Best Houstonian You Didn't Know Was a Houstonian

Jeff Martin

You're probably saying to yourself, "Who the hell is Jeff Martin?" Well, there's a good chance the man, a highly successful television comedy writer, has made you laugh on more than one occasion. After all, this is a former Houstonian (and former AstroWorld employee) who started out writing for that temple of subversive, relentlessly hilarious comedy, Late Night with David Letterman. After he left that show, he immediately jumped over to The Simpsons, penning some of the show's most memorable episodes. (Remember when Marge stars in a theater production of A Streetcar Named Desire? That was his.) And we're not pointing him out now in hopes that he'll read this and send the entire staff of the Houston Press copies of the Simpsons' second season, just released on DVD. We're just glad to say he's one of us. We wouldn't be so shallow as to ask for such a thing, over here at the Houston Press, 1621 Milam, Suite 100, Houston, Texas 77002.
Joe Jamail is an attorney with ethics. Former Texas attorney general Dan Morales tried to lure the Houston civil icon into a scheme involving the most lucrative of cases, a suit against tobacco companies. But Jamail blew the whistle when Morales attempted to shake him and others down for $1 million. Now Morales is heading off to prison, a vindication of sorts for Jamail's virtue. While legions of greedy upstart lawyers try to lay claim to Jamail's long-standing title of the "king of torts," they'd do better to take a lesson from this brash and brilliant attorney. Jamail's made his many millions, but he's done it with immense compassion for those who need his help most: the little as well as big guys. There may be another tort king some day, but there'll never be another Joe Jamail.
There's no telling where Cynthia Flood and her two children would be living today if they hadn't crossed paths with Mark Davis. Last October, Davis read a story in the Houston Press that recounted how Flood's $250-a-month apartment in the Fourth Ward was in the path of a city-sponsored redevelopment project and was destined to be demolished. She was denied a government-subsidized apartment in the new Historic Oaks of Allen Parkway because of credit problems. Flood had taken out a student loan to attend Hargest College a decade ago, but dropped out when she became pregnant with her son. Her government checks, however, kept going to Hargest, which kept cashing them. Flood, a single mother earning $7.15 an hour checking groceries at Kroger, managed to whittle an $8,000 debt down to $1,700, but the city housing authority nonetheless rejected her application for housing. Enter Davis, a bankruptcy lawyer and estate planner who knew someone with a contact at the U.S. Department of Education. Davis helped Flood with the paperwork for a deferment, which removed the delinquency from her credit report. He also pestered city housing officials until they reconsidered Flood's application. In May, thanks to Davis's generous donation of time and expertise, Flood and her kids moved into a new apartment at the Historic Oaks of Allen Parkway. "She just needed someone to cut through the red tape," says Davis, a solo practitioner. "I think attorneys have an obligation, when they can, to provide assistance to people who need it."
4739 Buck RoadTucked at the end of Buck Road in the Fifth Ward is the oddest but coolest shotgun house in Texas. World-renowned Houston artist Bert Long, known to many for his massive public ice sculptures, lives there with his partner Joan Batson, a painter from Scotland. The house, rehabbed as part of a thesis project by Rice University architecture student Brett Zamore, was built in the 1920s. The 950-square-foot space is actually two shotgun houses merged into one. The wooden wall that once separated them is still there, and so are the sliding bathroom doors. And the corrugated tin roof is a close match to the original. The space is small, but Long and Batson have done their best to utilize every nook. Ivy covers exposed beams, and the art inside is rotated so often the place is almost a miniature museum. In the large backyard is a well-tended garden where Long grows watermelons, tomatoes and five kinds of eggplant, which he regularly gives away to students at the local elementary school and to neighbors on his street. Long, who grew up in the Fifth Ward, says the house is a way of connecting him to his past. And it sure is cozy, too.
Maybe we're being a little optimistic -- as of this writing, new columnist Rick Casey has not yet filed a story for the Houston Chronicle. But hey, who's his competition? Leon Hale and Thom Marshall? Seriously, though, if you've read Casey in the San Antonio Express-News, you know that his unique feel for the pulse of the city coupled with his ability to turn a clever phrase makes for lively reading. Will he be able to get to the heart of Houston? And will he continue the city government coverage that's made him famous in S.A.? We're keeping our fingers crossed.

As the fall TV season approaches, the ultimate worth of Houston Medical remains under debate. But one thing is certain: The media has picked up on our Med Center excellence. Case in point: Fortune magazine, that bastion of biz lists, heralded St. Luke's Episcopal Health System as one of the nation's top 100 places to work. The chronicle of commerce cited St. Luke's generous benefits and compensation (the starting salary for a day nurse is $42,636) and a "commitment to teamwork." Rather than a cheap "cake and ice cream day," St. Luke's throws an employee appreciation week, featuring massages, karaoke contests and snazzy polo shirts. The hospital system even threw a "Fun Fest" for employees when it was named to Fortune's list. But it is perhaps the staff's performance during Tropical Storm Allison, when nurses waded through waist-deep water to salvage food for patients, and staff formed "human chains" to funnel medical supplies through 25 flights of stairwells, that admitted St. Luke's to the winner's circle.

Sure, he's a Republican, an Oklahoman and a Sooners and Cowboys fan, but in spite of all that we are drawn to Kevin Whited's weblog almost daily. Maybe it's the fact that he has a lot to say about Texas country music and is not shy about expressing what he thinks. Neither does he back away from commentary on the local media. And it probably doesn't hurt that he often -- though certainly not always -- compares that daily rag he calls the Comical to the Press most unfavorably. Maybe it's his trenchant views on the Astros that keep him in our bookmarks. Whatever it is, we return to his site more than any other.

Usually the animals aren't up to much. Anybody ever seen one of those gators so much as blink? Some time back, it was even revealed that one of the snakes in the reptile house was made of rubber, and nobody cottoned on for more than a year. Far more fascinating is the people-watching at this cheapest and most democratic of local attractions, and one of the few places in the heart of town where one can see lots of tourists, both foreign and domestic. Some come from farther away than others. While any given day finds the parking lot full of cars from Louisiana and Oklahoma, if you had been there one special day in 1997, you could have rubbed elbows at the giraffe pen with the black-turbaned Taliban leadership, who visited the zoo as guests of Unocal in happier times.

Hit the southern tip of the Piney Woods of East Texas and turn the car north through the town of Kountze. As the Sonic and the Dairy Queen dissolve in the rearview mirror, the highway takes on a rural tone. And just beyond the city limits, the humble shrine shows itself ever so briefly at 60 mph. Roadside weeds suddenly disappear into perhaps a 20-yard plot of freshly mown green grass. Sunk into the rich loam of soil is the white Styrofoam cross, embedded with dark roses. Local law enforcement officers say it was here that a "young fella" lost his life in an auto accident. And the family and friends return regularly, intent on preserving his memory. The personalized arrangement of flowers on the cross spells out his name, a beloved moniker in these parts: Bubba. Relatives can't forget him -- motoring strangers don't, either.

Ever since Tropical Storm Allison, many Houstonians have found themselves a lot more interested in severe weather than they used to be. Houston weather has always been about extremes, of course, but when one of those extremes causes $5 billion in damage, people start to pay attention. TV stations know this and flog a threatening-weather situation for every last viewer they can scare into watching; tropical depressions anywhere in the western hemisphere always seem to have potential projections taking them right up the Ship Channel. So a voice of reason and sanity is well appreciated, and Channel 2's Frank Billingsley provides it. He won't hype a storm that doesn't deserve it, but he'll let you know when you should be concerned. And when a severe storm hits, he's more willing than most to say when the worst is about to be over, as opposed to telling folks to "stay tuned" to see just how long this thing will last.

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