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.

Twitter has become increasingly important in both social and business circles, a fact that baffles the general public. How could a "micro-blogging service" that seems to be a vast ocean of noise in 140-character segments be so significant? And how does one use it? That's where Houston-based Dwight Silverman comes in. An early adopter of Twitter (he's been using the service since 2006), Silverman uses his many years of tech experience as the blog editor at the Houston Chronicle, author of several computer books and co-host of the KPFT radio show Technology Bytes, as well as his gentle yet wise hand, to guide the Houston (and national) community of Twitterers. Silverman conveys Twitter-related updates and information throughout the day as well as providing an example to his nearly 6,500 followers of how to be a valuable and influential member of the online community. His Twitter stream is tech-heavy (as are a lot of Twitter users' streams for now), but also features interesting non-tech links and helpful advice to anyone who turns to him with a question.

Skyline views are a dime a dozen. To really take in the city's sweep in all its satanic petrochemical splendor, you need to head over to the Ship Channel area, the engine room of the local economy. It may stink of smoldering benzene and God knows what else over there around the Port of Houston Industrial Complex, but without all those chemical trains, oil tankers and fire-breathing refineries, there would be probably be no River Oaks, Galleria or downtown skyscrapers worthy of the name. And truth be told, honest to God, so help us Jim, there is a sort of savage beauty to that fearsome industry. The 610 bridge is the highest easily accessible point for miles around, and the ideal vantage point to take in the totality of Houston, warts and all.

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