Why I Think Inner Loop/Outer Loop Debates Are Silly

Categories: Random Ephemera

Photo by Mario
Who knew a road could be so devisive?

It's strange. I've lived in and around Houston my whole life, all over the place, and I've noticed a weird "friction" develop between some people in regards to life either in or outside of the 610 Loop. I guess it's part of human nature for some people to look at those with different lifestyles than themselves as being outsiders, or to make judgments about the choices they've made. But that's pretty lame.

In the case of these Inner Loop versus Outer Loop debates, the weird distrust of people living in other neighborhoods just seems dumb to me. Here are a few of the reasons why these attitudes seem so silly when I really think about it.

First of all, one of the things that makes Houston really special is its sheer size and diversity. It's a huge city, and has a vibrant energy running throughout, and it's got many interesting neighborhoods scattered all over town. I have friends all over the the United States as well as in other countries, and I'm amazed at the bad reputation Houston has. So are a lot of them once they actually visit, and discover the city is vastly more interesting than they thought it was based on its national image. It just seems sad to encounter people who live inside the loop who think that nothing outside of it is worthwhile, or outer loopers who view folks living inside 610 as pretentious creeps.

Houston belongs to all of us. There's nothing that prevents someone living on the northwest side of town from enjoying destinations inside the loop, nor are inner-loopers prevented from exploring all of the cool things the rest of the city has to offer. Frankly, anyone who lives in Houston but doesn't get out of his own neighborhood to look around other parts of town from time to time is really missing out on a lot this city has to offer. For example, the Asian shopping centers on the southwest side of Houston are amazing, and they are but one example of many unique areas scattered all over the city. That's true of restaurants, too. Houston is emerging as one of the nation's most exciting food scenes, and great places to eat are spread out far and wide. Sticking to just one area of town is pretty limiting.

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10 Great Spooky Board Games From the Past

Photo by Brett Taylor
There's got to be some spooky games in there somewhere...

Board games have been around a long time, and despite being a now older form of entertainment, there are lots of great ones that still manage to be fun. Sure, the old standbys such as "Monopoly" and "Risk" are a lot of fun, but I always liked the games with a spooky theme to them, and there have been quite a few released over the years. These are but a few I have enjoyed.

10. "Jaws" (1975)

Released around the same time the '70s blockbuster was, "Jaws" is not really a "board game," strictly speaking, but it's aimed at the same crowd who play them. The game consists of a fairly large plastic shark with an open mouth full of junk, which players attempt to fish out with hooks. One wrong move and the jaw snaps shut. A few years later, an "Alligator" version was released in conjunction with the fun "Jaws" copycat film Alligator. While "Jaws" is not the most challenging game ever made, that shark is cool-looking.

9. Ka-Bala (1967)

Billed as "The mysterious game that foretells the future," this weird oddity came out in the late '60s, and it shows. Riding the line between "fortune-telling device" and "game," Ka-Bala consisted of a glow-in-the-dark sculpted board with a scary-looking "Eye of Zohar" that would tell the player's future. It's a pretty weird system, and more akin to a Ouija board than to a typical game. Seeing as how Ka-Bala combined strange elements of Tarot cards, talking boards, astrology and even kabbalistic mysticism, this is also one that probably upset quite a few religious relatives and friends way back when.

8. Fireball Island (1986)

Fireball Island may be the most fun game on this list, and unfortunately it hasn't been manufactured for a long time, and is a collectible -- Copies on eBay often sell for hundreds of dollars. The board is a large 3D representation of an island with a volcano in the center, and players race around the board, trying to get a jewel and then make it to a waiting boat, while being pursued by others who wish to steal the ruby for themselves. There's quite a bit of strategy, and games can last awhile. On top of everything else, there's an evil-looking idol on the volcano that will shoot fireballs (red marbles) that can knock a player out temporarily. While not exactly "spooky," it's a lot of fun, and that Volcano idol guy is pretty scary.

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4 Disadvantages of Being a Big Guy

Categories: Random Ephemera

Photo by Steve Rainwater
Ol' Tex here probably has an easier time finding clothes that fit than some of us do.

I've always been a big guy -- I'm 6 foot four inches tall and sturdily built. I think a lot of people believe that there's an automatic advantage in being a large person, but there is a downside that goes along with those advantages. Stuff like...

4. The World Is Scaled for Smaller People.

Ducking becomes second nature (hopefully) because doorways are often too low. I have to sit down in some showers because the shower head is mounted so that water hits me somewhere in the midsection. Low ceilings make me feel uneasy and claustrophobic. I can only imagine what it's like for my friends who are even taller, but anyone over a certain height really becomes aware of how most things in this world are scaled for people smaller than they are.

3. Finding Things That Fit Can Be a Challenge.

Shopping for clothes when you're a certain size is a challenge, particularly if you are built a certain way. I am tall and while not stick-thin, I'm not overweight, and finding things like jeans that fit well can be rough -- It seems that beyond a certain height, the assumption is that a person is also fairly large in the waistline, but that's not always the case. Things like shirts and jackets can be problematic, too -- either sleeves are often too short or the chest is enormous if they fit. Sizing gets weird, as I'm an extra-large in some things and an extra-extra-large in others. It seems like the standards get pretty vague at some point along the line. Yes, there are "Big and Large" specialty stores, but it's not just clothes that don't fit you when you're a large person.

For instance, I recently bought a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and I also owned a custom chopper. Now, the chopper was "raked and stretched" -- its length was effectively increased from a more typical stock size. That custom-fit me like a glove, and when I went shopping for a Harley, I figured it would fit well, too; after all, Harleys are big bikes, right? No, not really. There are things that can be done to make them look and feel bigger, but most stock Harleys are not all that big, and like most things, are really designed for people falling into an average size range. Big surprise, I'm now in the market for a new custom bike again.

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Best Mystical Votive Candles You'll Find In Houston

Categories: Random Ephemera

Photos by Camilo Smith
If the public defender is starting to look useless, this might come in handy.

You don't have to be into Santeria to run into some Afro-Carribean spiritual products here in Houston. After all, while thousands in the city practice the religion --- which, yes, can include sacrificing small animals like chickens or goats --- this form of mysticism has caught on in a major way, especially in Latino heavy corners of the United States.

Santeria worship, along with the widening appreciation for the skeletal Santa Muerte, is something we told you about back in 2012. It's syncretic faith worship that's just a part of everyday American life now.

In spite of official rejection by the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico, Santa Muerte's followers only increase in number and devotion, carrying her all the way onto the fringes of the American pop-culture mainstream. She made a cameo on Breaking Bad -- Tuco's terrifying cousins light candles to her, petitioning her for success on the way to Albuquerque on their mission of murderous revenge.

See also: Santa Muerte: Patron Saint of the Drug War

Reports say there are more than 20,000 people practicing Santeria in the United States. Houston is home to thousands, behind Miami or New York.

Botanicas, or small herbal stores used to be the only place to buy special candles and tools for Santeria. The small mom and pop shops are plentiful throughout Houston, even if their products are now sold online and in mainstream places like Amazon.com, the Fiesta supermarket down the street, or Wal-Mart. Here's a list of these kinds of saints we published in our story from two years ago.

Santa Muerte from Voice Media Group on Vimeo.

Go into any Wal-Mart in Houston and you're likely to find a section with candles depicting the Virgin Mary or her skeletal counterpart. There might even be dozens of other candles that promise to help with life's dilemmas or cure problems. Many people, especially Santeros and Santeras pray using these candles for luck, for money, to control people, to help get relatives out of jail, to deal with impotency, or to deal with spurned love.

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[Video] Flying Without a Plane at iFly Indoor Skydiving

When it comes to superpowers, flying is right up there with invisibility when it comes to powers that most of us wish we have. While man has conquered mass flight, personal flight is another story. Sure, we have jetpacks and other devices that can make us fly, but pulling off a Superman pose isn't easy with a bunch of gear strapped to you.

Skydiving comes close, but is skydiving really anything other than fancy falling? Maybe yes, and maybe no, but not all of everyone who wants to experience the thrill of flying also wants to be thrown out of a plane.

Enter the world of indoor skydiving, courtesy of the folks at iFly, who are bringing two locations to the Houston area in 2015.

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5 Infamous Cults That Spent Time in Texas

Categories: Random Ephemera

Photo by Daniel Tobias
A ruined bus at Mt. Carmel, home of the Branch Davidians, recently.
Texas is an enormous state, and has long been sought out by people wishing to forge their own path and break from conventional life. There are a lot of places in the Lone Star State to lose oneself, and that opens up both positive and negative possibilities. Sometimes Texas has acted like a magnet, attracting free-thinking individuals of all sorts and from many different walks of life. Other times, Texas has been home to various religious cults, probably enticed by the ability to live mostly unnoticed in a state where people tend to mind their own business.

A few of these cults are famous enough that almost everyone has heard of them. Others are more obscure, and they are vastly different from one another. But they all spent some time in the great state of Texas.

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4 Things to Help Make This New Year's a Good One

Categories: Random Ephemera

Photo by KOMUnews
Not what most of us inside the city want to see the neighbor kids playing with.

With the clock ticking away, counting down the hours until 2014 gives way to 2015, many of us are planning our festivities for New Year's Eve, while others are planning on staying in to avoid the hassles associated with the holiday. So what are some strategies available to us to make sure that January 1, 2015, starts off on a good foot, and not with a mountain of regret?

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4 Types of New Year's Resolutions a Lot of Us Make

Categories: Random Ephemera

Photo by Sarah_Ackerman
Explosive and booze -- Two great traditions that go well together on New Year's Eve/

A new year is upon us, and many people will be reflecting on the past 12 months, and their experiences in 2014. A bunch more will be planning on getting wasted as part of a yearly social ritual where drunken revelry is tolerated, as long as no one gets behind the wheel of a car.

And one of the standby American New Year's traditions is making a few resolutions - things we intend to do or change in our lives over the coming year. The practice has loose origins going back to pagan rituals thousands of years ago. The Babylonians and Romans made similar promises of change to their gods each year, and it would seem that those sorts of positive personal vows are a common thread across time and different cultures.

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5 Reasons Some Outsiders Hate on Texas

Categories: Random Ephemera

Photo by Almond Butterscotch

Texas gets picked on a lot by people who don't live here. Often the butt of unkind jokes, the Lone Star State was picked as the most hated in the United States in a 2013 Business Insider poll, so it's clear that at least a few people don't have a kind view of this state or its people.

Yes, I realize that many of us don't care what these negative creeps think. That's a very Texan attitude, a sort of "kiss my ass" defensiveness that is understandable considering the crappy attitude some people have about Texas. So what are some of the reasons many outsiders seem to dislike us?

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8 Odd Things I Noticed When I Bought a Motorcycle

Categories: Random Ephemera

Photo by Chris Lane
Certain Motorcyclists Started Treating Me Differently When I Bought This Bike.
Buying a motorcycle for the first time exposes a person to a huge new world of experiences - Some directly related to the act of riding a motorized, two-wheeled vehicle on roads shared by sometimes terrible drivers rolling through town in huge metal boxes, and others involving motorcycle culture in general. So what can a motorcycle newbie expect when they ride out of the dealership on a new bike? Let's take a look.

8. You Will Hear Lots of Horror Stories About Riding Motorcycles.

One of the first things almost anyone contemplating riding a motorcycle will hear from someone - a spouse, parent, friend, or family member is how dangerous riding a motorcycle is. Sometimes these dire warnings come from near strangers upon hearing you ride a bike (or want to). The worst of those warnings will come with a horrific anecdote or two, like "Remember when the Anderson kid hit the back of that truck and got his head chopped off?"

And it's true, riding motorcycles can be a dangerous activity, especially while navigating busy Houston streets. More on that shortly. But after a point, hearing about how dangerous something you are set on doing can be just gets tiresome. Any responsible new rider should accept that riding motorcycles can be dangerous, and then take as many steps as possible to make his or her riding safer. But yeah, be prepared to hear lots of horror stories, and the suggestion that you will surely die a fiery death mangled into pulp from lots of people you know. On that note...

7. You'll Quickly Realize That Lots of People Drive Poorly.

I don't think it's a controversial observation that a lot of people here tend to drive like irresponsible idiots, speeding 20 miles over the limit, swerving in and out of lanes, while texting or talking on their cell phones. Safely maneuvering though an environment like that can be a challenge, especially for someone without a lot of experience on two wheels. Intersections and traffic situations that seem perfectly safe from within a car start to look alarmingly dangerous on a motorcycle. The change in perspective can be huge.

Motorcyclists routinely encounter terrible drivers on the road, and it tends to make a person cautious. Pulling alongside a huge truck with a bunch of dents on one side? My mind always assumes that person keeps hitting stuff, and I immediately try to put distance between myself and him. And when you know that a bad encounter with a car and a motorcycle is probably worth a trip to the hospital instead of just a mild fender bender, it tends to change a person's perspective.

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