When the good old days turned bad, American Red Cross volunteers were familiar sights at the scenes of tragedies -- the tornadoes or hurricanes or floods that rocked the Bayou City. Now add to that the new global era, when disasters are both natural and man-made. The Red Cross is still on call. When families here have emergencies and need to communicate with their U.S. soldier relatives in Iraq or Korea or Africa, the Red Cross can help. And the impressive list goes on: Travelers Aid, service projects for youngsters, care for VA patients, even tracking missing relatives and aiding refugees. Whether the misfortunes are local or global, give this agency credit for being there and ready to help in an instant.

Landry's Downtown Aquarium
A Ferris wheel, a train ride, a carousel, dancing fountains and tanks loaded with hundreds of fish -- what more could a kid ask for? This virtual theme park in the Theater District offers a whole afternoon of child-friendly thrills. Think of it as a good, centrally located alternative to Six Flags. The sound and smell effects inside the Aquarium's Amazon River and Mayan Temple attractions intrigue kids in a Disneyesque manner. And little ones can dine at boatlike tables and watch continuous movie clips in the informal downstairs restaurant. Thanks to the Landry's ownership, the food's not bad either.

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.

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