You wouldn't expect a group of drywallers and bricklayers to be vulnerable dudes, but when the Minutemen and other anti-illegal-immigration advocates started shouting that the city was "coddling" day laborers, these workers were left standing alone on the corner. But Juan Alvarez, founder of the Latin American Organization for Immigrant Rights, jumped aboard their cause and drove all over town listening to their stories and teaching them how to deal with harassment. And when many of them were lured to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it was Alvarez who cared for them when they returned sick and underpaid. He later hopped on I-10, tracked down a couple of opportunistic NOLA contractors and convinced them to turn over back wages to dozens of immigrant workers. Not bad for someone who was once a day laborer himself.
For once, this city saw a protest in which most of the marchers were directly influenced by the issue. Sure, there were some anarchists and LaRouche drones sprinkled throughout the crowd, preaching solidarity and handing out pamphlets, but most of the estimated 30,000 folks who marched from the Second Ward to Allen's Landing on a bright Monday were just regular, hardworking folks who'd decided it was time to stand up and be counted. American flags fluttered over the mostly Hispanic crowd, and anybody in attendance would've had a hard time painting all those stroller-pushing moms and dads as criminals and terrorists. Comprehensive immigration reform seems to have been postponed until the next election cycle, but all that congressional hemming and hawing won't stop these marchers from pursuing the American dream. S, se puede!
Matt Sonzala's blog is all about Third Coast hip-hop, which is fitting, considering how integral the man is to the scene. HoustonSoReal always seems to have the word on H-town haps, whether it's flicks from a video shoot in the Fifth Ward, a write-up of local rappers doing their thang in Europe or a link to a download of Sonzala's Damage Control radio program. The party pics are probably our favorite part, and Sonzala (a Press contributor) doesn't skimp on the uploads, often posting dozens upon dozens of shots from a single event. And just when you're about to get burned out from looking at so many rappers holding up their chains, along comes a photo of booty.
No, there's not much to do at this particular stop on the light-rail line. Unlike Ensemble or Preston, this is not an entertainment hub, nor is it a sports stop like Reliant; it's mainly a place for people to transfer from the bus to the train or vice versa. But we're not rating the stop based on what's around it -- we're rating the stop itself. And the medical history-themed TMC Transit Center is definitely the most educational and erudite transportation hub we've ever been privy to. Here, while you wait for your train, you'll learn from various plaques and etched bricks that the 1890s "saw enormous gains in successful surgeries," that the East Indians were experimenting with smallpox inoculation long before the West, that Confucius had something to do with slowing the advance of surgical science and that the Romans had advanced toilets -- all of which provides ample food for thought for your commute.
It wasn't so much a court ruling as it was a jury verdict, but Houstonians everywhere let out either a sigh of relief or a gleeful shout of schadenfreude when a jury of their peers came down hard on Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. The city had lived through five years of the post-collapse soap opera, enduring all of it with the nagging fear that the city's most expensive criminal lawyers just might succeed in getting their clients off. Luckily, those clients had to take the stand, and both of them -- especially the prickly Lay -- practically erased any chance for an acquittal. Houston could breathe easy again. Now we only have to worry about the best appellate lawyers money can buy.
Far too many parades are bogged down by rinky-dink floats, processions of skinny high school kids in silver helmets and quasi-military uniforms, and convertibles full of D-list local dignitaries. Screw that. Parades should be about bands -- bands that bring the big beat. And no parade in H-town booms like MLK Day. For the first time in years, 2005's MLK Day Parade was a unified affair, with the two rival organizers joining forces for a near-nonstop cavalcade of funk. Every historically African-American high school band from Worthing and Sterling on the south side to Smiley and Forest Brook on the north -- not to mention Texas Southern University's Ocean of Soul -- all brought the noise: thunderous drum lines, blasting horns and majestically sashaying majorettes. Marching bands, especially African-American ones, are one of America's foremost native arts, and there are few places better to see them than at Houston's MLK Day Parade. (And this year conquering hometown hero Vince Young was the grand marshal, to boot.)

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Local musician and occasional Houston Press contributor Greg Wood sets up one of his blog entries thusly: "So there I am, pouring teaglasses full of Wild Turkey, inhaling fat lines, when I had a GREAT idea. Why be alone? Female company was but a phone call away, this being the great country it is. Let's see...where's the phonebook? Hmm, here it is, E' for escort services." What ensues is a depraved whiskey, coke- and meth-addled odyssey, and another top-notch entry on Houston's finest R-rated (for adult situations, profanity, drug/alcohol abuse, mild violence, adult humor and general debauchery) blog. But there's more on offer here than Bukowskian tales of ordinary madness; Wood is also a dab hand at Onion-style photo-captioning and Jon Stewart-type commentary. (One such fake news headline: "Acid trip brings almost life-changing revelation to local musician: this place is fuckin' filthy.'") They don't make 'em like Wood anymore -- lock up the kiddies, click on over and see for yourself.
Wholesome Will Makar of The Woodlands was cut from utterly different cloth than Katys Kimberly Caldwell, the only other local Idol contestant to make it to the late-stage TV rounds of the show. Where Caldwell was the type of bad girl youd bribe your son to dump, Makar was the type of guy you pray your daughter brings home from school. In Simon Cowell's book, he wrote that Caldwell engaged in Rick James-type sexcapades -- a threesome at the Idol mansion with Trenyce and Paula Abdul's alleged paramour and very busy stud Corey Clark. Makar, on the other hand, was vanilla enough to make James Taylor seem like James Brown on stage, and he listed Michael Bubl as one of his favorite performers. And then there was the matter of singing talent: Clark had some, and Makar didn't. Sometimes life aint fair.
The kind folks at Nordstrom have made service their No. 1 priority, and this extends to the deluxe restrooms on every floor of the upscale department store. The third-floor facilities are the apex, however, featuring a generous family restroom that flustered moms and dads of small children can especially appreciate. The women's restroom houses a lounge area for those who need to seek respite from the noisy, crowded mall. Go back even farther, and a secluded mother's room awaits like an oasis for moms who need to give their cranky babies a little R and R -- with a changing station (and a vending machine stocked with changing pads!), plush chairs and a roomy sofa. Marble floors, giant floor-to-ceiling mirrors and stainless-steel stalls shine with evidence of frequent cleanings, but no attendant on duty means another great thing: The only tip involved is the one you make mentally, to yourself, to return again and again.
Going to traffic court can be just a little more bearable if you take a slight detour off the beaten path: Venture into the Old Sixth Ward, which is tucked behind a mishmash of busy thoroughfares on the western edge of downtown. There you'll discover 1,000 acres of Greek Revival, late Victorian and Craftsman bungalow homes. The Sixth Ward, the oldest continuously existing neighborhood in Houston, is geographically bound by Houston Avenue, Washington Avenue, Sawyer Street and Maud Street/I-10, but its nostalgic value is boundless. An active neighborhood association plans monthly happy hours, community meetings and family-oriented events, and it maintains a Web site with local information and photos. Thanks to that group and its dedicated following, the neighborhood could still be thriving in another 150 years, just as it has done since 1877.

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