This really should be "best picnic spots," because there's not just one place in this beautiful park to have a friendly (or romantic) picnic. Spanning nearly 450 acres, this historic park near the Texas Medical Center and Rice University is one of the most picturesque places in Houston. We really like spreading our picnic blanket down on the hill at Miller Outdoor Theatre, but maybe you want to share some wine and cheese with your significant other in the resplendent beauty of the Japanese garden. Or maybe you want to hunker down by the reflecting pool. Or maybe you want to wave at the kiddos on the miniature train while you nibble on your vittles. Point is, there are so many great spots here where you can while away a sunny afternoon on the picnic blanket. Save some wine for us.
If a multimillionaire NBA player could ever be considered an "everyman," Chuck Hayes would be the guy. A six-foot-six center, Hayes gives up a huge height advantage to opponents but plays dogged, tough defense. He's an utter scrapper who gives you everything he's got. The New York Times called him "a player for fans who appreciated the fight for low-post position more than a shot swatted into the third row, a good off-ball screen more than a swished fade-away jump shot, and a tough rebound in traffic more than an ankle-breaking crossover." Hayes's shooting style is notoriously ugly but — mirabile dictu — this season he got the league's least-likely triple-double. How could he not be named Best Rocket?
In another dreary and forgettable season for the hometown team, this alone stands as the highlight. All game long, dastardly Tennessee Titan cornerback Cortland Finnegan had been tugging on the cape of the closest thing the Texans have ever had to Superman: the fleet and powerful wide receiver Andre Johnson. And finally Johnson had enough. He ripped Finnegan's helmet off his head like a fat kid tearing into a bag of Gummi worms, wrestled him to the ground like a steer and proceeded to whale the tar out of him. Finnegan got up laughing like he won, but the whole league knew Johnson was the better man. Hell, the league didn't even suspend him, and both he and Finnegan, widely regarded as one the NFL's dirtiest players, were assessed identical $25,000 fines.
Though it's better known as a training spot for scuba divers, Twin Lakes is the perfect place to cool off without having to fight the traffic, and the crowds, in Galveston. Just 20 minutes south of downtown off the farm roads of 288, this aquifer-fed pool is clear enough for the aforementioned training and features five sunken fishing boats, a school bus and an Airstream trailer. Above ground there are floating docks, picnic tables, overnight campsites and a snack bar. Bass, catfish, turtle and perch live in the water, and if you're not there to dive admission is only $5.
Rolling out of bed for a sunrise midweek workout is not the easiest thing on your to-do list. But for the toned ass that lasts all weekend long, it's well worth checking off. Reggie Flye, of former YMCA boot camp fame, is your host of an intense Wednesday workout at Houston Pavilions downtown. It begins with a couple laps around the new upstairs walking path. Once hearts are a-pumpin', Flye blasts up the dance jams and becomes the captain of cardio. At first, everything feels great. You're outside! You're moving! You're at a European dance club where the party doesn't stop until early morning, so watching the sunrise is only natural! Then you realize you've been partying all night, and you start to lose your breath, and not in a good way. That's the exact moment when Flye kicks your butt with a round of shouts to keep going. Even if you're just halfway through the 45-minute workout, he'll help you, with a heap of tough-love, to the end. A shower and water bottle later, you'll be ready to breeze past any demons the workday can throw at you, because today, you've already conquered your body.
As pleasant as the opening of last year's Heights-area MKT Bike Trail was, its usefulness was somewhat limited. Its eastern end terminated in a desolate stretch of First Ward, about a mile from downtown, forcing riders to navigate some fairly traffic-heavy, debris-strewn streets the rest of the way to the center city. Those days are a thing of the past, as cyclists can now zip under I-45 and over White Oak Bayou, down a pleasant, oddly rural-feeling waterside stretch with a gorgeous skyline view, and all the way to the University of Houston-Downtown. Road bike riders should beware, though, as the trail still is marred with tire-popping gravel piles, but those should be a thing of the past very soon.
Nothing about the October through December 2010 version of the Houston Aeros hinted at its thrilling Calder Cup championship run. Even when the club brought Jed Ortmeyer aboard on New Year's Day, the American Hockey League franchise looked to be one of the many middling minor-league clubs of North America. However, thanks to the veteran leadership of the 34-year-old right winger, who did all of the stat-sheet-less things that many hockey players just aren't willing to do, the Aeros nearly won it all. (The team eventually fell to the Binghamton Senators, four games to two, in the Calder Cup Finals.) What made Ortmeyer's contributions even more impressive is the fact that dude almost died in 2006 from pulmonary embolism, a medical condition that can cause frequent blood clotting and one that he still suffers from today.
It came, we showed them what's up and now they're all excited to return in 2016. Houston's first Final Four since 1971 was basically drama- and lame-free, and out-of-towners left the Bayou City knowing a bit why we love living here. Along with the curious quartet of Connecticut, Kentucky, Virginia Commonwealth and Butler, Final Four Weekend hosted a Saint Arnold beer garden at Market Square Park, the interactive Bracket Town at the George R. Brown, and Sublime and Kenny Chesney at Discovery Green. When it was game time, Metro handled the transportation overload to Reliant Stadium, where the games went off, with ease. Yeah, the championship snoozer between Connecticut and Butler was a bummer, but in no way did it pooh-pooh the overall experience.
The water's much prettier and greener than that of the Upper Coast, and there's both grit and family-friendly fun in this Coastal Bend town less than four hours down the Southwest Freeway. Fishing charters, dolphin-watching tours, parasailing adventures and ferries to nearly uninhabited Saint Joseph's Island embark from the town's harbor daily, and there's good food to be found if you get away from the tourist traps. (Think Shells, Kody's, Marcel's, La Playa and Roosevelt's; avoid Moby Dick's, Fins, and Virginia's on the Bay, except for cocktails. Also, seek out dockings of the mom-and-pop shrimp boat Pollyanna for home cooking.) Dive-bar connoisseurs will love Port A Harbor's legendary Shorty's Oldest And Friendliest Bar, while those seeking a livelier night out won't be let down by Sharkey's nightclub a little way out of town. (Tip: Avoid that dreaded DWI by hiring a beach bike from one of the rental services.)
Picking a Best Astro was no easy task this year. The team is suffering through a season of legendary ineptitude. Still, Hunter Pence, All-Star and great guy, seemed like a lock. Until he was traded. No worries, we'll just pick Michael Bourn — and then he became an Atlanta Brave. So let's go with Bud Norris. On an awful squad, he's the ace, with a good ERA (in terms of Astros pitchers), he seems unflappable, unlike some others on the staff. He just goes about doing as solid a job as he can. For this year's Astro team, that puts him on top.