Local Republicans are a pretty predictable lot -- they're against everything, and they're against it loudly and insistently. Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt is right with them when it comes to being anti, whether it's light rail or the latest property-tax scheme. But instead of frothing at the mouth and trying to outshout everyone, Bettencourt takes another route: He calmly produces reams of paper factually backing up his opinions. You may not agree with those opinions, but you can discuss them with Bettencourt without feeling you've been harassed and insulted. Bettencourt isn't exactly loaded with charisma -- what tax assessor-collector is? -- but if Houston ever decided it wanted a politician who steps back from the circus atmosphere, Bettencourt would be a wise choice.
Readers' choice: Tom DeLay
The Rothko Chapel is nondenominational, and the various religious texts on the table by its door attest to that, but we can't help feeling that in there everything is Zen. (Damn, did we just paraphrase a lyric from one of the worst bands ever? Sorry, we'll try not to let it happen again.) Mark Rothko's large, dark paintings present the worshiper with a retreating void, a negative space that sucks up all the outside world's troubles. Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk, dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., provides further solace for the weary urban dweller, so long as there aren't too many stoned teenagers hanging around, staring at themselves in its reflecting pool. Hey, you can't blame them for not wanting to come down from this cloud. (Damn. Sorry.)
So you're driving along U.S. 59 when, through the clutter of billboards, you see it: a grand piano, perched precariously on a pole 108 feet above the ground. Chances are, your first thought is "Does that thing really play?" And your second thought is probably "Either way, that's pretty damn cool." Erected in 1973, when the music store was called Holcombe-Lindquist, the metal piano is 15 feet long and nine feet wide. It even has a faux keyboard, with 88 black and white keys. Store co-founder Russell Lindquist says when the Houser Neon Sign Company showed him and business partner Don Holcombe their miniature model of the sign, "It was so overwhelming that we couldn't not go along with it." The 1973 installation and 1978 improvements cost a total of $153,000. In its heyday, it revolved and was lit up with neon. But even if it doesn't revolve anymore, it's still one of the coolest signs in the city.
We're not saying that it only takes a pretty face to be a good TV reporter. We're not saying that notorious "Railcar Killer" Angel Maturino Resendiz had anything other than Cynthia Hunt's austere professionalism on his mind when he sent her exclusive jailhouse letters that were ultimately subpoenaed for his trial. We're not saying it was one of the most bizarre moments in local broadcast journalism when the former University of Alabama homecoming queen donned a fat suit to show how rudely fat shoppers -- or at least shoppers in fat suits -- are treated. What we're saying is that people might forget that behind those down-home good looks lurks an actual reporter. She tracked down Charles Barkley when he was actin' the crybaby in seclusion; that interview aired on ESPN. She broke the story of an ersatz astronaut who bluffed his way into NASA. Her interview with Andrea Yates's family and her investigation into the their preacher wound up on Good Morning America. It's about time she was recognized for her reporting skills, and not just for how oddly good she looks in a fat suit. In August, Hunt resigned from KPRC to become an "independent television and video producer," general manager Steve Wasserman told the Houston Chronicle. Cynthia, we hardly knew ye!
This rolling, blaring work of art pops up at just about every social-justice event in town. Crafted out of a wheeled trash can, powered by a car battery and equipped with some big-ass speakers, the TAZmaniac Sound System has become one of the activist community's most efficient means of raising a ruckus. (Hell, the thing pumps out enough bass to make a lowrider jealous.) Whether it's playing funk music or broadcasting a demonstrator's voice, this boombox instantly signals the creation of a Temporary Autonomous Zone, all the while reminding us of how much waste we produce. (When's the last time you recycled?) TAZ's owners prefer to remain anonymous, and we can respect that, so long as they promise to keep pumping out the jams.
In this tucked-away glade of oaks, magnolias and granite markers, pockets of heavily manicured grass slump before the memorials of a thousand varieties. A grief-stricken angel is collapsed across a "Hill." Above an eight-foot Celtic cross a mockingbird dances in the Spanish moss, singing lightly of those things the dead no longer can. Here on the edge of downtown lies a who's who of Houston's history. From aviator Howard Hughes to Anson Jones, the republic's last chief, the names are known to all in H-town -- at least as dedicated strips of decaying asphalt. There are Elgins and Binzes, Bakers and Allens. But more rewarding than the names involved is the cumulative impact of this collection born of despair and devotion: acres upon acres of condensed architectural styles ranging from the classical references of ancient Rome and Greece to Victorian, Egyptian revival and even some daring postmodern examples. Dating back to 1871, the headstones and mausoleums of the Glenwood dead offer the still sentient another avenue for exploring our past: through the remembrance of those who went before. And tales of otherworldly encounters abound at this historic burial ground.
When J.W. Link, attorney and former mayor of Orange, developed the Montrose neighborhood in 1910 (or 1911, depending on whom you ask), he probably had no idea it would become a sanctuary for artists, hipsters, teenage runaways and gay nightclub owners. Named after a Scottish port town, the area's eponymous boulevard is home to some of the city's finest restaurants, museums, galleries, bars and architecture. Here's just a sampling of what Montrose will take you past, heading north from Hermann Park: museums for contemporary and fine arts; the University of St. Thomas; Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral; the Black Labrador's walk-on chessboard; Condoms Galore; the swanky Colombe d'Or banquet hall; Niko Niko's heavenly gyros; and the world's most surreal Kroger (trust us).
Yes, it's almost 30 years old, but you can still catch it every so often, and longtime Houston residents are sure to crack a smile when they hear the immortal line, "We put the YEEEE-HAWWW back in your motor and transmission!" It's like a mini-movie: There's romance, action, suspense and a theme song you can't get out of your head. "If yer transmission's got yew down / Or yer motor falls apart / It's the time to come to THUNDERBOLT / Yew don't need a brand-new car!" In the plot, a very, very busty urban cowgirl might not make it to (presumably) Gilley's when her 1976 Cadillac El Dorado convertible breaks down. But thanks to the grimy Thunderbolt mechanics, they've got her and her hat back on the road -- and one lucky grease monkey gets a big ol' hug and kiss (did she skip out on the bill?). Thunderbolt has a more recent version of the circa 1977 spot but, like most remakes, it doesn't hold a candle to the vintage original. And if you ever catch an El Orbits show, the local cover band does its own version of the famous song. Ironically, the author, Bonnie Miller, died with her husband in a 1996 car crash. But her work lives on.
It's a Houston tradition from June to November: You go to sleep knowing there's a tropical storm or hurricane heading our way, and the first thing you want to know when you wake up is, Is it still barreling down on us, or has it sheared away? Some stations pile on the danger hype, insisting that every storm could still end up hitting us. The imperturbable David Paul, however, doesn't play that game. Sure, he'll give the standard caveat -- that you can't be sure where a hurricane will hit -- but if it looks like landfall will be in Florida, he's not going to stretch the truth to keep up the ratings. A calm voice of reason in the morning is our David Paul, and that can be a blessing in a world where calm is a rare luxury.
Readers' choice: Dr. Neil Frank
What is it? A sleek, striped donkey? A purplish-red zebra with round ears, horns and a long tongue? A furry dinosaur of some kind? Nope, none of the above. It's the okapi, and its only living relative is the giraffe. Western science didn't even know these five-foot-tall, leaf-chewing critters existed until the 1890s; the okapi was the last of the world's large mammals to be "discovered." Other fun facts about okapis, which have been on exhibit at the Houston Zoo since 2002: They are the only creature on earth able to clean their ears with their tongues (other than Gene Simmons of KISS). And according to Houston Zoo veterinarian Lauren Howard, interviewed on the zoo's Web site, they are smart beasts. Unlike most other large animals, they can be taught to allow easy inspection of their hooves, heart, eyes, ears and pregnant bellies. "Plus," adds Howard, "okapi babies are the cutest!"
Readers' choice: Giraffe

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