Best Place to Wait for Traffic to Die Down

Solero

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.
The architect's architect, Carlos Jimenez is a local lad -- graduated from the University of Houston, tenured at Rice -- of Puerto Rican extraction, who unfortunately is better known outside of Houston. With a slew of awards, visiting professor positions, competitions to which he has been invited, exhibitions and published articles, this young designer should be doing a lot more work right here in Texas. There are a lucky few, in River Oaks and Montrose, who live in houses he designed. For the rest of us, his work is best seen at the spacious yet functional Museum of Fine Arts Administration Building, arguably his best work outside the Spencer Studio Art Building at Massachusetts' Williams College.

Back not so long ago, when Ken Lay was God in Houston and Enron was regarded as a collection of corporate geniuses rather than crooks, David Berg helped torpedo a city push to award a billion-dollar wastewater plant contract to an Enron subsidiary. As chairman of the Houston Area Water Commission, the veteran criminal and civil attorney detected a fishy smell coming from the direction of Enron's Smith Street headquarters. The corporation's negotiators had refused to guarantee subsidiary Azurix's billion-dollar debt load, a position Berg found inexplicable if Enron's public financial statement was accurate. As a result, he refused to buckle under pressure from city officials and opposed Azurix's bid. The plant contract went to other bidders, sparing the city embarrassment and expense when Enron collapsed months later after disclosing it had reported a mountain of debt as profits. Too bad hawk-eyed Berg wasn't sitting on the Enron board of directors when members gave the green light for the conduct of officials that brought the company down and gave employees and shareholders a very cold Christmas indeed.
1600 SmithThe 732-foot sparkling white Continental building, designed by Morris-Aubry, is a Houston hallmark. But we bet you don't know who Fujitec America Inc. is. Give up? It's the company responsible for the building's lovely elevators. These babies will take you all the way to the 53rd floor in style. Fujitec's simple motto is "The World's Smoothest Riding Elevators" -- and they aren't kidding. The swooping ride is so polished you could pour yourself a cup of tea while the car is in motion and you wouldn't spill a drop. Not that you'll have time to drink it; the elevators are too fast for that. And to top it off, the Continental cars are equipped with mini television screens that keep riders updated on the latest news and stock quotes, so there's no need for that collective silent stare at the floor number that we're all so familiar with.

Best Place to Take a Stroll with Your Camera

Glenwood Cemetery

If you're looking for a quiet, peaceful place to take a walk and snap a few pics, you can't do much better than Glenwood Cemetery. The final resting place for some of Houston's most famous names, including billionaire Howard Hughes, Glenwood boasts a collection of gorgeous monuments scattered over its manicured hills (yes, there are hills in Houston). Zoom in on one of the sculptures of forlorn angels, or focus your wide-angle lens on the skyline looming over the rows of grave markers. Let your creativity guide you. Just be sure to pack plenty of film.
Who'da thunk it? This modest Montrose favorite has the ass-kickingest soundtrack around. You can sniff the ripe mangos to Blood Sweat & Tears, grab a six-pack of Sierra Nevada while jamming to Stevie Wonder, and squeeze the Charmin while gettin' your Beatles on. And there's no Muzak in this joint -- oh, no -- just like the Coke you're buying, it's the real thing, baby. We've also heard the Pretenders, Pulp Fiction's "Jungle Boogie," Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good to Me So Far" and the original "Goin' to a Go-Go" while crossing those items off our list. Sometimes we stop in just to shake our groove thing.

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.

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