Japhet Say the words "Fifth Ward" to most Houstonians, and they'll think crime, poverty and desperation. The neighborhood is infamous in song -- everyone from bluesmen like Juke Boy Bonner to rappers like the Geto Boys has made music about the Bloody Fifth and its perils. The tiny pocket called Japhet may be in the Fifth Ward, but it's not in that Fifth Ward. Train tracks, warehouses, junglelike vegetation and Japhet Creek hem in Japhet's four-square-block haven of ramshackle old wood-frame houses. It's more like a village than anything else -- fragrant organic gardens are everywhere, bursting with vegetables, fruits and flowers, and the whole neighborhood comes together for a big party every full moon.

Ensemble/HCC Keep your fancy downtown fountains. Forget about the convenience of the Medical Center stops, which allow you to forgo the horror of trying to park there. The best station along Metro's light rail line is, hands down, the Ensemble/HCC stop. The "HCC" stands for Houston Community College, an often-overlooked bastion of cultural happenings. But look what else the stop offers within a block or two: highbrow entertainment at the Ensemble Theatre, the city's finest African-American dramatic company; sweaty-browed thrills at the Continental Club, home of the blues, with great local and touring acts; the city's best new hipper-than-thou restaurant, Monica Pope's T'afia; and one of the city's best places for morning eats, the Breakfast Klub. Also, on Saturday mornings, the parking lot at T'afia hosts a gourmet farmers' market for all you hard-to-please foodies. All in all, there are plenty of reasons to get off the train, and isn't that what makes a stop special?

The Astrodome The cavernous old stadium once billed as the "Eighth Wonder of the World" is still embedded in the heads of out-of-towners as a symbol of Houston. So what if it's mostly used for monster-truck demos and high school football games? It's 5,000 metric tons of history in a city with its feet planted firmly in the present. And surely it's better for Houston to be remembered as the home of the first indoor baseball stadium than the home of Enron.

The Galleria At last count, there were approximately 1.8 million stores in this sprawling monument to consumerism. The Galleria is an economic magnet that sucks folks from all kinds of places into its grip. This, combined with the sheer volume of retail outlets, makes the Galleria the prime spot in the region for people-watching. Witness smooching love birds mingling alongside wide-eyed out-of-towners, while uptown fashionistas forage in their native habitat for $500 shoes. With ice-skating couples, stroller-pushing moms and packs of hormone-riddled teens thrown in, there's barely time to blink. But even if you get bored on one floor, hey, there's, like, 150 more!

Best Place to Pretend You're in Blade Runner

Reliant Energy Plaza
Reliant Energy Plaza Houston might not look as futuristic as Tokyo, but that's why we get goose bumps when we wander down to the corner of Lamar and Main. This 783,000-square-foot skyscraper provides a peephole into the future -- a sleek, chic architectural tomorrow, well worth the reported $150 million price of admission. Hypnotic rods of light twinkle up top like a 36-story-tall Vegas slot machine. Down below, at street level, two open shafts cycle through the same gorgeous cascades of color. The light rail is even out in front! It makes you dream of the day when you step out of your ultramodern office pod and inspect a Houston subway map (probably a tangled knot of multicolored lines stretching from Katy to Clear Lake) -- that is, if you don't take the flying car home.

Best Place to Meet Raging Singles

Harris County Civil Courts Building A single woman in Houston is hard to find. At places like Skybar, Dean's and Club Vision, that lonely-looking hottie at the bar is probably waiting for her husband to come back from the bathroom. It's a painful fact for bachelors: Nearly 50 percent of dating-aged women in Houston are married -- a higher portion than in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. But compared to women in these cities, Houstonians are also more likely to be divorced. And fortunately, meeting these fine ladies is a snap in the comfortable, air-conditioned and well-guarded waiting lounge next to the divorce desk in the Harris County Civil Courts Building. As far as courting goes, this building offers major advantages: It's not too smoky, there's no cover charge, and the competition from guys without criminal records is weak at best. So forget clubbing and lend an ear to the fed-up and heartsick, because the just-unmarried life is a single guy's best friend.

Joan Gundermann Making vegetables grow in Houston's clay soil, pest-riddled humidity and searing heat is tough. Doing it without any pesticides or artificial fertilizers is even tougher. So, to the increasing number of people in this city who want locally grown, organic produce, Joan Gundermann is quickly becoming a celebrity. Her 70-acre farm in Wharton County is the only certified-organic outfit in the region, and for 20 years it has consistently grown some of the best-tasting, most unique fruits and vegetables available anywhere. Her freshly picked peaches and tomatoes can't be beat for flavor. Or try one of her more bizarre offerings, such as bright red carrots, purple cauliflower and heirloom kale. You'll find her wares at Central Market or through one of the city's numerous food co-ops. But to catch a fig at its freshest, meet Gundermann in person every Saturday at 3106 White Oak Drive, at the Houston Farmers' Market.

Patricia Hair Woods's cottage A few years ago, attorney Patricia Hair Woods learned that the law firm where she worked, Womble, Cotellesse & Howell, planned to demolish a neighboring Victorian cottage built in the 1890s near the Historic Sixth Ward and replace it with a parking lot. She offered to save the cottage, and embarked on a house-moving project worthy of the Wizard of Oz. "It was the widest house you can move without cutting it up," she says. Employing a tractor trailer in place of a tornado, workers set off on a 90-mile journey across back roads and rural highways. One man rode on the roof and lifted up power lines with a pole so the house could squeeze underneath. When they arrived 18 hours later at Woods's weekend retreat in Anahuac, they gently laid the house on its new plot among 150-year-old oaks and pecan trees. Woods repainted the walls, refinished the floors and preserved the original doors and moldings. Although Houston regrettably lost another historic home, the Texas countryside gained a jewel that could last another century.

Best Reason to Stay in Houston During the Summer

Juneteenth On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army led his troops into the city of Galveston, where he officially proclaimed freedom for slaves in Texas. Many in America's Deep South hadn't yet learned of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, so on this date, the freed slaves of Texas and other parts of the South really celebrated. That night, thousands flooded the streets, rejoicing in their newly announced freedom. The sweet smell of barbecue smoke filled the air. Dancing feet pounded the dirt roads, and harmonic voices sung spirituals. Today the yearly Juneteenth blues festival continues with free concerts at Miller Outdoor Theatre and Hermann Park, organized by the National Emancipation Association. The eats and drinks are out of this world, and the mood can't be topped. It's a great way to celebrate one of Texas's most important holidays.

Bill White He's a lawyer-turned-businessman and Bill Clinton's former deputy secretary of energy. He was able to attract prominent Republicans to his campaign for mayor, and he won 62 percent of the vote in the runoff that got him elected. But who is Bill White? Is he the liberal Clinton appointee fighting to find health insurance money for Houston children, or is he the conservative fighting against his so-called liberal union base to cut the pensions of city employees? Is Mayor White the man willing to take on conservatives with his traffic mobility plans -- including tow-truck regulation -- or the one who shows a willingness to take on the powerful unions -- like the police union -- by appointing outsiders to run departments? The mayor keeps the usually combative City Council under control, and so far he's found a way to appeal to the loyal audiences of Bob Lanier, Lee Brown and the Bushes. But if he ever settles on an identity, that may quickly change.

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