marking the same trees day in, day out. The leash, uh, least one can do is break the monotony with a pilgrimage to every mutt's mecca. There's an hour or so drive involved, but that just gives the dog the necessary time to muster up that once-in-a-lifetime leak. Pack him in the car and head east on Interstate 10 to Beaumont; take the downtown exit. Lurking around the corner at the Fire Museum of Texas is every dog's dream. It came all the way from Disneyland, where it was crafted to promote the rerelease of the 101 Dalmatians video. The fiberglass structure has a reinforced interior of 1,000 feet of steel and weighs 4,500 pounds. And the shape? You guessed it. A 24-foot-tall fire hydrant, white with dalmatian dots. Nearly three stories of sheer canine excitement.
The legend is so old that some of the current students don't even know the sordid past of their school's basketball court. But we do. The High School for Performing and Visual Arts is located in the older section of the Montrose that used to be all houses. Legend has it that a couple lived there with their young daughter. When her short life ended, her parents sorrowfully buried her in the backyard. Years passed, the area was developed, and the school was built were the house once stood. The gravestone was removed in the '80s. In the early '90s, when students were still aware of the haunted court, they would sit around the arch and contemplate the fate of the little girl and her grave and try to find some evidence that it was haunted: quiet cries, levitating basketballs, anything spooky. But apparently she is at peace, for nothing out of the ordinary has ever been recorded. It's still there, though, this secret grave of the mysterious girl, so if you're ever playing basketball on that court and the ball is ripped from your hands, it is most likely her. There is also said to be the ghost of a rabbi in the school's Denney Theatre, but that's a different story altogether.
While driving through the maddening traffic of West Gray from Waugh to Montrose, take a turn down Van Buren. What you will find is an enchanting little neighborhood, filled with duplexes, fourplexes, gingerbread houses and pink stucco homes that would fit in well in Bermuda. The residents are mostly young working people on their way up and eccentric folk who make their abodes look magical. One creative resident built a house out of cinder blocks and glass, with a profusion of bonsai trees. Other houses feature Buddhas and tiny ponds in their front yards. Whether you're looking for a place to live or just an interesting locale to meander through one Sunday, take a turn down one of the side streets and enjoy the good vibes.

It was a place for sipping fruity cocktails from the thatched-roof bar by the pool, partying with the band after a great downtown gig, spotting Bill Murray during the filming of Rushmore, watching the fireworks over the bayou on the Fourth of July, getting away from the usual Montrose haunts for a quiet drink on the lush patio and scarfing down the best over-easy eggs in town. But it was not a place, apparently, for making money. Vacancy rates were high, and when Tropical Storm Allison flooded the inn, its owners decided they'd be better off selling the land underneath the 40-year-old landmark. Now, the Allen Park Inn will have to live on in our memories.

Best Place to Wait for Traffic to Die Down


Just around the corner, human temperatures and internal-combustion exhaust rise to a rush-hour crescendo. Travis teems with idling autos, igniting road-rage fuses at the pace of a few feet per minute. Solero, however, is the place that has known how to tame the savage commuter since the antebellum era. It's easy to see why. Chef Arturo Boada's exotic tapas are just the appetizers to sooth any predinner rumblings. And co-owner Bill Sadler, the veteran from the earlier days of the River Café, Café Noche, the Blue Agave and Moose Cafe, has added precisely the delicate expertise to create a most comfortable place to hang. The drinks are reasonable, the service is excellent, and the conversation and cuisine are both fulfilling in this restaurant-bar that radiates with character. Let the motorists all go mad. When the freeways flash with their fury, Solero is the place to find peace. Sanctuary!
As you watch Jennifer Garner kick a guy square in the jaw while wearing thigh-high vinyl boots with that peach of a heinie wrapped in a rubber cocktail dress, do you think to yourself, 'That girl is doing Houston proud'? Probably not, but as the second season of the baffling yet exciting superspy show Alias gets under way, you can be sure that the star of the show is a born-and-bred Houstonian. Yes, she moved to Charleston, West Virginia, when she was a kid, but she's 100 percent bayou stock, and that's what matters, dammit! At a time when a lot of famous natives aren't giving outside folk the impression that this town can send some talented people out into the world, we can be happy that at least one gal -- a Golden Globe-winning gal, mind you -- can leave Houstonians beaming with pride every time she whups up on a guy's ass.

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