Veterans know that if they're going to the 9 a.m. or 11 a.m. mass on Sundays at St. Vincent de Paul, they'd better get there early: Good seats go fast. Why? A welcoming, friendly atmosphere, engaging sermons and a dedication to helping the greater community. Parishioners were at the forefront of offering shelter, food and clothing to Katrina evacuees, an effort that was merely an extension of what they do throughout the year. The thriving church has its share of high-income members -- it's located near West U on Holcombe -- but it's by no means one of the Our Lady of Cadillacs-type Catholic churches found in other affluent enclaves around the country.
The Bolivar Ferry has been entertaining kids for more than 70 years. Shuttling back and forth between Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula, the boats often attract frolicking dolphins as escorts. You can head to the back with some bread or chips and feed the seagulls by hand as they politely hover near you. You'll pass the sunken remains of an experimental World War I concrete ship (how did that idea never catch on?), cruise past giant container ships heading for the Ship Channel, feel the wind and sun on your face and smell the saltwater (and, unfortunately, the Ship Channel). Each crossing lasts a kid-friendly 20 minutes, long enough to entertain without getting boring. And it's free! Best tip: Leave your car and just walk on, thereby avoiding the sometimes lengthy waits vehicles endure.
No night in the Theater District is complete without a stroll over to the Magic Button, a big red disc hidden in a tower on the Preston Street bridge. Push it, and you'll hear the sound of water being released into Buffalo Bayou. Now, we could make some phone calls and ask what the deal is, and then somebody or other could tell us that it was included by the architect to give the area a sense of whimsy, but where's the fun in that? Instead, impress your date with a story about the wizard who lives beneath the water or the ancient sewage treatment plant built by a long-forgotten race. Anything's better than the truth.
At Pig Stand No. 7, the popular greasy spoon on Washington, the window display cases are filled with ceramics, dolls and figurines of all things pig. There's a pig nativity scene and a pig beach scene. Pigs kissing and pigs eloping. Pigs pumping iron and pigs pumping gas. Pigs chomping cigars and pigs slinging hash. Pigs firing guns and pigs holding pitchforks. Pigs strumming guitars and pigs blowing French horns. Be careful: All this inspired silliness can inspire guilt. After all, the window display is virtually shouting "Pig!" as you plunge your fork into a plate thick with turkey, stuffing and yams. Worse, if you've ordered the signature barbecue pork sandwich, the display forces you to stare into the eyes of your lunch. But, then, we regulars aren't too troubled by it all. We're too busy pigging out.
Meeting chicks, especially hot single chicks, is a challenge for guys in this town. SM ISO HSF (single men in search of hot single females), we suggest you pay a visit to Midtown's Bond Lounge, a one-stop shop for fit, busty blonds and brunettes. Of course, the easiest way to lure the hotties is by reserving a table for bottle service -- no one ever turns down a free drink -- and dressing in your freshest designer duds. The typical Thursday-evening ladies' night at Bond is called "Red Light District," and it brings out the kind of women who like wearing revealing clothing and the attention it brings (read: single). No need to place an ad in the paper when you have a credit card that's begging to get maxed out.
Every kid has a special place where secrets are whispered and whisked away by the wind. It might be in a forest, a cemetery or along a river's edge. Adults, too, need a sanctuary from the fast track, and there is none better than Sam Houston Park. Set directly behind City Hall, the park opens onto expansive, neatly manicured lawns. Low-slung wooden benches overlook lush gardens, a gazebo and fountains that mimic the sound of a babbling brook. The park houses an outdoor museum featuring some of the city's oldest homes, which date back to the mid-19th century. Pathways slope down to a pond inhabited by red-billed ducks and a family of turtles. Every afternoon, working stiffs escape the sirens, the shadows and the exhaust and find refuge in the tranquillity of the park.
Slowly but surely, downtown Houston is coming back. Its revitalization lags behind that of other major cities, which long ago converted their warehouses from ugly eyesores into coveted loft spaces. Houston presses forward with the opening of many new restaurants, clubs and plans for a huge urban park. But surely the best benefit to living downtown is the light rail. Yes, it's true, the light rail is far from perfect. Set along city streets, it has racked up a preposterously high crash rate. And the controversies continue as expansion plans lead residents and business owners to cry "Land grab!" But for downtowners, light rail is a cheap, comfortable and convenient way to get around in a city known for endless sprawl and traffic hell.
Scrappy and hard-hitting with a generous dollop of sugarcoated sentimentality: These are the ingredients for a great community newspaper. The front page will devote as much space to chili cookoffs and church socials as burglary trends and city hall scandals. After all, the paper exists not to bash the community but to celebrate it. The Fort Bend/Southwest Sun provides this delicate blend of news both hard and soft, momentous and frivolous, along with good layout, sound school, sports and political coverage and strong advertising support from local businesses. For Houston Community Newspapers -- which earlier this year bought the well-regarded Examiner Newspaper Group and now oversees three dozen community newspapers in the Houston area -- the Sun is a jewel in the company's crown.
Annual games of chicken with hurricanes, questionable politicians, Enron and suffocating humidity aren't selling anyone on Houston. So scrap the "Houston. It's Worth It" campaign and hire on Paul Wall, who's made sure the world is familiar not only with Houston but with Houston landmarks such as Timmy Chan's Chicken and what screwed-and-chopped music sounds like. His song "They Don't Know," featuring Mike Jones and Bun B from Wall's The People's Champ, pays homage to Southern accents, DJ Screw and all other things kept real in Houston. The video shows even more H-town pride, featuring iced-out longhorn belt buckles, the downtown skyline and flashy rimmed pickup trucks. Standing in front of a painting of a giant Lone Star Card, Wall raps with pride about sippin' syrup the way other rappers rap about drinking Cristal. God bless you, Paul Wall, for keeping Houston crunk.
Really cheap drinks draw the Montrose bohemian set like free samiches draw the homeless. Rockabillies, punks, indie nerds, artists, bookish introverts, extroverted exhibitionists and the occasional clump of local comedians filtering out from open-mike Mondays at the nearby Laff Stop flock to the capacious patio of this watering hole to socialize and get fucked up on a shoestring budget. Too much booze? Absorb some alcohol with a modestly priced taco al carbon or a jalapeo sausage dog from the guy with the barbecue grill. Somehow, a picnic table almost always opens up for your gang without much wait. Inside the madly overcrowded bar, fight claustrophobia with a game of pool or darts. Or play some tunes by local bands on the jukebox. Typically if you see someone you don't know (but want to), there's somebody else there who does know them and who's more than happy to do an intro. And at $3 for a Long Island, plenty of social lubricant is always readily accessible to ease that meet-up into a hookup.

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