Sam Farha didn't win the World Series of Poker this year or last year, but that doesn't mean he hasn't made it big at the table. The Lebanon native, who's called Houston home for 20 years, has made a very, very good living playing cards. A second-place finish at the 2003 WSOP netted him $1.3 million, and he just keeps on chugging. Not everyone can understand the appeal of watching guys play cards on TV, but the explosive popularity of the game has made superstars out of people like Farha, and he's riding the wave for all it's worth.
When Jeanne Parr ran for county treasurer in 2002, she told voters all about her experience as a lay minister and Sunday school teacher, her work with 4-H Club kids and the time she was named Outstanding Leader of Fort Bend County. What she didn't mention was her gambling problem. It turns out Parr had quite the jones, taking weekly trips to Louisiana and eventually dropping at least $46,000. What's a county treasurer to do? If you're Jeanne Parr, you start stealing from a 4-H Club bank account. Parr pleaded guilty to writing checks to herself to cover her losses and got five years' deferred adjudication and a 14-day jail sentence. "I never did ever plan to harm anyone or a child," she told the court, which kind of left the impression things just happened on their own. She also resigned her office, of course, thus ending a brief but exciting political career.
Readers' choice: Lea Fastow
So far, the whole Houston "Third Coast" rap thing has been a largely male phenomenon. For every Beyonce, there are two or three Mike Joneses or Lil' Flips. Brooke Valentine is trying to change that, and she's gotten off to a hot start. She's teamed with Big Boi from OutKast for the hit "Girlfight" and with the late, lamented ODB for "Blah Blah Blah." The 19-year-old from the southwest side doesn't just take handouts, though -- she wrote or co-wrote every song on her debut album, Chain Letter. No one knows yet whether she's got staying power or is a flavor of the month, but right now it's definitely Valentine's day.
When you have a first date with someone, it's best to gather as much information about the person as quickly as possible. A date to the Houston Zoo should teach you plenty in just one visit. You'll get answers to some major questions without having to invest in conversation. For example, you can observe if your date likes kids, animals and the outdoors. Does your potential mate have the patience to deal with crowds and a high-energy scene like the zoo, or will the poor thing get stressed out? Can your arm candy read a map? And if you can't stand even a few hours with the person, remember: It's easy to lose someone in the crowd at the zoo.
Readers' choice: Skyline Bar & Grill
Hotel ICON
It's terrible to break someone's heart, but sometimes a relationship just isn't meant to be. If you've got dumping to do, make it happen somewhere luxurious. After downing a little liquor at the Whiskey Bar, order your date a delicious lamb chop at Bank -- it will make the bad news easier to swallow. And we're all familiar with how awesome breakup sex is, so lead the dumpee up into one of Hotel Icon's glamorous guest rooms. Good meal, bad news, and one last "special" good-bye.
Readers' choice: Starbucks
In the worst of ways, Talmadge Heflin looked unbeatable: Endorsed by the Houston Chronicle, he'd logged seemingly as many years in the Texas House of Representatives as Palpatine had commanded the Galactic Empire, and the flab in his double chin was exceeded only by the corporate flab in his war chest. Democratic challenger Hubert Vo commanded a fraction of the funds -- and of the English language. Vo had been a refugee from Vietnam-turned-bootstrapping convenience store clerk; a busboy, phone book proofreader and machinist; and a scrappy small-business man-cum-Alief strip mall magnate -- but never a politician. No matter: As the Houston Press predicted, Vo won based on sheer hard work and a sense that Alief needed someone who was in touch with its evolving Asian community. He became the first Vietnamese-American elected to the Texas House, and he proved that democracy can still win in America, even in gerrymandered Texas.
Okay, this is technically cheating, since Barry Scheck is based out of NYC, but screw it: Scheck's Innocence Project helped get two wrongly convicted Texans out of prison last year. One of them was George Rodriguez, a Houston man who served 17 years for allegedly raping a 14-year-old girl. (Since other prisoners consider child-rapists the lowest of the low, we can only wonder what prison was like for him.) Rodriguez was convicted in part by HPD's crime lab magicians -- you know, the guys who admitted to falsifying evidence and lying on the stand. This is the same HPD that tripped over 250 boxes of misplaced evidence two years ago, some of which pertain to capital cases. But Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal opposed a moratorium on such cases. He told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee in January that he can sleep well at night. Scheck was the sole voice of reason in addressing the committee. Sitting between the two dudes he helped free, he told the committee that, you know, maybe there should be, like, some oversight and accountability and stuff. You know, just an idea. And then we're sure he got the fuck out of Texas.

Best Place to Get Screwed, Blued and Tattooed

Surf Shack

Taste is all in the mouth here in the land of "Beers, Babes and Waves." Nearly naked women on carpeted pedestals along with massive drink specials are the main attractions for the backward-ball-cap crowd, but the thing that really makes the Surf Shack unique is the presence on the premises of Nice Guy Tattoos, poised with needles at the ready to desecrate the living flesh of any patron possessing the required cash and blood alcohol level. It's a night you won't soon forget, at least not without painful corrective surgery.
There's not a Houstonian alive who doesn't know this human oddity's name and freakish visage. To a Houston transplant, the first Zindler sighting is one of those occasions where you question reality, the existence of a fair and merciful God, and your eyesight. Could that dude really look like that? Was he in The Dark Crystal? What's going on behind those outrageous blue shades? Does he have eyeballs? Is he really that tan? Does he smell like formaldehyde? You're frozen, watching this refugee from Ripley's help a little old lady from Pasadena get free denture cream or something. And then, before you know it, it happens: the crude graphics signaling something this 82-year-old shrieking banshee calls "The Big S." "What did they have? All together, gang: SLIME IN THE ICE MACHINE!" After all these years, it's still the best thing on television, and we can only hope Zindler's into cryogenics, because we want his re-(re-?)animated corpse delivering these reports forever.
Readers' choice: Marvin Zindler
For too many years, Houston school superintendents have depended on spin to save them from problems. Abelardo Saavedra, finishing his first year in the position at HISD, has shown a welcome ability to deal with controversy rather than just duck it. He addressed persistent stories about widespread cheating on standardized tests at some schools and created an office of inspector general to investigate future complaints. Even more shocking, he's de-emphasizing those tests as much as possible, trying to steer HISD away from the philosophy of "teaching the test and nothing else." He's toughened seventh-grade English classes, made pre-K available for all eligible kids and reorganized the district's hardened bureaucracy. He's had some missteps -- trying to privatize three black high schools and proposing what critics called cuts in math and science requirements -- but he's out there trying things. And the school board doesn't always approve, which makes for more entertainment, and better government, at what used to be rubber-stamp meetings.

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