Of course, the travesties continue: tearing down the old Gulf Publishing building on Allen Parkway, bulldozing bits and pieces of the precious past, flushing out Houston's final habitat hideaways for the sake of nothing more than the sameness of another new Rolling-Creek-Timber-Valley-Plantation-Estates subdivision. But the Bayou City shows more indications than ever that it just might be starting to appreciate its heritage. The rebirth of downtown awoke the greediest of developers to the potential for profits in preserving historic structures, even through costly conversions. Blocks of buildings restored as lofts are beginning to line the central city. Commercial uses are coming back as well. It seems that restorations are being considered for many more buildings (at least the ones not owned by Hakeem Olajuwon). Coupled with that are more aggressive wetlands preservation programs and nature centers. However, the most honorable of efforts can't begin to compare to the Restoration of 2001. This one involves several hundred square miles of the region. The rehab bill ran $5 billion and up for a collective project to rehouse about 100,000 residents and restore about half that many vehicles. The very heart of Houston -- the Texas Medical Center, colleges, the criminal courts system and the fine arts institutions -- had to be rebuilt in many ways from the devastation of Tropical Storm Allison.

Brenda Flynn Flores, an Arkansas-born mother of ten, is the electronic bullhorn for a group of municipal workers who call themselves "The Silent Voice." Since HOUSNITCH's founding three years ago, hundreds of would-be whistle-blowers have found a forum to vent their grievances -- and internal documents -- for all to see. Flores, nicknamed Juera, or Blondie, is far from perfect, and at times the Web site has seemed more like an out-of-control attack vehicle for her political allies, like District A Councilman Bruce Tatro. Nevertheless, Flores continues to be a thorn in the side of complacent city bureaucrats and incompetent public works managers. Long may she snitch!

Best Reason to Stay in Houston During the Summer

Jones Plaza concerts

Party on the Plaza has been the most popular way for Houston's music lovers to let off a little steam in the summertime for years. Working-class stiffs and yuppie execs have packed this little grandstand in the middle of downtown every summer since the 1980s. And it's no wonder: Houston proper doesn't have a lot of natural resources to help us keep cool. So where does one turn? To beer, of course. A happy hour tradition, the original Party on the Plaza still goes strong, though it's now controlled by Clear Channel and most of the acts fall into the Texas C&W realm. A few other groups have made good use of the plaza as well in recent years. So on almost any given Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday evening from Memorial Day to Labor Day, you can hear live music, drink cheap beer and dance your wahoos off under the stars, just steps from your office door.
The best smell? Coffee, of course. And there's no bigger coffee smell in town than the odor steaming out of Kraft's Maxwell House factory, a few blocks (and miles of attitude) east of Enron Field. Most days the prevailing winds blow that smell, ooh that smell, in a northwesterly direction, toward the north end of downtown and away from most eastside residents, many of whom can more or less stand on their porches and read the smoky plume from the one-million-square-foot facility for changes in the weather. And a fine day it is when the winds change, blowing that slightly processed coffee smell back over the near east side, where it mingles with, and partially masks, the cabbagy stink of wastewater treatment facilities and some of the ranker stretches of Buffalo Bayou. Fusion City, indeed.
Sure, they love him out in Sugar Land, but to many people across this country, U.S. Representative Tom DeLay is a bombastic, moralistic, self-righteous -- you get the idea. So when his adult daughter, who works for him, hit the newspapers in a story about Las Vegas hot tubs, lobbyists, and champagne being tossed on people's heads, it brought a smile to a lot of faces. Dani Ferro's brief moment in the spotlight began when the Capitol Hill weekly Roll Call broke the story last fall, quoting a witness as saying Ferro was "among the revelers" at a late-night party and "there were a lot of lobbyists in the hot tub, pouring champagne on each other." And no doubt discussing those sybaritic Democrats. DeLay quickly turned to his hometown newspaper to deliver the spin he wanted on the incident: "A totally innocent thing has been blown terribly out of proportion," the Houston Chronicle quoted one "steamed" (and anonymous) DeLay aide as saying. The Official And Complete Explanation of what happened, as delivered by the aide through the Chron: "Ferro and a female colleague donned swimming togs and climbed into the hot tub. A lobbyist came onto the balcony and, after a brief exchange with Ferro and her colleague, dumped a glass of champagne over Ferro's head, then left." Well, that explains everything...

Maybe you're a pilot looking for an interesting jaunt. Perhaps you're a WWII buff nostalgic for a blast from the past. Or maybe you're just a Houstonian hankering for an unusual weekend getaway. If so, Fredericksburg's new Hangar Hotel fills the bill. Bypass Fredericksburg's German beer halls and quaint B&Bs, and fly straight to the Hangar Hotel at the Gillespie County Airport. This WWII-themed property sports meeting rooms decorated as "flight briefing" Quonset huts, an officers' club bar and a 1940s-style diner and soda fountain. The alabaster light fixtures and green army-style blankets on the mahogany and rattan beds add even more retro-ambience. The hotel also has palm trees, a searchlight and a water tower -- guaranteed to transport you to Pearl Harbor itself. And if you just can't get enough of a WWII fix at the hotel, check out the Admiral Nimitz Museum and National Museum of the Pacific War nearby.

The beauty of Houston, in a perverted way, is the wealth of opportunities for individuals to rise up amid corruption and misconduct and take their moral stand, consequences be damned. Just in the last year, there was the implosion of Enron, the callous cunning of Arthur Andersen and the market manipulations from other energy companies here. So has the Bayou City's moral backbone gone to the dogs? In this Best of Houston winner, we're proud to say it has. Sam Levingston, a 72-year-old veterinarian at the city's animal pound, wouldn't remain quiet about reports of atrocities: workers viciously mistreating dogs and cats, holding them under water with choke sticks. At least once, they even washed puppies down the drains of their cages. His investigations and reports to supervisors got him fired. He then had to endure the backlash of city allegations that he'd been canned for incompetence. While a pound spokeswoman continues to deny the awful actions there, a jury heard the facts -- and hit the city with a $1.2 million verdict. For Houston's sake, let's hope there are more Sam Levingstons in local government.
Bob "Alwalee" Lee proclaims himself "Da Mayor of Fifth Ward." This retired social worker is already a legend in his northeast Houston community for his person-to-person efforts to help the disabled and elderly. And he's backed by a prime political connection. His brother is none other than Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee. Those on Da Mayor's mailing list are also treated to a stream of politically oriented collages that poke fun at everyone from preacher pimps to former Enron chairman Ken Lay. He has labeled State Senator Rodney Ellis an "honorary white boy" and skewered former city councilman Michael Yarbrough as "Yardboy." A recent mailout pictures Houston City Councilman Michael Berry and Congressman Tom DeLay, while blasting "opportunistic white politicians who chase our votes by kissing black babies, old folks and pretending to like fried chitlins."
Bradshaw v. Utility Marine Corporation, et al. is no one's idea of a landmark case, but the Galveston lawsuit has achieved the kind of instant immortality that's possible only now in the Internet age. Federal judge Sam Kent has long been known for his hair-trigger temper and utter lack of patience with attorneys whom he deems to be not up to his standards of professionalism. In tossing Bradshaw out of court this past June, he once more made sure his feelings were clear: "[T]his case involves two extremely likable lawyers, who have together delivered some of the most amateurish pleadings ever to cross the hallowed causeway into Galveston, an effort which leads the court to surmise but one plausible explanation. Both attorneys have obviously entered into a secret pact -- complete with hats, handshakes and cryptic words -- to draft their pleadings entirely in crayon on the back sides of gravy-stained paper place mats, in the hope that the court would be so charmed by their childlike efforts that their utter dearth of legal authorities in their briefing would go unnoticed." It gets worse after that. Within days, the opinion had been posted on the Internet and had traveled the globe, even earning mention in a London newspaper. Kent reportedly was mortified at the publicity and apologized to the lawyers involved.

The Fourth of July is supposed to be about freedom, and where better to celebrate liberty than the anarchistic Bolivar Peninsula? Want to drink openly on the beach? That's not a problem here. Neither is the possession and liberal use of extremely powerful fireworks. For two solid hours after the hot sun settles in Galveston Bay, the good folk of Bolivar launch steady streams of Roman candles and artillery shells into the air. The skies whine with whistling jakes, the dunes crackle with the reports of black cats, and sparklers sizzle on every beach house deck. Every hundred or so yards, there's another display, each of which must have cost hundreds of dollars and none of which is publicly funded. Thomas Jefferson would be proud.

Best Of Houston®