Audio Etiquette

May 30, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby 30 May 2011


THE PHONE – My phone is ringing, so I answer. “Dis is Vito.” Crackle, crackle. “Ah won’t yew to buzzzzz…owe dat…and…break….hospital….” Silence. Vito is such a silly savage. He apparently wants his money back with that 60 percent interest compounded, like my legs will be by next Wednesday if I don’t pay. I’ll just pretend I never got the call because he is phoning me from his cell phone, or iPhone, or iPad or Kindle or tom-tom or whatever.
In any event, his call breaks up, perhaps just like my legs. Also when he drives through a tunnel or thunderstorm or at night, his phone goes silent, so he has to call back. But Vito is playing with danger because he is DWT (Driving While Talking/Tweeting/Texting).You, no doubt, have been behind a car that roams all over the street, alternately going slow or fast, braking for no reason. You pull alongside and, sure enough, the driver is on the phone, paying little heed to the bridge abutment just ahead. That’s when he says, “About the Smedley contract, I think we need to, what the… AHHGGG…smash!” Then the sound of glass shattering and metal bending.
Here is a genuine offer I just got from my phone company: a single little black box so that I can “Surf the Web while talking on the phone.” I also get touchtone screen display, vibration, send texts, pictures, videos and IMs (whatever an IM is), camera and camcorder, music and radio, weather reports and mobile email. And with Bluetooth wireless phone service I have at least one hand free to drive! Wait. Is that a bridge abutment just ahead? AHHGGG!
It is on radio call-in shows that cell phone users are the worst. “Let’s go to Jack in Jacksonville.”
“Hi, Rush, first-time listener, long-time caller. That bozo in the White Houzzzz.” Click, click, dial tone. Maybe it’s just the god of idiots culling the herd.
Studies show that talking on the phone while driving hinders a person’s attention equivalent to several drinks of alcohol or a couple of high-grade joints. But it is the receiver of such calls who has to put up with voice fading, lots of static, the: “I’ll buzz, crackle you back when I get in mmmm, click,” and the incomprehensible. “The magtou hut zeep inside. So diffle the putcake. Got that?”
When was the last time you dialed (we don’t actually “dial” anymore, but you get my drift) someone and heard a busy signal, or the phone rang and rang and no one answered? Not often, because today every single American has a message recording device of some kind or call waiting that lets a third party interrupt a conversation.
This brings us to phone etiquette, because you and I are tired of putting up with frustration, wasted time, arrogance and inconsideration. Let us start with phone messages. You arrive at your home or office and there is a little blinking light which means a message is waiting. “Hi, I want to tell you about that thing, which is not where I thought it would be. And be sure to fix it.”
You have not a clue who is calling, what the message is about, nor when and where. Such people are so arrogant that they think you should immediately know who they are without so much as introducing themselves. Or maybe they are just clueless or insensitive, but you should always begin your message with something like: “Hi, this is Malcolm Cumquat, we met at the Friends of Formica convention.” And go on from there. Such etiquette is also proper when dealing with live phone conversations, each time some caller begins with, “Hi, I want to tell you about that thing, which….” I interrupt with, “Excuse me, but who is this?”
When leaving a phone message, talk slowly and distinctly. We have all replayed phone messages which begin with the above-mentioned no-name caller. But how about the phone number? “Call me at fivefivefive-twotwo etc.” Huh? You can replay the message several times and still not understand the number. It’s a complete waste of the happy hour.
About your own answering machine: Do not greet callers with a funny impersonation. “Hi, this is Jim-uh, Jum-ee Stewart. And uh, uh, leave a… just leave …” Hey, I’m busy. I don’t have time to wade through your meager attempt at humor. If I want Jimmy Stewart I’ll rent “It’s a Wonderful Life” and hear the real thing. Same with music. Unless you play in a symphony, jazz band or won the Pulitzer for your epic opera, “Cheerleaders in Chains,” spare me the melody. Again, I’m busy.
So you are talking on the phone and hear a beep. The person you are conversing with says, “Sorry, but I just got another call. Can I put you on hold?” No, you cannot, because what you are saying is that any other unknown person on earth is more important than I am. The only excusable excuse is to be warned up front, “I’m expecting a call from EMS telling me they’re on the way, so I may have to take that call.”
While dwelling on phone etiquette, it goes for companies, too. My financial institution, Texas Bank & Earthworm Farm, doesn’t know squat how to be customer friendly. Callers only get a recording, no humans work at my bank but a few have the overnight shift in Bangladesh. The bank’s phone message is a recorded list of options: start a new account, amount of overdraft, book a brazen daylight robbery. But none of them is what I want, which is the code to the vault. If you push 0 for a real human, you are put on hold for half an hour while listening to “The Best of Sousaphone Serenades.”
As for my problems with Vito, things are getting sticky. A concrete truck just pulled up to my house and the driver asked for my shoe size.

Ashby is on hold at

Mr. Huang

May 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                                23 May 2011


THE FRONT YARD – He’s out there now, working on my lawn, but how times have changed. Several years ago there was a knock at my door and a seedy looking guy holding a rusty rake smiled at me. “I yam Duc Huang. Do yawns cheap. Do your yawn, pease?” At least that’s what I think he said, but I got the key word, “cheap.” I needed a change in gardening, as my current lawn keeper was a surly, sweaty and sloppy drunkard, who kept the yard looking like leftovers from the Dresden raid. Besides, I didn’t like doing my own lawn, anyway.

“Yes, you can do my yawn…uh…lawn, for twenty bucks.” And so our arrangement began, as once a week, summer or winter, Duc Huang would come do my lawn. Often he brought his wife, Minnie Lou, and two sons, LeRoy and Chauncey, who wore rather rumpled Astros T-shirts. They’d drive up in this rickety pickup truck with rusty fenders and smoking exhaust pipe. It had a bumper sticker: “Power to the People!”

Then one day I noticed his truck had a paint job and new hubcaps, and a “Clinton in ’96” bumper sticker. Eventually he got a second-hand leaf blower that continually broke down. “Now charge twenty-five bucks. Five more,” he told me one afternoon. “Price of gas go up.” I forked over the extra five, knowing that McSleaze, the hedge fund manager across the street, was paying his lawn guy thirty.

Over the years, Huang got a better used truck (sporting a “Gore in ‘00” bumper sticker) and newer lawnmowers and leaf blowers. Minnie Lou stopped helping. “She got own nail place,” Huang explained. “Work seven days week, 23 hours. No time to rake. Boys help her after school and overnight jobs at Dally Queen.”

It was in 2006 when Huang drove up in a brand-new pickup truck, towing a new trailer filled with top-flight equipment, and he had another helper, his cousin, Mandrake. “He just get here from Ho Chi Minh City. He was mayor. Now he help me, because the lawn biz is boom.” In 2008, his crew showed up in a minivan with “Huang & Co. We Do Yawns” on the door with his phone number. One day I saw that Huang seemed very depressed as he swept out the stables. “What happened? Are you being deported?”

He sighed, “Family very embarrassed. Second son, Chauncey, miss one question on SAT test. He now must sleep in garage.” A week later I looked out and Huang was whistling as he skimmed the moat. I asked why. “Chauncey not wrong, and proved test answer was wrong. He now under contract with SAT as consultant.” Huang said LeRoy was taking ESL courses at the community college. “ESL? English as a second language?” I asked.

“Second? No, seventh.”

Immigration reform had been all the talk lately, so I thought I’d check with Huang. “It need reform, and quick, as I tell Senate Committee on Immigration last week. Now days they let in anyone. All raff-riff.”

“But, when you first arrived,” I explained, “you weren’t exactly country club material.”

“True, as I explained to club membership committee last night. Being chairman, I rejected all applications from minorities, union members, Democrats and liberal media. And I turned down McSleaze across the street. He keeps forget Christmas bonus. One must maintain certain level of propriety.”

Chauncey and LeRoy were no longer helping out with the yard work. Huang explained that Chauncey’s job as ticket-taker as the Astros game and his post-doctorial studies at Baylor med didn’t leave him much time for edging the sidewalks. The other son, LeRoy, was at Yale.

“I hope he’s making good grades. I hear it’s a tough school,” I said.

“That’s what his students tell him.”

A year ago Huang’s driver came by with Mister Huang in the back seat (I noticed the limo had a “W forever!” bumper sticker). His crew’s truck with “” on the door had its own taco truck in tow. When he got out, he was wearing an Armani three-piece suit and a Rolex the size of a bull rider’s belt buckle. He showed me the picture of his villa in Monaco. I asked him about his wife, Minnie Lou, adding: “I remember her in her peasant cone hat, clipping the weeds in the south garden. What’s she doing?”

“Minnie Lou in Manhattan shopping a new hat at Saks after she rings opening bell on exchange.”

“I thought you said she was in the nail business.”

“Yes nails, bolts, nuts, screws. Then she went into construction materials, electrical wiring, real estate. One thing led to another. Last week she bought out Trump.”

“And your cousin, Mandrake, the mayor?”

“Not mayor. Major, in South Vietnamese Army. He now general in U.S. army. Nominated to be staff chief of joints.”

In April Mister Huang sent an e-mail from his yacht off Majorca asking if the steeplechase hedges were too tall for my horses to clear. When next I saw him I asked about his new employee in charge of potting soil, McFlywheel. Huang said something about derivatives and probation.

Last week, as Huang was sweeping the tennis court around midnight, he told me he liked to keep a hand in the business. Same with Minnie Lou, who still worked every day and all night because it kept the stockholders happy. LeRoy was still at Yale, although after his family made a small donation to his club, it’s now called the Skull & Yawns. “What about Chauncey?” I asked. “Still tearing tickets at the Astros games?”

“Yes. A family rule: work hard, keep eye on things. Even if you are — how you say — uh, team owner?”


Ashby mows at




Don’t Mansion It

May 16, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

AUSTIN – Here it sits, surrounded by fences, workers, and four DPS cars plus state troopers. How things have changed since early on June 8, 2008, almost three years ago, when some idiot tossed a Molotov cocktail at the front door of this beautiful Governor’s Mansion.
It was built in 1856 and has been home to 40 of our governors. It is the fourth oldest governor’s residence continuously occupied in the U.S. and the oldest west of the Mississippi River. Have you ever visited here? Why not, you own it? Of course, you can’t visit right now, but maybe your grandchildren can. Rebuilding the mansion is going painfully slow, even for a government project.
First, there is the matter of money. The Legislature earmarked $22 million to restore the place, and, at last report, Texans have donated more than $3.5 million to the Texas Governor’s Mansion Restoration Fund, which is about 14 cents per Texan. Fortunately, the mansion was undergoing a $10 million reconstruction project when the fire hit, so all the furniture and fixtures were in storage. Incidentally, the Texas Constitution specifically gives the guv use of the Governor’s Mansion, fixtures and furniture.
The State Preservation Board, working with a specialized design team of experts on construction and preservation, developed cost estimates to restore the structure, and, at the same time, improve security, update mechanical systems and make other improvements. The cost: more than $20 million. So there are a lot of numbers knocking around, but that’s not the main problem.
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but if it’s burned, change it. There was a serious plan, favored by the governor’s wife, Anita, to add a 3,000-square-foot addition to the mansion. After many objections, that was scrapped for a 1,000-square-foot addition on the back. But the place is already 8,920 square feet with 25 rooms and seven bathrooms – this includes spaces open to the public during visiting times — and no other guv or family has complained about the size.
What about insurance? Every year ‘‘the state’’ – I’m not sure who that is — reviews the idea of insuring state buildings, but the Lege has consistently decided to self insure, except when construction bonds require insurance. Besides, it’s hard to insure against criminal acts of vandalism, including arson.
How could such a catastrophe hit this most-beloved structure right here in the middle of Austin? Let us count the ways. The mansion was supposedly protected by the state’s Department of Public Safety, the same agency that keeps us waiting in endless lines to get our drivers’ license renewed. But only 13 of 20 security cameras were working when the fire started. Also, the alarm system designed to alert troopers if an intruder entered the grounds of the mansion was broken, and had been for some time – no one seems to know just how long, which in itself is unnerving.
When the arsonist struck, there was only one DPS trooper on guard in a back house, and he had just worked an eight-hour shift at the Bob Bullock Museum. Fortunately, because of the rebuilding, Gov. Rick Perry and his wife were not living in the mansion, so the Perrys had to make do with a $9,000-per-month (originally $9,900) new home rental, complete with pool and guest house. At the time of the fire, the Perrys were visiting Europe — with a DPS security guard.
This situation has happened before. You may recall when then-Rep. Tom DeLay diverted state troopers from their normal pursuit of serial killers to hunt down Democratic legislators who had fled the state to break a quorum during DeLay’s Congressional redistricting battle.
Today the Texas Rangers are on the job, but no luck. In February, a sketch was released of the person seen throwing a Molotov cocktail at the building. The DPS is describing the man as a “person of interest.” The sketch was made from surveillance video – those that worked — taken the night of the fire. Investigators also identified three people who took pictures of the mansion and surveillance cameras four days before the fire. I’ll bet people took pictures of the mansion every single day.
The three photographers, also “persons of interest,” were in a Jeep Cherokee and have been tied to an Austin-based group linked to a planned attack on the GOP convention in Minneapolis in 2008, which also involved Molotov cocktails, but they denied having anything to do with the fire. “One passenger initially denied having been in the vehicle, but later admitted to having been in the vehicle and taking photographs after failing a polygraph examination,” according to the Rangers. At least one of the suspects has been placed in the downtown area the morning of the mansion fire. Investigators said the person in the sketch was not in that vehicle. So they either had two clues or none. The state is offering a $50,000 reward for information that can lead authorities to the arsonist.
After the fire, Allan Polinsky, chairman of the DPS commission, said on the Rangers’ search for the Governor’s Mansion arsonist. “The Texas Rangers have a pretty long history of getting who they are looking for.” We’re still waiting.
Some Democratic libs might be asking if the Perrys had not taken state troopers with them on their trip to Europe, just maybe one or more of the bodyguards/sherpas could have been hanging around the mansion and prevented the arson. We’ll never know, of course, but a hint was the state expenses run up by the guv’s security detail on his 23 foreign trips. His office released one figure of $928,477.71, but that only covered some of the trips from 2004 to 2010 — five more were not on the list. Major Texas newspapers have been trying to get all the figures, since any costs would be revealed only after the trips were over. No costs have been coming. The reason was “security.”

Ashby is fired up at


May 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby 9 May 2011

 – Here’s a little drummer boy, several angels, red balls, green balls, yellow balls, fuchsia and beige balls. Boy, do I have stars. No partridge in a pear tree, but I think some lords are a-leaping around here. In case you are wondering, I am pruning down my Christmas decorations, and it’s harder than I thought. You see, like many American household, our nest is emptying, so I am weeding out. Do I really need a six-car garage? How many walk-in humidors and saunas does one family require?

The less-is-more program is easy, except for getting rid of Christmas tree ornaments. You may recall when your first-born arrived, and everyone was happy as they gathered around the manger. Then came maybe another and another. The little darlings wanted a real live Christmas tree to rival the one in Rockefeller Center. I recall going out on those brisk December evenings and stealing one off the lot.

Incidentally, I have noticed over the years that you can get a real good deal on Christmas trees on Dec. 26. So just switch to the Russian celebration on Jan. 7 and save. Then the family would sip eggnog and vodka martinis as we broke out each old ornament and lovingly put it on the tree. Most people top their tree with a star, but that’s so ordinary. I prefer a sausage, to remind us that Germans gave us the tree tradition. Every year the kids would bring home from school those little reindeer they had made out of Popsicle sticks and Santas formed from flour paste which the ants would gnaw on during the off season. Over the years we accumulated 3,498 different tree ornaments. Then there was silver tinsel which draped over the branches to look like ice cycles and, when it was time to dismantle the tree, the tinsels would spread across the rug and knot up the vacuum cleaner. My family insisted on a live tree. “Artificial trees are for artificial people,” they chanted as they festooned the front door’s plastic wreath with Styrofoam berries. A real live tree meant it had to go in a metal stand that held water to keep the tree’s needles from falling off, which they did anyway. I even got this IV device which meant I had to bore holes in the base of the trunk and stick in plastic tubes which would drip water into the tree. That way I had healthy needles to fall on the floor. When the stores started replacing their Christmas decorations with Easter bunnies, I knew the season was over and it was time to waste the Pseudotsuga menziesii. What do you do with your old Christmas tree? Those suckers are dry and brittle, one big turpentine explosion just waiting for a match, so it shouldn’t be hanging around the fireplace too long. My own solution is simple: I have this backyard fence which isn’t too high. Some people like to recycle, which is all the rage. We are supposed to take our trees, with those dry needles sticking out like harpoons, to the second-hand tree shop in Kilgore. You can literally be a tree hugger and buy a tree in a pot, then after the holidays, plant it in your backyard.

Every Christmas you can go out and dig it up, as it grows bigger and bigger, and bring it into your house. This is by far the greenest, most environmentally friendly and stupidest idea I have ever heard. Yes, having a real, live Christmas trees were the days. But we gradually cut back to a simpler forest with smaller trees, then one which was flocked to reduce the pine pollen. I suggested using a really cute and simple bearer of ornaments: one made of coat hangers, but was overruled. So we now have a perfectly acceptable tree which requires far fewer decorations. This brings me back to my original predicament of the ornaments, among which are a pineapple, a Chinese mandarin and a map of Texas. It is unclear just what they have to do with Christmas. On the other hand, we have the world’s largest Christmas crèche, beautifully carved by gnomes in the Alps (from a village called “China”) which portrays the inn, Mary and Joseph, lots of angels, shepherds and such, but I don’t recall the Bible mentioning elephants, deer, porcupines and pigs. Did Bethlehem have buffalo? Our crèche has them. So perhaps tree ornaments of bazookas and fire plugs are OK. These various decorations are too good to give away. We gave as many as we could to reluctant offspring. What to do? There are Christmas shops which spring up right after the Yule decorations open, which is the week before Halloween. Maybe I could sell these ornaments, take the money and buy a large bottle of Johnny Walker Black. Fa-la-la and ho, ho, ho. I also have 23 miles of tree lights. You, no doubt, also have tree lights. As with the other decorations, you annually drag the boxes down from the attic, up from the basement or backyard bomb shelter.

Each year, someone sneaks into my attic during the summer and tangles up my Christmas tree lights. These babies have come a long way from the old times when, if one light burned out, the entire string went. Today sudden death only happens on lights strung on the outside of the house along gutters, tree limbs, mail boxes and pink flamingos. I used to string those lights myself, dangling on a stepladder with little clamps between my teeth, usually in mind-numbing cold and rain, falling to the bushes every 20th bulb or so. Today I hire someone else to do it, paying him most of my Christmas bonus from Enron. Maybe I could string these ornaments along the outside of my house,. I’ll trade you this little trombone and Chinese mandarin for a fifth of Johnny Walker Black. Ho, ho, ho.

Ashby is decorated as

Texas Profs

May 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs

By Lynn Ashby 2 May 2011

It is rare that I find myself agreeing with Dick Armey. You remember him, the former Republican Congressman from Denton who found he could make a lot more money as a lobbyist. He walks around in a big Texas cowboy hat, although he’s from North Dakota, and founded FreedomWorks which is the leadership and organizer of the no-leadership, no-organization Tea Party. Just how he pulled that off is testimony to his chutzpah and our gullibility. Drawing on his earlier years as a professor at Austin College and the U. of North Texas, Armey recently wrote an op/ed piece weighing in on the battle within UT-Austin and Texas A&M (hereafter UT and A&M) over professors’ teaching vs. research.

But first a bit of sleazy background. The UT regents, all appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, hired Rick O’Donnell, a “special adviser” from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, at $200,000 a year. He was to implement a program of professors doing more teaching and less research, and would report to the regents, not to Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa. A&M was to follow a similar path but without a special adviser. The different reactions by the two schools were remarkable. The head of the Texas Exes and friends raised a storm. The UT Council of Deep Pockets (that’s not their real name but they give loads of money to the school and have pull) jumped in with the same outrage. The job was abruptly abolished. However, the Aggies meekly submitted to the program.

Then the tale got really cheesy. E-mails showed, while the special adviser post was opened for applications, O’Donnell’s hiring was already a done deal, and those other poor applicants were so much smokescreen. His learned position paper on higher education was found to be filled with errors and fuzzy facts. He protested he never called himself a scholar. And why, it was asked, when UT is cutting back on staff, profs, raising tuition, etc. is there enough cash to pay some outsider $200,000? A good halfback, sure, but not a hand-picked non-scholar with a political agenda. Obviously a good university needs to teach students well and do relevant research, but state schools have an added burden. The taxpayers of Texas support UT and A&M to educate their children, research takes second place. Or put it this way: let’s have a state-wide referendum on whether these two schools, and all public universities in Texas, should have, as their first priority, teaching students, doing research, or winning football games. (Remember UT has the largest athletic budget of any school in the nation, public or private. The budget is $167 million this year, up from $160 last year.)

Dick Armey, in his article, notes that UT is the highest-ranked university in Texas and has the third-largest endowment in the country. Actually, the endowment is for the entire UT system with 200,000 students. He also points out UT does not do well in the latest U.S. News poll. “It has become more common for Texans to leave the state to pursue college degrees from higher-ranked universities elsewhere.” Armey writes that since 1994 tuition at Texas public universities has increased on average 9.8 percent annually, but has done little to help Texas students and their parents, especially during a recession. Finally, he points to a public opinion survey released by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (from whence O’Donnell came) which found that 80 percent of Texas voters think Texas colleges and universities can be run more efficiently. Then there is tenure, which O’Donnell doesn’t like. It was former UT President Logan Wilson who coined the term, “publish or perish.” Profs are supposed to turn out learned articles in obscure academic journals that no one reads. And, in turn, they get tenure. Name one other job where you can’t get fired, except the Pope. Schools strive to be a Tier One university. Texas has three: UT, A&M and Rice. (UH has just been anointed by one judge of such things.) California has nine. No one can explain exactly what’s a Tier One university, but lots of research is required. The Longhorns qualify. In 2006, two psychologists from UT, Cindy M. Meston and David M. Buss, surveyed 2,000 people on why they have sex, and came up with 237 reasons, including, “I was drunk.” It wasn’t quite up there with Sir Alexander Fleming studying bread mold. We see these bumper stickers, “My child and my money go to (fill in the blank),” but where does the money go? The raw product of a college is not something it has to purchase, like metal or plastic or crude oil. Actually, the raw product pays the school, rather like a potato pays the factory to become vichyssoise. Profs continually say they are underpaid. Grad students, who do much of the teaching and grading, do it for the experience or pennies. (I was taught by graduate students the first two years at UT.) Students buy their books and pay lab fees. The buildings are gifts, the department chairs are endowed. Parents may also wonder why their kid can’t get in UT, but illegal aliens can, and pay in-state tuition. Yet every two years the heads of the UT and A&M systems ask the Texas Legislature for funds, coupled with the dire warning that otherwise they can’t attract and retain good profs. I’ll bet these days the deans’ phones at those schools are ringing nonstop with laid-off academics from other states, looking for a job. So that dog won’t hunt. Quick story: One day I was at a meeting at the LBJ School on the UT campus with a few leading intellectual lights on the 40 Acres. One prof arrived late, having just flown in from Washington where he had been all week. Another left early to attend a Barbara Jordan Committee meeting.

I wanted to ask, “Do any of you actually teach?” Maybe I should have asked why they had sex. Ashby hooks ‘em at

Virtuosi of Houston 15th Anniversary Gala – Sat., May 7

May 3, 2011 by  
Filed under Events

Virtuosi of Houston Prepares to Dazzle and Delight Supporters with Honorees, Musical Performances and Cuisine at 15th Anniversary Gala on May 7

Virtuosi of Houston (Virtuosi; will celebrate its 15th season of excellence in chamber music education and performance at its gala on Saturday, May 7, at 6 p.m. in the Legends Ballroom at the Hotel InterContinental. Supporters and guests of Virtuosi of Houston are in for a dazzling evening at the concert and dinner event, entitled “Virtuosi Encore 15: Honoring Houston’s Music Philanthropists, an Evening of Memories and Music,” with a menu of delectable cuisine, performances by special musical guests and by the Virtuosi of Houston Youth Chamber Orchestra, and an exciting silent auction. The gala will also honor 12 Houstonians who have contributed to the tremendous success and continued growth of classical music in Houston.

Event Chairs and Honorees

Linda and John Barrett and Zarine and Meherwan Boyce are serving as co-chairs of the event, along with honorary chair and gala honoree Monzer Hourani. Additional honorees for this year’s gala include Margaret Alkek Williams; Donna and Robert Bruni; Barbara and Ulyesse LeGrange; Nidhika and Pershant Mehta; Mary Kay and Michael Poulos; and Phyllis and Cornel Williams.


Also in the spotlight will be the musical performances of the evening from the Virtuosi of Houston Youth Chamber Orchestra and two special guest performers: acclaimed Broadway singer and actress Michelle DeJean and international opera singer Gabriel Gonzales.

DeJean, a Houston native, will be singing “As Long As He Needs Me” from the musical Oliver! DeJean is a past performer with Theater Under the Stars and the TUTS Humphreys School. She was a Houston Ballet Academy student as well as a graduate of the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. She recently finished a run as Roxie Hart and later as Mona Lipshitz in Chicago on Broadway. In additional to starring in more than a dozen regional musical productions, she has performed in national and international tours of West Side Story (Anita), Mame (Gloria Upson), The Sound of Music (Liesl) and Jesus Christ Superstar.

Gonzales, a celebrated opera tenor from Mexico, will be performing “Granada,” by Augustin Lara, as well as “Dime que si,” by Alfonso Esparza Oteo. Gonzales has led an illustrious opera career. In addition to numerous recitals and opera productions in the United States, Mexico, Russia and Spain, Gonzales has sung several roles for productions at the Houston Grand Opera, including Don Alvaro in La forza del destino, Rodolfo in Luisa Miller, Manrico in Il Trovatore, Romeo in Romeo et Juliette, the title role in Faust, and Rodolfo in La Boheme. Among the highlights of his career are his portrayals of Federico in the American premiere of Cilea’s L’Arlesiana, Don José in Bizet’s Carmen and Corrado in Verdi’s Il Corsaro for Sarasota Opera.

In addition to performing with DeJean and Gonzales, the students of the Virtuosi of Houston Youth Chamber Orchestra will present a concert of both classics and pops. Under the direction of longtime Virtuosi of Houston conductors Franz Anton Krager and Andrzej Grabiec, their performance will include soul stirring excerpts from “Overture 1812” by Tchaikovsky, the “Adagio” from “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Joaquin Rodrigo, and a new, yet-untitled piece by University of Houston composition professor Robert Nelson.

Virtuosi students and alumni have continued to gain recognition and acclaim at some of the finest music education programs and institutions in the United States and abroad, including Juilliard, Peabody, Eastman, Curtis, New England Conservatory, the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston, the Royal Conservatory of Brussels and the Royal Conservatory of the Hague.

Cuisine and Auction

Executive chef Peter Laufer of the Hotel InterContinental has created a menu of some of the most delicious and memorable dishes from the past eight Legends events. Laufer brings years of culinary experience and creative flavors to his dishes from years of cooking for top restaurants around the world, including Germany, South America, the Caribbean, Russia, Canada, Scandinavia, the United States and the Mediterranean. This year’s menu includes past gala favorites like goat cheese profiteroles, duck empanadas and smoked salmon for hors d’oeuvres, lamb shank bathed in red wine reduction with parsley potatoes and root vegetables, and a signature dessert: a chocolate piano paired with lemon soufflé, fresh berries, and apple tart.

Aside from the delicious food and entertainment, the gala will have more than 200 distinctive items available for silent auction, from winery tours to exquisite jewelry.


Gala sponsors to date include: Hughes Watters Askanase LLP, Imperial Sugar Company (John Sheptor), MediStar Corporation (Monzer Hourani), MetroNational (Harry Hadland) and Wallis State Bank (Musa Dakri). Media partners include The Greensheet, Health & Fitness Sports Magazine, “Interchange” radio show host Lawrence Payne, PaperCity and Boyce Consultancy Group LLC, Gittings, Hotel Granduca, Hotel InterContinental, PaperCity Blacktie and Pennino and Partners provided generous in-kind benefits for the gala. Gittings photographed all the portraits of the honorees and Hotel Granduca hosted a reception for the Gittings portraits’ unveiling on Feb. 22.

Tickets for the May 7 gala are available exclusively through Virtuosi, and may be purchased by contacting the group directly at 713-807-0888. Gala tickets range from $250 to $2,500 per seat.

For more information about Virtuosi of Houston or the gala, or for a full list of sponsorship opportunities and benefits, please contact Zarine Boyce at 713-807-0888 or send an email to

Burger Palace Announces Official Website & New Menu

May 3, 2011 by  
Filed under Events


“I wanted to offer Houston an alternative to your everyday burger in a chic and modern atmosphere!” stated Mei Tamminen. “I want to use only the best ingredients to make my burgers, so the best choice was Akaushi beef which is rated two grades higher than USDA Prime. This type of beef is heavily marbled and is high in healthy fats and lower in unhealthy saturated fats. We create high end, hand crafted burgers that my anyone can enjoy!” Burger Palace is located at 2800 Sage Road, Suite 1100 (at Alabama near the Galleria). For more information about The Burger Palace, please visit, or call 713-877-9700.

“When I decided to leave my previous job working in the computer industry, I didnʼt want to sit at home and count the tiles on the floor!” laughed owner/ entrepreneur Mei Tamminen. “So I looked at my options and took over the Mint Cafe. I decided to go in a completely new direction with the restaurant. I wanted to offer a new concept of burgers to Houston!”

“When developing the concept, I began to research the process they use to prepare the breed of cow and why it stands out from any other beef.” Mei commented enthusiastically. “I came back home to Houston and I looked for someone to import the beef but I soon realized it would be extremely expensive, so I looked started shopping around and found a purveyor of Akaushi beef here in Texas!”
The Burger Palace is a clean, modern and chic location, with an open grill that allows the patrons to smell their burgers being grilled. The walls are black, red and tan giving it the feel of a cool and hip lounge. The outside patio is perfect to unwind during your lunch hour or enjoy your glass of wine after the evening meal, all while listening to the hip music playing in the background.

Cuisine: Gourmet Burgers, American & Asian Fusion

Address:2800 Sage Rd Ste. A1100
Houston, Texas 77056

Telephone: 713-877-9700


Washington County, Texas

May 2, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs, Travel Blog

Historical Significance
History, antiques and pie, oh my!
Washington County Revealed
By Laurette M. Veres

Many German settlers arrived in America through the Port of Galveston. They loaded wagons with supplies and their families and headed northwest in search of fertile farming land. It wasn’t the greatest exploration in American history; they found the rolling hills, of what is now Washington County, 130 miles from the port. They settled and thrived, with cotton as their most abundant crop.



Today, you’ll find many Houstonians exiled in this hill-country substitute. Just one hour from downtown Houston, Washington County is known for bed and breakfast experiences, historic homes, wildflowers, Bluebell Ice Cream and homemade pie. It is also the birthplace of Texas.

So Much History, So Close
Most Texans have shouted “Remember the Alamo!” when motivating teammates or facing tough challenges, but do you recall the historic events surrounding this battle? Brush off your seventh grade history book and spend a day at Washington on the Brazos, a 293-acre state park located where Washington, a major political and commercial center, once stood.
Not even ghosts remain from the old town. A cistern from the hotel and remnants of a foundation, believed to have supported Independence Hall, and some weathered pecan trees are the only original artifacts left. In case you can’t find your old textbook and can’t remember the details, Independence Hall was the historic site of the signing of Texas’ Declaration of Independence, which was happening while Jim Bowie and his comrades were fighting to be remembered at the Alamo. Guides here do a great job of re-telling the story and providing fun facts, like why Sam Houston’s signature does not appear on the Declaration.

You will find two other major attractions in addition to Independence Hall- Barrington Living History Farm, and the Star of the Republic Museum.
The Barrington Living History Farm recreates what life was like for Dr. Anson Jones, the last President of the Republic of Texas. The staff raises cotton, corn, cattle and hogs using the same tools and methods the good doctor used in early to mid 1800s. Oxen pull plows around the small, restored farm house he shared with his wife, their 4 children, his wife’s younger siblings and his sister; the group appreciated their large porch and extensive acreage. Servant’s quarters and outbuildings have been recreated to complete the historic depiction.

It will take hours to fully explore the Star of the Republic Museum’s overview of the ten years Texas spent as a country. Back then, steamships smoked up the Brazos and cowboys sang to the herd. It was a rough territory; the museum let’s you experience it through interactive displays, authentic artifacts and original stories.

Continue the Texas experience

Texas Ranch Life owner’s John and Taunia Elick share their love of rodeo and ranching with guests from all over the world. Visitors can experience eight historic homes, a chapel, Spanish hacienda and several rodeo arenas on property. The barn is the main gathering area and Southern hospitality and homemade meals abound. The night we visited, our dinner consisted of barbecue beef, homemade sausage, spinach casserole, biscuits and was topped off with pecan and buttermilk pies.

Looking for easy access to wineries, antiques and more? Wakefield Farms in historic Chappell Hill is a great place to experience modern luxuries. You will enjoy the serene setting as you lounge by the pool, drink wine and enjoy the open space.

From this vantage point, you can easily enjoy a historic tour of Brenham, Chappell Hill, or you can hop on up to Round Top and its antique stores. If so, you must have a stop at Royer’s Round Top Café for some homemade pie and a heaping serving of hospitality. Bud Royer fled Houston in the eighties out of necessity. “There were no jobs in Houston, so I thought I’d give it a try here,” says Bud.

Current Washington County immigrants are more in tune to running wineries and restaurants than growing cotton. The friendly folks desire small town life and refuse from the big city. The area is filled with resilient entrepreneurs who are ready and waiting to help you slow down, ease the burden and enjoy small town pace. Get out of the big city – even for the weekend.

Editor’s note: The proximity to College Station makes this area very Aggie friendly. Gig ‘Em Ags.


Photos by Laurette M. Veres