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.
There was a time several decades ago when Houstonians bore their city's brute industrialism with pride rather than shame. We bragged about the black gold we refined. On the stench of this process, we just told sneering outsiders, "That's the smell of money, buddy." Those days are long gone, as the forlorn observation deck at the highest navigable point on the Houston Ship Channel attests. No more do we take our children to watch the action on the wharves, as the massive cranes unload the produce of America's breadbasket onto freighters destined for God knows where. Seven out of ten westside Houstonians, to hazard a wild guess, probably couldn't even find the headwaters of that bayou-on-'roids we call the Ship Channel without navigational aids, and that's a pity. As conventionally unpretty as it is, since 1914 it's been the very soul of our city, and it's so ugly it takes on a kind of fearsome beauty all its own.
So the bloom's gone off the rose, has it? Her laughter has become annoyingly loud. She ends every sentence with a verbal question mark. You can't bear to watch another episode of Sex and the City. It's time for you to move on. But you also have a healthy fear of public humiliation -- and loneliness. So take her somewhere noisy, crowded and brimming with energy: Jillian's. With a raucous bowling alley upstairs and myriad video games down, plus food, drinks and dancing till 2 a.m., Jillian's is the perfect place to start your single life. And with a dozen pool tables, it's also a great place to make a clean break.

Best Houstonian You Didn't Know Was a Houstonian

Jeff Martin

You're probably saying to yourself, "Who the hell is Jeff Martin?" Well, there's a good chance the man, a highly successful television comedy writer, has made you laugh on more than one occasion. After all, this is a former Houstonian (and former AstroWorld employee) who started out writing for that temple of subversive, relentlessly hilarious comedy, Late Night with David Letterman. After he left that show, he immediately jumped over to The Simpsons, penning some of the show's most memorable episodes. (Remember when Marge stars in a theater production of A Streetcar Named Desire? That was his.) And we're not pointing him out now in hopes that he'll read this and send the entire staff of the Houston Press copies of the Simpsons' second season, just released on DVD. We're just glad to say he's one of us. We wouldn't be so shallow as to ask for such a thing, over here at the Houston Press, 1621 Milam, Suite 100, Houston, Texas 77002.
4739 Buck RoadTucked at the end of Buck Road in the Fifth Ward is the oddest but coolest shotgun house in Texas. World-renowned Houston artist Bert Long, known to many for his massive public ice sculptures, lives there with his partner Joan Batson, a painter from Scotland. The house, rehabbed as part of a thesis project by Rice University architecture student Brett Zamore, was built in the 1920s. The 950-square-foot space is actually two shotgun houses merged into one. The wooden wall that once separated them is still there, and so are the sliding bathroom doors. And the corrugated tin roof is a close match to the original. The space is small, but Long and Batson have done their best to utilize every nook. Ivy covers exposed beams, and the art inside is rotated so often the place is almost a miniature museum. In the large backyard is a well-tended garden where Long grows watermelons, tomatoes and five kinds of eggplant, which he regularly gives away to students at the local elementary school and to neighbors on his street. Long, who grew up in the Fifth Ward, says the house is a way of connecting him to his past. And it sure is cozy, too.
As the fall TV season approaches, the ultimate worth of Houston Medical remains under debate. But one thing is certain: The media has picked up on our Med Center excellence. Case in point: Fortune magazine, that bastion of biz lists, heralded St. Luke's Episcopal Health System as one of the nation's top 100 places to work. The chronicle of commerce cited St. Luke's generous benefits and compensation (the starting salary for a day nurse is $42,636) and a "commitment to teamwork." Rather than a cheap "cake and ice cream day," St. Luke's throws an employee appreciation week, featuring massages, karaoke contests and snazzy polo shirts. The hospital system even threw a "Fun Fest" for employees when it was named to Fortune's list. But it is perhaps the staff's performance during Tropical Storm Allison, when nurses waded through waist-deep water to salvage food for patients, and staff formed "human chains" to funnel medical supplies through 25 flights of stairwells, that admitted St. Luke's to the winner's circle.

Usually the animals aren't up to much. Anybody ever seen one of those gators so much as blink? Some time back, it was even revealed that one of the snakes in the reptile house was made of rubber, and nobody cottoned on for more than a year. Far more fascinating is the people-watching at this cheapest and most democratic of local attractions, and one of the few places in the heart of town where one can see lots of tourists, both foreign and domestic. Some come from farther away than others. While any given day finds the parking lot full of cars from Louisiana and Oklahoma, if you had been there one special day in 1997, you could have rubbed elbows at the giraffe pen with the black-turbaned Taliban leadership, who visited the zoo as guests of Unocal in happier times.

Hit the southern tip of the Piney Woods of East Texas and turn the car north through the town of Kountze. As the Sonic and the Dairy Queen dissolve in the rearview mirror, the highway takes on a rural tone. And just beyond the city limits, the humble shrine shows itself ever so briefly at 60 mph. Roadside weeds suddenly disappear into perhaps a 20-yard plot of freshly mown green grass. Sunk into the rich loam of soil is the white Styrofoam cross, embedded with dark roses. Local law enforcement officers say it was here that a "young fella" lost his life in an auto accident. And the family and friends return regularly, intent on preserving his memory. The personalized arrangement of flowers on the cross spells out his name, a beloved moniker in these parts: Bubba. Relatives can't forget him -- motoring strangers don't, either.

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