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.
Why let a little thing like a lack of belief in God keep you from going to church? The Houston Church of Freethought has been hosting monthly services, minus the religion, since 2000. Sunday-school sermons can cover such topics as the inclusion of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance or Darwin's theory of evolution. Just because you've strayed from the flock doesn't mean you see no benefit in belonging to a herd. There still exists the human need to share a little coffee and conversation with like-minded folks.

Some BBBs have standards that hardly go beyond mounting membership plaques correctly. And Houston has historically lagged behind more progressive areas in policing scam artists. But the current aggressive bureau has stepped in repeatedly to warn naive consumers about schemes and scams before they can be ripped off. The feat is due in large part to Dan Parsons. The former radio newsman is new to the BBB's president/CEO position, but he's a seasoned warrior (2003 will be his 20th year with the bureau) in the trenches against fraud. With new programs such as a the "Scam Jam Festival" for young consumers, the BBB is educating new generations in smart consumerism. And with Parsons's refreshing tell-it-like-it-is approach to the BBB's crusade, the agency will be ensured unquestioned credibility and results for a long time to come. Move over, Marvin Zindler. Dan's the Man in these parts.

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