Best Reason to Stay in Houston During the Summer

Juneteenth On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army led his troops into the city of Galveston, where he officially proclaimed freedom for slaves in Texas. Many in America's Deep South hadn't yet learned of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, so on this date, the freed slaves of Texas and other parts of the South really celebrated. That night, thousands flooded the streets, rejoicing in their newly announced freedom. The sweet smell of barbecue smoke filled the air. Dancing feet pounded the dirt roads, and harmonic voices sung spirituals. Today the yearly Juneteenth blues festival continues with free concerts at Miller Outdoor Theatre and Hermann Park, organized by the National Emancipation Association. The eats and drinks are out of this world, and the mood can't be topped. It's a great way to celebrate one of Texas's most important holidays.

Take entrance no. 2 off Main, mosey through Rice campus and see what they've done to the place. Rice has one of the few college campuses that you can actually drive through without being accosted by the police or hitting a dead end every 20 feet. If you don't lose your nerve when you see the stadium parking lot (it's awfully big for such a little school), you can cut all the way over to University Boulevard or Greenbriar and sail into West U by the back door, avoiding both the construction and the maddening Bissonnet traffic jams.
Houston's signature waterway has been a murky mystery since before the Allen brothers followed it upstream and planted the future Space City on its banks. But at least back then its green-brown waters were clear of the flotsam and jetsam of modern civilization. Starting this summer, a vessel called The Mighty Tidy is aiming to rectify the situation. It cruises the bayou five days a week from Shepherd to the East Loop, scooping up tons of floating garbage. It's also equipped with attachments to pick trash off the bayou banks and out of overhanging trees. Credit its unusual colors to those zany Art Guys, Michael Galbreth and Jack Massing, who turned the quarter-million-dollar boat into a flamingo-pink nautical vacuum cleaner.
Bill White He's a lawyer-turned-businessman and Bill Clinton's former deputy secretary of energy. He was able to attract prominent Republicans to his campaign for mayor, and he won 62 percent of the vote in the runoff that got him elected. But who is Bill White? Is he the liberal Clinton appointee fighting to find health insurance money for Houston children, or is he the conservative fighting against his so-called liberal union base to cut the pensions of city employees? Is Mayor White the man willing to take on conservatives with his traffic mobility plans -- including tow-truck regulation -- or the one who shows a willingness to take on the powerful unions -- like the police union -- by appointing outsiders to run departments? The mayor keeps the usually combative City Council under control, and so far he's found a way to appeal to the loyal audiences of Bob Lanier, Lee Brown and the Bushes. But if he ever settles on an identity, that may quickly change.

Andy Fastow was the creator of those infamous outside partnerships with the Star Wars names that diverted millions from the company to his family foundation and the bank accounts of fellow employees. After winning a conviction of accounting giant Arthur Andersen for illegally shredding Enron documents, government prosecutors have given every indication that they may go after Fastow's scalp next. Runner-up: Hamilton Middle School Principal Kenneth Goeddeke, a fave with parents and students who resigned after district computer police caught him using his office computer to access adult porn sites.
Talk about perfect timing. On June 26, just two days before the 25th anniversary of Houston's Pride Parade, the U.S. Supreme Court knocked down Texas's homosexual sodomy law by a 6-3 vote. The law, which outlawed sodomy only when practiced by gays, was challenged by two Houston men named John Lawrence and Tyron Garner, who were arrested in 1998 when police discovered them having sex in Lawrence's apartment. Speaking for the court, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy declared, "The state cannot demean [homosexuals'] existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime." While conservative Justice Antonin Scalia said the court had "taken sides in the culture war" and had "largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda," activists across the country pooh-poohed him and gathered to celebrate. At a City Hall rally in Houston, Ray Hill, a longtime local warrior for gay rights, happily declared, "We can't -- by this decision -- ever go back."

After years of successfully defending local celebrity clients like QB Warren Moon (spousal abuse) and Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich (DWI), former Harris County prosecutor Rusty Hardin finally jumped to the major leagues with national coverage of his roles in the Anna Nicole Smith probate jamboree and the Arthur Andersen shredding trial. Hardin got so under Smith's skin during cross-examination that she immortalized him for the nation's court TV junkies by snapping, "Screw you, Rusty." The lawyer charmed reporters from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal during the Andersen trial with his country mannerisms and hokey off-color suits. He repeatedly ridiculed the government's case with the slogan "Where's Waldo?" Unfortunately for Rusty, Waldo turned out to be Judge Melinda Harmon, whose instructions forced the jury out of a weeklong deadlock and into a conviction of his client.
Cherryhurst Park Great parks don't always come in big packages. In fact, some of the best neighborhoods wrap around intimate spaces where people meet over a picnic blanket, under an arching bough or across a newspaper and a park bench. Stroll down Missouri Street in the heart of the Montrose and you'll notice Cherryhurst Park among the stately oaks -- some of the most elegant in the city. They invite you past the colorful murals on the small clubhouse and onto a winding path lined with flowering, subtropical plants. A compact tennis court and playground don't overwhelm the green space, which centers on a substantial grassy hillock. At a square block in size, the park is cozy, but the majestic trees, rolling lawn and creatively landscaped gardens somehow make it feel much larger. Every neighborhood deserves a park like Cherryhurst.

Alicia Lee's son is a resident at Willow River Farms, a division of the nonprofit Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation. Every fall the residents of this Brookshire, Texas, facility made fruitcakes. That is, until Barbara Bush, for whom Lee had once volunteered at the White House, suggested they expand their repertoire to include gingersnaps. Six years ago, Lee sent a tin of Willow River Farms gingersnaps to Bush at Kennebunkport. The former first lady liked them so much, she sent out tins to all of her friends at Christmastime. Since then Lee has also added mouthwatering cheese snaps to the Farms' list of offerings. The cookies sell for between $15 and $25 a tin. And last year, Lee sold $215,000 worth of treats. The proceeds have paid for electronic doors for wheelchair residents, extra hospital beds and clinic refurbishing. Get your holiday orders in now.

Meat and Verb Houston is not the best place in the world to go graffiti hunting. Most of the cats out here are merely taggers with limited skill, or have no regard for art whatsoever. But we do have a couple of superstars who take their work seriously -- and who haven't yet graduated to the legal stuff. Meat and Verb have taken over the H-town graffiti scene. The adventurous pair, hands down the 2004 champs, usually paints their unique lettering high in the sky. Some works consist of only one or two colors -- like the ones you might see high above 59 South on the green signs as you approach the Shepherd exit -- and some are straight-up masterpieces. The best way to find the work of these artists is to just look up wherever you happen to be in the center city, and there they are. You'll see Meat and Verb on billboards, walls, traffic signs... these guys are nuts!

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