Stressed? Tired? Tired of feeling stressed and tired? Walk past all the people on blankets soaking up the sun in the boring part of the park and stroll into the Japanese gardens. There's a suggested donation, but we've yet to see someone sitting in the booth. When you walk in, there are little pagodas and rock gardens and beautiful flowers. Beyond lies a little hill with waterfalls flowing by a serenity pond and reflection pool. The place looks like the cover shot for a book of haikus. There are footbridges galore, and little baby ducks following their mothers. It's a peaceful, shady, tree-laden place to stare at the water and try to think Zen thoughts.

All right, all right. We know what you're thinking. But remember, this is the issue where we're supposed to be nice. And anyway, who fits this award better? Linda Lay knew she wasn't winning any fans after her Tammy Faye Bakker moment on the Today show ("We've lost everything!"). So rather than continue the pity-me route, Lay took the much more American approach. She picked herself up by her Fendi bootstraps and started Jus' Stuff, a resale shop in Montrose. The store is full of all sorts of items once officially owned by one of Houston's most favorite families -- and there really are items the public can afford. From lamps to tables to little knickknacks, here's a chance to get your hands on a curio from one of this city's biggest stories. And come on, you've got to hand it to the gal for trying.

This is how bank lobbies are supposed to be: gilded, titanic, chock-full of patterned marble and with a ceiling as soaring as a newly minted MBA's ambition. The ceiling of this grand banking hall is a full six stories above the worker ants below. It's clear that Jesse Jones -- at whose behest this majestic edifice and more than 100 other buildings were built -- was not one to think small, and it shows not just in the lobby but also in the exterior of this Gothic skyscraper. Don't forget to check out the historical art deco murals in the lobby's entrance halls -- the retro-futuristic one depicting what must by now be the past is pretty hilarious.
The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa
This is where the rich people go. The place looks like a plantation. As soon as you drive up under the towering oaks, you expect someone to rush out and hand you a mint julep or a big straw hat and a cane. This is a place where the locker rooms have fluffy towels, robes and fresh fruit. Sneak in and sit in front of the 30-foot hand-carved stone fireplace and pretend you're staying in this four-star hotel, living the life the other half lives. Dream a little dream of luxury.
The best T-shirt we saw all summer was "Purple What?" Targeting the Willy Wonka-esque theme of rapper Big Moe's "Purple Stuff" video, it featured a purple Oompa Loompa pouring a cup of lean, or drank, or whatever the hell you wanna call it on the floor. On the back was a poem eloquently revealing the evils of the notorious cocktail. ("Welch's grape and bussin' Tussin / mixed to careless killer thickness / the last thang Black folks need / is subliminal chemical degradation.") Both the words and the shirt are the work of local poet-designer Deep Blu See, who also makes personalized tees out of his Liquid Soul Studios company. The "Purple What?" caught the eye of many. Hopefully they grasped the long-overdue message the shirt was trying to convey. Not since the "Die Yuppie Scum" T-shirt of the early 1990s has a piece of clothing become such a fashion and social statement.

No, diversity isn't the name of a bar or restaurant or nightclub or coffeehouse or loft or even theater or sports stadium. But it applies to them all and more. And that's the ultimate attraction of a downtown that's alive. With the central city's growth (under those clouds of construction dust), no one or two clubs or eateries can lay claim as the ultimate magnet -- indeed, no one sector or group can do it, either. Our downtown is emblematic of a city that has really come together. Where else does an Astros fan belly up to a bar for a postgame beer and wind up befriending the martini couple closing out an evening after the opera? How about the businesswoman kicking back with the bohemian set? The homeless can even remind the high-rollers about the realities of the world -- something that doesn't happen in The Woodlands. There are plenty of good cafes and bars far away from Houston's heart -- but no outlying area can come close to the variety that underscores downtown's vitality. If the city has any sense, it will protect this diversity that makes a trip into town so delightful and dynamic.
It took you three weeks, but you finally worked up the nerve to ask for his number, that sexy hunk at the gym. And you were thinking the hard part was over. But wait! You still have to woo him with your natty clothes, wow him with your classy ride and wallop him with your fabulous taste in dining. You want a second date, don't you? We suggest you slip into a little black dress, roll by and pick him up in your shiny-clean wheels and escort him to Aries, Scott Tycer's showplace of culinary magic on Montrose. With choices such as three-onion brioche bread pudding with confit of tomato, whole branzino in salt crust with asparagus, and Evil Chocolate Overlord Cake, you can't fail to impress the man. Aries has won the hearts of national critics and local diners alike with its upscale American cuisine. Maybe with Tycer's help you can win your date's heart, too.

Art Car Museum
With its gleaming silver spindles, strips of barbed wire surrounding the front door and a big red "look over here" star affixed to its roof, the Art Car Museum is hardly the staid sort of building that pops into one's mind at the mention of the word museum. But its collected set of beautiful art cars is uniquely Houston, and a perfect place to take guests who associate this city with only Enron. Not that it's just an art car collection. The museum, founded in 1998, makes a concerted effort to bring unusual avant-garde art from all over the globe to our hometown -- although a fair share of local artists have exhibited here as well. And here's a bit of trivia: The Art Car is probably one of the few museums in America to receive a visit from the FBI after September 11 (see "Quirky Yes, Al Qaeda No," by Jennifer Mathieu, November 15, 2001). Seems someone thought their avant-garde "Secret Wars" exhibit was some sort of terrorist threat. In the end, the feds deemed the exhibit just really weird, so you know it's gotta be good.
"Do you remember when I was an elephant? The elephant is always here!" It's a familiar set of phrases for any woman who has used the facilities on Rudyard's first floor. (For the uninitiated, the elephant is the coat hook on the back of the bathroom door, with ears and a body penciled in to make him look like a pachyderm.) The homey pub on Waugh is not just a spot for a Shiner and a burger. It's also a great place to read. Just check out the bathroom walls. From poetry ("Don't bother to hover above the seat, the crabs in here can jump ten feet!") to political debates to a long line of cartoon people sketched on the wall of the second-floor women's restroom, every winner of bar graffiti is covered. You might end up spending most of the night on the can instead of on a bar stool. The best part is that Rudyard's is always repainting its bathroom walls, regularly leaving a fresh canvas for the masses to express themselves.

Ted Callaway is the kind of landlord who leaves flowers in the apartment on move-in day and drops off a bottle of wine for your housewarming party. But that's not why we're naming him Best Landlord. He gets the honor for the buildings he has bought and preserved: ramshackle old Victorians and beautiful brick retail centers from the 1920s. He'd probably make more money off his properties if he tore down the existing structures to make way for parking lots and town homes, but Callaway wouldn't dream of it. As developers try to turn Midtown into a faux French Quarter in the form of Calais at Cortlandt Square, Callaway is preserving the real history of the neighborhood.

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