1. The Tower of Traffic
Besides the CultureMap iPhone app, this little guy surely represents the greatest feat of graphic design in Houston. The perfectly manicured mini-estates of Southampton and Boulevard Oaks are belied by the treacherous illustration blanketing so many lawns—a testament to the city’s resistance to… being a city. Regardless of whether or not the Ashby highrise becomes a reality, the belligerent Tower of Traffic will forever be the area’s mascot.
2. Wardrobe Malfunctions
Maybe it was production quality or global warming that caused celebrities’ clothing to simply fall apart before the public eye for the past decade. The most ubiquitous instance was in 2004, at the Houston-hosted Super Bowl halftime show, in which Justin Timberlake accidentally revealed Janet Jackson’s ladyparts—placing Houston at the epicenter of pure-class entertainment and foreshadowing the Cougar-mania of years to come.
3. Wild Moccasins
I recall from art history classes at UH, “So I’m dating a Wild Moccasin” was more likely a smoking break topic than “I’m actually graduating this semester.” The band came to center stage in the past couple of years as the voice of indie rock in Houston—a genre that had been lacking in quality for what seemed like forever. I had a great time wandering into the band’s breakroom/tent at SummerFest. Apparently saying, “Don’t worry, I’m a Wild Moc” will not get you past security. Such antics might also get you into trouble for subscribing to my version of SummerFest bottle service—an old CVS bag full of Lonestar cans.
4. Connor Walsh
Connor Walsh landed on the Houston scene in 2004 as a member of the Houston Ballet, and in 2007 was promoted to principal, where he still reigns. However, Walsh is also known offstage as a sexually ambiguous hipster heartthrob. Connor always sticks out at an underground party as that dressed-just-a-bit-too-well guy, standing alongside a wall with an "I'll let people come to me" smirk. When he arrives, you can hear the girls and boys whisper, "He's here. The ballerina," "I heard that he dumped the girl with the mole for Lucy W.” or "Is that cardigan vintage AmerAppar?" Word in SoMo is that Walsh will be at a gala in Malaysia for New Year's, but everyone will be watching his Flickr photostream for evidence of Kuala Lumpur cabana boys.
5. Solange Knowles covering Dirty Projectors
The decade was rife with post-postmodern mashups, from Girl Talk’s heroin binge with taTu and Khia to Hannah Montana and Timbaland. But leave it to Houston hot mom Solange Knowles to take it to the streets of Clutch City. Her slightly smart cover of indie darlings Dirty Projectors’ "Stillness is the Move" was labeled as the greatest genre bridge to nowhere, but the single is great for those special post-grad moments, hiding under the bed scanning monster.com, when you realize, “Well, at least I’m not pursuing a career in the shadow of Beyoncé.”
6. Hélio Oiticica: The Body of Color
While the MFAH was ridiculed by The New York Times for such bubblegum exhibitions as "Best in Show: The Dog in Art from the Renaissance to Today," the Latin American art exhibitions by powerhouse curator Mari Carmen Ramírez have sparked interest all over the international art world. Perhaps the most memorable of these shows was "Hélio Oiticica: The Body of Color," which took the museum visitor on an experiential tour of the Brazilian painter's vivid interpretation of modernism. The exhibition was such a hit that it samba-ed all the way over to London’s Tate Modern.
7. Montrose Overpass Bridges
One of the most dramatic urban interventions of the decade, the installation of the overpasses from Hazard to Montrose finally disrupted the hegemony of the Houston freeway infrastructure. Literally taking the Southwest Freeway off its pedestal, the restructuring created a dynamic system of communication between Montrose and the Museum District. This poetic divide between the city’s bohemian Rive Gauche and buttoned-up medical and collegiate area is complemented by what remains below: a post-apocalyptic vision of a teeming metropolis, complete with tropical vines thriving off CO2.
8. Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy
January 2008 saw the emergence of a new literary voice from Houston in the form of Robert Leleux’s breakthrough novel, The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy. Think David Sedaris meets Running with Scissors meets big Texas hair. A must-read for the literate Houstonaholic.
9. The Mink
Sneaking into The Mink while I was still twenty years old was like a rite of passage. A showcase of edgy yet understated sophistication, from the murky paintings adorning the front bar, to the co-ed restroom and the upstairs dance floor, the Mink, for a period, was so cool they needed a new word for cool. I recall arriving from a concert, where the bouncer had marked two X's across my hands to indicate my minor status, and being stopped by the Mink’s own rent-a-cop. Knowing that I could not risk not being seen, I quickly held up my tattooed hands and said, “it’s a gang sign!” and sped off to a shadowy section of the chocolate brown back lounge. Sadly, after I disappeared for a year, I came back to find the Mink deserted, as the crowd had moved on to the more rickety Boondocks.
10. 4411 Montrose
Although housed inside a structurally-unsound brutalist building, the five art galleries at 4411 Montrose remind the Houstonian of the city’s dynamic contemporary art scene. A Sissy sugar cookie from Tart Cafe provides nourishment after a healthy dose of challenging installations. I highly recommend spending a summer interning at one of the galleries to get a first-hand glimpse of the nonstop drama between the resident gallerinas.