Miguel Guzman, a 22-year-old Alvin resident, had recently been discharged from an army reserve unit in Pasadena. With time on his hands and the breeze in his face, he heard the siren call of the Gulf and headed to the beach.
He took a Hummer. Not just any Hummer, but an HMMWV M-998 military Humvee belonging to the Davis U.S. Army Reserve Center in Pasadena.
On the night of July 21-22, police say, Guzman somehow got in a vehicle, flipped the on-off switch that is the vehicle's ignition system and plowed through a chain-link fence. (Hey, it's a Hummer.)
He and his pals took it to Crystal Beach and Channelview, that refinery suburb where necks are generally red and a canvas-topped Hummer decked out in military camouflage is treated as a righteous ride.
You'd think the M-998 would be the most egregious SUV on the road, but it's actually one ton lighter than a Ford Expedition, gets 14 miles per gallon on the highway and only costs $50,000. On the other hand, Ford Expeditions aren't often armed with TOW anti-tank missiles, as some military Hummers are. (Fortunately for the folks at Crystal Beach, Guzman chose an unarmed one.)
In these days of incredibly tight security and paranoia, where the thought of terrorists stealing military equipment is a nightmare scenario, behold your government at work: The knocked-down fence at the reserve center was noticed at 7 a.m. July 22. It took a mere 24 hours after that for them to discover that one of their Hummers had been driven off the lot.
Rest easy, America.
"It's out of the norm, but people do crazy things all the time," says Ben Abel, public affairs officer for the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command. "You know, it's just good we got the vehicle back and it's in a state that we can repair, you know, and not be a loss to the government."
Tracking down a rogue Hummer is not easy. Even when the genius behind the theft parks it in his girlfriend's driveway.
A motorist looking for garage sales called Pasadena police when he saw the vehicle July 23. Cops went to the house and found the girlfriend's father, someone who apparently doesn't think it unusual when his daughter's pal suddenly rolls up in an unlicensed military vehicle.
The father called the couple, who were out shopping, and told them to come home. When they did, and saw the cops waiting, Guzman tried in vain to run away down the street. (If only he'd had a TOW missile handy.)
Pasadena PD spokesman Martin DeLeon says Guzman has been charged with first-degree felony theft. He says Guzman, who could not be reached, admitted to driving the vehicle but not to stealing it.
With an explanation like that, we can't wait for the trial.
Coffee Pun Headline Here
Seventy-five media outlets worldwide have struggled mightily to come up with a cute way to introduce Houstonian John Winter Smith, so we will simply be straightforward: Smith has visited more than 4,200 Starbucks and is trying to visit all of the almost 5,000 (and growing daily) company-owned outlets in the world.
Hair Balls talked to him at the Starbucks at Post Oak and Westheimer:
Q. What Starbucks has had the dirtiest bathroom?
A. Oh, my God. (Points to bathroom.) In Houston, probably here. Because there are so many people here. I don't know why the manager doesn't take more pride and put more of an emphasis on cleaning it up.
Q. What are the best Starbucks in Houston to meet hot women?
A. Forget [the intersection of] Montrose and Hawthorne; there are a lot of good-looking women, but you don't know which ones are gay and which ones are not Gosh, uh, you're going to see a lot of students at [the intersection of] Buffalo Speedway and Westpark. But the women here [at Post Oak], they are usually doing something, they are working and studying or something like that. I think at Buffalo Speedway and Westpark, you might be able to get more into a conversation.
Q. Where was the best-looking barrista?
A. [Smith opens up the journal on his laptop and -- unfortunately enough -- reads a long passage describing a San Francisco visit. It includes phrases like "a true angel" and "every single part-Japanese woman I have ever met I've found incredibly attractive" and "I left with a sense of deep longing and sadness, as upon discovery of a previously unknown treasure that promised to remain ever unattainable."]
Q. How about the most tattooed barrista you've ever seen?
A. I'm drawing a blank there. They have tattoos, but she would have problems getting hired if she had a lot of visible tattoos.
Q. Most illicit Starbucks activity you've seen?
A. At a Starbucks in Plano the barristas were serving a group of us -- I wasn't drinking -- but they were serving us drinks. Like actual, they had a couple of bottles of liquor in the back room and were mixing up stuff.
A. That's definitely illegal, I think. If not illegal, definitely against the rules.
Montrose resident Karen Clouse figured she lived in one of the city's best neighborhoods for sporting a bumper sticker touting John Kerry. She thought wrong.
Clouse's Toyota Corolla -- with its "Librarians Against Bush" sticker -- drew attention two weeks ago from a giant pickup truck that tailgated and even lightly bumped her, she says. Then, on July 27, she walked out to her car and saw two of the tires slashed and the bumper sticker partly ripped off, with half of it crumpled on the ground.
"The police officer who took my report said, 'I'm voting for Bush, but that's just not right,' " says the 32-year-old master's candidate in library science. "He asked if I was going to put another on, but I just can't afford to. I had to miss a day of work and replace two tires."
Hey, Clouse -- stop with all this GOP-bashing, man. You ever think that maybe someone just has something against librarians?
"That might be true, except that my husband's John Kerry sticker has been ripped off his car, too," she says.
Oh. Better just vote Republican, then.
It Takes a Train to Cry
After early struggles with horrendous traffic jams, the Houston Texans hit on a solution: Use Metro's Park & Ride lots. About 4,500 fans a game parked at satellite lots around the city and were bused in to Reliant Stadium.
It worked so well that the idea is being dropped. Dropped like an end-zone pass to a wide-open Jackie Smith in Super Bowl XIII (just needed to introduce some Cowboys heartache here).
Metro and the Texans will now Just Say No to Park & Rides. Instead, everybody without a parking pass will have to take light rail, and fend for themselves finding parking along the route.
Riders could pay a yet-to-be-determined price to park at the Fannin Street station -- and then pay $1 for a 30-second train ride -- but otherwise it's going to be a free-for-all.
Texans spokesman Kevin Cooper says, "The train route was put in from downtown to Reliant Stadium for a reason, and this is it."
So the reason is not to maim innocent Houstonians? What a relief.
The now-tedious regular scoreboard updates on light rail collisions had a new twist July 22. In reporting on the latest SUV vs. train fender-bender -- the 51st mishap since testing began in October -- Metro said the incident was being counted as No. 50 because an earlier crash had been determined to have been an attempted suicide.
What? There was still an unsightly meeting of Man and Rail, right? We're now trying to divine the mental states of Houston's errant drivers and pedestrians?
"It certainly was a collision," Metro's Ken Connaughton says, "but it just was not an accident. It was something that someone did purposely."
Well, they certainly could have been sure of getting publicity.
Starry, Starry Fight
Baseball's All-Star Game last month was a pretty dull affair. Unless you were in the photographers' work area of Minute Maid Park.
There, two Houston Chronicle photogs decided to duke it out.
No one's sure what triggered the brawl between veteran John Everett and Karl Stolleis, who's been with the paper for almost four years. Everett is generally regarded as a laid-back sort (a description that doesn't necessarily apply to Stolleis), so the fight is even more baffling.
Everett didn't return calls and Stolleis won't discuss details, but both of them no longer work for the Chron, victims of a "zero tolerance policy" toward, we guess, punching colleagues during All-Star Games.
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That's not the only turmoil in the chronically understaffed photography department of the paper. Chief photog Dave Einsel has left, and consultants have been brought in -- you can imagine the Office Space-type fear that can inspire.
The current consultant, former Dallas Morning News photographer John Davidson, says there's nothing to worry about. And Davidson, who admits he "stepped on a few toes" at the News, says he isn't making any personnel decisions here.
That'll be up to whomever the paper hires in a month or so. That, of course, leaves even more time for the shooters to stew in uncertainty.
We just have to hope things get settled before the NBA All-Star Game comes to town in 2006.