Unless you're a psycho bike messenger ninja assassin type, cycling downtown is generally a nightmare. The sidewalks are too clogged with people, not to mention the fact that biking on the sidewalk is against the law in a business district. As for the streets, forget about it. If the SUVs don't get you, the buses will. Even in our most urbane neighborhoods, Houstonians still drive with the rugged individualism lovingly depicted in the documentary film Death Race 2000. All of that is decidedly not so on a Sunday. Especially around dawn and dusk, the streets and sidewalks are blessedly empty, and the city's skyscrapers sparkle in the rising and setting sun like giant pillars of gold. And with the redevelopment down there, you are no longer venturing into a desert — oases are scattered hither and yon to provide liquid refreshment of every type.

"But I hate sports!" is what you are saying right about now. You may scoff at going to Minute Park looking for single men because you don't exactly dig on baseball. But there really is nothing to being an Astros fan. Games can be as good as movies, with moments of tears, laughter, utter infatuation, crazy wardrobe changes and hilarious misunderstandings — like when Cecil Cooper doesn't pull a pitcher out of an inning even though he's given up seven runs. There are men galore walking around the Juice Box, and if there's anything that cheers dudes up after Albert Pujols uses the Crawford Boxes as a target, it's female company. Well, that and an open tab at Larry's Big Bamboo. And maybe one of those little baseball helmets filled with ice cream.

We're not saying you won't meet a nice girl at a Midtown bar, but why not better your odds and fish from holier waters? At Kingdom Builders Center, you might meet a lawyer, local business owner or otherwise impressive-on-the-inside woman whose head is almost certainly in the right place. The center's popular singles ministry goes well past the standard awkward meet and greet — it organizes everything from ski trips and pool parties to fantasy football leagues to try and ignite some sparks. (And if a romantic fire does start, there are workshops and events for couples.) The massive compound is of biblical proportions and, if the high-caliber women aren't enough of a draw, worth a visit in itself. Check out "Adult Ministries" on the Web site for a list of upcoming events.

Though thankfully Jim Crow ended generations ago, Houston is still often a segregated city, by social class if not by race. One of the few places you can see the 21st-century international mega-city in all its cosmopolitan glory is Hermann Park. There a typical day will find black families grilling out, Persian-American women riding pedal-boats, classrooms-full of field-tripping Hispanic kids aboard the somewhat new and improved choo-choo, and Rice students of every hue making eyes at one another over picnic baskets. The park sits at the crossroads of extreme wealth (the exclusive old-school gated enclave Shadyside and Broadacres) and more down-to-earth areas l ike close-by Third Ward. Arts in the form of the Museum District line the northern end of Hermann's sylvan setting; science in the form of the Texas Medical Center lines the south; and general knowledge in the form of Rice borders on the west. Everyone from all these walks of life meets in the middle, which is why Hermann is such a nonstop parade of varied humanity.

Sure, the city has newer and fancier branches with more bells and whistles — the McGovern-Stella Link and Looscan River Oaks libraries come instantly to mind. And while other branches might have more stuff on the shelves, there is something so urban and civilized about the Montrose branch, housed as it is in a converted church with limited parking but easy access to both a bakery and a pub. It's also a great place for parents and kids, as the branch hosts a multitude of child-friendly events each week.

2008 was a big Democratic year across Harris County — Dems swept out all but a handful of the Republicans who had held all the countywide seats, some of them for years and years. One Republican who survived the wave was County Judge Ed Emmett...and with good reason. Emmett was appointed to the seat in 2007 and quickly demonstrated that he was open to working with anyone interested in solving problems rather than grandstanding about them. He offered no support to the re-election effort of Sheriff Tommy Thomas, and — like Adrian Garcia, the man who beat Thompson — he was quick to respond to complaints from a Sikh family alleging harassment. (Emmett actually has close ties to India.) And, of course, he did as much as any elected official to get the Houston area on the road to recovery from Hurricane Ike.

A tangled tale of secret wills, court battles and murder lies behind the birth of this ever-lovelier Midtown gem. Elizabeth Baldwin Park takes its name from the wife of William Marsh Rice, the founder of the nearby university. Just before her death, unbeknownst to old man Rice, Elizabeth drew up a new will leaving half her husband's fortune to various family members and pet causes, including this park. Rice's subsequent battle to contest that will — eventually this park was one of the few bequests from the revised will that went into effect — wound up costing him his life, but you wouldn't know any of that from looking at Baldwin Park today. Though not as grand as Hermann or Memorial, Baldwin Park packs an equal amount of grace and serenity into its 4.5 acres. While the 1912 fountain and Vietnamese-American memorials are nice touches, the park's loveliest feature is its grove of century-old live oaks, each with branches that touch the ground and arch back toward the sky.

Photos courtesy of The Colorado

For ages, this old-school neon giant has been acting as a sort of oversize bug-light, beckoning dudes who're down with seeing a little T&A. But even if you've never stepped foot inside the strip club, it's hard to ignore the tacky charm and majesty of a sign that appears to have time-traveled from some Vegas casino circa 1969. It's a stark reminder of when a sign was a sign. When a sign had the cojones to blot out everything else in sight. This sign looks like it should be wearing a leisure suit, with the wide-collared shirt exposed to reveal a huge fake gold medallion nestled in a thick patch of shag-carpet-like chest hair. This sign would ask you if you're into wife-swapping. And because it's so damn awesome, you'd probably say "yes."

In showing off our fair city, too many people take visitors to things that can be found anywhere. Every city bigger than Austin has an arts district with pretensions to "world-classiness"; every metropolis has its Galleria equivalent, River Oaks-type district and downtown full of skyscrapers. What Houston has that few cities on Earth outside of the Persian Gulf can match is monstrous, flame- and smoke-belching petrochemical refineries. As any old-time Houstonian can tell you, they are best viewed at night, when the flames from the crackers cast their hellish orange glow on all their surroundings and the miles of tubes, pipes, valves and structures show off a galaxy of sparkling safety lights. So pile Uncle Chuck and Aunt Ruth in the family Tahoe, take 'em out the La Porte Freeway and show 'em what this city is really all about. (We like to add music to the mix — we go for the Scorsese effect, and play Mozart or Beethoven for that jarring juxtaposition of heavenly sounds and hellish visuals.)

If you're up for about a half-a-day's drive out of Houston, there's about a million things to do. There's the Gulf Coast, the border, New Orleans, the Hill Country and even Dallas. One important component of any road trip is a good truck stop to gas up, stock up and hit the bathrooms. One of the best places we've found is a cluster of truck stops after you cross into Baytown. Each of the stores and bathrooms are big, new and clean. We're partial to the Travel Center of America, which has the Country Pride restaurant and a nice selection of beef jerky and Chinese throwing stars.

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