Once upon a time, Dr. Richard Patt had a teddy bear in his front yard. It reached 20 feet, give or take, into the sky. His neighbors hated it. But it wasn't enough. The backyard was empty and boring. So he and Joe DiPaulo, the man who designed the park across from St. Joseph Hospital, planned a fantasy theme-park-style spread. Now there's a 40-foot mountain with three straight-from-Maui waterfalls that flood into a pool. Under the mountain is a cave, with a separate spa and another waterfall. Think the grotto at the Playboy Mansion. "It's almost exactly like that," Patt says, "without all the breasts." There's also an open-sesame wall. When he leans against the two-ton stone, the wall swings open to a courtyard and two more rooms. One of those rooms has a murder-mystery bookcase that opens to a spa. There's a waterslide from his upstairs balcony to the pool, an outdoor fireplace and two fire towers that shoot eight-foot flames. He's thinking about opening his yard up for events. We hope he decides to do it.
Journey back to your junior year of high school. You just saw a movie while seated next to the crush of your dreams, with your feet propped up on the back of the seat in front of you. Your hands touched in the giant tub o' popcorn. Happiness shot straight through you. You drove separately. Afterward, you walk to your car. Standing outside the vehicle you say you had a good time and you kiss goodnight. (Getting in the car together would be too much of a commitment.) Crowds coming out of the Alanis Morissette concert, or whatever basketball game is playing, thunder by. Wasn't there a cop? you ask, looking around. "There's three right over your shoulder," your date says. But you forget about the pigs in spitting distance as the kiss deepens, and one of you drops to your knees. More people pass, and since you're not 16 anymore, one of you starts worrying about whether this classifies as lewd and lascivious behavior, and your date wonders if he's going to get disbarred -- or lose his medical license. (Damn being a responsible grown-up!) You stand up, kiss goodnight, get a high school hug and a happy memory. Sure, there isn't a meadow or a brook or trees, but kneeling on the concrete by your car, to us, is an essential Houston experience.
Every weekday at 4:20 p.m., Houston's listener-sponsored community radio station KPFT gives you some news you can use. Dean Becker wants his pot-smokin' buddies to stay out of jail, and to do that they have to be informed. Becker monitors the drug war like Fox News monitors the war on terrorism, and he isn't afraid to call a spade a spade. In his eyes, the war on drugs is a failure and should be stopped immediately. And he's got no problem getting folks to co-sign that notion. Some of the nation's "highest"-ranking hemp activists have appeared on his show, including former Dallas Cowboy and president of Texas NORML Mark Stepnoski.

This Houston assistant city attorney took over direction of the city lobbying team last year and had a promising maiden session. The 42-year-old neophyte impressed capitol veterans with a low-key approach combined with a tenacity that belies her five-foot-one, 110-pound frame. Grace volunteered for the job when her boss, City Attorney Anthony Hall, took over supervision of the lobbying program from the mayor's office in 1999. "They literally threw me to the wolves," chuckles Grace, "and I didn't get eaten. People were surprised." Statistics bear her out. Of 18 bills introduced on behalf of the city, 16 passed. Overall, the lobbying team prevailed on 94 percent of the positions taken for or against legislation. Grace says she quickly learned that many of the actions of legislators had little or nothing to do with the merits of a particular bill. "Their past drives them," she notes, "and that history was the most important thing for me to learn." It's a cram course she'll be continuing when the legislature reconvenes next spring.
De Aldecoa's Cadeco Industries bought the old Uncle Ben's Rice facility on Clinton Drive in the late '90s and turned it into a world-class coffee storage and processing plant. De Aldecoa is the scion of a family that began the business in Spain in the 1920s and extended it to Mexico and later the United States. Born in Mexico, he attended Houston's Strake Jesuit high school and earned an engineering degree at the University of Houston. He became president of the Greater Houston Coffee Association this year and helped spearhead the successful drive to win New York Board of Trade designation for Houston as a green coffee and raw cocoa exchange port. According to de Aldecoa, the new status will provide a caffeine jolt to the local economy. "It's going to create a big job growth for the Houston market," says the coffee king, who notes that coffee imports into Miami increased fivefold when that Florida city received a similar designation.

When it comes to local news in the Houston market, Channel 11 truly stands alone in terms of quality. That doesn't mean it's great: Local TV news around the country has been in a general decline for some time. KHOU is fighting that decline better than anyone else around here, though. They've got a great investigator in Anna Werner (of Firestone fame), and solid, unflashy, veteran reporters like Doug Miller and Nancy Holland. Throw in hurricane expert Dr. Neil Frank -- or his equally talented colleague, David Paul -- and you've got the best news team in town.

There's little question as to which local station provides the most solid, least sensationalistic, most in-depth news product -- it's KHOU on Channel 11. The station fields a solid team of veteran reporters, not to mention Mister Hurricane himself, Dr. Neil Frank. And as the other big stations in town head for the ratings crack of stripper and hooker investigations, KHOU has led the way in documenting the pathetic slapstick of the Houston Police Department's DNA lab. This being local TV news, there's apparently no way to entirely escape the occasional inane feature, but Channel 11 limits the silliness better than the rest. The bigger question is, Can KHOU survive? As far as ratings go, it seems that Houstonians prefer the blaring, skin-deep glitz of its competitors. We can only hope viewers eventually swear off the junk food and go for something more substantive.
This former KTRH reporter left journalism and signed on to flack for legal giant Vinson & Elkins. He then took a sabbatical to help the Lee Brown mayoral campaign sweat out a narrow victory over Orlando Sanchez. Then he had the good sense to leave V&E just before the heat got turned on over its role in the Enron collapse. Joe is currently working the corn fields of Iowa on behalf of incumbent Democratic governor Tom Vilsack, who faces a tough re-election effort in November.
Maybe this category should be Best TV Anchor You Probably Haven't Seen, because KHWB's generally solid -- if underfinanced -- nightly 9 p.m. news show is still trying to amass an audience after three years. One of the reasons ratings are at least moving in the right direction is the steady presence of anchor Alan Hemberger. He could be accused of having the mannequin looks that are often the only asset of TV anchors who depend all-too-heavily on their producers and TelePrompTers (and in fact, he's a veteran of such fluff as Entertainment Tonight), but Hemberger has spent plenty of time filling his reporter's notebook in the field on big breaking stories. He spent nine years at Houston's most popular news station, KTRK/Channel 13, and now he's back in town lending credence to a fledgling operation trying to make its mark.

Best Reason Not to Take Public Transportation

Smog ranking

Finally, now that Houston ranks No. 1 in something, why should we give that up? You thnk it's easy being top dog when it comes to ozone violations? This year shows all signs of a tough competition with Los Angeles, the traditional winner of the smog crown. Consider this: Houston's weather (hot air and weak winds) should serve to our advantage, since warmer weather is more conducive to forming ozone, yet L.A. has beat us out in the past. Last year we were lucky; weather was on our side. But this year, with L.A. due for some warmer La Nina-inspired weather, we may lose our ranking. By late summer L.A. already had logged 34 violations, while we had only 26. Last year we finished with 52 ozone violation days, beating L.A. by 11 whole days. So keep up the good work! Drive on (preferably in SUVs and vans). Forget about rail. Who needs decent public transportation when there's gasoline to buy and a title to defend?

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