The best way to glimpse what youre missing as a nonmember of the country club set is to attend the annual River Oaks International Tennis Tournament. While the ticket is pricey, you dont need one to get on the grounds, only to enter the stadium. Sneak in some alcohol, because and this is a recent development -- you must be a member to order beer and mixed drinks. Once you're settled, gawk away. But a word to the wise: Stand still, wherever you are, during the national anthem; otherwise, some stiff wearing khakis and a navy-blue blazer may hassle you. On your way out, don't miss the miniature horses tied to the trees in some rich jerk's front yard -- a gawk-worthy site if ever there was one.

This former education dean at Texas Southern University rode the Republican express from an HISD trustee post to district superintendent to George Bush's secretary of education. Paige, whose college doctoral thesis was on the response times of collegiate football linemen, embraced the TAAS testing mania to score glory and hype as top public educator in the United States. But the blush may be off the rose for the newly minted Washington bureaucrat. A number of publications, including U.S. News and World Report and The New Republic, have reported that both the Bushies and Paige have soured on one another, and Paige may be thinking of returning to Houston.
At a time when most organizations are paring down, Big Brothers Big Sisters is pouring it on. Under the guidance of president Deborah Ortiz, Houston-based BBBS has expanded into an incredible 31 counties that stretch from the Gulf Coast upward into East Texas. The organization manages to be dead serious about its mission -- and yet not make the mistake of many agencies in taking itself too seriously. The so-called Bigs have fun; one event featured "Hunk Night" (Houston firefighter calendar models and the Houston Texan cheerleaders). And BBBS has evolved with the times. There are now programs for couples and entire families to "adopt " a child in need of reliable adult friends. In the last few years, agencies, politicians and pretty much everybody else seems to have discovered the power of the M-word -- mentoring -- as the solution to salvaging our youth. But that new buzzword for others has been the backbone of a half-century of efforts for BBBS. Staff and volunteers prove that with enough sweat and love, it gets results where others fail.
It's hard to stay focused when reading a book at a coffee shop. You're deep into Bel Canto, and suddenly the next table erupts into guffaws. The spell is broken. But it's always easy to find a quiet spot at the Houston Municipal Rose Garden. You can wander around and inhale the scents of a rainbow of roses, putting yourself in a sufficiently dreamy mood before settling down on a blanket with your novel. (If you're anti-grass, there's an ornate Chinese gazebo with benches.) And after hours of reading and relaxing, when the sun begins to set, honest-to-God bunnies materialize from nowhere and hop through the garden, chasing each other.

From beginning to end, Rick Hurt spent a total of 15 days impersonating the Easter Bunny under a giant Fabergé-like egg at the Galleria this last spring. For a little over a fortnight, Rick gave up his other gigs -- impersonating Bette Midler, dressing up as a fairy, or a host of other costumed characters with Eastern Onion Singing Telegram service -- to don a white bunny suit with a blue tuxedo and ruffly sleeves. Because of the particular variety of characters Rick regularly dresses up as, he asked his friends to be respectful of the bunny should they see him working the "Big Time." The days are long and the odors unenviable, but Rick said one of the most memorable moments was when he held on his lap a newborn baby -- so tiny that it hadn't even been born when Rick started the gig.
Although she's technically not a whistle-blower, Enron executive Sherron Watkins's memo to Ken Lay warning him of the coming catastrophe last fall made her the Cassandra of the biggest business scandal ever to hit the city. Watkins managed to stay on the Enron payroll while becoming a national hero through appearances before congressional interrogators. She's now collaborating with Houston writer Mimi Swartz on an upcoming tell-all book about life inside the Crooked E.
Jaded Houstonians have gotten used to losing architectural treasures to the wrecking ball. After all, the cavalier attitude of most Houston developers seems to be "out with the old, in with the new," regardless of the results. Even modern architectural gems risk destruction -- but not if Houston Mod can help it. The organization is on a quest to preserve the modern architecture of both Houston and Texas, using advocacy and education to spread its message. The city's newest, hippest preservation group sponsors classes, lectures, study tours and the like. Stephen Fox, architectural historian and author of the Houston Architectural Guide, is one of Houston Mod's several founders. Word to Houston developers: Just because a building is modern, that doesn't mean it's not an architectural classic. Check with Houston Mod before you call in the demolition team.
Republican Lynn Hughes hardly blinked when he advanced from his state district court (a civil one, no less) to the federal bench some 12 years ago. That characteristic aplomb has yet to be erased by some of the most demanding cases at the federal courthouse. He's coupled a healthy disdain for the traditional veil of legalese with a quiet but firm demeanor that has established him as one of the most independent jurists anywhere. Hughes demanded answers in a shady immunity deal for the notorious Graham brothers. And he didn't shy away from forcing the government to admit to submitting a false affidavit against an ex-CIA agent and lying to a grand jury in a bank fraud case. By now, his straightforward search for the truth is legendary among lawyers.
The Diana Ross of Destiny's Child is the crossover queen of pop at the moment, with platinum albums and a starring role in MTV's sultry Hip Hopera, Carmen. It's a Knowles family affair, with father Mathew as Svengali manager, and mother Tina as group costume designer and beautician. Not only is the group a survivor, as its signature song declares, but it seems to be omnipresent. From the Houston Chronicle fashion columns to that NBA playoff game where Philadelphia fans nearly booed them off the stage for wearing Laker jerseys, Destiny's Child is everywhere. Beyoncé and her co-stars, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, have become so overexposed in the media they are in danger of contracting the video version of skin cancer. For the good of us all, won't someone give these girls a well-earned vacation?
Recent statistics show that the average American wedding costs $20,000. Not only is that the cost of a car or four years at a state university spent on one single day, we guarantee you that most of your guests will be too drunk or bored to care if the bridesmaids' shoes match the ushers' socks. So why not get economical about the affair? At Harmony Wedding Chapel the cost of the average wedding is about $200. And that includes taped music and use of the "Bride's Room," a pink-carpeted waiting area with a picture of Jesus hanging on the wall. For nearly 40 years, this little blue-and-white building off the Gulf Freeway has been the place to get hitched for couples from all over the Houston area and beyond; they handle as many as ten weddings each Saturday. Yes, the chapel's carpet is seafoam-green, and there's a large sign in the office that warns "NO REFUNDS ON WEDDINGS." But everywhere you look there are photographs of happy couples who have sent notes to Harmony with thanks for hosting their special day. So who cares if it's not the Four Seasons? After all, love is blind.

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