Saturday, August 30, 2008

Friday night football, but no Frito Pie

I've been told that you haven't truly lived until you've watched a Texas high school football game. Well, apparently, I HAVEN'T lived, because not only have I never seen a Texas game, but I've never been to any American high school football games.

No, I haven't spent my life living in a cave. I just happened to have spent my high school years in Canada. So while we do play football, it's Saturday Night Hockey that we're passionate about (yeah...just like in that Mike Myer's movie "The Love Guru").

Anyway, this Friday I decide to crawl out of my cave and attend the season opener: North Shore versus Katy.

The first thing I noticed was that a lot of people go to these games. Don't laugh if I sound surprised, but I really was. I don't know what I was expecting, but after waiting in the parking line for 30 minutes, it suddenly hit me that this isn't a small event.

First of all, I had no idea that Katy and North Shore were the two biggest powerhouses in the Houston area. And secondly, I had no idea that the Katy Tigers held the state title. This game was a big deal.

Being Football Friday newbie, I also had no idea that it's not just the football players competing. It's the whole school. In fact, it's the battle of the bands, the battle of the cheerleaders and the battle of the pep squad (we don't have pep squads in Canada). Oh...and you can't forget the fans. I've never seen so many red T-shirts in one place.
Then there are my favorite fans. The die-hards. You know who they are. These are the dudes that aren't on the team, but go all out and paint their bodies the school colors. I love these guys. They don't care if their bathtub is going to have a red ring around it the next day. They don't care if they can't get the paint off - ever. They are in it for the team. Gotta love them!

About 30 minutes into the game, it occurred to me that Friday Night football is like the Super Bowl without the Rolling Stones or Usher playing at halftime. I was pumped.

But when I got back to office, it turns out I screwed up.

"Did you have Frito Pie?" my co-worker asked me. "Don't tell me you didn't try Frito pie."

Sadly, I don't know what Frito Pie is. I was so taken away with the game, I totally forgot the second-best part of football: the junky food.

Now, I've got to go to another game - just for the food. And you never know...if one of the die-hards call and want to paint me up for their team, I may give it go.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

What? There's a port in Houston?

These were my exact words when someone told me about the Port of Houston.

I'd like to say my lack of knowledge was because I've only been here a little over a month, but even though I've seen Houston on a map, I never really connected that it's on the gulf. I think it's because you never see any water around (except for the Bayou).

It was then that I decided it was time I ventured out of the Innerloop and check it out for myself.

Turns out, there is a free boat tour at the Port of Houston that is open to the public. The tours are Tuesday to Friday, but don't wait until the last minute to book and don't plan on going standby as they don't accept anyone without a reservation.

The Port of Houston tours are pretty popular (the boat only fits 45 people). I called on a Monday, hoping for a Tuesday reservation and they were booked. I got on the Wednesday booking just by luck as they had one seat left.

The 90 minute tour is completely on the water. They offer complimentary coffee and soft drinks, but the real magic starts by boarding the MV Sam Houston.

Named after the legendary military commander, the vessel has been in service for 50 years ever since it's inaugural voyage in July 30, 1958.

As soon as you step onto the boat, it instantly takes you back to a more luxurious time where coach class did not exist. There are large red leather swivel chairs and a couch in middle of the air conditioned lounge area. It feels more like a yacht than your typical tourist cruise -- you know the ones that make you sit on hard plastic benches.

In fact, if you talk to someone who's done the tour before, chances are it was on this same boat.

"I took the tour 35 years ago. They told me it was the same boat, but I didn't recognize it," said Guerra, one of my fellow passengers.

Guerra moved to Houston around 40 years ago and is a retired high school teacher. Unlike me, he did know Houston was by the water. He was there because his wife's sister wanted to see the port.

"I might start bringing out-of-town guests on the boat," said Guerra.

I must admit, I was blown away by the tour. It's is a leisurely cruise throughout the port. Along the way you'll see various freighters from all over the world, people working on the docks, as well as a few oil refineries. One of the refineries you'll see is the Crown refinery which opened in 1919, making it the oldest one in the area (I may have to check that out one day).

But for all historical wonder, the port is still a place of business. It is the busiest one in the United States and one of the largest in the world. This means you won't be seeing any kayakers or motor boats on the water as security is tight.

"They don't allow small vessels in here after 911," said Guerra. "Apparently, they used let people tie up their boats at Allen's landing to go for dinner, but not anymore."

They also don't allow you to take pictures and videos. That rule came out in August 2007.

But don't let the security stop you. The tour is the only way the public has a chance to see port operations. And if boats aren't your thing, my new boating-friend told me there is one other way you can see the port.

"There are some great restaurants nearby where you can watch the freighters come in and out," said Guerra.

Guerra used to like go to Shanghai Red, but it was torn down a couple of years ago. His second choice was Brady's Landing, which has a full glass wall overlooking the water.

"We used to meet people there for Sunday brunch," said Guerra.

Mmmm...brunch. I think I may have to try that out.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The inside scoop on what it takes to be America's Next Top Model

Saturday morning at Houston's Memorial City Mall more than 700 girls between the ages of 18 and 27 lined up for their chance to audition for America's Next Top Model...and then there was me. (You can read my article on the Next Top Model auditions here).

While I wasn't about to audition, a part of me was curious at who these potential Houston-area Supermodels were. Would they be divas? Would they be drop dead gorgeous? Would they be so skinny that I would regret eating my Starbuck's Saturday morning treat?

Turns out they were none of the above. They were just girls with a dream.

But I did discover a couple of things that they all had in common:

1) Poise - All of the girls knew how to take a picture. I mean, if you catch me on the street and want my photograph (not that this ever happens) it's going to turn out like Nick Nolte's mug shot. Really...I have not mastered the art of the impromptu photo. But these girls, some who are barely out of high school, have got the "look" down. If you don't believe me, check out my photos.

2) Courage - What completely amazed me is that almost all of the girls I spoke to had absolutely no modeling experience. They were going to audition in front of the judges of one of the most watched reality shows with no training, no practice, and no coaching - unless you include the praise and encouragement from their friends. I don't know about you, but strutting my stuff in front of a group of people who are sometimes brutally honest to their contestants is not my idea of fun. These girls have a lot more courage than I do, and I have to give them credit. You go, girls!

3) Confidence - Confidence in yourself is an incredible gift...and all of these girls had it. Regardless of their weight, height or looks, these girls were ready to "suck it up" and put aside any weak traits. Sometimes, when doing a story, it take while to get people comfortable, but not these girls. Even the girls who told me they were normally shy, were ready to talk confidently and professionally about their career goals, and what they hoped for in the future.

4) Focus - Man...these girls were focused. Being a model wasn't just a pipe dream. The young women I spoke to had done their research before their big day and they were ready to take the leap. They had watched the show since the first season and knew the fashion industry. Some of them had even auditioned in other cities and brought this knowledge with them. They were not giving up until they took their shot at fame.

5) A Cool Name - I don't know what my parents were thinking when they gave me my boring name, but they certainly were not thinking "Supermodel". Out of all the girls I spoke to, none of them had plain-Jane names. In fact, many of them had names that were made to be said alone like Selana, Rianne, and Jacradesha.

If you've got more courage than I do and want to audition, you can check out the requirements. The next auditions will be in Tampa on August 30.

America's Next Top Model wouldn't let me talk to the girls after the audition, so I can't tell you how they did. I can tell you this: a model is more than just a pretty face.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tantalizing my taste buds at Austin's Ranch 616

Today, as I was driving to Austin on my first Texas road trip, it hit me that I basically go to Whole Foods and buy the same three entrees every week: sushi, a couple veggie pizza slices and ground turkey enchiladas. How sad is that?

But what's even sadder is that I've been here nearly a month and I have not had Tex-Mex yet.

Call me crazy, but I've been saving it for a special day when I can really savor the moment. That day is today...and I'm going to try it at Ranch 616, which is a South Texas Ice House in Austin (just because I happen to be in the city and someone told me it was good).

So what did I get? Well, I would love to tell you, but I'm not exactly sure as I couldn't pronounce it. I think it might have been the special of the day. The one thing I do know is that it was good...really, really good.

The dish consisted of grilled sea bass, over a chicken enchilada, with some beans and a whole lot of onions. When my server plopped down my plate, the first thing I thought was: Do I eat the onions? The answer is "yes".

Let me tell you something about Texas onions. I don't know what they do to them, but they are special. Unlike the onions I grew up with, these ones don't burn, make your eyes water, or leave you with bad onion breath. Instead they are sweet and yummy. If you don't eat them, you are totally missing out on a Lone Star treat.

But the onions weren't the only part of the meal that was amazing. Everything was perfect. The fish was tender and flakey with a subtle grilled flavor, and the enchilada was flavorful and spicy. And I'm not being nice just for the sake of it. The chef at Ranch 616 knew what he was doing, because the heat from the spice stopped just before your eyes watered - just how I like it.

Even though I was stuffed after my entrée, I couldn't resist trying dessert. Miguel, the manager of Ranch 616, recommended the Fried Apple Pie.

This dish is a meal in itself, but it is so worth the calories. It comes with two fried apple turnovers and a special Mexican vanilla ice cream. It sounds simple, but it's divine. First of all, the turnovers are filled with real apples (not like the ones at McDonald's), and the dough is so flakey it melts in your mouth.

When Miguel brought over the plate, I told myself I would only try a couple of bites, but that didn't happen. I couldn't stop myself and ended up finishing them both off.

Ranch 616 (located at 616 Nueces just off of 6th Street) has been around for 10 years. It's also been voted Austin's favorite Ice House (which is why I decided to check it out). If you happen to be in Austin in the next couple of weeks, you'll notice they have a bunch of outside construction going on. That's because they are building an outdoor patio.

If you want to try what I ordered, it's the last entry at the bottom of the lunch menu (I really can't remember what it was called), but they also have other cool things like oyster sandwiches, fried quail, and black Angus burgers.

Miguel also said they make excellent Tequila drinks and at night they have live music, but I'll have to save that for another time.

Now that I'm no longer a Tex-Mex virgin, and I know that it's not just a kick-up version of Taco Bell, I'll be scouring Houston looking the best the city has to offer. Let me know your suggestions, and I'll give them a try.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The quest for the best Texas Iced Tea

We all know the Lone Star State is famous for Texas tea, and I'm not talking about the stuff that comes out of the ground. I'm talking about sweet iced tea; the kind Texans enjoy on a hot afternoon.

I just have one problem with iced tea: I don't like it.

It's either too sweet, tastes like tea-flavored Kool-Aid, or it's so bitter, it leaves your tongue wrinkled. So when I heard that the Austin-based Sweet Leaf Tea Company not only had the best bottled sweet tea in the state, but it tasted like the kind Grandma used to make, I decided to check them out.

Now, I know that driving to Austin is a little crazy, but as your KHOU Girl About Town, I make it my mandate to try whatever Texas has to offer, and this week, it's the quest for great tasting sweet tea.

And believe me, the tea had better be good in order for me to like it.

But before I get to my actual taste test, let me tell you that 'yes', the grandma you see on their logo really does exist. And Clayton Christopher (one of the two founders of the company) tells me she's still alive and completely "tickled" that he based the company on her sweet tea recipe.
"She's always coming up with crazy flavors like strawberry tea or pineapple tea," said Christopher. "I'm not saying we're going to make pineapple tea, but she is the company's inspiration."

It's also true that Christopher came up with the idea for the company when he was only 25 and living off a sailboat in the Florida Keys. And it's true that when he and his best-friend David Smith started making the tea back in 1998, they used to brew it in their kitchen in Beaumont, and filter it with pillow cases.

"We're still best friends," said Christopher. "People are always surprised that we haven't screwed that up by working together."

So these guys sound kind of cool, right? That's that I thought. And I think their coolness comes from the fact that they run their company like true Texans. The entire company, from Christopher and Smith, down to the large, fluffy dog that walks around the office, has that same friendly, maverick spirit I've come to recognize in the people I meet here in the Lone Star State. They also take pride in their work.

"We take work seriously, but we don't take ourselves seriously," said Christopher. "We don't try to be anything that we aren't."

This basically sums up the company. Think about it....Sweet Leaf Tea goes out of their way to make tea that uses organic tea leaves from China and not powders, and they use real cane sugar instead of cheap sugar cane. Plus, they actually boil up the tea in filtered water for five minutes just like you would in your kitchen. I mean, there is some serious tea making going on in their facilities, yet when you think of them, it's the smiling grandma comes to mind.

I haven't met the actual Sweet Tea grandma, but I love her. How can you not? Check out her outfits on the bottles. She changes the color of her dresses based on the flavors, and on the diet one, she's wearing a little headband.

"Yeah, we thought it would be fun to put her in a workout outfit," said Christopher.

Okay, so the grandma has style, but can she convert the KHOU Girl About Town into an iced tea drinker? It was time to put the tea to the test.

Sweet Leaf Tea has 11 flavors of tea and 3 lemonades, but for my taste test, I wanted the "real" thing; the flavor that Christopher craved that day when sitting on his boat in the Keys. So I choose the original sweet tea.

I twisted open the bottle and...let me just tell you, it's a little stressful drinking tea when the owner of the company is watching for your reaction...then I took my first sip, all the while preparing for the worst.

Surprisingly, it wasn't bad. So I took another sip and let my taste buds relax. The tea was actually good. It was sweet, but not too sweet (Christopher told me later that their tea actually has 25% less sugar than most bottled iced teas). It was smooth, not bitter. And it didn't leave that weird coating in your month that you get when drinking some iced teas.

In the car, I opened another bottle. This time I tried their new Mango Green Tea flavor. It was good too, and with only 60 calories a serving, I think I may be taking up the Texan tradition of drinking sweet tea in the afternoons.

And the good news is I won't have to go to Austin to get it. You can find the tea in Whole Foods, Kroger, HEB and other places right here in Houston. Bonus!

By the addition to finding the best bottled sweet tea in Texas, I also learned I've been saying it wrong for years. Instead of calling it "iced" tea, I've been saying" ice" tea, which I think is rapper. Figures.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Biting the two-step bullet

All I've been hearing since I moved here is "Have you learned how to two-step yet?" Well, no I haven't, but not knowing how to do something has never stopped me before. So last Wednesday, I decided to bite the Texas two-step bullet and hit the dance floor at Wild Wild West.

Most of you probably already know what Wild Wild West is, but for any of you Houston newbies like me, Wild West is a bar. But not just any bar. According to my girlfriend, it's the biggest and best place to two-step in the city. It's been around for 20 years and it has an oak floor just for your boots. But guess what...I don't actually have cowboy boots, which could have been my downfall.

After watching the couples travel around the dance floor for about 30 minutes, I snagged myself a dance victim - oops, I mean partner.

I told him I had no idea what I was doing and his response was, "All you need to know is slow-slow-quick-quick-slow."

He was wrong. It turns out you need to know a little more than that.

I stumbled. I stepped on his toes (thankfully he WAS wearing boots). I was off beat. And I was glad when the four minute song was over because I sucked. Really, really sucked.

It's not as if I have no sense of rhythm. My salsa moves are pretty good, I can hold my own in a nightclub, and I did okay at my gay line dancing lesson earlier this month, so why couldn't I get the two-step?

Slumping down on my bar stool, I asked the guy sitting beside me what I was doing wrong. He was in his late fifties and he let me in on a little Texas secret: nobody was born to two-step. seems everyone who knows how to do it has taken lessons at some time or another. Either they were forced to learn it in gym class, at some bar somewhere, or snuck off and learned it at a dance school. He said that even he has been taking lessons for the last five years.

I still didn't feel any better about my dancing, but at least I know there is hope for me yet. And like Arnold Schwarzenegger said in Terminator 2, "I will be back."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The "accidental" Kenny Chesney weekend

Kenny Chesney stage
Even though I'm new to the country music scene I have, of course, heard of Kenny Chesney. Really, who hasn't heard of "She Thinks my Tractor's Sexy"? But I do admit that my knowledge of him is mostly limited to the gossip tabloids where he is famous for his short marriage to Renee Zellweger.

So how I ended up spending two days immersed in world of Kenny Chesney fandom is beyond me. It just happened...and I have absolutely no regrets as I had a blast.

It all started Friday afternoon when I decided to get an inside look at what goes on behind the scenes while Chesney's Poets and Pirates crew of 130 people set up the massive stage.

I didn't get to meet Kenny, but I did hang out with his very cool Director of Tour Marketing person who has been working with him for nearly a decade. You'll be happy to hear that she is a Houstonian and was psyched at being back in her home town.

After giving me some tips on where to get the best fajitas in town, she walked me through the stage area. Of course, I went snap-happy with my camera and took a bunch of pictures (check out the slideshow), but my favorite part was the giant bin of ladies lingerie sitting backstage. doesn't just happen at Bon Jovi concerts, people - um, I should say women - really do throw their bras and panties on stage, and Kenny has a giant bin full of them to prove it. I always wondered what bands do with this stuff and now I know: they load them up in the truck and take them along for the tour.

Watching the road crew set up the stage, I realized the sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle isn't exactly like it is on TV. It was organized and everything was done according to schedule.

"We have a really good crew and we stay on schedule," said Kate McMahon, Kenny's Director of Tour Marketing. "If I say Kenny is going on at 9:15, that's exactly when he'll be on stage."

Little did she know that on Saturday night, I was going to put her schedule to the test.

Okay, so after checking out the 218 foot long and 70 foot high stage area, I must admit I was getting into the whole Kenny Chesney Poets and Pirates Tour. How could I not? I mean, the show in Houston was not any old show: it was planned to one of Kenny's 15 super shows.

But my Kenny Chesney orientation wasn't over yet. I still had to find out who was opening for him.

You see, during the Poets and Pirates Tour, Kenny does this very cool thing where local bands can audition and the winner gets to open for him. You can image this is a big deal for the performers as it's their shot of playing in front of 60,000 fans.

The final four bands happened to be playing on Friday night at the Hard Rock Café so I decided to check them out. Naturally when I arrived, it was chaos and I couldn't find my backstage contact, but it was easy to figure out who the possible band members were as most of them were decked out in cowboy hats.

The four competing bands were Cody Kouba, Bill Archer, Zane Lewis, and Bleu Edmondson. As I was interviewing them, I quickly learned they all had one thing in common: they were nervous.

"I'm nervous. Very nervous," said Jeremy, the percussionist from Zane Lewis' group.

"There's a lot at stake at this one. It's a door opening opportunity for an entertainer. Whoever wins tonight, tomorrow they will be a household name," said Bill Archer, the only solo act.

Not that I'm qualified to be a judge or anything, but all four bands did a great job. Cody Kouba was the winner of the night, while Bleu Edmondson came in second place.

So after two days of doing behind the scenes interviews, I was ready to go see Kenny Chesney live. It seemed like everywhere I went, people were talking about the concert. In fact, some that I spoke to were going as early as 9:30 in the morning to spend the day tailgating outside the stadium. Now that's dedication.

Anyway, I wasn't planning on throwing any of my underwear on stage, but I wanted to see if the two-time Entertainer of the Year winner was really as good as everyone said.

I arrived just as Keith Urban hit the stage and, don't laugh, but I kind of got lost when I entered the stadium. However, in this case being lost worked to my advantage. Here's why...

My seat was Section 600 Row K - yeah, the super nose-bleeders. But because it was dark and everyone was busy watching Keith Urban on stage, I accidentally walked into the floor area. The usher escorted me to Section F Row K. complete fluke I got to watch the show in one of best seats in the house. Yay!!!

I looked up on stage and there was Keith doing his thing.

Now just like I only know one Kenny Chesney song, I also know only one Keith Urban song. It's "I told you so" and he was singing it. Double yay!! I must say that I now have a little bit of a crush on Keith, who I will now only refer to by his first name just because he was so good. I'll also be downloading a bunch of songs off of iTunes later this weekend.

Keith played until nearly 9:00 p.m. I know this because I looked at my clock and wondered how they were going to clear the stage and get it ready for Kenny Chesney in time. Kate McMahon's words kept going through my head:

"If I say Kenny is going on at 9:15, that's exactly when he'll be on stage."

Amazingly, she was right. At exactly 9:15 the lights went off, and the Poets and Pirates introduction began with the giant animated skull narrating at the back of the stage. For those of you who were there, you know how cool this is.

Suddenly Kenny popped out from the end of the stage. I actually couldn't see this because the one flaw with floor seats is that you can't really see the stage all the time. But that was okay. I could feel the excitement of the crowd and see it on the screen.

But what was really cool was realizing that I had seen the box on the stage where Kenny Chesney was going to pop out of when I was doing my behind the scenes interview the day before and hadn't put it together until now. Duh...I even have a picture of it (see the photo to the right).

Needless to say, I had a great night.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

OMG...a tropical storm and I'm not ready

Tropical Storm Edouard was my first taste of Houston's bizarre weather. I was working on Sunday, the skies were clear, and then was time to send out a breaking news alert because Edouard was on its way.

Edouard caught me not only unprepared at work, but at home. Even though I lived in Tampa, I was lucky that during my time there we never had a hurricane. They usually hit the other side of Florida in the Miami area. So aside, from afternoon thunderstorm (which I swear happens every single day in the summer), the weather is always hot and sunny.

But not in Houston. It changes instantly, which everybody who lives here seems to know, but nobody bothered to warn me.

Freaking out, I rush out to the local CVS and pick up supplies: water, cans of tuna, canned beans, canned spaghetti, Red Bull (for the long shifts at the station), and extra toilet paper (as I would be eating mostly tuna and beans). Being proud of purchases, I tell my co-workers that I'm ready for Edouard.

Turns out I wasn't.

It seems my supplies were not exactly what the average Houstonian buys when a possible hurricane is on its way. They showed me their stash which consisted of cookies, granola bars, Fiddle Faddle, chips, chocolate, crackers and other snack items. Only one of them had some sort of protein and that was peanut butter.

Apparently, when a storm hits Houston, it's time to live it up and pig out on snack food. Who knew?

Birthday dinner for one

I happened to have my birthday the first week I arrived to Houston. So not only, did I not have any furniture (the moving truck was still in transit), but I didn't know anyone in the city. And I mean no one. I barely even remembered my co-workers names at the station.

Of course, everyone knew my name and when you work with a group of reporters, believe me, nothing is a secret for long.

Somehow they found out it was my birthday and surprised me by decorating my cubicle with purple balloons and confetti - totally making my day.

To cap it off, I decided I needed to take myself out for a great meal at Brennan's on Smith Street. Why Brennan's? I would like to say it's because I read great reviews or that my co-workers recommended it, but no...the reason I went there was the fried oysters.

I don't know what it is, but I associate smoked or fried oysters with a good time. It must be one of those childhood memories things as my mom always served oysters on Ritz crackers at Christmas parties when I was growing up. It's not exactly haute cuisine, but it did the trick.

On the Brennan's website, they listed fried oysters as an appetizer, but sadly, when I got there, I learned the site was outdated and you can only get a couple of them with one of the main courses.

So there I was, sitting by myself and not getting my party comfort food. But the night wasn't a total bust. Whatever Brennan's was lacking in not having my fried oysters, they made up in service. The waiter recommended a fabulous Pinot Noir to go with my meal, and then brought out a glass of complimentary champagne at the end of the night -- which was a nice touch.

Plus, the waitstaff saved me from total embarrassment by not making me wear the Brennan's party hat -- if you go there, you'll see the one. It's big and white. And totally not cool unless you are with a group. I admit I enjoy dining alone and people watching, but calling THAT much attention to myself would have taken the fun out of it.

And while the waiter did whisper a classy "Happy Birthday" when he brought my dessert, he didn't sing the song. The perfect finish to a perfect day.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Checking out 'Fun' line dancing in Houston

When I left Tampa, everyone told me that when I moved to Houston I would have to learn how to line dance and how to two-step.

So taking the easy way out, I decided line dancing sounded the easier of the two because: a) you don't need a partner and b) you only need to dance in a line instead of around the dance floor.

I only had one problem: where to do it.

Being a webbie, I turned to Google as my guide and typed in "fun line dancing in Houston". The key word here is "fun" because the last thing I wanted to do is something serious.

Good thing there actually is a "fun" line dancing place that came up in the search. It's called Southern Country on Brazos. The lessons are free, the drinks are cheap, and it's five minutes from the station -what more can I ask for?

Plus...and this is what sold me...the line dancing music is to disco and dance remixes!! Yay!! I know some of you are thinking this is sooooo wrong, but keep in mind I've only been here a little while so I'm trying to break into the Texas ways slowly.

Anyway, I went last Thursday and had a blast. While I was definitely not the most graceful dancer on the floor, I did learn the moves by the end of the lesson and was even able to pick up a couple other easy dances. The instructors were fabulous and everyone was friendly.

Southern Country doesn't just have line dancing. They also play two-steps, cowboy cha-chas, West coast swings and other dances which I have no idea how to do yet. They are teaching two-step next week so I may have to go again. Plus, their line dancing routine will be to Mamma Mia by A*Teens (both the line dancing and two-step lessons are free).

But before you don your boots and rush out the door, there's one thing you need to know about Southern Country. It's a gay bar.

And yes, I did know before I went, but I figured it would be safe place for a girl to hang by herself. Plus, I wasn't the only one. While there, I met a couple of Taiwanese exchange students, a professional dancer honing her skills, and a group of girls celebrating a birthday who thought line dancing would be a fun adventure.

And they were right; it was fun.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Houston's new girl gets her Texas Driver's License

Tests...I hate them. Especially when it comes to driving.

If you were born in Texas, you're lucky. Getting your license was relatively simple. But for newbies like me, transferring your license from another state to Texas is a complicated four step process. And as I learned the hard way, you must complete the four steps in the right order or else they don't count.

But here's a word of advice. Don't wait until the last minute. It's nearly impossible to do all the steps in one day. Plus, if your current driver's license expires, you will be forced to go through the complete driving test and exam, which would really suck.

So for those that are new to the state, here's what you need to do:

Step 1: Get an emissions test doesn't matter if your car is only a year old or if you had a test done last week in whatever state you were living in, when in Texas, you have to do it the Texas way and get it done here--again. The good news is this part of the process is pretty simple. Most car dealerships, Xpress Lubes and mechanics will do it for you, but click here for a helpful list.

I choose the Xpress Lube as it was close by and didn't have a line up. They basically did the emission test in less than 20 minutes. You will however be stuck with a big sticker on your windshield that you aren't allowed to remove. This will be the first of two gigantic stickers you'll be getting.
Step 2: Change over your car insurance to a Texas provider
They were right when they said everything is bigger in Texas and that includes your insurance cards. In Florida, they are small like a credit card so they fit in your wallet. In Texas, they are huge. There's no way they'll fit in the average wallet. You'll have to find some other place to put them like the glove compartment or under the car seat.

Changing car insurance providers is pretty easy if you like your current provider. All you need to do is drop into the local office and tell them you are switching over. Hopefully you'll be lucky like me. It turned out it's a lot cheaper for me to drive in Texas so I ended up saving money.

Step 3: Register your car
This part is a little more complicated. ..and there is a line involved. To register your car, you need proof of your emission test (that's why you have to do that part first), and you need show them that you have Texas auto insurance (see...isn't it good I told you about Step 2?).

You'll also need proof of ownership, your VIN number, your car's milage, and if you have a car loan like I do, you'll need the name and address of the financial institute the loan is with.

Where you get this done is at your local county tax office.

But there is one bonus part to this step: You get to pick out your license plates.

Texas has a whole bunch to choose from, so if you're not into the basic Lone Star plates, you can find one that suits your personality. But keep in mind that if you pick the Lone Star State ones, you'll get your new plates that day. I picked the dolphin ones and had to wait three weeks for them to arrive. It was worth the wait though. I love my new plates.

Plus, at the end of this process, you'll also get your second gigantic sticker to put on your windshield.

Step 4: Stand in line at the DMV
You're almost there. Just one last step to go and it begins by finding your local DMV office.

But before you go and stand in the line up, make sure you bring all your paperwork. You'll need all the papers from the other three steps and your current out-of-state license.

In other words, you need to bring:
• Proof of insurance

• Your Texas car registration

• ID such as a passport (and your current license doesn't count)

• Your Social Security Number

• Your valid out-of-state driver's license

• Money to pay the required fee (It was $24 in 2008)

You'll also need to pass the vision exam, which if you have all your paperwork, is actually the hardest part of this final stage.

The test is set up so that you test both eyes individually while reading the one line of numbers. I'm going to warn you, because at first the screen may appear a little blurry, but let your eyes adjust to the weird perspective and you'll be fine.

Also, make sure you're not dehydrated as my optometrist told me that dehydration can sometimes affect the quality of your vision.

Oh...and one more thing. If you pass, they take away your current license and you'll only have a piece of paper for a couple weeks. So if you're going out to celebrate that night, remember to bring some other form of picture ID.

But don't drink and drive. After all the work it took to get your license, it would be a shame to lose it.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Welcome to Houston...SMASH!

Last night, I had what they say is my "official Houston welcome". Yup, that's car was broken into. The bizarre thing is I didn't even know. Someone from my apartment building told me in the elevator.

"Hey, I think your car was broken into," says my neighbor.

"No, really?"

"Yeah...little blue car. Florida plates?"

"Yeah, that's me."

Now this makes me sad. I love my car. It's small and cheap, but it has taken me on many road trips. In fact, my friends call it 'The Roller Skate' as it looks more like that than a car. But even though they make fun of me, they all want to ride shotgun at the end of the night - go figure.

Anyway, I make my way to the parking garage to check out the damage. Deep down, I'm hoping the guy has it wrong and it's someone else's car.

I get down to the garage and I see it. Someone has smashed the passenger window and opened the glove compartment. I look through the stuff lying on the floor to see what they took. Turns out they left my GPS (which I now keep in my purse), but they took my cheap $20 sunglasses and a really bad techno CD from two years ago, so the joke's on them with that one.

I go up and report it to my building manager. He laughs and says I got off lucky. When his car was broken into, it cost him over $1000 to fix. Another girl I spoke to said someone stole all her tires and she swore she saw them being sold a couple days later in a parking lot. One other person said her entire Jeep was stolen, then found gutted a couple weeks later. Instead of getting a new vehicle, insurance made her pay the deductible and fixed it up, but she says it's not the same.

It turns out that every person I spoke to at work, at the grocery store and at the dealership, has had a break-in at least once while living in Houston. Even the cop who did the police report said it's fairly common and mine was the third call he had that week just for my apartment complex.

I know it sounds weird, but finding out I wasn't the only one was rather comforting. It seems you're not a Houstonian until your car has been broken into.

Anyways, for the next few days I won't have a window, which makes it really hard for me to sing in the car when driving, as I'm not exactly a candidate for American Idol. So if you see me driving around, you might want to plug your ears.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Loop is loopy

Man, I don't know about you, but I just can't get the whole West Loop/East Loop. And I'm not the only one. My GPS system also gets confused.

I swear, I get really close and as soon as I turn onto what I think is the loop my GPS suddenly loses track of me. Then it announces that it's "recalculating" in the snarky voice it uses whenever I don't follow the instructions.

But I am following instructions, really I am. I mean, how hard is it to turn left? Still, I try and am instantly lost. It's like the West Loop is part of the Bermuda Triangle and located in some sort of GPS dead zone.

So sadly, because of this, I still have not gone to the Galleria Mall (which my GPS pronounces Gal-lair-ee-a like it's malaria), but I have found some other shops close by that are on Westheimer and not by the loop. I'm not sure what the area is and have simply programmed it into my GPS as "Good Shops". All I know is that there is a Crate & Barrel and a LuluLemon which happens to be my favorite fitness clothing store.

But I've heard great things about the Galleria and one day I will get there. Maybe my GPS just doesn't want me to go shopping.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The new girl in Houston

Yes, it's true. I am the new girl in town. Houston's 11 News found me in Tampa, Florida and convinced me that I would love Houston. And so far, they are right.

Yeah, I admit that I'm not exactly a long-neckin', two-steppin' type of gal, but I want to be - or at least I'm willing to try it. In fact, I want to check out everything Houston has to offer including TexMex, Kolochies (what in the world are those?), the rodeo and the cowboy shuffle.

I'm up for taking on anything you Texans have to offer. So whatever or wherever it is, you can count me in!