Rudy Festari

January 31, 2011 by  
Filed under Most Beautiful

RUDY FESTARI, owner of Festari for Men, along with his wife Debbie, support numerous charities through the Festari Celebrity Men’s Fashion Show which has benefited Child Advocates, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston Grand Opera, UNICEF, Baylor College of Medicine Breast Cancer Center and Family Services of Greater Houston.

Photo by Daniel Ortiz

Jill Deutser

January 31, 2011 by  
Filed under Most Beautiful

At the tender age of 11, JILL DEUTSER was diagnosed with diabetes. Since then, she has served on the Board of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and chaired many of its events. She and husband, Brad, are focusing their efforts on developing a comprehensive, multidimensional, world-renowned Diabetes Wellness Center with the UT Health Science Center in Houston.

Photo by Brad Deutser

Vicki Dill

January 31, 2011 by  
Filed under Most Beautiful

As the owner and operator of Victory Sports in Ft. Bend County, VICKI DILL teaches self-esteem, discipline and sportsmanship to thousands of our area’s youth. The gym participates in the Katy Memory Walk for Alzheimer’s, and the Fort Bend Holiday Bowl Toy Drive. They host free clinics for Fort Bend County little league cheerleaders, and support a local pet adoption agency.

Photo by Gabriela Ferrel

Kim Coffman

January 31, 2011 by  
Filed under Most Beautiful

KIM COFFMAN is a professional photographer and one of the most popular at many of Houston’s charitable events. Kim’s most current volunteer effort was for the launch celebration of Houston Arts Partners: Arts 4 All, operating under Young Audiences of Houston (YAH). The website allows educators to search through and schedule 300 programs presented by about 250 artists and arts organizations classified by arts discipline, grade level, curricular connections including at-risk, special needs and bilingual offerings. Kim donated many hours of his time, talent and resources to making this launch a success.

Photo by Kim Koffman

Shane Battier

January 31, 2011 by  
Filed under Most Beautiful

Houston Rocket SHANE BATTIER is a leader on and off the court. He believes the future of our youth rests in higher education. To that end, Shane, and his wife Heidi, established The Battier Take Charge Foundation dedicated to providing resources for the education of underserved youth and teens.

Photo by Houston Rockets

Taylor Lanning

January 31, 2011 by  
Filed under Most Beautiful

Our cover girl, TAYLOR LANNING, has been able to combine her passion for event planning with her role as Miss Houston 2010 by volunteering to coordinate charity events. She is the spokeswoman for Pure Foods in the Woodlands, a restaurant that focuses on healthy, organic and gluten free offerings, and has raised awareness for childhood obesity by producing a children’s fashion show and working with local company, Soldiers of Fitness, to teach children about exercise. She is currently working on a launch party for the Bully Suicide Project.

Photo by Arthur Garcia

Linda Brown

January 31, 2011 by  
Filed under Most Beautiful

LINDA BROWN chaired her first gala for the Juvenile Diabetes Center at age 19. Since then she has chaired events for Houston Grand Opera, the Children’s Museum, Baylor College of Medicine, United Cerebral Palsy, The Texas Medical Center’s Hospice Gala and the Rodeo’s Ladies Season Box Gala. She serves on the Boards of March of Dimes, Texas Children’s Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine and others.

Photo by Gittings

Ray’s Gourmet Grill

January 28, 2011 by  
Filed under Dining

Ray’s Gourmet Country, brought to Fulshear by Fort Bend businessman and resident, Raed “Ray” Salti, opened its doors two years ago. Ray’s idea was to create a unique atmosphere with a neighborhood ambience that serves the freshest ingredients available throughout the year. Since then, he has grown a following of true “foodies” with his concept of “field to table” menu items.

To bring his concept to life, Ray teamed up with Executive Chef Soren Pedersen who finds inspiration in all ingredients that are natural and organic. The ever-changing menu items are directly dictated by seasonal availability of both organic and natural fruits and vegetables, as well as certified natural cuts of meats and seafood. The kitchen features an open dining experience, emphasizing a direct connection with Chef Soren and his staff.

To complement the perfect meal, Ray’s has an extensive wine list, including several organic wines. Complimentary wine tasting events are held every Thursday evening from 6-8 pm. For our meal, Chef Soren suggested we start with an Appetizer Sampler. The sampler included the Crab Cake with Watercress and Lemon Butter Sauce, the Iron Skillet Seared Fois Gras and, my personal favorite, the Antipasto plate with Serrano ham, marinated vegetables and a wonderful, homemade sausage.

For my main course, I chose the Wild Boar Osso Buco with a parsnip puree kumquat chutney and natural jus. It was by far the finest plating I have seen presented at a restaurant in quite some time. For my wife, the 25 year-old red balsalmic sauce on the Green Peppercorn Crusted Lamb Rib Chop was rich without being overbearing. It was served with a wonderful squash puree. We also tried the South Texas Antelope Mignon & Elk Sausage (purchased from local ranchers) that was cooked to perfection and complimented with a savory appletart and cinnamon spiked pinot noir. Our favorite side was the White Truffle Macaroni and Cheese; a must have at Ray’s.

Chef Soren also provides complete Vegan dishes. The Seasonal Vegetable Lasagna is amazing and is baked with tofu. The Fresh Vegetable Curry sautéed with quinoa pasta and leeks is also delicious.

If it is seafood you crave, you’ll have to ask your wait staff. Chef Soren provides only the freshest fish available to our area, so the seafood menu changes daily.

To finish the perfect meal, Chef Soren prepared for our table an array of desserts. Our favorite was the Warm Anjou Pear Tart with Crème Fraiche.

Along with amazing fare, Ray’s Gourmet Country also presents a number of activities–“Jazz Night” every Thursday, with the complimentary wine tasting from 6-8 pm, a “Brunch Buffet” every Sunday from 10:30 am to 2:00 pm (only $20 per person) and a cooking class, “Ray’s Grill and Royal Prestige,” with Chef Soren Pedersen, held on the last Wednesday of every month (only $35 per person). Reservations are strongly recommended for all activities, for although it started as a small town concept, Ray’s has quickly become a favorite among not only Fort Bend County residents, but greater Houston area dwellers as well.

“We do have plans underway for a brand new concept at West Alabama and Greenbriar, as well,” confides owner Ray Salti. “The restaurant will be named Sorrel after the slender plant, with juicy stems and edible, oblong leaves.
I will leave the rest up to your imagination, but it is sure to please the palate.”

Visit www.raysgrill.com for the menu, directions to the location, or to learn more about the specials, wine dinners, tasting events, private rooms and more! To Ray Salti, Chef Soren Pedersen and the entire staff at Ray’s Gourmet Country…thank you! To H Texas readers, this eatery is well worth the short drive to Fulshear.

Discover Hong Kong

January 28, 2011 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

Hong Kong, the cosmopolitan city of southeast Asia, is well known for the motto “east meets west.” In my house, it is just known as the motherland. I have visited Hong Kong about every other year since I was a toddler. Every trip was always just another routine family vacation that involved being homesick and away from friends for a long while. Finally, as an adult this past trip in August, I truly set out to appreciate and digest the beauty, charm and culture of the city. With a camera in tow, I traveled around various districts all scattered across town and at last, absorbed myself into the city, no longer lost in translation.

Hong Kong, meaning “fragrant harbour,” has a harmonious juxtaposition of natural elements and skyscrapers. The land is hilly all over, similar to Austin, Texas, but with added mountainous terrain, along with deep harbours and bays. Surrounding the landscape is an expansive city skyline crowded with buildings that populate over seven million inhabitants—making Hong Kong one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The official languages are Cantonese (a Chinese dialect) and English, with the English language heavily coexisting in the Hong Kong culture. Hong Kong was under British rule from 1841 until 1997, and it still embraces the British way of life, ranging from the education system to government ruling to street signs and driving on the left side of the road.

The city is divided into three large regions: New Territory, Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong Island; within those exist eighteen smaller districts. Traveling between these districts is commonplace for the people. Just like New York City, owning a private vehicle is a rarity and luxury good since public transportation provides more convenience and is more cost-efficient. Each day, the majority of people travel via the Mass Transit Railway (MTR), double-decker buses, minibuses, taxis and even ferries across the harbour. In an area called SoHo (South of Hollywood Road), in the downtown Central district resides the Mid-Levels Escalator, the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world. The escalator is a popular attraction and offers a unique experience ascending through SoHo. With this extensive public transportation network, getting around in Hong Kong on a daily basis without a car is not a stressful matter like it would be here in Texas.

The denseness and expanding urbanization of Hong Kong has caused increased pollution over the decades. As a result, becoming a greener city has been an essential goal. Plastic bags now come with a fee at almost all grocery stores around town, and the general population has been accustomed to carrying around reusable shopping bags at all times. Even taxis idling in the streets for a long period of time can be fined. Hong Kong is responsibly becoming very stringent about reducing the carbon footprint and preventing further environmental damage to the finite resources on earth.

Hong Kong has developed into a global financial center, with their stock exchange ranked the seventh largest in market value in the world. Many expatriates work in the downtown Central area, with professions that deal with banking and finance, international trade and restaurant/bar work. I vividly remember going to lunch at a western breakfast diner called The Flying Pan in SoHo two summers ago, and I found out that the lady who ran the place actually used to live in Austin! “What a small world,” I thought. The local population of Hong Kong mostly works in the service sector–running a range of restaurants, shops and offices. Hours are long and strenuous, and you will discover the true meaning of hard work after visiting the city. The 9-5 work routine doesn’t exist in Hong Kong, and having those hours would seem like paradise over there. In exchange for the frantic work week and lifestyle though, you can be a part of one of the world’s most exciting and energetic cities that never goes to sleep.

Hong Kong has developed into a highly consumer-based society, with shopping as not just a social activity, but also a lifestyle as well. The majority of the visitor attractions involve some form of shopping, especially the well-known outdoor Ladies Market, Stanley Market and Garden Street. In these areas, you can find all sorts of handbags, accessories, jewelry, souvenirs, clothing and unusual, quirky novelties for a bargain. The best part about shopping at outdoor markets is that you can aggressively bargain down to a great deal, in addition to paying no sales tax. For example, while shopping in Ladies Market, I haggled with a lady on a handbag to discount it from $120HKD to $50HKD! To clarify, the exchange rate of HKD to USD is approximately set at 7.8:1 currently. Stanley Market is tailored for tourists, selling all sorts of Hong Kong souvenir memorabilia to take home with you. It also features a nice promenade of restaurants along the beachside to complement the shopping experience.

On the other end of the shopping spectrum, you will find upscale, indoor mega- malls, such as International Finance Center (IFC) and Times Square. Both centers provide a plethora of multi-level luxury shopping, including renowned brands such as Juicy Couture, Valentino and Armani Exchange. These shops are pleasant to simply stroll through on a day off, or actually shop at for those who can afford the imported goods. As a note of caution, people are always packed in like sardines on every street. Hong Kong is notoriously known for being crowded, so you have to get used to not having a bubble of personal space surrounding you.

On almost every street corner, you will find cozy cafes offering a variety of food. Stating that Hong Kong is a foodie’s paradise is an overwhelming understatement. One of my favorite activities when I visit each time is eating all around town and trying new dishes. I’ve always been a bit wary of the outdoor food stalls, but I definitely was willing to try an exotic mango dessert drink with glutinous rice balls at a popular dessert restaurant. The cuisine in Hong Kong ranges from traditional dim sum and “dai pai dong” outdoor eateries in the local districts to global delicacies downtown, that ranges from Egyptian to Russian food. Raised in Texas, I was ecstatic to see a quaint, magenta-colored, Mexican eatery in the Central district, playfully named Taco Loco. There, I enjoyed some tacos with a refreshing mango margarita one evening.

Eating is such a large part of the lifestyle that people normally eat on an average of five times a day! Breakfast, of course, is the introductory meal, followed by lunch, late afternoon teatime and dinner. “Siu yeh,” which is the final meal of the day, is characterized as a late night snack. It is not only the wide variety of food that makes eating such an enjoyable activity, but also the unrivaled convenience of eateries and restaurants in such close proximity to one another. A good majority of the locals eat out on a daily basis. If you know the right places around town, eating out can be just as cost-efficient and satisfying as home-cooked meals, if not cheaper. If you don’t want to cause a big dent in your wallet, then steer clear of the downtown region, and linger where the locals do.

The traditional dim sum experience is a must for tourists. It is a la carte dining, in which you select various small dishes such as BBQ pork buns, pork dumplings, shrimp bonnets and lotus leaf rice. It is always complemented with a soothing pot of tea. The dim sum experience is a pleasant contrast to the usually fast-paced and crowded dining that paves the streets all across town. It is also a great way for families to gather and enjoy each other’s company, with everyone sharing all the dishes in the center of the table. “Dai pai dongs” are casual outdoor food stalls characterized by a shoddy, run-down appearance, but with low-priced and delicious local food, such as congee, noodle and rice dishes. It is not uncommon for a stranger to take an empty seat next to you when seating begins to run short. It is part of the customs of the humbler hole-in-the-wall eateries around town.

Scattered across town are small bakeries. Local favorites include the pineapple bun, cocktail bun, egg tart and wife cake. In Hong Kong, people are accustomed to shopping daily (sometimes even twice a day) for fresh produce, meats and breads. People there may see our weekly and monthly grocery shopping habits as strange; but without a private vehicle, plus the wide availability of fresh food markets around town, it makes sense in Hong Kong to grocery shop each day.

A popular attraction in Hong Kong is the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car experience. The cable car takes you from Tung Chung Terminal to the Ngong Ping Plateau, where the 112 foot-tall bronzed outdoor Tian Tan Buddha resides. The cable car ride is a 25-minute aerial experience, where you can sit back and admire the landscape surrounding, including the South China Sea, Hong Kong International Airport and the mountainous terrain and valleys. Another aerial attraction is Victoria Peak. This must-visit experience takes you up the mountain at a frighteningly exciting angle on a tram, all the way up to where you stop at Madame Tussauds’ Wax Museum. Once you arrive at the top of Victoria Peak, you can also enjoy a panoramic view of central Hong Kong, Victoria Harbour and the Kowloon area from the viewing terrace.

Another day trip that is popular with young families is Disneyland and Ocean Park. Disneyland is the smallest of all the Magic Kingdoms around the world, but still encompasses the magical essence of the Disney fantasy. Ocean Park is not only an aquatic theme park, but also an observatory. You can ride the rollercoasters and see a panda habitat or jellyfish aquarium. For the adults, Macau is a popular place for a mini vacation—only an hour’s speedboat ride away from Hong Kong. It is like a Las Vegas destination, an adult’s playground, with a whole strip of high-end casinos including the Wynn, MGM Grand, Venetian, and Sands.

If you’re looking for a good night out on the town, head off to one of two Hong Kong Jockey Clubs to place some bets. You’ll have an invigorating experience, with a lively atmosphere, beer tents and all sorts of enthusiastic people. Even if you are not a gambler, you can visit the course for the social aspect. Another popular night spot is Lan Kwai Fong (also known as LKF) in Central. It is lined with restaurants, bars and nightclubs—almost identical to the historic and infamous Sixth Street in downtown Austin. The area still possesses the aura of Colonial Britain, with cobble-stoned lanes and British-named streets. LKF awakens around 9pm and the partying carries on well through the night. Wan Chai is also a late night hangout with numerous bars, and it is also a popular tourist attraction and after-work destination. Don’t expect cheap drink specials in these areas though—the prices are comparable to New York in most establishments. For those without a private vehicle, returning home after a long night of nightlife can prove a bit of a challenge. Public transportation becomes scarce after hours to discourage the night owls from their shenanigans. The only option is simply to take a cab. However, crime is not a major concern, as Hong Kong is one of the safest cities in the world. With people constantly out and about, you can’t imagine ever being cornered alone in a dark alley.

For the first time, I met the end of my month-long visit to Hong Kong with a melancholy state of mind. I wasn’t quite ready for my newfound adventure to end. Taking this trip as an adult, I had an opportunity to steer my own journey. I saw things with a different eye than that of a sullen teen deprived of friends for the summer. I willingly tasted the unusual and found myself wanting more. While I did not bypass the usual tourist stops, I also danced head first into the every day life of the Hong Kong native. I discovered the majesty of the land and was embraced by the warmth of the people.

Texas will always be my beloved home state, but Hong Kong has become my second refuge. In fact, I have already begun the count down, ticking off the days on my calendar, until I can once again return to the motherland.

Photos by Jennifer Chan

Lynn Ashby Reads Your Palm

January 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby 31 Jan. 2010

Beware of giant clams. You will find a pile of money or eggplants under your bed tomorrow. An old school chum wants to take you to dinner. Someone named George will try to kill you. If your old school chum is named George, take along a food taster. If you are a Capricorn, you really aren’t, but you may be an Ophiuchus, for which there is no known cure.

I am polishing up my crystal ball which is foggy, or maybe smoggy. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says these toxic clouds are all in my imagination, just like Port Arthur’s. Chicken entrails are also good for determining the future, but only for three days if left unfrozen.

Let me explain: Recently the Star Tribune in Minneapolis reported that a naturally occurring wobble in the direction of the Earth’s axis — what we lunar ticks call a “precession” — had juggled the alignment of stars from their traditional celestial signs. The report cited Parke Kunkle, a board member of the Minnesota Planetarium Society and professor of astronomy, who explained this change meant our astrological signs were a bit off, too.

For example, Capricorn, which begins its month-long term every Dec. 21 or so, actually starts on Jan. 20, based on the true position of the stars. Aquarius, meanwhile, would be bumped to February, and so on. These changes mean we should add to our 12-sign system a 13th sign — Ophiuchus, the snake holder — which ancient Babylonians had dropped from the team. Its cycle runs from Nov. 29 to Dec. 17.

Prof. Kunkle said the changing star line-up had been noted by an ancient Greek astronomer and was common knowledge among scientists. The professor had only proposed correcting the zodiac arrangement as a class project. No kidding. In fact, he said he has so little interest in horoscopes, he doesn’t know his own sign. Nevertheless, his observation (stand by for cliché du jour) went viral on the Internet among those who depend on a daily dose of celestial wisdom. Some likened the shattering revelation to the 2006 news that Pluto was being reclassified as a small, minor planet.

Roll your eyes if you wish, but astrology is no small matter — a 2009 Pew Research Center poll found that one in four Americans believes in the magic art. At one large newspaper I worked on, surveys consistently put our horoscope column among the leaders in readership. (We must not confuse astrology, the scientific method of divining the future, with astronomy, a shameless fraud to scam the gullible).

I, myself, believe in astronomy (which comes from the Latin astros, meaning “there’s one born every minute.”) I also believe in the peace dividend and the sanctity of matching mudflaps. To help you with your doubts and confusion before you go to Pisces, let me – soothsayer to the stars — now give you fail-safe predictions for the coming days: a great person will die, a plane will crash, one team will win the Final Four while three will lose and, I predict, no one will take credit for “Dancing With The Dwarfs.”

“Enough specifics,” you shout. “Give us the big picture!” OK, Capricorn, you are independent, rocklike, hardworking, unemotional, practical, responsible, persevering. Basically you are as dull as an Amish orgy. No wonder you have trouble getting dates. On the other hand, now that we’ve moved heaven and Earth, you aren’t really a Capricorn. But you’re still dull. You should get together with Aquarius, who spends too much time demonstrating for cleaner lyrics in beer commercials, calling radio talk shows, writing five-page letters to the editor and working Sudoku puzzles. Aquarius, get a life.

Pisces, good fortune will befall you. You will befall down slippery steps to the office of a hedge fund manager and sue for $1 billion, which he calls “Tuesday.” Aries, a loved one will leave you his ranch and oil royalties, but trust no one to handle your fortune except someone with…wait, it’s coming to me…with the initials LA. I shall put you in contact with that person. Eat more plankton. Curb your overriding desire to live in Waco. You are selfish and quick-tempered, impulsive and impatient, foolhardy and a daredevil. Go away.

Attention Taurus, the bull: Seek redress from Ford for using your name on a cheap car. Learn Pashto as it may come in handy in your next job as yak valet at the Hard Rock Café in Kabul. You have too many friends which leads to lots of Christmas cards to answer, birthday presents to buy and requests for organ transplants. Your lucky number is 0. Attention Gemini: stop going around telling everyone you’re Gemini Cricket, but watch out for anyone named Parke Kunkle.

At this point we must recall the wisdom of a comic named London Lee: “I was asked, ‘What sign were you conceived under?’ I said it was, ‘Keep off the grass.’”

Moving on, the age of Aquarius died in 1970 when “Hair” closed on Broadway. Get over it. Cancers: you are considered negative and introverted. Who wants to be named Cancer, anyway? Be born under some other sign. In fact, you were, because Cancer has moved from June 21–July 22 to July 20-August 10. And all this time you just thought you were negative and introverted. Now you can prove it. A Cancer is associated with the astrological fourth house, all of which have been foreclosed.

Leo, Virgo and Scorpio, where have you been? Harpo and Groucho are looking for you. Everyone on stage for the Hawaiian number. As for the Sagittarians among us, you are considered lucky, nice and naïve. Stay away from lawyers. Finally, you there holding a snake, Ophiuchus, your appearance shattered the confidence of millions who daily check their horoscope for advice on their future. Are you happy now? As for everyone else, you owe me a big debt of gratitude, but you won’t pay. Of course, I already knew that.

Ashby predicts at ashby2@comcast.net

Casino Gambling

January 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                                            24 January 2010

The Size of Taxes

If you like magic, visit our state capitol and see what the Legislature can do with smoke and mirrors. The lawmakers have to fill a budget gap of between $17 billion and $25 billion to run Texas over the next two years. (The next proposed biennium’s budget is $156.4 billion.) But the Republican majority has promised a balanced budget with no new taxes.

This means cutting the budget — Texas already ranks 50th, dead last, in per capita state spending – or finding new revenues. Gov. Rick Perry says the projected $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund will not be touched until water reaches the top of Yao Ming or the peak of the capitol dome, whichever comes first. The GOPers can increase college tuition, raise fees on car plates, fishing licenses and polluting smokestacks (forget that one), or boost the franchise fee on tattoo parlors and confessional booths.

None of these increases would be called “taxes,” but one lawmaker is introducing a bill to call fees exactly what they are: taxes. That’s a good idea. I am tired of politicians saying that they lived up to their pledge not to raise taxes when, in fact, they did, by any other name.

Timing is everything, so into this conundrum rides an old acquaintance: casino gaming (or, just as “fees” are really “taxes,” “gaming” is actually “gambling.”) Proponents of these games acknowledge that they have a chance of finally succeeding only because Texas is in dire economic straits. Our legislators are pulling out sofa pillows looking for loose change. They’re returning the empties, and are considering coin-operated spittoons. Hello, Mister Chips.

The gamblers have their work cut out, but this ain’t their first rodeo. In session after session, various types of gaming have been proposed – and have been shot down. The last effort was in 2007 when casino supporters promised to funnel some of the money to fund college scholarships for more than 200,000 high school graduates. Didn’t work. Now one group wants to put slots at the 13 tracks and three Indian reservations. This, it is argued, would generate $1 billion a year for Texas’ treasury. A more aggressive plan is to open up four to eight Las Vegas-style casinos around Texas.

This last plan is very specific: Three casinos would be in the largest counties — Harris, Bexar and Dallas — and at least one other would be in a coastal town. I have long thought a casino is the perfect, and perhaps the only, solution for what to do with the Astrodome. As for the unnamed costal town, Galveston has always been a fun sort of island, at low tide, so building casinos along the beaches is a (excuse the cliché) no-brainer. But Corpus Christi or Padre Island could also be a site.

We must now consider Texas’ race tracks, which are in deep financial trouble. Their owners say that if the race sites don’t get slots at the least, the operations may go under. It’s not just a Texas problem. Wagering on U.S. horse races fell by 7.3 percent in 2010 to $11.4 billion, the lowest since 1995. Race wagers have fallen annually since reaching a record in 2003 of $15.2 billion.

But remember that the horse-and-hound track owners received permission to build their tracks in the 1980s by promising the industry would generate tons of cash for the state. A few years later the track owners went to the Legislature saying business was worse than promised. They asked that the state’s cut be lowered so the owners could keep more of the take. This happened more than once. Alas, the bountiful harvest from the race tracks never came about, so anything promised or proposed by the horsey-doggie set must be met with skepticism.

Right now, Texans can’t gamble. Actually, we do gamble a lot (or a Lotto). We already have the state operated Lotto, scratch-offs, Texas Two-Step and other such games. We also have bingo parlors, dog races, pari-mutuel horse racing plus televised races from all over to bet on, and the biggest gamble of all, breathing in Galena Park. We also gamble at the closest roulette wheel, which means out of state. If you took out a map of Texas, then put a poker chip at every casino surrounding it, you would see, uh, Texas is surrounded by casinos.

It is estimated by Win For Texas, a pro-gaming outfit, that Texans spend some $2 billion annually at racetracks and casinos in surrounding states. That’s low-balling it. Check any parking lot at any next-to-Texas casino and I’ll bet 80 to 90 percent of the license plates read “Texas.” When Indians opened a bunch of casinos just north of the Red River, it hurt casinos in Louisiana. They are all drawing from the Metroplex, and, no, they don’t play Oklahoma Hold ‘Em.

Thus far we’ve have only been discussing nearby sin sites. You can’t walk across a casino floor in Las Vegas without bumping into a fellow traveler from the Lone Star State. Indeed, there is even a house of cards in Vegas called “Texas.”

We shall probably not see a vote on expanding gambling, but this may not be bad. Otherwise we would be subjected to a barrage of: headlines: “Odds Are Poor for Gambling,” “Casino Vote is Horse Race,” “Gambling Outcome is a Roll of the Dice” and “Slots O’ Luck.”

Finally, a point to ponder: a recent poll commissioned by all the major newspapers in the state found that 60 percent of Texans desire more games of chance. This could mean anything from slots at race tracks to full-fledged casinos, but the supporters would be glad for any crumb the Legislators toss. However, two-thirds of both houses of the Legislature would have to approve expanded gambling – fat chance — then the voters must approve. Come to think of it, maybe we won’t need more gambling to balance the budget — if the lawmakers can tax smoke and mirrors.

Ashby deals at ashby2@comcast.net

Keep Your Power

January 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Edit

“Baby Bobby! Baby Bobby!” The words stung and Mike knew it – he could read it in my face.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!” I yelled back.

Mike just laughed; he knew I didn’t believe it. Bolstered by figuring out how to push my buttons, he continued to torment me as I walked home from school.

“Baby Bobby! Baby Bobby!”

The charge had an element of truth because I had cried several times in first grade, but I was now in fifth grade and had long outgrown my fear of school. I recalled the menacing teacher who pounded her paddle on our desks and threatened to spank us if we kept talking in class. She made several kids cry, but I was the one who got the reputation. It wasn’t fair, but four years later I was still ashamed of my crying and Mike knew it. He continued the harassment.

“Baby Bobby! Baby Bobby!”

He stuck his face right in mine and stated deliberately, “Baby… Bobby!”

I punched him in the nose, and suddenly he was the one crying. I had to fight several more boys that year before the name-calling stopped. It was not the solution I wanted, but it worked. It took me years to learn that the problem was mine; that I was giving away my power every time I reacted to taunting and teasing. And, it’s a problem that doesn’t go away with childhood.

Insecure adults wanting to feel superior will seek out your weaknesses and attempt to make you feel bad. Several years ago, I was invited to speak on Creative Thinking in Business to a civic club luncheon. During the meal, a man at my table sneered, “Sooo, you’re a motivational speaker. Well, motivate me!” His tone of voice said it all – the difference between him and a school yard bully was the accompanying, “Na Na Na Na Nah.”

I was shocked by the un-professionalism, and thought, “I’m getting heckled, and I’m not even on stage yet.” So, I laughed and said, “Dude, nobody can motivate you, but you.”

He shocked me a second time by apologizing after my presentation. He explained that the club had a new speaker each week who tried to sell something, and that most of them were boring. To his surprise, he said he found my presentation entertaining and motivating.

If we give in to bullies, they can rob us of our confidence and our motivation. Lately, I’ve worked with my children on how to not give their power away when kids assault them verbally. “Laugh it off,” I tell them, “even if the words hurt. Fake it if you have to; the trick is to fool them into thinking it doesn’t bother you.”

My friend Rob Maxwell uses what he calls Verbal Judo to fend off words that hit like a fist. “In some martial arts,” he explains, “you don’t meet force with force. Instead, you take your opponent’s thrust and redirect it away from you. Often their own energy works against them.”

As an example, he told me of a college friend who was teasing him about losing his hair. Rob replied, “It’s true John, I am losing my hair, but you were always the handsome one.”

Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is a motivational speaker and humorist. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. For more information on Robert’s programs please visit http://www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com


Texas Trains

January 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                                            17 January 2011

DE-RAILED, AGAIN

It appears once more we will not be allowed to board that new-fangled contraption called a railroad. From what I hear, it has some kind of motor in front and people in the back and runs on rails, one, two or maybe more. Railroads (sometimes called “trains”) would give C&W songwriters material for sad ballads, mysteries could unfold in the Pullmans and occasionally the trains could smash autos into jelly.

The non-event is this: A rail line was planned to run between Houston and Galveston traveling at speeds up to 79 mph, carrying 11,480 passengers daily. The City of Galveston was a big supporter of the plan, and well it should be. The 45-mile commuter rail over an existing right-of-way would reduce air pollution, ease traffic congestion on those July Fourth weekends and – quite importantly — provide an evacuation route before the Son of Ike hits town.

But, alas, just like so many projects these days, the plan has been shelved due to our economic paralysis, made worse by several silly decisions. The line was first estimated in 2005 to cost $350 million; since then the projected cost has nearly doubled to $650 million. In 2007 Galveston spent $350,000 for a study to see if the idea was feasible. The study said yes. In 2008, the city spent $850,000 in mostly federal money for an analysis to determine whether Congress would fund the project. Huh? This is no way to run a railroad. A project that was supposed to be completed next year hasn’t even begun. Right now plans to build the rail line are on hold, which means never.

And to think that railroads help make Texas what it is, from the get-go. Back on Dec. 16, 1836, the First Congress of the Republic of Texas chartered the Texas Rail Road, Navigation, and Banking Company to construct railroads “from and to any such points…as selected.” That’s my kind of governmental oversight.

Nothing came of the iron horse until the 1850s when rail companies rose and fell with each economic boom and bust. The first lines went out from Houston, which made Swamp City very proud. The official seal of the City of Houston sports an ancient locomotive and, with a nod to the future, black smoke billowing from its smokestack. The city’s motto was, “Where 22 railroads meet the sea.” That must have been one big splash. With the line heading west, to cross the Brazos the railroad first used a ferry and inclined planes on each side of the river. This system was replaced in October 1858 by a low-water crossing. The Little Engine That Could had to chug mightily to gain the momentum necessary to climb up the steep grade on the opposite side.

And, of course, there was the railroad from Galveston to Houston. What an idea — about 160 years ago. Not only did that line haul passengers and cargo, its tracks changed Texas’ history. On New Year’s Day, 1863, Confederate soldiers charged across the abandoned railway bridge from the mainland to the island and recaptured Galveston – the only part of Texas to be taken by Yankees. Wouldn’t you think the Feds would have burned the bridge?

Towns lived and died depending where the tracks went. For example, in 1870 Jefferson was the sixth largest city in Texas, but three years later the railroad bypassed the town and the river fell, so Jefferson also dried up. Fort Worth, known mostly as the only Texas city to have its namesake interred in a 51-foot-tall monument at Broadway and Fifth Avenue in NYC, became a major player in Texas because rail lines intersected there.

The railroad companies virtually ruled Texas, to the point where its lobbyists ruled the Legislature. Towns were named for rail lines and railroad officials. The state gave land to any railroad that would build a line to wherever. Cities had their largest hotels downtown across from the train station. (The Houston Astros’ offices are in an old, and magnificent, train station attached to the ball park – the station got there first.) Small towns had distinctive wooden stations which today are either libraries or museums.

About 1900 Texas underwent a flurry of construction on electric interurban railways – some 500 miles of them. Dallas had most of the lines, but there were electrified street cars or rail cars going from College Station to Bryan, Beaumont to Port Arthur and – one guess – from Houston to Galveston. For years, that one was the fastest interurban line in America.

.            Our latest attempt at rail was proposed by Gov. Rick Perry, with his Texas Triangle or Trans-Texas Corridor. It would have land set aside for car lanes, rails lines and probably dog runs and  jogging paths, connecting the Metroplex, San Antonio and Houston and everywhere in between. It died, too.

Today, we have freight trains rumbling throughout Texas, hauling containers full of made-in-China TV sets from our Gulf ports. We see long lines of tankers containing gas, petroleum products, chemicals and napalm. But when it comes to passenger traffic, we are down to Amtrak which does not serve us well. When was the last time you rode a train in Texas, as opposed to some bullet in France or Japan? A few years ago I decided to take a train from Houston to Dallas, so I boarded an Amtrak at about 11 p.m., got off in San Antonio in the middle of the night, waited till the Texas Eagle came up from Laredo at dawn and got off in Big D about 11 a.m. Twelve hours.

My grandfather was a railroad man, who started out as a conductor at age 19, when trains ran directly from Houston to Dallas about as often as Southwest Airlines departs today. I figure that, from downtown to downtown, travel time on trains was almost as quick as Flight 123. No wonder the Texas Railroad Commission hasn’t messed with railroads for decades, and dropped all connections in 2005.

Ashby is well-trained at ashby2@comcast.net

The Greening of Professional Sports

January 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Edit

Dear EarthTalk: What’s being done to “green up” professional sports? I know that the last two Olympic Games both made some effort, but are there others? — Rob Avandic, Chicago, IL

The last two Olympics were indeed greener than any before, but environmental awareness isn’t limited to the realm of international amateur competition. In fact, in just the last few years all of the major professional North American sports leagues have made strides in greening their operations.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has helped blaze the trail through its “Greening the Games” initiative. Since 2003, when the National Football League’s (NFL) Philadelphia Eagles turned to NRDC for help saving energy and reducing waste, NRDC has helped dozens of pro teams evaluate their environmental impacts and make changes. Today the Eagles obtain all of their energy at Lincoln Field from wind power, pour fans’ beverages in biodegradable corn-based plastic cups, power their scoreboard with solar panels and have reduced electricity use overall by a third. The NFL itself has also jumped on the bandwagon, implementing various green initiatives at the Super Bowl, the Pro Bowl and other big events.
In 2008, NRDC teamed up with Major League Baseball (MLB) to first green the All Star Game and, the following year, the World Series. Subsequently, NRDC assessed each team’s environmental footprint and made recommendations for improving it. Several teams have gone on to build or refurbish their stadiums with sustainability in mind. Boston’s Fenway Park, Atlanta’s Turner Field, Washington, DC’s Nationals Park, and San Francisco’s AT&T Park all get high marks for pro-environment features and operations.

In 2008, NRDC began working with the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) to green its signature event, the U.S. Open. For one, this led to a move to 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper for tournament programs. And an environmental review of all operations at the National Tennis Center in Queens, New York led to a number of green improvements, including the switch to 90 percent post-consumer recycled paper for some 2.4 million napkins and a move to wind turbines for the tournament’s electricity.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) jumped on the NRDC sports bandwagon in 2009, working with the group to organize its first annual Green Week in early April whereby the entire league works in concert to generate environmental awareness and funding for related causes. As part of the festivities, which took place in 2010 as well and will happen again in April 2011, each NBA team hosted community service events including tree plantings, recycling drives and park clean-up days.

NRDC got the National Hockey League (NHL) in on the act as well, helping to green the Stanley Cup Finals and working with individual teams as it did with baseball and football. In announcing the launch of the NHL Green program, league commissioner Gary Bettman commented that it’s only fitting for professional ice hockey to care about staving off global warming: “Most of our players learned to skate on outdoor rinks. For that magnificent tradition to continue through future generations we need winter weather—and as a league we are uniquely positioned to promote that message.”

CONTACTS: NRDC, www.nrdc.org/greenbusiness/guides/sports/; MLB Team Greening Program, mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/community/team_greening.jsp; NBA Green, www.nba.com/green; NHL Green, www.nhl.com/ice/eventhome.htm?location=/nhlgreen; USTA, www.usta.com.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

New Congress Seats

January 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                                             10 January 2011

Need a job? Lots of Texans do, and, as usual, I have the solution: Join Congress. We’ll have four new openings. Also, you can be responsible for electing a Republican as President. Qualifications are minimal: 25 years old, a U.S. citizen for seven years and, at the time of election, a resident of the state you will represent. This doesn’t mean you actually have to be a native, or have lived here very long, or even know the state insect (Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus). But in most cases in the Lone Star State, it is required that you be a Republican. Texas Democrats are about as endangered as a Mack Brown booster.

Congressional pay is generous: $174,000 a year. Depending on several items such as the area of your district, number of houses, distance from Washington, a Texas U.S. Representative also receives roughly $1.5 million from taxpayers each year for staff, travel and office expenses, including $944,671 for up to 18 full-time staffers and four part-time staffers. Houston area House members went through $8.8 million in the first nine months of 2010. But it is an urban legend that one only has to serve a single term in Congress to qualify for a lifetime health insurance program.

You can accept money from people seeking your vote. No, it is not a bribe. It is a “campaign contribution.” You get to park in your own private spot at the Washington airport. There are trips to exotic places absolutely free. They are called “fact finding missions.” And, when you leave office you get a dandy pension.

There are certain drawbacks, such as grand juries, impeachment and public disgrace. Mark Twain wrote, “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.” Twain also observed: “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” That gives you some idea about your co-workers.

But you ask, “If this job is so sweet, why are there all these openings?” We get more reps to reflect the number of Texans, which is growing by leaps and bounds, mostly over border fences. (In certain circles, Roe v. Wade is a debate over how to cross the Rio.) In the 2000 Census, there were, on counting day, exactly 20,851,820 people living here. Since then, experts say, Texas has seen an increase of about 4 million.

Most of the population growth appears to be in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, greater Houston and along the border. Also, the I-35 corridor from Georgetown to San Antonio is booming. A major reason is our expanding Hispanic population throughout the state. On the other hand, parts of Texas are actually losing population as people move from rural areas to the cities. There are a few wrinkles: Most of our huge state prisons are in rural areas, where the land is cheap. Cons get counted, as do college students, which is why College Station has its own time zone. Katrinians are a special case and Galveston is another story, especially at high tide.

This growing and shifting population should be reflected by those areas getting their own Representative, but they won’t, because our Congressional districts are drawn up by Tom DeLay, or, if he is in prison, by the Texas Legislature. Thanks to DeLay, our districts are already so gerrymandered to favor Republicans that the districts look like a Rorschach test. For example the Austin area, which should be represented by a single district, has four stretching across Texas. Because of last November’s elections, the Texas Legislature is almost two to one GOP over Dems, so the re-districting will accelerate.

As mentioned, the increase means we should get another four Representatives, bringing us to 36 which, in turn, explains how you, as a U.S. rep from Texas, can be responsible for electing a Republican as President. Since the total number of U.S. Representatives is capped at 435, Texas’ increase means some other states will have fewer reps. New York will lose two, New Jersey and Massachusetts will lose one each. They are generally blue states, so in the Electoral College count, those four votes have gone to the Democratic candidate.

But Texas has a winner-take-all policy. Whichever candidate gets a majority of the popular vote in Texas receives 100 percent of the state’s Electoral College votes. That’s a net swing of eight votes to the GOP. If you don’t think this is important, ask President Al Gore, who received 500,000 more popular votes nationally than George W., but today doesn’t have a job, or a wife, for that matter.

It is important we all be tabulated. Each person counted is worth about $1,500 a year in federal funding to a local jurisdiction. That’s the price of a mediocre table at the next fund-raiser hosted by Lobbyists for a Less Expensive Congress.

How does Texas manipulate this decennial census to get our fair share and then some? Here’s an idea. The census counts overseas military personnel as residents of the states from which they were deployed. Texas has a huge number of troops from Fort Hood and Fort Bliss in combat. And San Antonio is one big Air Force hangar. We can include them, or at least estimate. How many soldiers are in a night patrol outside of Kabul, Mr. Census? You can take our figures or go count them yourself. Be sure to wear a flak jacket.

There is no policy on religious missionaries living abroad. After the 2000 census, excluding traveling missionaries made the difference in assigning a House seat to North Carolina rather than Utah, home base of many migrant Mormon missionaries. I’ll bet there are dozens of missionaries from the Yearning for Zion Ranch proselytizing elsewhere. The second husband has even more

So make sure we get those new Congressional seats. Let’s get rid of four idiot members of the criminal class.

Ashby is counted at ashby2@comcast.net

Rodeo Lineup

January 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Events

HOUSTON LIVESTOCK SHOW AND RODEO™ OFFICIALS ANNOUNCE RODEOHOUSTON™ ENTERTAINER LINEUP, TICKET SALES INFORMATION — JAN. 10, 2011 — HOUSTON — FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — Twenty-one star entertainers are scheduled to perform at the 2011 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Tickets go on sale Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011, at 10 a.m., at www.rodeohouston.com, all Ticketmaster locations (excluding the Reliant Park Box office until Monday, Jan. 17) and by phone at  1.800.726.1313.

Star Entertainment

The 21 different star entertainers scheduled to perform at the 2011 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo represent a wide variety of musical genres. Together, these superstars have garnered numerous music industry honors, including 18 GRAMMY® awards, 60 Country Music Association awards, 66 Academy of Country Music awards and an EMMY®.

Tuesday, March 1………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. Clay Walker

Wednesday, March 2 *……………………………………………………………………………………………………… Trace Adkins

Thursday, March 3………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… Sugarland

Friday, March 4 – Black Heritage Day sponsored by Kroger………………………………………………….. Janet Jackson

Saturday, March 5……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. Billy Currington

Sunday, March 6…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. Selena Gomez

Monday, March 7…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. Tim McGraw

Tuesday, March 8………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. Keith Urban

Wednesday, March 9 *………………………………………………………………………………………………… Martina McBride

Thursday, March 10…………………………………………………………………………………………………………… Rascal Flatts

Friday, March 11………………………………………………………………………………………………………… Lady Antebellum

Saturday, March 12……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… Gary Allan

Sunday, March 13 – Go Tejano Day

sponsored by State Farm® ……………………………………… La Arrolladora Banda El Limon, La Leyenda

Monday, March 14 **………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. Kid Rock

Tuesday, March 15 **…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. KISS

Wednesday, March 16 * **…………………………………………………………………………………………… Miranda Lambert

Thursday, March 17 **………………………………………………………………………………………………….. Zac Brown Band

Friday, March 18 **……………………………………………………………………………………………………………. Alan Jackson

Saturday, March 19 ** – RodeoHouston BP Super Series Championship……………………………….. Brad Paisley

Sunday, March 20 ** – CINCH RodeoHouston Super Shootout………………………………………….. Jason Aldean

*Value Day Wednesdays include $10 upper level Rodeo tickets, plus values throughout Reliant Park each Wednesday of the Show. **During Spring Break Stampede, March 14-20, enjoy extended hours at the carnival.

INDIVIDUAL RODEO TICKETS

  • Rodeo ticket prices range from $18 to $21, plus a Ticketmaster convenience and handling charge. (A few performances may have a limited number of tickets available from $24 to $86.)
    • Upper level Value Day Wednesday tickets are $10.
    • A limited number of Chute Seats are available for $300 and $200, are located directly behind the bucking chutes, and include food, drinks, and the opportunity to watch the star entertainer from the arena floor.
  • Purchase individual Rodeo tickets:
  • 10-ticket limit on the opening day of ticket sales only, Saturday Jan. 15, for the following Rodeo performances featuring:
    • Janet Jackson, March 4
    • Selena Gomez, March 6
    • KISS, March 15
    • Zac Brown Band, March 17
    • Brad Paisley, March 19
  • Ticketmaster locations in the Houston area will be distributing linestubs beginning at 9 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 15. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m.
  • VISA, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express cards will be accepted online, in person, or by phone at 1.800.726.1313.
  • Beginning Monday, Jan. 17, tickets will be available at the Reliant Park Box Office, with no service charge.

SEASON AND MINI-SEASON TICKETS ARE STILL AVAILABLE

The only sure way to see all 20 performances is with Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Season Tickets. Season Tickets start as low as $336.

Mini-Season Tickets, with nine great performances in each option, start at $146. Seating is in the loge and upper levels of Reliant Stadium.

Two options are available for Mini-Season Tickets:

  • Option A includes the March 1, 3, 7, 8, 10, 14, 16, 18 and 19 performances.
  • Option B includes the March 2, 5, 6, 9, 11, 12, 15, 17 and 20 performances.

Black Heritage Day, Friday, March 4, and Go Tejano Day, Sunday, March 13, are available as part of Season Tickets, but are not included in the Mini-Season Ticket options.

How to Purchase Season and Mini-Season Tickets

Season and Mini-Season tickets are on sale now and can be purchased:

  • Online at www.rodeohouston.com
  • By calling the Show’s Ticket Office at 832.667.1080
  • By visiting the Show’s Ticket Windows on the second floor of Reliant Center, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Season and Mini-Season tickets are NOT available at any other ticket outlet, including Ticketmaster. Visit www.rodeohouston.com for a Reliant Stadium seating chart and more information. The Season and Mini-Season Ticket costs also include admission to Reliant Center, Reliant Arena and the carnival.

The 2011 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo runs Tuesday, March 1, through Sunday, March 20. The Show is a Section 501(c)(3) charitable event, committed to benefiting youth, supporting education, and facilitating better agricultural practices through exhibitions and presentation. Since its beginning in 1932, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has contributed more than $265 million to scholarships, research, endowments, calf scramble participants, junior show exhibitors, the Rodeo Institute for Teacher Excellence™, School Art participants, and other educational and youth programs.

Pocket Change

January 3, 2011 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

By Lynn Ashby                                                                        3 January 2011

Something cheap in plastic. No point in springing for a $400 Gucci. All I need is a make-do wallet, complete with heavy chain and lock. The reason I am looking for a new wallet is that somebody picked my pocket, and the act has caused me no end of time, confusion, a few laughs and an insight into why the Chinese are winning.

It began in Reliant Stadium where the Houston Texans play. Team motto: “You are never more than four downs from professional football.” I am in the stadium, creeping up the ramp to enter Section 105. Later, in my seat, I discover my wallet is missing. After the game, I go home to check. No wallet. I could have dropped it, left it in the car, who knows? Soon, I know.

I immediately call my credit card company, PlasticParasite, which tells me I have been running around the stadium buying  stuff, then to a Fiesta across the street, a couple of gas fill-ups, and an unsuccessful attempt to purchase several hundred dollars worth of items at a Target. So my pocket really was picked, and by pros. PlasticParasite tells me the exact amount of the purchases, the exact time (it uses Eastern Standard Time on a 24-hour clock). The Reliant security folks say with this info the stadium concessions company, Overpriced, Stale & Messy, can check its security cameras.

Looking back, my wife remembers that, when we were entering our section, a large guy in front of us suddenly turns, holds up the line for an instant, then wheels back to enter the seating section. No one bumps me, no one spills beer on my shoe to distract me from ogling the cheerleaders.

Sidebar: My aunt once was standing in the lobby of Love Field when a nice-looking fellow walked by, turned and said, “Excuse me, ma’m, but you’ve got something on your coat.” She glanced down and there, on her shoulder, was white goo that looked like toothpaste. The nice-looking guy handed her Kleneex, and went on. My aunt put down her carry-on and dabbed away the goo. As you suspect, when she looked down, her carry-on was gone.

But I experienced no distraction. So I am out my driver’s license, credit cards, and $320 in cash. Ah, you ask, “Why would you carry $320 in cash there?” Have you ever tried to buy a hotdog and beer at a pro sports function? $320 is only a down payment. No, actually, I had held up a couple of liquor stores on the way to the game.

It gets worse. The next day I go to my bank to see if anyone has tampered with my accounts, although my secret password (“password”) was not in my wallet, nor my PIN number (1). “I assure you sir,” says the officer, “we here at the West Bank of the Bayou are most careful about security.” He sits at a computer. “It shows here that your account has not been touched, except for a $2,000 withdrawal from your checking account today.” Another banker peers at the screen. “Holy (fill in the blank), and another $8,000 from your savings account.” They look at each other. “Code Red!” My annual income disappears in one hour.

The bank discovers that the thieves, as an ID, put a new face on my driver’s license. At the Texas Driver’s License office I apply for a replacement. The clerk says, “Do you have a photo ID, like a driver’s license?” Indeed, under the list of “Acceptable Identification Documents” to get a Texas driver’s license, the primary ID is a Texas driver’s license. But you can use “Texas inmate ID card issued by TDCJ.” At my boutique tobacconist, Sam’s, things go smoothly, but I lose a fair amount on a gift card at the Salvation Army Thrift Store.

Dealing with American businesses today, one thing is clear: no one deals with American businesses. “Touch 1 for English, 2 for Croatian. Touch 3 for bounced checks, 4 for past-due house payments, 5 for brazen daylight robberies.” None of the options is what I want. “This call may be monitored so we can hand out our Curt Employee of the Month Award. All of our agents are busy with other customers, but your call is very important to us. The approximate waiting time is (pause) this is 2011, right?”

Do you have automatic withdrawals from your bank account, and/or regular expenses put on your credit card? I have a bunch — electric bill, phone bill, bail bond payment. Some automatic charges are easy to change, others want forms filled out, notarized, DNA sample and retina check.

At the police station I am interviewed — rubber hose optional — where I explain that Reliant had video of the pocketeers, no doubt so did Fiesta, and not too many people are trying unsuccessfully to buy $300 items at Target three times at 11:30 p.m. I suggest they all compare tapes. No one seems interested. OK, pickpockets are at the low end of the criminal food chain, and don’t get much attention. Also, I notice banks, chain stores, sports facilities and gasoline companies really don’t want people to know how easy it is to rip them off. It’s bad publicity, so they basically ignore the problem.

How to prevent your pocket from being picked? Put your wallet in your front pants pocket so only the airport security checkers know for sure. But I have been told this makes no difference. At gambling casinos you see those middle-aged women with their tummy pack tied tightly to their stomachs to keep their $20 bill safe. My advice to all you men, and some women: before you go to a crowded place, like a demolition derby, get a cheap plastic wallet, complete with heavy chain and lock. Or, better yet, simply leave your wallet at home, and borrow one from the guy in front of you. No one seems to care.

Ashby picks pockets at ashby2@comcast.net

Splendor in the Sand: The Atlantis

January 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Travel Blog

First mentioned in Plato’s writings, Atlantis’ existence has been debated through time. Literature and science fiction refer to Atlantis as an ideal land with advanced civilization and generosity. Today’s modern reproduction is alive and well on Paradise Island, The Bahamas. It’s uniquely similar to several of your favorite places, yet completely one-of-a-kind.

Disney-esque Grounds

Shiny marble floors, frescoed ceilings, millions of gallons of aquariums, a lazy river and miles of pristine beach create enough visual stimulation to warrant walking tours. That’s right, if your cruise ship docks at Paradise Island, walking tours of the Atlantis are a shore excursion. This facility has crowd control down to a science with directional paths, a shuttle bus and friendly staff at every turn. Like the Magic Kingdom, Atlantis is a destination.

Vegas-esque Pool

Craving adult stimulation? Houston beauty queens Brooke Daniels and Crystal Stewart have both spun at Atlantis’ adult-only pool, Cain at the Cove. Reminiscent of the hottest clubs in Vegas it features guest DJs, floating sunbathing deck and girls who clearly don’t eat; some topless.

New York-esque Dining

Dinner reservations are a must at the Atlantis’ see-and-be-seen restaurants. Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, the world’s leader in innovative Japanese cuisine, is in the center of the action near the casino. Nobu rocks through the evening with full service sushi bar or complete dining room experience.

You may or may not see Bobby Flay in the kitchen at Mesa Grill, but you will benefit from his unique dishes served only at the Atlantis. The Bahamian Spiced Chicken Skewers and Cracked Conch Salad are stand-outs.

Orlando-esque Water Park

All are welcome to partake in the Aquaventure. With twenty million gallons of water, this on-site 141-acre water slide offers hours of floating entertainment. Water slides, rapids and tubes provide ample opportunity to splash around in the sun.

Hollywood-esque Entertainment

The Atlantis is full of surprises. While we visited, so did the cast of “Ugly Betty.” Episode four was filmed on the property and they hosted a red carpet season premier party; we were the first to view the show. Judith Light, America Ferrera and Adam Rodriguez were just some of the celebs upping the celebrity quotient.

Hawiian-esque Activities

Marine life here is what you see on diving and snorkeling expeditions, but you don’t have to dive or snorkel. You simply walk through the aquariums. In a building called The Dig, you can get up close and personal with spiny and slipper lobster, lionfish, spotted scorpion fish, and long-spine urchin.

New Orleans-esque Heart

The largest animal hospital and rescue center in the Caribbean is located at Dolphin Cay. The tour takes you behind the scenes to introduce you to Sea Lions rescued from a New Orleans’ aquarium following Hurricane Katrina.

Direct flights to the Bahamas are seasonal on Continental airlines. For information log on to www.Atlantis.com

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