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.

Most fixations require cross-dressing midgets, trailer-park love triangles or an element of Satan worship to be worthy of the tabloid TV circuit. But the odd obsession of this industrial filmmaker is a touchy-feely affair. Yaqi, who derives his name from Carlos Castaneda's Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, believes tickling is the road to enlightenment. Yes, there's some tying to bedposts involved (his subjects can't be allowed to get away, now, can they?), and they are videotaped in their underwear (the skin must be exposed, you see, for his wandering fingers to have the maximum effect). But when all's considered, this fetish is about as benign as they come, yet is still strange enough to have made this New Age pornographer a regular on Howard Stern, and to be featured by other chroniclers of weirdness on MTV and elsewhere.
"Trophy" may be too strong a word for this apparently abandoned behemoth: a concrete block, presumably of Portland cement, standing near seven feet high and about five feet wide, featuring a high relief of some sort of Greco-Roman figures, and the inscription: "Awarded Trinity Portland Cement Company Houston Texas Plant for a Perfect Safety Record in 1929." The block was re-awarded, and re-inscribed, for perfect safety records in 1945, 1947, 1959, and then, silence -- Trinity Portland Cement Company appears to have been Dallas-based, and the Houston plant was shuttered in 1975. How long it took the site to degenerate to its present state -- at the intersection of two abandoned roads to nowhere, scattered with illegally dumped trash, no sign at all of a cement plant -- is anyone's guess, but still the monument stands, too heavy to move, in silent remembrance to those few special years when no one got crushed in the machinery.
Each June since 1978, Houston's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community has officially celebrated being proud of who they are with the snazzy, spectacular Pride Parade. Because of Houston's sweltering summer heat, in 1997 planners started holding the event after sundown, giving the parade the exuberant charge of a nightclub in full swing -- and starting a trend of nighttime pride parades throughout the country. Since the dancers, activists and flag-bearers make their way through the Montrose area as opposed to downtown, there's a groovy local flavor to the event (although there's talk that the parade is outgrowing its space). What started as a small affair is now a must-attend event even for local government officials and businesses like JP Morgan Chase. Gay police officers and firefighters also participate, and this year's silver anniversary of the parade drew in the biggest crowd ever (nearly 150,000), with revelers crowding under a 1,000-pound chandelier that hung above the intersection of Westheimer and Montrose.
This project has been written off for dead so many times it earned the reputation as the Freddy Krueger of downtown Houston development. In the midst of a fierce City Council contest for the hotel contract in 1995, the FBI used it as the bait in a bribery sting. That led to the famous "Hotel Six" series of trials, resulting in the convictions of former councilman Ben Reyes and port commissioner Betti Maldonado. Then a deal with Crescent Development to build the hotel fell apart, leaving the city to pick up the pieces with its own financing plan. When the Hilton Americas opens this December, it will likely go down in history as the hotel too tough to kill. Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau chief Jordy Tollett says the moral of the tale is "if you just keep trying, trying and trying, you just may succeed."
Soudavar flew back from a visit with her Iranian relatives to find a greeting party of HPD robbery detectives at Bush Intercontinental Airport awaiting her arrival. A friend, Christina Girard, had ratted Soudavar out to the police for allegedly stealing some pricey earrings and a watch from her home and peddling the baubles at a posh Galleria resale shop. Soudavar wound up spending several days in Harris County's five-star jail while authorities investigated her immigration status. She fared better in Judge Jim Wallace's court, pleading guilty to misdemeanor theft in exchange for a year's probation and 80 hours of community service -- all to be served in Paris, France. Quelle horreur!

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