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
Eric Andell had as shiny a reputation as any local Democrat, and he wasn't afraid to flaunt it. As a juvenile court judge and later an appellate judge, Andell was savvy with the media and smooth at political gatherings and parties. He had a syndicated television show, Juvenile Justice, and was wooed by Republicans to switch parties. But, as he told the Houston Press in 2001, doing that would mean "I wouldn't have my integrity." That integrity took a hit, however, when he pleaded guilty this year to violating federal conflict-of-interest laws. Andell, who had been working for the Department of Education, admitted billing the government for a trip to New York to see a Broadway show and claiming sick leave for days when he worked as a visiting judge. The price of the transgressions wasn't great -- Andell reimbursed the government about $8,600 as part of the plea deal -- but the damage to the judge's glowing reputation was severe.
Readers' choice: Ken Lay
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.

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