Helming the drive-time slot at SportsRadio 610, hosts Rich Lord and Charlie Pallilo boasted the best sports show in town for several years. The two Northeast natives brought a worldly perspective to pro sports and the issues surrounding it, especially when the topics fell to race and culture. Lord was easygoing, Pallilo was smarmy, and the two just worked. So it was a disappointment when Pallilo jumped ship for Clear Channel's new concept The Sports Animal (790 KBME) last year. SportsRadio 610 floundered briefly, but when Lord was paired with midday host Mark Vandermeer, who's also the radio voice of the Houston Texans, there was instant rapport and chemistry. The cocky Vandermeer brings a younger, more pop-culture-oriented perspective and ups the hip quotient, while Lord continues to keep it real. The result is a fresh, authoritative and entertaining show.
Look, if you're going to spend your time hitting dozens of little white balls over and over again, you might as well do it in a nice setting, right? The Memorial Park driving range is so good, you'll be feeling like Tiger Woods in no time. With 43 slots, there's plenty of room for you to claim a mat and show the rest of those divot-heads how it's really done. The range is open every day (except Tuesday) from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (They stop selling balls at 7:30 p.m.) Two bucks will get you 30 balls, which you can whack into the range's scenic 250 yards. If you don't have a club, you can borrow one from the lost-and-found bin. So get your caddy and your funny-looking pants, and get going!
Never have so many die-hard -- and straight -- football fans been so infatuated with pigskin and pomade. Last season, Houston Texans beefcake QB David Carr vowed not to cut his hair until his team won two games in a row. His flowing, male-model-style locks were finally shorn when the team beat the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders back-to-back in early October. Since then, the studly Carr's 'do has been a success off the field (he was named to People magazine's 2004 Sexiest Men Alive list). But with a revamped offensive line and improved running game to support him, it's now up to Carr to prove that new short haircut won't jinx the team.
Readers' choice: David Carr
Like riding horses? Hate terrorists? Well, now's your chance to trot ol' Trigger around the trail and keep a lookout for Osama at the same time. The Houston Airport System's Airport Rangers are volunteers who patrol the 34 miles of perimeter fencing around Intercontinental. You have to pass a background check, of course. "It's not just Joe Blow coming in," says airport spokesperson Ernest DeSoto. "You have to be badged." The airport system has set up 25 miles of trails with water stops and porta-potties, but those hankerin' for more rugged country are welcome to veer off the paths, DeSoto says. If a ranger sees anyone unusual (vagrant, poacher, dude with a rocket-launcher) he or she must report it to airport authorities. Otherwise, feel free to ride around from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week.
We've got nothing against camping. Don't get us wrong. It's just that sometimes it feels artificial to pack up and pretend like you don't have a house. But going to the arboretum, now that's an authentic trip that'll get you back in time to hit the bars. This 155-acre expanse is home to herons, cardinals, owls, wrens and crows; squirrels, opossums, moles, rabbits and armadillos; and toads, frogs, snakes, turtles and skinks. As you walk beneath the canopy listening to chirps, croaks and whistles, you'll forget all about the downtown construction and West Loop traffic -- for a little while, at least.
He drains jumpers effortlessly. He explodes to the basket with the agility of an Olympic gymnast. When he's on, he's one of the few truly unstoppable players in the NBA. And during his first year in Houston, Tracy McGrady has been a model citizen. We admit we were concerned when the five-time NBA All-Star showed up via a trade with the Orlando Magic for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato. After all, the Rockets were trading three-fifths of their starting lineup for a purported whiner who had grouched about sharing playing time with his cousin (fellow All-Star Vince Carter) in Toronto. But McGrady quickly embraced the city and his teammates -- especially Yao Ming. Soon the two were the epicenter of a playoff team that, thanks to some key off-season signings, is much stronger. If McGrady follows up on his 25.7 points per game average of last year, the only thing he'll have to complain about sharing with his teammates is an NBA Championship trophy.
Readers' choice: Yao Ming
While so many beaches along our Gulf Coast tend to be less than desirable, this little oasis just down the road a piece from Freeport could make you forget you're in Petrochemical Land. In Galveston, the constant whir of traffic along the seawall just steps from your beach towel almost drowns out the calming sounds of the sea at your feet. Go to any of the beaches at Surfside and you've literally got to dodge the traffic, as cars are allowed right on the sand. Not the case at Quintana, where the $4-per-car entry fee keeps out the riffraff, and all vehicles stay in the parking lot. A massive boardwalk jettisons over the dunes that serve as your wall between civilization and solitude, and leads you to the cleanest, most peaceful beach in our region. The park features full-on camping facilities for RVs and tents and even has a few quaint, air-conditioned cabins that overlook the water. Which come in handy, 'cause you'll never want to leave.
Readers' choice: Crystal Beach
Most major cities in the United States feature some sort of sprawling green space near the epicenter where urban dwellers can find a bit of a respite from the daily grind -- and in Houston's case, the heat emanating from the concrete. Our most central slice of nature runs along both sides of Buffalo Bayou between Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive on the north and south, and between the western edge of downtown and Shepherd. The simple course allows for either a relaxing, recreational jaunt or a full-on workout. The winding path zigzags in and out between a lush array of trees, sloping down to the water's edge and back up to street level throughout the course. It's the closest thing you'll find to a hilly terrain for miles. Stop off at any number of exercise stations for a complete workout, or take a break in Buffalo Bayou ArtPark and view works from some of our city's most innovative artists.
Readers' choice: Memorial Park
You don't have to travel to Northern California or the French Riviera to enjoy great wine straight from the source. Texas, whether you know it or not, is home to many fine wineries, one of which is giving the big boys a run for their money. Messina Hof is located on a lush estate just an hour and a half northwest of Houston. It offers five public tours on Saturday and two on Sunday, all of which feature a tasting at the end. After the tour, you can enjoy lunch or dinner at The Vintage House, a gourmet eatery with a focus on vineyard cuisine. And if all this makes you just not want to leave, you can rest your head at the Villa at Messina Hof, a posh and romantic bed-and-breakfast just steps from the vineyard. Relax on the banks of the winery's spring-fed lake as you sip your favorite vintage and let yourself go in this tranquil little oasis of fermented happiness.
Baseball used to be the cheapest of all major-league sports, but those days have gone the way of the VHS player. The best seats now are not exactly impulse buys (paying $35 to sit next to the foul pole?). Luckily, the Astros are offering some cheap alternatives. The best of them happen on Powerade Tuesdays, when you can get two seats in the outfield for a buck each. You can't get much cheaper than that, and the best part is that you're not stuck in those faraway seats; as long as you don't mind standing, head to Home Run Alley and watch from up close as the dingers come your way. Get there early enough for a spot on the rail, and you've got it made. You'll still be paying ransom prices for food and drink, but you can't have everything.

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