Self Expression Center

December 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Edit

Ground your Anxiety ? Just Be Yourself

by DJ Thomas

For anyone who has ever suffered anxiety over the thought of speaking before a group ? be it two or 200 people ? Sandra Zimmer has a simple solution: Get grounded, and be your authentic self.

When you’re grounded and authentic, it’s very easy to connect with others and win them over with your newfound charisma and magnetism, says Zimmer, founder of Houston?s Self-Expression Center.

Zimmer, whose background includes theater, voice coaching and psychology, admits that “grounding” and “authenticity” are just words, but she has put words into action and, over the past 25 years, created concrete results for thousands of people.

A former actress, Zimmer uses the terms “stage fright” and “performance anxiety” as they apply to the stage of life, not just the theater stage. As Zimmer sees it, most people develop performance anxiety whenever they become the center of attention. It can happen anytime all eyes are turned on you, whether you’re speaking at a big meeting or just talking one on one.

The root of anxiety, says Zimmer, is fear of being judged. In fact, we already have pre-judged ourselves against an impossible standard of perfection, and we have failed. Therefore, it’s no wonder we fear others also will judge us negatively. In the face of such overwhelming fear, most people experience an automatic reflex in which they temporarily float out of their bodies, leaving them feeling disconnected and disintegrated. If you’re not connected to your true self, how can you possibly connect to anyone else?

Zimmer teaches that the keys to overcoming performance anxiety are allowing yourself to be who you really are (authenticity) and getting back into your body (groundedness).

She defines authenticity as abandoning all fear of judgment and giving yourself permission to show other people your true self, instead of who you think you should be.

“By being authentic, you create a congruence between your inner and outer worlds,” she says. “You give yourself permission to show deeper parts of yourself, your inner thoughts and feelings.”

Being authentic means taking a risk, but the payoff can be tremendous. “Other people are drawn to authenticity, whether they can name it or not. Even difficult people will open up like flowers when you are being your true self,” she says.

Before you can be authentic, it’s essential to repair the anxiety-driven disconnect between mind and body. This is done best by getting grounded, or “coming home to your body,” as Zimmer describes it.

“Grounding is relaxing into your own skin, bringing spirit awareness into the body,” she says.
“Grounding clears your head, energizes your body and allows you to think clearly. Grounding not only makes connection possible but also comfortable.”

The wonderful feeling of being at home in your body may be new for most people, since we live in a culture that encourages us to think, not feel. We are also constantly rushing around, seeking to rev up our output, so even taking 10 minutes to get grounded can be a daunting challenge.

“We’re so used to operating out of our heads, most people don?t have a personal point of reference for being at home in their bodies,”  Zimmer says.

All grounding techniques have two things in common. One: They involve getting in touch with the physical body, whether through breath awareness, exercise, yoga or some other method. Two: You not only need to slow down, but come to a complete stop for five to 10 minutes.

Zimmer has developed a 10-minute grounding tape that has received glowing reviews from students at the Self-Expression Center and people around the world who have ordered it from the center’s Web site. The tape directs listeners to harness all of the frenetic energy swirling inside and around their heads and then to let that energy seep through every part of the body. At the end of the tape, listeners feel calm and in touch with their entire bodies, especially in the all-important solar plexus, a network of nerves located in the stomach.

Like most symptoms, anxiety is actually a signpost pointing to a hidden treasure, Zimmer says. “Those of us who feel anxiety believe there must be something wrong with us. The wonderful part is that there’s really something very right with us,”  she says. “That same anxiety is the sign of an incredible gift, which is sensitivity. We feel called to share our gift, and once we accept the task of feeling the anxiety and processing it, it transforms into passion and charisma.”

Zimmer said it’s crucial to provide a safe, nurturing and non-critical place where people can learn to express their authentic selves and tell their stories. Developing these skills in a group setting is also important, which is why Zimmer’s “Speaking from the Heart” workshops have been one of the Self-Expression Center’s most enduring offerings, along with classes such as “The Power of Your Speaking Voice” and “Communication Soft Skills.”

For more information call the Self-Expression Center at (281) 293-7070, or visit the Web site at

Memorable Holiday Gifts

December 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Edit

What is the Most Memorable Gift you Have Ever Given or Received?

The most memorable gift I ever received was my 40th birthday gift from my wife. It was a surprise party. We were supposed to be meeting for dinner at a restaurant in Indianapolis. We started walking through the restaurant, and we ran into some people I knew and then a few more. We were new to Indianapolis and didn’t know that many people, so I thought it a little odd. Then we were sitting at the bar, and I was tapped on my shoulder. When I turned around, it was my two best friends from New York. They were in waiter costumes. I nearly fell out of my chair. We all went to a private room, and my friends gave me the ultimate toast. Then my wife gave me a trip to play golf in Pebble Beach (California). We met my same two best friends and their wives at Pebble Beach and had a wonderful time. It was the greatest.

D’ Artagnan Bebel
Vice president and general manager, Fox 26 KRIV

When I was 13, I received a Dooney & Bourke purse from my father. It was my first actual expensive handbag, and I had been waiting for it all year. I was the envy of all of my friends.

Marisa Rodriguez
Major account executive, Skytel

I was dating a girl who didn’t live in Houston. We didn?t think we were going to be able to see each other for the holidays. So I surprised her and sent an airline ticket to Houston.

Christopher Ware
Enron EES

Spirituality is a gift that I receive freely and attempt to give every day. Sharing my spirituality is the best gift I have ever been given. It is also the best gift I can give.

Greg Fodel
Chairman, Marine Lumber Company

This year, one of my prized puppies had to be put down. It was a sad time in my life. Then, about three days later, my good friends, John and Sue Kerridge, brought me a new puppy. They said, “Happy holidays, just a little early.” It was so touching. I named her Lady Kerry Lee in honor of the dog I put down and the people who gave me the gift.

Judy Nichols
President, Judy Nichols and Associates

Roger Gray

December 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Edit

In Your Face

by Roger Gray

Memo: Houston Chamber of Commerce

CC: Convention and Visitors? Bureau, Houston Proud (or Houston’s Hot or whatever our self-conscious city boosters are calling it these days)

Hey gang,

Just a thought here. Considering what’s going on in the world, don’t you think it might be time to adopt a lower profile? After all, no one comes to Houston on vacation. Can you honestly picture Joe and Jane Average sitting on the divan in Des Moines and saying, “Hey, how about Houston this summer?” Don’t be silly.

So, since your efforts are doomed to failure, let’s just stay what we’ve always been ­ a great, underappreciated city where people live successful lives and enjoy the benefits of an international metropolis. Most folks don?t know we are the fourth largest city with the second largest port in the country. Let’s keep it that way. With terrorism virtually an Olympic event these days, why draw attention to yourself? And speaking of that, we are not, I repeat, not going to get the Olympics, so stop making noise about it.

The Astros did their part by folding up like a cardboard suitcase against Atlanta. Hakeem left, so we won’t hear from the Rockets for a decade. And if we?re lucky, the Texans will continue that Oiler tradition of choking like Mama Cass. Some guy you never heard of is conducting the symphony, and the ballet board has formed a circular firing squad around Ben Stevenson. Hey, Houston, it?s the 2000s. Stay low. Take the long way home. Duck and cover.

Tweedledum and Tweedledummer?

So the main hurdles to a federal airport security force were our very own examples of the downside of self-government, Reps. Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, neither of whom will ever be mistaken for Jefferson. OK, maybe George Jefferson. Seems they saw a regulated, standardized federal force of security folks to ensure the safety of air travel, all the rest of which is federally regulated, as an example of big government. Well, when the Capitol Hill police, who came to DeLay?s rescue when a nut with a pistol shot his way in, are converted to $6 an hour rent-a-cops, then he can complain. When Brink?s replaces the Secret Service, then they’ve got a case. How embarrassed do we have to be here and in Dallas/Fort Worth to rethink our representation?

And on that note, “Well, yes, Mr. Boney, there is a dog called an Afghan, but it has nothing to do with?”

Kofi Annan, U.N. secretary-general, Nobel Peace Prize winner and, interestingly enough, one of the General Foods International Kofis, came to Houston recently to discuss terrorism. The meeting was not open to the public, thus sparing us any embarrassing display of our city officials? lack of knowledge of the world east of Kingwood.

All Music, all the Time?

When the worst act of terrorism in history shocked America to its core, Houston radio listeners were kept abreast of the latest news, no matter what format they prefer unless they speak Spanish. While everyone from avant-garde rockers to classical broadcasters interspersed more news than ever into their formats, to the best of our knowledge, the only group to ignore the events of that day were those stations owned by Lieberman Broadcasting. This company, which bought a collection of stations from Clear Channel a while back, including KJOJ, KTJM and KQUE along with Channel 61, didn’t see fit to interrupt the music ­ and more importantly the commercials ­ to let Latino listeners know what was happening. One Lieberman station that did, KSEV, is leased by Dan Patrick and his gang of goose-steppers. But at least they had the good sense, or is decency the right word, to keep folks up to date (with spin of course), and damn the commercials. Another sad by-product of broadcast deregulation. The Lieberman crowd must figure the government doesn?t require news, so we won’t do any. Shameful.

Catherine Lanigan

December 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Angels Among Us

by Fran Fawcett-Peterson

Catherine Lanigan has no fear  a trait exhibited by every heroine in each of her 26 romance novels. Perhaps an unfailing faith in the face of all circumstance marks the essence of the romance novel. It’s certainly the essence of this author’s books. Books that have been translated into 23 languages and produced fans the world over.

With the world at her fingertips, Lanigan chose Houston as her home, first arriving in the 1970s. “Houston has become my home. I just dug in and sank my roots,” she says. All the same, it took a little while for Lanigan to realize just how deeply her roots reached. The writer returned to her native Indiana for a few years to help take care of her ailing mother, and that’s when she discovered that, as much as she appreciated her home in suburban Chicago, she had fallen in love with Houston. “I mean, I missed the dirt,” she says. “My heart is here.” So, with her belongings packed in a U-haul truck, she set out for the Lone Star State, stopping only briefly at the state line to kiss the Texas earth.

Always a storyteller, Lanigan was the eldest of four children. She routinely made up stories to entertain her siblings because her mother was ill, and young Lanigan wanted to keep the household quiet. Her father didn’t believe in the so-called “idiot box,” so there was no television in the household, leaving the children instead with books and their imaginations. For years, Lanigan dreamed of becoming a writer.

Sometimes dreams are snagged in the nets of everyday life. For the true believer, however, they remain only temporarily tangled. Lanigan’s dream was “snagged” during her freshman year of college. She was enrolled in a creative writing class taught by a visiting professor from Harvard, a class typically reserved for upper classmen. After the first writing assignment, the professor called her into his office and threw her story across the desk at her. It landed unceremoniously in her lap. She was stunned to hear him say she had no talent and would never be a writer. She was crushed, and worse than that, she believed him.

Lanigan didn’t write again for 14 years. During that time, she married, had a son and became a businesswoman, owning a swimming pool company in Houston among other ventures. Then, in 1979, she met a journalist, Hugh Ainsworth, beside a swimming pool at a hotel in San Antonio as she played with her son.

“I always wanted to be a writer,” she told Ainsworth.

“If you wanted to write you’d be writing,”  he laughed.

“Oh, no, I have it on good authority I have absolutely no talent,” Lanigan said and proceeded to tell him about the professor and the abrupt termination of her dream. His answer to that would change the course of her life.

“I’m ashamed of you,” he said. “You haven’t even tried.”

The statement hit a nerve in the soon-to-be novelist. Lanigan’s mother had always said that, and Ainsworth’s words echoed in a part of Lanigan’s soul that would not stand still for it. The journalist gave her his card and told her he would read anything she produced. Lanigan did indeed write, and, true to his word, Ainsworth read it and even recommended her first story, a World War I historical novel, to his editor. Her very first effort, “Bound by Love,” was a success.

Other successes followed. “The Promise,” set in Houston in the late 1800s, features a gutsy heroine who makes it on her own in the rough and tough world of the day, up to and including the devastating turn-of-the-century Galveston storm. “The Legend Makers,” set in the steamy jungles of the Amazon, offers the tale of a Texas geologist on a mission that will change her life forever. And then, there’s “Wings of Destiny: An Epic Saga of Self-discovery.” “This is the story,” according to the book jacket, “of every human being’s struggle to embrace the haunting secrets of their heritage and utilize them as catalysts to unearth the fortunes of their own soul.”

Notably, Lanigan’s most recent works are factually based. “The Evolving Woman’s subtitled, “Intimate Confessions of Surviving Mr. Wrong.”

“With this novel,” states Romantic Times, “Lanigan introduced “The Evolving Woman” heroine who, given a set of circumstances, makes choices that enrich who she is as well as the world around her.”

Then came “Angel Watch,” subtitled “Goosebumps, Dreams, Signs and Divine Nudges.” In it, Lanigan reveals a great deal of herself, including the fact that she believes that an angel appeared to her father before he died and told him to tell her to write this book. It contains stories from her own life and the lives of others in an illustration of divine intervention.

Lanigan says she believes God has put her on Earth for a very specific reason and that her guardian angels are helping with her mission. “You know, Ayn Rand said that literature must have “an underlying moral thematic structure,” and I have always tried to have that. But now I?m taking it a step further and saying literature must have an underlying moral and spiritual thematic structure.”

Lanigan currently is busy with a series of books for young adults, several screenplays and, not to disappoint her romance fans, she says she’ll continue to create in that vein as well. Thanks to faith, Lanigan is watching her dreams come true and taking us along for the literary ride.

Cindi Rose Arty Parties

December 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Edit

Arty Parties

by Cindi Harwood-Rose

You don’t need a magazine to tell you how to throw a party. But then again, how many non-creative barbecues, Mardi Gras celebrations, fiestas, luaus, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and millennium parties have you been to? These are fine for get-togethers, but if you want your party to be immortalized as the party, it must be creative.

It?s sometimes said ?the people make the party.? The truth is, everything makes the party ? the concept, the entertainment, the invitations, the party favors, the food, the creativity, the decorations and the guest list.

So here are five phenomenal party ideas for you to consider during the holiday season. There are so many great party ideas that it is hard to choose one, but all of these can be tailored to anyone from 8 to 80 years old.


Joan Lebow at Invitations by Joan, (713) 782-4141, can arrange the whole shindig, including the decorations, photographer, invitations, party favors, valet parking and imprinted napkins. She has a classy, Nicole Kidman look-alike who comes and sings and dances scenes from the movie ?Moulin Rouge,? including the well-known tune ?Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend.? Strings of pearls and plastic diamond rings can be used for decorations, and lush, rich, burgundy and red velvet can embellish the tables and drape the room. Invitations can be ordered for a few dollars to $25 a person. Lebow does computer calligraphy or can hire a calligrapher for you. Among her entourage are caricature artists, dancers, musicians, a silhouette artist, astrologers, handwriting specialists, jugglers, acrobatic midgets, mimes and party decorators. These entertainers range in price from $95 an hour to $300 per performance. If you want to look erotic and crazy for this festivity, call Johnathan Lucas at Tovas at (713) 439-1414. He can rouge any Moulin.


Pamela Reingold, (713) 661-7997, is a fine artist, mime and an angel-reader. You can hire her at your event for a minimum of $200. Reingold brings a chair that she actually built, which wears shoes and has mannequin hands and a hand-painted, life-size photo face. It can be Elvis, Einstein or Marilyn. It is a piece of art. Reingold wears a neon wig, mimes and writes everyone?s ?angel reading? on a flour tortilla that she has hardened and shaped in a heart. She really believes that your angel talks to her angel and tells you positive and helpful messages. Children and adults both delight at the angel readings. Guests take the tortilla home as a party favor. A personalized chair of you or your honoree can be created for $800 to $2,000, which is the price they sell for in art galleries around Houston. This can include neon and recorded voices. Your guests can sign this chair, and Reingold will shellac it and deliver it to you later as a lifetime souvenir, artwork and conversation piece. Reingold also conducts ?chair parties.? These are for people who purchased a chair. They are invited to their chair?s ?unveiling? and a seated dinner. Reingold can have their recorded voices talk from chair to chair with miniature dramas going on. To attend one of these unforgettable events, you merely have to order a personalized chair.

Canine Cocktail Party

DeAnne Doane, (713) 451-9983, held a precious pet parade for her ?fuzzy,? who she said was ?bone to party.? This party animal invited all her friends to dress their pets in costumes to celebrate her dog, Inga Marie?s, birthday. Inga wore a leopard print sarong and sunglasses. Mary Kay Freeman?s barker, Angel, dressed as an angel with a halo. All the animals ?put on the dog? and came in tuxes, Chanel-style suits, beads, vests, bows and bow ties. The Three Dog Bakery in River Oaks made an edible cake for the canines, and Doane served Frosty Paws ice cream to the pets, which she says Randalls carries. Pets were served milk bones from silver trays, and the adults were given cocktails and people chow. There was not one dogfight, even though 17 dogs and 22 people attended. Blue ribbons should be given to every single pet. So successful was this that Doane now has a line of Canine Haute Couture for your pet including costumes, leashes, hats, houses and collars. It is sold throughout the country and at Tootsies in Houston or by appointment. Sharon and Mike Brier had a Bark Mitzvah for their dog and a Meow Mitzvah for their cat. After all, any excuse is a good excuse for a party. Make no bones about it.


This is a paint-your-own-pottery studio with two locations, Memorial at Voss, (713) 278-7300, and River Oaks, (713) 807-8900. Both locations accommodate parties up to 50, have ample parking and are suitable for children. The River Oaks location sells beer and wine. Food can be catered in or picked up from any of the many restaurants in the area. This is an unrivaled place to throw an easy, inventive gathering. Parties start at about $18 a person, which includes 90 minutes of painting and a choice of a simple piece of pottery such as a small vase, mug, canister or box. Large platters and teapots can cost $30 or more. There are more than 50 colors to choose from, as well as stencils, sponges, stamps, brushes and idea books to spur the right side of the brain into the imagination mode. The Mad Potter boasts the largest selection and inventory of pottery in Houston. Brides have come in and registered for all their dishes, and their guests have painted them at the bridal shower and given them as their shower gifts. These are then kiln-fired and picked up five days later. All pieces after firing are food-safe, dishwasher-safe, and microwaveable. Men really seem to enjoy this place, and the conversations are boundless. Everyone leaves feeling proud, and the hostess can give each of them their masterpieces in less than a week.


Lucky guests can be sent invitations from Tanglewood Pharmacy and Stationery, which is a posh pharmacy, stationery shop, gift store and mini-museum. There is a post office on hand, and the friendly personnel can design, address and send your invitations for a couple of dollars per person to as much as $75 for a masterpiece. They monogram and engrave an assortment of sterling silver, linens and baby gifts.

The party part is a “Tanglewood Tea” for eight privileged friends and costs $25 per person. Guests will arrive and be served sandwiches, tea and cookies on 19th and 20th century china and sterling. Owner, Marjorie Maxfield, an award-winning advertising guru, will let the guests choose color and type style for their own box of Crane?s note cards and envelopes, which they will receive imprinted with their name on it when the 2-4 p.m. afternoon festivities conclude. Next, she will pass out pad and pen so serious notes can be taken. There is a stationery etiquette quiz game, and the winner receives a silver compact mirror. Exclusive gift-wrapping demos are performed, and afterwards, Maxfield discusses invitation manners such as the appropriate stationery trousseau and whether to send a letter or card. She also discusses what to say when someone dies, graduates, gets a raise, etc. She leads a discussion on You are what you write on and  The 10 deadly stationery sins. This soireé takes place in the Crane’s wedding room where there are hundreds of invitations from the formal to the Kate Spade new-fashion styles.

Throughout the store is the exhibit, “You are what you write on.” It is a collection of memorabilia signed by 80 famous Houstonians. Denton Cooley signed a surgical mask, George Foreman signed boxing gloves, ZZ Top signed an album cover, Mary Lou Retton signed her shoes, Mama Ninfa signed her first menu, Drayton McLane a baseball, and Marvin Zindler signed the door of an ice machine that is, that?s right, slime-free. The celebrity customers read like a “who?s who” of the world: former and current presidents, movie and rock stars, senators, gold medallists, astronauts and the movers and shakers of Houston. Says Maxfield, “Invitations set the tone of the party.” They should reflect your taste, personality and insignia. To book an event, call (713) 266-1234.

Q: What?s the Difference Between Houston and Hell?

December 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Q: What?s the Difference Between Houston
and Hell?

A: Hell has Better Radio.

THE RADIO: Hi, there, faithful listeners. It?s time once again to Call Paul and speak to Houston?s favorite radio talk show host. But let?s not have any more boring blah-blah-blah about that idiot Bill Clinton. I?m sick and tired of him. OK, first caller, Billy Bob in Baytown.

Hi, Paul, I wanted to talk about the weather. We?ve had some pretty smoggy days lately and I?

But it?s clearing up, isn?t it?

That?s only because we?ve ignored your advice to do nothing.

Bob, I don?t want some tree hugger in Washington telling me I can?t belch black smoke out the tailpipe of my Humvee. I blame Clinton. Next, let?s go to Katy in Katy.

That last caller was right, Paul. You are so ignorant that?

Katy, you?re wrong. It was Clinton?s fault, and don?t get me started on Monica. I?m tired of callers bringing it up all the time.

Next caller, Seymour in Cyberspace.

Paul, I want to complain about your language. I am driving along with my three kids listening to your show, and you have the vocabulary of a sewer rat.

Then don?t listen.

But why should I have to police what a radio station broadcasts over the public airwaves to make sure my children don?t hear foul language?

I don?t use foul language, Seymour. You?re full of crap, you stupid SOB.

Next caller. Tony in Consequential.

Paul, I think Rush Limbaugh is a hypocrite.

Why? He stands for family values.

Then what does Rush Limbaugh have that Bill Clinton doesn?t?

I give up. What?

Three marriages and two ex-wives.

Another hate-filled liberal. Go ahead, Woody in Tanglewood.

Paul, we don?t need those pointy-headed bureaucrats in Washington. Wait a minute, I think that?s the mailman at the door. He?d better have my Medicare check and my Social Security payment. But …

Shut up while I explain what it is you?re trying to say, Woody. It?s all Clinton?s fault. I think every federal worker should be fired. We should bulldoze every government building and do away with every federal program. OK, Melrose in Montrose.

Paul, back last summer, weren?t you flooded out? Didn?t you get money from FEMA? Help with your bills? Repairs to your house, and didn?t a Coast Guard helicopter pluck you from a rooftop?

Next caller. Bert on a cell phone from his car.

Paul, you?re great. Now what really bothers me are people who are driving while trying to aggggghhhh!

Let?s go to West in University Place.

I have this problem with the IRS.

IRS? How do you spell that?

Paul, every afternoon you put out hatred mixed with stupidity. The other day you told a caller that God was a Christian and that NATO was one of the Marx brothers. Then you referred to the sixth grade as ?my senior year.? You are a pompous…

And you?re an imbecile, Mr. Beans for Brains. Next caller.

Hi, Paul. I was listening to Dan Patrick the other day lecture us on phony people and not being upfront and all about Houston?s problems.

A wonderful Houstonian, he is.

But his name isn?t Dan Patrick, and he doesn?t live in Houston or even Harris County.

It?s a Clinton plot, but don?t get me started?

Paul, look it up. His name is Dannie Scott Goeb, and he lives in Montgomery County.

That?s not suppose to get out.

He can?t vote in our elections, serve on our juries, doesn?t pay Houston or Harris County property taxes. So how can he lecture us?

Shut up, you dirt bag. Let?s go to Time in Memorial.

Paul, I was just driving on the tollway, and one of your major fans was on his cell phone talking to you when he slammed into the back of a Peterbilt.

How did you know he was talking to me?

The wreck splattered his tobacco juice all over his bib.

It?s Clinton?s fault. ih

Jasmine Quintero My Personal Assistant

November 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Edit

Hey ? Take Care of This For Me, Would Ya?

For three years now, Jasmine Quintero has been running an unusual sort of business. If you’ve ever found yourself in need of a personal assistant, then you’ll love this service. My Personal Assistant takes care of all the tasks and chores that fill your to-do list and make you crazy. Quintero performs many of the duties that crowd our busy lives and ultimately rob us of the joy of free time.

You know what I mean — the nuisance jobs, the ones that take time and energy, leaving you tired and anxious at the end of the day. Some of the services offered include feeding and walking your dog, checking your house and mail when you are out of town, paying your bills and making sure your maid shows up. This company manages the minutiae of everyday living, leaving you with the energy and time to spend on the things that really count — family, friends, sleep, etc.

One thing that is unique about this company is that it is completely Internet-based. As a client, you first check the company’s Web site to decide which of its many services you want. Then, you order. As the tasks are performed, you receive an e-mail confirmation and an e-mail follow-up.

“I love to run errands,” says Quintero. And many people are glad to hear it. She provides services to a broad spectrum of clients who include single moms, busy executives and anyone who has extra income and is willing to pay for the privilege of personal assistance.

Thus far, the most unique errand she has faced was a request to find “unique gifts” for a bachelorette party. It seems the maid of honor knew the bride wanted “funny” items but didn’t know where to find them. Quintero stepped in, and the party was a huge success.

Another request came in the form of an autographed Tina Turner album. It took Quintero three months, but she finally found it. The company also offers airport shuttle service for a charge 30 percent less than what a taxi service costs. And as a bonus, you get to ride in a Durango instead of a taxi.

When testing My Personal Assistant, I sent the company to the west side of town to pick up some kitchen tiles, which I requested then be transported to my back porch. And like clockwork, the tile was delivered to my home. This represented a terrific savings in time for me because I wasn’t familiar with the tile store and had no time to go there anyway. You won’t believe what I was charged — $25. I estimate the savings in my time and effort to be at least $80. Now that’s value.

What won’t they do? “Pick up your kids from school,” says Quintero. “And, oh yeah, we won’t break the law. You have to do that yourself.”

So for those of you who have more chores than time to complete them, bookmark as one of your favorites.

Roseann Rogers

November 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

1. The Palm celebrated its 75th birthday with its loyal customers. Guests feasted on the Palm?s signature Surf ?n Turf, also with all the trimmings. The highlight of the evening was the birthday cake and a champagne toast by general manager Jim Martin. Server Joe Malheiro, who?s been with the Palm for nearly 25 years, entertained everyone by telling stories about the restaurant and its many celebrity visitors. Pictured (l to r) are: Jennifer Knobloch, executive chef Everardo Aviles, general manager Jim Martin and Mark La Rue.
2. Wells Fargo takes “center stage” at this year?s Ballunar Liftoff Festival. It?s 100 feet tall, 90 feet from the front wheel to the back wheel. It weighs 850 pounds without air and without the basket. It takes a crew of 25 just to inflate the balloon, and it can carry two passengers plus the pilot. But guess what, ladies? They actually ask your weight! This was the second year the financial service company participated in the festival. Pictured: Wells Fargo?s balloon “Cent?r Stage”
3. A.D. Players premiered the new Tony-winning Broadway musical “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.” It?s, of course, based on one of America?s all-time favorite comic strips. A.D. Players is a professional company made up of about 40 members. The adult theater performs four major productions throughout the year. This month you can check out a new work created by the company?s artistic director, Jeannette Cliftgeorge, called “Christmas at Grace.” For ticket information call the box office at (713) 526-2721. Pictured (l to r) are: actors Adam Estes and Rebekah Dahl.
4. The Houston BMW Group, which includes Advantage BMW Clear Lake and Downtown, BMW of Houston North and Momentum BMW, honored local heroes for their outstanding efforts in the fight against breast cancer. Nine Houston-area groups and individuals were honored at the Fifth Annual BMW Ultimate Drive Breakfast at the River Oaks Country Club benefiting the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Pictured (l to r) are: previous honoree Linda Grayson, North Houston BMW?s Joe Irpino and previous honoree Carolyn Farb.
5. Rice Bar?s grand opening celebration was a one-hit wonder with a packed house. The event also was a fundraiser for the Downtown Houston Historic District Association. The night began with a ribbon cutting with proprietor Jeffery Yarbrough and general manager Raul Herrea. Rice Bar is located at 909 Texas Ave. in the historic Rice Lofts next door to Liberty Noodles. It offers specialty drinks and cocktails. Pictured (l to r) are: Guy Mahaffey, Temy Johnson, Jessica Marquez and Marie Myers.
6. The Spay-Neuter Assistance Program’s project to help control animal overpopulation on the Navajo Nation was profiled in the documentary film “Desert Dogs.” SNAP held the premiere of the film by Austin filmmaker Julia Hilder with a special event at Studios at the Lakes. The Navajo Nation spans 18 million acres across three states. With poverty and unemployment at all-time highs, the lack of funding for veterinary programs has created a dog and cat overpopulation crisis on the Nation. Pictured is a member of the Navajo Nation bringing in her cat for wellness care.

Roger Gray

November 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Edit

by Roger Gray

You Know, Dan, if it Wasn’t for My Bursitus, I’d be Down at the Recruiter Right Now…

As I sit scribbling this missive, we are eight days into this national tragedy. At this point, I think most of the truly profound observations about the scope of our national loss already have been made. But hopefully, as you read this, most of the blood-curdling letters to the editor and talk show calls will have slowed as well.

In my former profession, there was nothing so predictable as the phone-call patriotism of these Bruce Willis wannabes in the wake of some sort of international outrage. Calls to flatten this, make that glow in the dark, bomb so-and-so back to the stone age are sure to follow as night follows day. Immediate anger and pain are to be expected. But these cut-rate Audie Murphy’s are speed-dialing their outrage and willingness to volunteer to spearhead the invasion, if only…well the new job’s a hassle, and the kids have the flu, and…

Can’t You See This is a Cry for Help…?

And as certain as the sunrise, you can count on the apparently Quaker wing of our populace to either:

A: Assure us that we must forgive and understand any atrocity, or
B: Assure us it is all our fault and that we brought this on ourselves by our imperialist/Zionist/militarist/white supremacist/fill-in-your-own-ist ways, and this is the only weapon that powerless people have.

In this particular case, senselessly killing thousands was the only “weapon” at their disposal? Sure, we shouldn’t wallow in the muck with terrorists, but no justice at all? That’s simply insulting.

You Know, the Lord Said to Me Just This Morning…

An adjunct to this is an amalgam of the first two. This usually takes the form of one of our own fundamentalist Protestant mullahs issuing a fatwah informing us that he has it on very good authority that God himself has washed his hands of us and let this happen. Why? You name it — gays, abortion, sex, Adam Sandler movies — all are reason enough for the Almighty to throw up his hands and leave us to the tender mercies of Saladin and his infidels. In this case, the heavenly e-mail apparently was received by Pat Robertson, Jerry Fallwell (predictably) and Ed Young in Houston (rather less predictably).

Well, I am pro-life and have some real issues with the gay-rights agenda when it goes beyond non-discrimination, but presuming to know the mind of the Almighty is…well, presumptuous at best. I find it intriguing that it’s always the same guys who are seemingly enjoying regular fireside chats with the creator during which he gives them the birds-eye view of this troubled old world. How fortunate for all of us, eh?

What I Want to Know, Rush, is…Where was Hillary During All This?

And then we get the political posturing. Of course, this is all George Bush’s fault — either Bush, just pick one. Or certainly, if Bill Clinton had not simply ruined the nation’s defense in return for campaign contributions, we could have detected this. One letter to the editor decried a previous writer who blamed it all on Bush, allowing as how partisanship had no place in our discussion of this tragedy. But, he continued, of course had Bill Clinton handled this correctly in ’93…You get the drift.

Unlike the Previous Tenant, at Least we Know These Guys Are Sitting Around Smoking the Cigars…

Whatever my doubts about GW and his public demeanor at times, let’s be honest. His and every predecessor’s options were and are limited. Oh, sure, we could flatten Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or you name it. But to what end, other than satisfying Bubba on his cell phone from Sugar Land? After the World Trade Center was bombed in ‘93, we tracked the SOBs, caught them (one snatched from Pakistan) and put them on trial. They are locked up and never getting out. But in this case, would that be enough?

Killing bin Laden, as justifiable as that is, or worse, killing innocents he will no doubt hide among, may well create more anger, more hate, more terrorism. Not doing something, on the other hand, invites perceptions of weakness. It’s a fine line.

Favorite Bars and Clubs

November 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Edit

What is Your Favorite Club or Bar?

by Mimi Dinh

Whether you‘re looking for an adrenaline-charged club so you can dance with total abandon or the next “it” place to hang with the beautiful people or just a cool bar where everybody (or maybe nobody) knows your name, Houston is a mecca for clubbers and bar junkies of all repute. Our downtown has hosted some of the most debauched parties on the planet. Even some restaurants have joined in the act, mixing together their very own type of bar scene so partiers can have scrumptious late-night eats and fabulous drinks while shaking their bodies at the same time. Of course, there are times when the pulsating beats may grow tiresome at even the sleekest of joints. For such occasions, there are hole-in-the-wall lounges with a truly cruddy ambience that borders on the poetic and inspires conversation.

We were on a quest to smoke out the hottest club/bar on the see-and-be-seen circuit. Not luke warm or above average but fiercely, boldly and unabashedly h-o-t — this very instant (as we all know how fleeting this honor can be in the world of “it” locales). Read on, and join us as we raise a glass of “Mojito” (drink of the moment) to the power.

In Houston, I like the Alabama Ice House— unpretentious, real, kick ass. But my favorite is Crowd Nine in Tokyo, Japan, an erotic nightclub, sensual aquatic environment in a skyscraper penthouse.

— Doug Michels, head of creativity, Doug Michels Studio

With the vast array of clubs and bars in Houston, it would be impossible to nail it down to one. When I go out, I like to bounce between several favorites. I start at Saba for the great food and atmosphere, then to The Hub for its wonderful bar staff, then next door to Tonic/Tryst (I really dig the upstairs). I then bounce to Prague and finish the night to the awesome music at 410. When traveling, I have always loved Manray in Paris, which can’t be described. In Miami, I‘m always drawn to Pearl & Rio downtown.

— Guy Mahaffey, president, Sudden Impact Collision Center

Zimm’s Wine Bar — the quintessential neighborhood bar where you will see a friendly face, and the wine list is great. Also, in Galveston, there is The Poop Deck. Their motto “Where the elite meet in bare feet” says it all.

— Lisa Benitez, senior event coordinator, Foley’s Fashion & Special Events

I like them all for various reasons — no true favorites. But presently, I favor Hyperia for its amazing line-up of DJs of the finest caliber playing there each week. Plus it has the best sound and lights in the city, if not the nation. As far as bars go, I have traditional faves, but at the moment, I favor the Davenport. I can’t get over the fact that they have actual Knoll furniture everywhere in the place and that the bartenders are so in tune with being bar-TENDERS who look after your drink and head. Outside of Houston, I like Club Ampersand in New Orleans; Pearl, Level and Space in Miami; Opera House in UK; and Pure in Chicago.

— Sean Carnahan, nightlife infobot Child of the beat, SCTC Houston

My favorite is Favelachic in Paris, an insane Brazilian club that’s rustic, wild and filled with people literally dancing on the tables.

— Shannon Hall, co-owner, Sloan/Hall

Dean’s Credit Clothing. It is a great, funky bar downtown, and while you sip your favorite cocktail, you can shop for that must-have faux fur coat from the 70s.

— Elizabeth Satel Young, publicist, Elizabeth Satel Young Public Relations

Houston’s Historic Street Names

November 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Edit

Paved in History

The Colorful Stories Behind Houston’s Historic Street Names

by Marks Hinton and Aaron Howard

Nothing says more about a city than its street names. Its history, heroes, civic-minded citizens, philanthropists and sometimes just colorful characters are all chronicled in a Key Map. There is only one problem — while the maps and street signs pose the questions, they fail to deliver any answers. However, with an innate sense of curiosity and the willingness to invest some time at the public library, the city’s Planning and Development Department, homeowner associations and real estate development firms, the code can be cracked.

In Houston, we have streets named for their importance (Main Street), for a location (Railroad), for a developer’s whimsy (Betty Boop), for battles (Iwo Jima) or for thoroughbreds that won the Kentucky Derby (Secretariat). Less known are the thoroughfares named to honor important settlers, merchants and men of the cloth. Our purpose is to breathe life into these names and tell their stories. Let us begin this journey around our city in the central business district where Houston took root at the confluence of Buffalo and White Oak bayous.


Franklin Avenue Benjamin Cromwell Franklin arrived in Texas in 1835. He actively supported the Texas Revolution and fought at the Battle of San Jacinto. Thomas Rusk, then-secretary of war, sent Franklin to Galveston to inform Republic President David Burnet of the victory at San Jacinto. In December 1836, the Republic of Texas established four district courts, and Franklin became the first person in the new Republic given a judicial position. Harrisburg was designated as District 2 with Franklin as the district judge. He was not re-elected in 1838 and once was fined $20 for sitting on the bar in the new courthouse. Franklin died in 1873 and is buried in Galveston.

LaBranch Street As the last official act of his administration, U.S. President Andrew Jackson appointed Alcee Louis LaBranch as charge d’affaires from the United States to the Republic of Texas. LaBranch served in this position from 1837 to 1840. He returned to his native New Orleans and was elected to Congress. During the campaign, he was challenged to a duel (the only one of his career) and killed his opponent, a Whig from Baton Rouge. LaBranch Street was formerly known as Milton Street after John Milton, the author of “Paradise Lost.”

McKinney Avenue As one of Stephen F. Austin’s “Old Three Hundred” colonists, Thomas F. McKinney was given a league of land in what is today Brazos County. He became wealthy through trading, lumber and agriculture. In 1834, he partnered with Samuel M. Williams and established the largest commission-merchant firm in Texas. That company helped finance the Texas Revolution by advancing the Republic $150,000 and issuing notes that circulated as legal tender. McKinney later became a famous thoroughbred breeder.

He was opposed to secession but reluctantly accepted it. Employed as an agent for Simeon Hart, the Confederate quartermaster for Texas, McKinney sold cotton to Mexico to purchase arms, ammunition and other necessary supplies for the Civil War. The war and a disastrous speculation in cotton ruined McKinney, and he died broke.

Rusk Avenue Thomas Jefferson Rusk arrived in Texas in 1832 in hot pursuit of a gang of con artists who absconded with some of his money. It is not known if he found them and recouped his investment, but Rusk liked Texas and stayed. He signed the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico and was elected secretary of war in 1836. He fought with Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto. In 1838, he was a founder and second vice-president of the Houston Jockey Club. Rusk County was named for him in 1843 and the town of Rusk in 1846. After Texas’ annexation by the United States, he and Sam Houston were elected as our first U.S. senators in 1846. Rusk served in that august body until his death in 1857. He and General Sam often made public addresses from the pulpit of one of the three churches in Houston at that time (Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic). Depressed over the death of his wife, Rusk committed suicide in Nacogdoches in July 1857.

Moving south, we enter Midtown, one of our older residential districts and home of the neighborhoods of Montrose, Westmoreland and Binz.


Binz Avenue A Chicago native, Jacob Binz built Houston’s first “skyscraper” in 1895. A Renaissance- and Romanesque-style structure at 513-19 Main St., it cost $60,000. The Binz Building was the first in Houston to be built out of concrete, stone and steel. The structure was six stories high, plus a basement. Architects said the foundation and superstructure could have supported a 20-story building. When it was opened, people came from miles around to ride its elevators to the top floor and admire the view of the surrounding countryside. The building was demolished in 1950.

Holman Avenue James S. Holman was elected district court clerk of the county of Harrisburg in early 1837. The city of Houston was incorporated a few months later, and Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Andrew Briscoe called an election. Holman was elected the first mayor in a tight contest, collecting 12 votes to Francis Lubbock’s 11 and Thomas W. Ward’s 10. At this cliffhanger, there were no reports of hanging chads, lawsuits, lawyers, Supreme Court intervention or even sore losers.

McGowen Street Andrew McGowen was a tinsmith. He also owned a general store that sold copperware, cooking stoves and hardware, much of which he manufactured. Elected mayor in 1867, the election was remarkable, according to a newspaper account, because it was “unmarred by a single fight.” During his term, enough wooden rails were laid on McKinney Avenue to operate the city’s first mule-drawn streetcar in 1868. The fares were a dime for adults and a nickel for children.

Montrose Boulevard Sir Walter Scott, famous poet and romantic novelist, created the historic town of Montrose for use in his stories. In 1910, J. W. Link acquired 165 acres west of Courtlandt Place and laid out the neighborhood. He named the boulevard Montrose. He built the first of many mansions that were to grace the subdivision. His home on the southwest corner of Montrose at West Alabama cost $60,000 to build in 1912 and was famous for its large gold doorknobs. Today, it is the administration building of the University of St. Thomas.

West Gray Avenue Peter Gray was a Harrisburg judge and founding member of the Houston Library. Texas Chief Justice Oran Roberts named him the “very best district judge upon the Texas bench.” Another judge fined him for sitting on a courtroom table ($20) and smoking in court ($20) in 1838. A year later he was named district attorney. He was an organizer of the law firm Gray, Botts & Baker, predecessor to today’s Baker Botts. Gray founded and captained the Civil War Texas Grays, was General John B. Magruder’s aide at the 1863 New Year’s Day Battle of Galveston and was elected to the House of the Confederate Congress. He developed tuberculosis in 1873. In 1874, Gray was appointed to the Texas Supreme Court but only served two months due to his failing health. He died Oct. 3, 1874, at the age of 54. Roberts said he was “a man who ought to be remembered.”

Yoakum Boulevard Although his parents wanted him to be a minister, Benjamin Franklin Yoakum was taken with railroad fever. His first job was on a survey gang laying out the route of the International-Great Northern Railroad into Palestine. Working his way up the corporate ladder at several rail lines, Yoakum joined the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway Company (Frisco). Under his tutelage, this railroad grew from 1,200 to 6,000 miles of track. In 1905, the Frisco and the Rock Island Line merged to form a 17,000-mile system, the largest in America at the time. As one of Texas’ leading agrarians, he is credited with creating the great agricultural counties of the Rio Grande Valley and south Texas. In 1907, he moved to New York City and became a financier, activist agrarian and prize-winning cattle raiser. Yoakum died in 1929 and is buried in New York.

Leaving Midtown, we enter parklands, historic neighborhoods and arguably the greatest medical center in the world.

Medical Center and South

Hermann Drive George H. Hermann, one of Houston’s greatest philanthropists, was born Aug. 6, 1843, in a log cabin where the City Hall reflection pool is today. He came from humble beginnings. His parents arrived here in 1838 with $5 and three kids. Mrs. Hermann pawned her jewelry so they could open a bakery. George’s first job was as a stock keeper for Governor Lubbock’s Simms Bayou ranch. Active in the Civil War, he served with distinction in Company A of the 26th Cavalry. Hermann took up cattle ranching in 1872. He made his fortune on livestock, land and oil. In 1885, as Houston’s importance as a world port increased, he traveled by train to New York City and caught a steamship to Europe. This tour was possibly the only big indulgence he allowed himself in his long and frugal life.

When the Board of Park Commissioners was formed in 1910, Hermann was named one of its founding members. Later that year, Hermann gave the land where he was born to the city for a park. One condition of the gift was that anyone who was drunk could sleep it off in the park without being arrested. The reason: Hermann did not want to constantly bail out his employees, thus wasting time and money when they could be working. On May 30, 1914, he gave the city 278 acres of beautifully wooded land that became Hermann Park. He died Oct. 21, 1914. Hermann Park officially opened July 4, 1915. As Hermann never married, his estate, valued at $2.5 million, was willed to a foundation to build and operate a hospital. Hermann Hospital, built at a cost of $1 million, began operations on July 1, 1925. Hermann is buried in Glenwood Cemetery beside his parents and two bachelor brothers.

Holcombe Boulevard Oscar Holcombe was one of Houston’s legendary politicians. First elected mayor in 1921, he would be re-elected 11 times. In 1922, the Ku Klux Klan controlled many county offices. The Klan asked Holcombe to fire three city administrators who were Catholic. He refused, and the KKK set out to defeat him in the most outrageous campaign in the city’s history. In its newspaper, the KKK claimed Holcombe was a drunk and a gambler. Actually, he was a member in good standing of the First Baptist Church and had no vices. Slandered by a rumor that he shot craps at a New Year’s party, Holcombe challenged the Klan to prove it. He asked the Baptist Ministers Association to try him on the charges. The Klan produced two witnesses who claimed they peeked over the transom and saw the mayor, but he produced six attendees who swore he was not there. Holcombe won acquittal and a second term.

Early in his career, he became known as the “Gray Fox” for his political showmanship. Holcombe was a good businessman and became very wealthy through investments in lumber, home building, gas stations, apartments, oil and a turkey farm. He combined the power of city manager and mayor, giving mayors of Houston more power than those in other American cities. Under his administrations, the Harris County Navigation District and the Houston Independent School District were created.

M. D. Anderson Boulevard In 1904, Monroe D. Anderson, his brother Frank and William L. Clayton incorporated Anderson, Clayton & Company. This firm became the largest cotton broker in the world and was the basis of Anderson’s wealth. In 1936, he founded the M. D. Anderson Foundation. As a bachelor, his $20 million estate went to the foundation upon his death in 1939. The bulk of the funds went to establish the Texas Medical Center. One of the finest hospitals in the complex is named in his honor.

Old Spanish Trail This thoroughfare is named in honor of one of Texas’ earliest highways. However, the actual route of the Old San Antonio Road, the King’s Highway or El Camino Real, its original names, is nowhere near Houston. It started on the Sabine River near what is today the Toledo Bend Reservoir, went southwest to San Antonio and ended on the Rio Grande River in Maverick County near Eagle Pass. Initially traversed in 1691, it was ordered surveyed by the Texas Legislature in 1915 and named a state highway worth preserving in 1929.

As we wind up our tour, it’s time to go west to visit the stately neighborhood of River Oaks and discover the citizens who merited street names there.

West Side

Kirby Drive John Henry Kirby was called the “father of industrial Texas.” He owned the two largest lumber companies in East Texas. In 1895, the Houston Baseball Association was chartered with capital of $3,000 and Kirby as its president. In 1922, Kirby and Joseph Cullinan formed the American Anti-Klan Association to force the Ku Klux Klan to disband. He completed construction of his luxurious mansion at 2006 Smith in 1928. The Kirby Mansion had one of the city’s most beautiful gardens. It contained baroque water parterres, conservatory, pergola, natatorium and a lake with a rustic bridge. He owned Camp Killcare on Armand Bayou where he and influential friends partied on weekends, swam, fished and hunted alligators. Kirby and Howard Hughes Sr. were among the first Houstonians to own an automobile. The Great Depression took its toll on Houstonians, including Kirby, who filed for bankruptcy in 1933.

San Felipe Road This was the route from Harrisburg in eastern Harris County to Stephen F. Austin’s colony at the town of San Felipe on the Brazos River. Listed on early maps as Route Number 6 by Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, commissioner of the Association for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas, the road’s distance was set at 49 miles, and the prince noted the lack of water between Houston and Piney Point (now one of the Memorial Villages) 10 miles to the west.

Shepherd Drive Benjamin A. Shepherd was a Virginian who came to Houston in 1844. In 1847, his Commercial and Agricultural Bank became the first chartered bank in Texas. Although he was not invited in 1866 to be a founder of the city’s first national bank, he was elected to the board of directors a year later. In 1867, he was named president of the First National Bank when it encountered financial difficulties following the Civil War. Shepherd managed the bank with an iron hand for the next 25 years. He was one of the incorporators of the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos & Colorado Railroad, as well as one of the founders of the Board of Trade and Cotton Exchange in 1874. The town of Shepherd in San Jacinto County was named for him following his laying out of the route of the Houston, East and West Texas Railroad in 1875. The family, now six generations old, gave the city land for Shepherd Drive and funded the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University.

We wrap up our street tour of Houston with the longest named roadway in Texas, at just over 43 miles in length.

Westheimer Road An immigrant from Germany, Michael Louis Westheimer came to Houston in 1859. He was quite an entrepreneur. Westheimer owned a flour mill, a livery stable on the corner of Milam and Congress, was a hay merchant and laid the city’s first streetcar tracks. At auction, he bought a 640-acre farm for $2.50 an acre west of town where Lamar High School is today. He started a school on the property for his brother’s children, as well as nieces and nephews from Germany. The shell lane that led to the schoolhouse became known as “the road to Westheimer’s place.” Out of the family livery business came the Westheimer Transfer and Storage Company. The family also once owned the Westheimer Undertaking and Embalming Company and remains prominent in the city today.

While we have only scratched the surface of the stories behind our historic and interesting street names, our highways and byways, whatever they are called, are an encoded chronicle of our history, heroes, pathos, ethnicity, idealism, sense of humor and attitude about ourselves.

Memo: To Members of the Harris County Houston Sports Authority

November 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Memo: To Members of the Harris County Houston Sports Authority
From: Your Chairman


As you may know, Harris County Judge Robert Eckels (hereafter called “the party of the first part”) is suggesting that members (hereafter called “the party of the second part”) of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority (hereafter called “the party”) wrap up its business and close down. This must not happen. As we say in our private suite at Enron Field, Houston without a sports authority is like beef tenderloin without a slightly chilled Merlot.

Eckels points out that the authority was created specifically to build sports stadiums and arenas. Such projects were urgently needed. Some of our stadiums and arenas were getting to be half as old as our hospitals and elementary schools. What?s more, owners such as Drayton McLane Jr., Les Alexander and Bob McNair could hardly be expected to build their own facilities. I mean, they didn?t get rich by being stupid, now did they?

And as we all know, those taxes we collect to pay for these new facilities are not being paid by us but by visitors. Houston now has the highest (17 percent) hotel-motel occupancy tax in the entire nation. We?re No. 1! It?s a great point to make when trying to attract conventions.

Speaking of money, we work for free, yet our sacrifices go unheralded. All the liberal press is reporting is about our perks, our ever-growing $3 million a year budget, our staff and the fact that we, along with City Council and Commissioners Court, have the biggest suite at Enron Field and get free food. By one estimate, if we stuck to the deluxe menu of shrimp, tomatoes Napoleon, cheese, beef tenderloin, pork loin, chocolate marquis, etc., the food alone would run $150,000 a year. We plan the same situation at the football/rodeo stadium and the basketball/concerts arena. But those suites are for business purposes; I think you have met most of my family.

All of this is being challenged by Eckels, but not by Mayor Lee Brown, who never met a bureaucracy he didn?t like. So it is clear that we must take some action in order to stay on the gravy train. I suggest we expand our role to include other sports-related projects, such as ethnic museums, Little League fields and parks. Oh, sure, Eckels probably will point out that no other museum in town needed our oversight to get built, that Little League has done fine without us and that the city and county have been building parks for more than a century. Eckels sure can be picky.

If these plans for our continued existence prove impractical, there are other projects to consider. We could help oversee construction of light rail on the theory that if one board of managers is good, two are better. How has Houston gotten along without a sports authority to oversee the dog pound? (Although I don?t think we need a private suite there.) We are the natural organizers of weddings, science fairs and an academy to train rodeo clowns. This brings us to school construction, but Houstonians don?t seem to care much about education. You?ll know their priorities have changed when you see press boxes in the biology labs.

And we have not exhausted the sports scene. The Texas Medical Center could use a little economic stimulus, and the UT-Health Science Center needs a football team and a stadium for the Fightin? Physicians. The Astrodome needs to be re-built, and Enron Field is getting to look a little seedy, don?t you think?

The measure that created the sports authority states that any additional duties to be taken on must be specifically approved by the voters, which means we?ve got it made in the retractable shade. The voters! Those are the same bozos that keep griping about their school taxes but give us $1.5 billion to play with. As for us hanging around too long, I stayed on as head of the MTA for 19 months after my term expired. A final plus is that once any sort of government bureaucracy is created, you can?t kill that sucker even if you drive a stake through its heart.

So that?s our plan. Remember, mum?s the word, and notice the peeling paint at Enron Field. ih

Ultimate Food

October 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Edit

What was Your Ultimate Food Experience?

by Mimi Dinh

I’ve tasted the most delectable pizza in Rome, the best gyro in Santorini, the most exquisite escargot in Paris and the most sinful tiramisu in Venice. But my ultimate food experience was in Barcelona last summer. We were six foodies (my husband and I along with two more couples) on a journey of culinary decadence. Our mission turned out to be beyond all expectation. Each four-star restaurant we visited was more incredible than the last. On our final evening there, we encountered our most sublime dining experience yet at a posh but unpretentious French and Catalan eatery called Roig Robi. First, let’s start with their impeccable service. The maitre d’ and wait staff didn’t hover over us or interrupt us with annoying routine check-ups, yet if we so much as thought about wanting something, they magically appeared as if they could read our minds. The café’s ambience struck a balance between minimalism and opulence. If the tastefully decorated walls could talk, they’d speak of a gastronomic wonderland that delighted us with Montserrat tomato with squid cooked in garlic, warm foie gras on legumes drizzled with walnut oil vinagrette, tasty cod puffs with a dense confit of onion, authentic paella with ultrafresh seafood and succulent lobster with truffle glaze. Each dish was as artfully presented as a Gaudi architectural creation, and we just sat there and admired the food for a while before savoring each morsel with a fine Rioja wine. We ended our ensemble with mouthwatering, luscious desserts. To me, an unforgettable food experience has to work as a whole package – culinary, presentation, ambience and service. This one had it all. Top that with the company of great friends, and “it just doesn’t get any better than this,” to quote a well-known beer commercial. We all found ourselves so emotional about our memorable meal that we did not say a word to each other for a while afterwards. We were lost in the moment. In celebrating Inside Houston magazine’s “Best Chefs” issue, we asked some of the city’s serious food lovers to describe their ultimate food experience.

My ultimate food experience was a couple of years ago when my wife, Julia, and I were traveling in the south of France. We stopped for the night in St. Jean de Luz, a fishing port just north of the Spanish border. At dusk we walked around the town and found a small local restaurant serving the catch of the day. The place was simple and unpretentious, really a perfect setting, and we were probably the only tourists in the place. On this evening, the daily special was stuffed squid in ink sauce – wonderfully prepared, tender and a taste that I had not experienced before or since.

When I was 9 years old, I went to Paris with my mom. We got dressed up and ate lunch at a fancy restaurant where I tried French onion soup for the first time. It was so delicious that I can still remember the cheese baked to a golden brown and the French bread soaked with the sweet onion broth. To this day, I am still trying to find the “perfect” French onion soup in Texas.

As a native Texan, steak is one of my favorites. I remember a few years ago during a conference at the Yacht Club in Disneyworld, I had the best filet mignon at their steakhouse I ever had. I have yet to have a better steak anywhere in this state or any other.

At a small cafe visited frequently by Ernest Hemingway in Havana, I ate ropa vieja and sipped Havana Club rum. I was with my girlfriend of the time, and the romance of the city and the intimacy of the cafe were very memorable.
– Stephen Alexander Byrd, bartender/wedding consultant

Cafe Red Onion

October 1, 2001 by  
Filed under Edit

by William Albright

Café Red Onion serves south-of-the-border cuisine, but it’s not a Mexican restaurant, as foodies will figure out from the name (white onions are most commonly used in Mexican cooking). Its culinary roots extend farther south than Mexico. Rafael Galindo — who with wife Barbara co-owns the homespun original U.S. 290-at-43rd Street Café Red Onion and the more deluxe Kirby-at-Southwest Freeway location discussed here — is from Honduras, so the fare focuses on his native Central America with some South American and even Caribbean influences thrown in just for fun.

The Galindos’ offerings aren’t all that exotic, though, especially if you are familiar with authentic Mexican food, which is subtler and less fiery than Tex-Mex. Many of the ingredients, if not the combinations they are used in, will be familiar to you, and the alternation or juxtaposition of moderately hot and delectably sweet should be a refreshing surprise.

The frisky pairing of warm and sugary is established at the very start of the meal. The complimentary basket of chips is accompanied by two kinds of salsa. One is red and packs some heat. The other is bright yellow and not hot at all because it’s crushed pineapple tweaked with a little non-red onion. Both are addictive.

Quesadilla-like pupusas revueltas offer a tasty introduction to Central

American cuisine. Consisting of shredded pork tenderloin mixed with Monterey jack cheese, sandwiched between two thick, pancakey corn tortillas and topped with a red cabbage slaw, they are offered as an entree with fried plantains, refried beans and rice but also make a splendid starter for a pair of diners.

Sweet and hot team up very winningly in Chicken Choluteca. Here, a boneless chicken breast is marinated in beer, flame-grilled, tucked into a roasted poblano pepper with some Monterey jack cheese, topped with a crunchy corn and fruit relish and doused with barbecue sauce in which some diced peaches cool down the dash of incendiary habanero peppers a bit. Some black beans and fried plantains complete the picture with tropical flair.

For hearty appetites, there is the Papantla Pork Steak. Accompanied by rice and beans, this sturdy dish is a large charbroiled pork steak floating on green tomatillo salsa and crowned with a thatch of grilled onions. The mellowness of the pork, the tang of the salsa and the zip of the onions harmonize in a winning combination.

Guava empanadas are listed as appetizers on the menu, but they sound like they would be good for dessert, too. I opted for a slice of tres leches cake, though. It was moist rather than sopping with the three milks that give the classic confection its name, and the lightness of the whipped icing and the cake itself was most welcome after my plateful of pork.

Enhanced with some South American and Caribbean touches, Café Red Onion’s Central American food is close enough to Mexican to seem like an old friend and different enough to offer some tasty surprises.

Ace Mart

October 1, 2001 by  
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Supplies and Demand

by Tom Lancaster

Longtime residents of Houston might remember a roller rink located at the corner of Chimney Rock and U.S. 59, but only a lucky few know the treasures now lurking inside that building. The enormous structure, which nine years ago hosted freewheeling teen-agers, now holds more glassware, china, flatware and appliances than one can imagine. It is one of three Houston locations for Ace Mart Restaurant Supply.

Gourmet cooking has become the centerpiece of entertaining at home, and for many, plastic cups and paper plates are not an option. But where can one go for a gross of shrimp forks or 50 martini glasses without breaking the bank? Ace Mart is the answer.

There is nothing fancy about Ace Mart. Those accustomed to shopping in warehouse-style stores will be more comfortable than those who stock their kitchens from upscale Galleria shops. But the wide variety of supplies within each Ace Mart store has an appeal that even the most posh retail store cannot match.

In 1975, Norman Gustafson, a real estate entrepreneur, purchased the original Ace Mart, a small warehouse in downtown San Antonio. The company quickly expanded to Austin, Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Now owned by Gustafson’s three children, Ace Mart maintains the feel of a family business despite its enormous showrooms and extensive inventory.

“Our core customers have always been smaller, independent restaurants,” says Carl Gustafson, vice president. “As we have expanded, our ability to serve larger customers and chains has increased.” But the company has not forgotten about the individual retail customer who comes in looking for the supplies that the professionals use. While Ace Mart caters primarily to restaurateurs, the public is welcome in any of its stores.

Houston’s three Ace Mart locations range from 16,000 to more than 20,000 square feet. “Each store has its own personality and character,” says Gustafson, “but the inventory is relatively consistent from store to store.” And inventory is the primary reason for Ace Mart’s success. The stores satisfy customers who cannot wait weeks for delivery or don’t want to risk shopping from a catalog.

Planning a kitchen remodel? Hosting the boss this weekend? Houston’s gourmet set has learned that a trip to Ace Mart is the key to entertaining like a pro.

Ace Mart is located at 5811 Chimney Rock, 3500 I-10 in The Heights and 6700 I-45 South in Gulfgate.

About the Autho

The Buzz by Roseann Rogers

October 1, 2001 by  
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1. Wining and dining with a national food writer. John Mariani, food and travel columnist for Esquire magazine, restaurant columnist for Wine Spectator magazine and author of several food-related books, was the special guest at the Remington Grill at the St. Regis Hotel. The evening was inspired by his latest cookbook, “The Italian-American Cookbook: A Feast of Food From a Great American Cooking Tradition.” Remington Grill executive chef Toby Joseph created a multi-course menu from the book for all the guests to enjoy. Pictured (l to r) are: St. Regis’ Susan Ward and John Mariani. Photo by: Kim Coffman.
2. Former WWF superstar takes over the Houston airwaves. Shawn Michaels is big and bulky, but he’s also a really nice guy. Better known to wrestling fans as “The Heartbreak Kid,” he?s no longer in the WWF ring but is still wrestling. Actually, he’s formed his own wrestling school in Texas. As busy as he might be, he came by KRBE to talk on the radio about his new ventures. Pictured (l to r) are: KRBE’s Maria Todd and Shawn Michaels.
3. The Society of the Performing Arts hosted its 2001 Ball, “An Enchanting Evening,” at the Double Tree Hotel on Post Oak Boulevard. All the proceeds from the annual gala benefited the SPA. Cartier not only provided gifts for all the guests, but stunning models strutted their stuff during the cocktail reception wearing an array of Cartier jewels. The event raised more than $450,000, a new record for the fundraiser. Pictured (l to r) are: Honorees Dick and Belle Johnson and chairpersons Steve and Leticia Trauber.
4. Local little girl hits the big time! Skye McCole Bartusiak has three feature films and two television movies to her credit. Her latest release will be “The Affair of the Necklace,” featuring Academy award-winning actress Hillary Swank, Jonathan Pryce and Christopher Walken. The other two feature films are “Riding in Cars With Boys” with Drew Barrymore and “Don’t Say a Word” with Michael Douglas. The two television movies are “Beyond The Prairie II,” which was shot in Austin, and “Firestarter Part 2.” I first met Skye a couple of years ago after she worked with Mel Gibson on “The Patriot.” This talented 10-year-old definitely is on her way to becoming a big star. Pictured (l to r) are: Skye McCole Bartusiak and Pat Richardson on the set of the made-for-television movie “Blonde.”
5. Gotta have the shoes! Velvet Slipper, a new specialty boutique in Uptown Park, opened its doors with a fun and festive fashion show. Owner Vivian Wise cleverly created a runway where you could only see the models from their knees down. Wise is a native Texan who recently closed her store of the same name in Boulder, Colo., to relocate to Houston, where her family resides. Among the lines she features are Badgley Mischka, Moshino, Graye and Dolce Gabbana. Pictured (l to r) are: Cathy Borlenghi and Vivian Wise.
6. The Sweetwater Country Club celebrated the sport of golf at a recent meeting of the National Association of Catering. To get into the spirit of things, the director of catering decided to really dress the part. She sported a costume made out of fake grass with golf balls. Pictured is: Sweetwater Country Club Director of Catering Amber Fraser.

Ah, Dallas … Ya Gotta Love ‘em. Well … Maybe Not…

October 1, 2001 by  
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In Your Face

by Roger Gray

Ah, Dallas … Ya Gotta Love ‘em. Well … Maybe Not…

My cover story on the natural inferiority, in every area except their imaginations, of Dallasites versus Houstonians drew a long letter from one Chadrick Roberts. Despite the improbability of that name, I want to respond directly.

Chad, babe, sweetheart, you are proving my point. Your initial observation that “people in Big D care little or nothing about Houston…” echoes my observation that Dallas is a self-obsessed echo chamber seeing all other, even larger cities as somehow inferior. Your points in order:

Economy. No, Chad, the Houston economy has passed Dallas in both growth and job creation, according to the…ta-da …Dallas Morning News.
Environment. Yes, we do have the industry that you so despise, and yes, it has created pollution problems. So why is Dallas almost as polluted and under almost equally strict EPA mandates to clean up? Physician heal thy own ozone.
Airports. D/FW is bigger and almost indecipherable. Offsite parking for D/FW usually is somewhere near Mesquite.
Population. You persist in that Dallas trait of including Fort Worth in any comparison. Ask Fort Worth if they consider themselves part of “DFW.” I’ll tell you the answer, NO! (I have, tastefully I think, left out the bovine references that would accompany that response).
Skyline. Philip Johnson, the dean of late 20th century architects called Houston one of the most architecturally open and beautiful cities in the world. Dallas lines its buildings in neon lights. The prosecution rests.
Rail. I believe I complimented Dallas for moving ahead on that. But you don’t have Tom DeLay.
Cowboys. Yes, they have a great record, but they each have their own personal probation officer as well.
Humidity. Yes, we have it. And Dallas had almost two straight months of over-100-degree days last summer. That, my friend, is a toss-up.
Second-Tier City. You have the temerity to call Houston a second-tier city? In the area of the arts alone, Dallas comes off as a better-dressed San Angelo.

Chad, I know it’s hot up there, and that contributed to your fevered response. Just take a break somewhere cool…like the Galleria you guys Xeroxed from ours…that…well, OK…we copied from the one in Italy.

Oh, Rod? We Need Your D.C. Address. These Books Came for You …

Well, just as our own Mr. Paige goes to Washington to help the entire nation get its educational act together, we learn from a study of textbooks that HISD’s science books have sometimes silly, sometimes egregious, errors. One has Newton’s first law wrong, another shows the Statue of Liberty in reverse, and still another identifies Linda Ronstadt as a silicon crystal — OK, a really big silicon crystal. At least those fundamentalist loons in Kansas had the guts to do this kind of thing intentionally.

How Many Aggies Does it Take to Correct a Book? That Depends … How Big are the Pictures?

As mentioned, there have been problems with school textbooks. Specifically, the Texas Education Agency has been stung by critics for science texts that contain silly, sometimes serious, errors. So being composed of the astute bunch of rocket scientists it is, it decided to get some help. The TEA has signed a contract to have an outside panel of experts read the books and make sure they don’t get anything wrong. Who are these Einsteins, you ask? Why the faculty and students of Texas A&M. Aggie public school quality control…at last, an argument for vouchers. ih

Houston Food Bank

October 1, 2001 by  
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Houston Food Bank

by Paula Murphy

For most of us, planning a simple family meal after a busy day is a dreaded task. You have to pick a menu, shop, prepare and then clean up. But for the thousands of Houstonians who go to bed hungry each night, such a “burden” would be a blessing.

Fortunately for those in need, the Houston Food Bank provides food to Houstonians who would otherwise go hungry. Since its inception in 1982, the non-profit organization has distributed more than 250 million pounds of food to the greater Houston area. To put it into perspective, the Food Bank provides the food that feeds between 8,000 and 10,000 people each day.

But the Food Bank does more than just provide food. It is looking toward a healthy future for our community. “To fully fight hunger, you have to do more than just hand out food,” says Food Bank Executive Director Brenda Kirk. “You must give knowledge, skills and guidance to make a lasting impact. Our goal is to help people realize that whether you have plenty or are in need, good nutrition is essential.”

To this end, the Houston Food Bank has instituted a number of nutrition-conscious programs. Through the strong support of Houston’s produce industry and Texas Fresh Approach, a partnership with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice that dedicates surplus prison farmland to growing fresh fruit and vegetables for the hungry, the Houston Food Bank is the national leader in the distribution of fresh produce, providing 7 million pounds of nutritious fruits and vegetables to the needy each year.

This fall, the Food Bank will bring Kids Cafe, the nation’s largest nutrition education program for children, to Houston. The after-school program, a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club, is a collaboration of area chefs, dietitians, students and volunteers that provides nutritious meals in safe surroundings, food safety and nutrition education and hands-on instruction to help create healthy lifestyles. The after-school snacks and regularly scheduled hot meals are prepared on-site with the help of the kids, all overseen by registered dieticians.

Operation Frontline is a program of the national hunger-awareness group Share Our Strength and will be implemented locally through the Food Bank and its member agencies. The unique program mobilizes chefs and dietitians to teach individuals the cooking and nutrition skills needed to make healthy choices on a low-income budget, leading them to better health and self-sufficiency. “With these programs in place, Houston will be a healthier place to live,” says Kirk. “Feed people through knowledge as well as food, and they will succeed.”

For more information, to make a donation or to become a volunteer, call the Houston Food Bank at (713) 223-2700, or visit the Web site at

Caroline Wright – first female CART racing announcer

October 1, 2001 by  
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The Accidental Announcer

Caroline Wright didn’t plan on being the first female racetrack announcer in CART racing. Yet it seems that her entire career has led her to this point. And Houston is all the better for it, as we get to enjoy the fruits of her labor this month at the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston, where she will co-anchor the event with Bruce Flanders.

Wright?s career started on radio in San Antonio, but she got to Houston “as quick as could” via rock radio station KLOL. In 1992, she started racing as a hobby and turned professional in 1996. The transition from radio to racing was a natural one because she found many parallels between the two. For instance, both are volatile industries that are promotion-heavy, and both are marketing tools and an advertising medium.

To date, Wright has notched 34 victories as well as 26 other podium finishes and has set 16 lap records. She also spends some of her time coaching Ferrari owners and has even coached the chairman of Enron Broadband, Ken Rice.

It wasn?t long after her entry into racing that Wright discovered that very few individuals involved in the racing world knew how to deal with the media ? something Wright already considered second nature. Throughout her racing career she has helped to justify the money that sponsors spend on racing by enhancing the image of her sponsors and by driving sales as well as racecars. She has helped her sponsors find new business partners and leverage new business relationships.

Asked why she located to the Houston area, she says she wouldn?t have it any other way. And Houston is becoming quite a hub of racing activity.

Wright offered as an example one of her clients. Bobby Sak is the son of Trans Am driver Don Sak. Bobby drives for Grand Sport Racing located in Hitchcock just south of Houston. This season, both Don and Bobby have donated the space on the hood of their racing cars to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. As a direct result of media exposure surrounding their efforts, a missing child was reunited with her father less than a month after her image was featured. Watch for Don Sak at the Grand Prix this month ? this time the face of a Houston-area missing child will be featured on his car, and with some luck, the effort will prove equally effective.

Then there is Kelly Bradley, a Corvette enthusiast who has purchased a World War II blimp base south of town. While researching the property, he discovered that John Mecom, a prominent figure from Houston?s past and owner of the original Warwick Hotel, used to test his Corvettes on this same land. Mecom owned three out of the five original Grand Sport Corvettes ever built for racing. Bradley now plans to build a permanent racing facility called Grand Sport Speedway in the very same location.

Wright?s love of racing, as well as those in it, is apparent. In fact, her husband, Jay Wright, a NASA engineer, is a former driver. Sadly, Jay?s driving career was cut short in 1993 when he was paralyzed in a racing accident. However, he has remained very active in contributing to the sport and has been instrumental in changing car designs to increase safety. Additionally, he has designed a more affordable helmet restraint system that would help reduce neck injuries and also has been instrumental in changes to the rules so that others won?t suffer a similar fate.

So what?s the big deal about Wright announcing a CART race? Well, most announcers must wait their entire careers for an opportunity such as this. But also it signifies a new, modern era for Houston. We can boast proudly that our city was the first to have a female racing announcer. It differentiates Houston?s race from the rest.

Asked if all of the attention is intimidating, Wright?s answer is simple. “It?s just like being in my living room,” she says. “If a race is on the television, I can?t help but commentate it. The only difference at a race is that there are 100,000 other people listening in.” Count us among those who will be listening and enjoying the racing insights of Caroline Wright.

VIOLENCE and Houston Schools

October 1, 2001 by  
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VIOLENCE and Houston Schools

What are Houston-area schools doing to combat gun-related violence on campus?

by Suzanne Boase

The frantic call went out about 10:15 a.m. one day last April: student shot at Kleb Intermediate. Within seconds, Klein ISD administrators sounded a “Code Blue” to hold students in their classrooms as sheriff’s deputies swarmed the northwest Harris County campus. Terrified parents raced to pick up their children and take them out of harm’s way. Reporters and photographers from every media outlet in town hurried to the scene as well.

We learned the heartbreaking facts just a short time later. Thirteen-year-old Elizabeth Trevino, an eighth-grader, died at a local hospital after committing suicide at school, shooting herself in the head in an upstairs restroom. She was discovered by a teacher, who climbed over the top of a bathroom stall to try and save her, but it was too late. A handgun and suicide note were found next to her body.

Deputies and the news media began to investige to determine where Trevino had gotten the gun and how she had gotten it into the school. It was later determined that the weapon belonged to Trevino’s late father and had been locked away. Trevino somehow got the gun and hid it in her backpack. The tragedy prompted a review of security measures by Klein ISD, but as administrators from several local school districts including HISD point out, even the most stringent security measures aren’t a guarantee anymore against violence. It’s a sobering truth that leaves more and more parents afraid as they cart their children off to school each day.

Those fears certainly won’t be calmed by the comments of one local judge. Early this year, state District Judge Mike McSpadden, while sentencing an HISD student to five years in prison for killing a classmate, said if this district is a role model, “then God help the rest of the nation.” McSpadden was referring to then Secretary of Education nominee and former HISD Superintendent Rod Paige and the praise he had received during his confirmation hearings for leading one of the top urban school districts in the country.

McSpadden’s comments were made during a hearing for 16-year-old former Deady Middle School student Estanilao Balderas in the October 1999 stabbing death of Samuel Avila. Avila was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver while at school. The judge criticized HISD for failing to protect Avila and other students.

Despite such high profile crimes and criticism, there is some good news as students begin the new school year. According to local administrators, school violence is decreasing in the Houston area. HISD spokeswoman Carmen Gomez says violent crime fell in the 2000—01 school year from the year before.

Gomez attributes the drop to several policies and programs HISD has implemented during the past few years. One of the most important: a zero tolerance policy for weapons or violence. “A student with a weapon will be expelled, put in an alternative school,” says Gomez.

That tougher weapons policy was installed just two months after the chilling massacre at Columbine High School near Denver on April 20, 1999, a massacre that claimed 15 lives, including the two gunmen. The murders, the aftermath of which was played out in front of a horrified national television audience, forever changed the way school districts around the country handle security and respond to violence, including HISD. Paige, who was then the district superintendent, said at the time, “The safety of our children and our employees has always been the top priority. The tragedy in Littleton, Colo., should serve as a reminder that schools must do everything reasonable and possible to be places of safety and comfort for all who enter their doors.”

Gomez says every HISD school has an emergency preparedness plan with multiple scenarios, “all the way from weather to weapons, bombs, etc., there are several steps as far as each specific incident that we would follow.” The district also has its own police department with close to 200 officers and a special response or SWAT team trained to rescue students and staff in an emergency. Says Gomez, district officials actually had the idea for the response team before the Columbine massacre but quickly accelerated its implementation following the incident. “It showed how much we do need something like that,” she says.

The district also has created security councils composed of administrators, teachers, parents and students to review individual schools and recommend improvements. Other Houston-area school districts have moved quickly as well to improve safety and reassure anxious parents that everything possible is being done to protect their children.

But another unfortunate fallout from the Columbine tragedy is even harder to prevent — an increased number of threats directed at schools, especially around April 20, the tragedy’s anniversary. Districts now take those threats much more seriously. For example, the Columbia-Brazoria School District received an e-mail on its Web site last April threatening to bomb the school on the day of the Columbine anniversary. West Columbia police used dogs to search every campus on April 19, and extra officers remained on campus overnight and all day on April 20 as a precaution. “When schools get a bomb threat, you can’t assume it’s a prank,” says Columbia-Brazoria Superintendent Cole Pugh. “You have to take it as seriously as you possibly can.”

That’s what several parents at Humble ISD’s Creekwood Middle School did last April. Just before the anniversary of Columbine, someone posted an Internet hit list naming several students. It scared Cheryl Cummings and other parents so much they kept their children home from school. “I left my son home for protection,” says Cummings. “You just never know.” Humble ISD responded with additional security patrols by local law enforcement.

In fact, most Houston area districts routinely take extra precautions around the Columbine anniversary, from police patrols to student searches. They also recognize that our schools have forever changed. Gone are the days when weapons were rare and violence was limited to the occasional fistfight.

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