The main attraction at the Boston Market on West Gray is the dancers practicing at the Houston Ballet Academy across the street. Order your chicken lunch and sit down to look through the large window at the performers leaping and limbering up in their rehearsal leotards. But watch out: There are some Boston Market regulars who already know this trick, and they'll give you dirty looks if you take the table with the best view.

Armed with full scholarships to Andover, Exeter, Miss Porter's and other elite schools, graduates of KIPP Academy (a middle school, soon to be K-12) know firsthand that "Knowledge Is Power." Even Kinkaid and St. John's fight over KIPP graduates. KIPP takes kids from Houston's most under-resourced, drug- and gang-ridden neighborhoods and, through high expectations and challenging academic requirements, produces stellar students. New KIPPsters have to sign contracts promising to go to school ten hours a day during the week, on Saturdays and through much of the summer. Why not volunteer to teach an extracurricular class some Saturday to bright, motivated kids? In turn, they'll teach you that knowledge is power indeed.

The name alone will bring merriment to grade schoolers and socially stunted adults worldwide. But this miniature mutated antelope's god-awful territorial habits ensure its place in the Kick-Ass Mammal Hall of Fame. Not much larger than a hare, the male of this African species has a scat fetish so bizarre, it'd make G.G. Allin spin in his grave. Like other critters, this antelope aberration marks its territory with heaping piles of dung, but with a twist: The male dik-dik will paw through the female's feces, then add his own on top, urinating at the same time -- just so outsiders get the point. By the way, they actually say "dik-dik" when they're startled. Yes!
Anyone who lives in the Woodland Heights has probably already seen them, the enormous purple and green dinosaurs tromping across the back wall of Travis Elementary. Thanks to artist and parent extraordinaire Dale Barton, the wild mural, a cartoon dreamscape of prehistoric proportions, is the sort of colorful image that kids and grown-ups can ogle for days. In one corner is a Guitarasaurus Tex, an orange, 15-foot-tall, ax-playing dinosaur. Across a blue sky flies a pterosaur, and in between are frogs, butterflies and all sorts of other critters, some real and some conjured by Barton's kooky imagination. Ediface Rex is available for viewing most anytime but when school is in session.

Why on earth would the struggling U.S. Postal Service want to go and "improve" some of its best attractions -- those old wood-paneled nostalgic post offices of its past -- into cookie-cutter, strip-mall sameness? Thank goodness the old Sam Houston is still around to show younger generations how things used to be. This branch was once the main post office for the city, and it maintains that quiet splendor, with the deep wood paneling and a detailed interior. As for safety, this may be the only branch that had its own metal detector long before 9/11 (that was because of the other federal offices in the building). If that doesn't make going postal a pleasant experience, the staff here reflects an earlier era as well, when personal service was paramount. This is a place that would get anyone's, uh, stamp of approval.

To his neighbors and friends, Andrew Fastow was a good-looking young business executive with an art-loving wife and young children. But inside a corporation chock-full of self-proclaimed piranhas competing to chew the most lucrative deals out of customer hides, Chief Financial Officer Andy prided himself on being the biggest and baddest. "We are Enron and we will tear your face off," he once joked to colleagues. His breathtakingly intricate accounting creations, including one named after his tony Southampton neighborhood, pumped up the company with billions of dollars of nonexistent profits, while siphoning off all-too-real millions to himself and a web of favored colleagues. Fastow made his enterprise a family affair, with wife and fellow Enron employee Lea involved in the shady bookkeeping. His two children were even used as conduits for kickbacks, according to subordinate Michael Kopper, who pleaded out with the feds. Fastow now faces nearly 100 felony counts ranging from conspiracy to money laundering, with a possible sentence of more than 1,000 years. The feds filed six counts of tax evasion on Lea. In typical Enron style, when Andy went bad, he did it on a scale larger than life.
There's something about walking into a polling place that just makes you feel like a good citizen. There you are, doing your best to select from among the candidates, acting informed even if you really aren't. So what better place to perform such a civic duty than a schoolhouse, especially such a classic, old-fashioned-looking one as Edgar Allan Poe Elementary? Tucked inside the lovely Museum District, this Philip Ewald-designed school exudes such a patriotic vibe you feel like saluting when you walk in the front door. Sure, it's named after an alcoholic writer, not some founding father. But when you toss in the delicious baked goods and coffee on sale every Election Day, the name doesn't much matter.

This 60-year-old civil rights and anti-apartheid activist-turned-elected official continues to amaze observers with her energy, grassroots common sense and a service ethic reflected in her diverse young staff. Her district is an ethnic and cultural rainbow stretching from black precincts in Sunnyside to heavily gay Montrose, and Edwards has made everybody feel at home in her office. In contrast to the political pretensions of predecessor Jew Don Boney, Edwards has put the down-home back into District D while winning over colleagues with a no-nonsense, respectful presence at the council table. Other councilmembers have made like political jumping beans, seeking new positions before their current seats are even warm. Not Edwards, who says she wants to stay in her district till retirement while training a new generation to step into her shoes. If she finds even one like her, the city will count itself lucky.

Like his mentor, former state rep Paul Colbert, Hochberg has developed a reputation in Austin as a master legislative technician, focusing on the explosive public school finance issue. He's also a tough political survivor who was forced by Republican-controlled redistricting to move out of District 132 into the more GOP-friendly 137. Fellow Houston Dems Debra Danburg and Ken Yarbrough did not survive redistricting as the GOP took control of the state House for the first time since reconstruction. Hochberg easily won over GOP opponent Dionne Roberts, who blundered by issuing campaign materials attacking him on personal issues. While Democratic colleagues including Sylvester Turner and Ron Wilson stayed in Austin, Hochberg was a ringleader in the flight of the "Killer Ds" to Ardmore, Oklahoma, which effectively stymied a congressional redistricting plan in the regular legislative session. If the Dems had more savvy suburban operators like Hochberg, they might never have lost the House to begin with.
Whenever a political stew is brewing involving Houston's left and right wings, expect to find the hand of this West University-based swami stirring the pot. Along with his wife and fund-raising partner, Elizabeth, Allen Blakemore is a force in next fall's supposedly nonpartisan Houston municipal races. He's strategizing for first-term councilman Michael Berry in an increasingly bitter guerrilla war against former councilman Orlando Sanchez for the hearts and votes of conservative Republicans. Blakemore has a built-in advantage there, having served for years as the Sancho Panza for westside political kingmaker Dr. Steven Hotze. He's also coordinating the strategy of area conservatives to win a majority on the 15-member council in November. When Democrats mounted a full-court press last year in an attempt to crack the GOP stranglehold on Harris County judgeships, Blakemore joked that the Democratic county chairperson Sue Schechter "may be liable for deceptive trade practices," adding, "She is going to lead these poor souls to slaughter, and it's going to end up being a cruel joke." After the Dem judicial slate and the vaunted statewide "Dream Team" crashed and burned, and Schechter resigned, only Blakemore was still standing to savor the joke.

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