Congressman Gene Green Checked Out the USW Picket Lines This Weekend

Categories: Sole of Houston

Dianna Wray
Congressman Gene Green (center) and USW District 13-1 local president Lee Medley (left) walked the picket line outside of the main gate of Shell Deer Park on Saturday morning while security guards looked on from behind the fence

Shell and USW representatives may be starting another round of negotiations soon, but things are getting more tense on the picket line as the strike drags on. Congressman Gene Green came out on Saturday morning to meet with USW District 13-1 local president Lee Medley and to talk with the people on the picket lines.

So far, USW reps have rejected at least seven contract offers from Shell, and pulled more than 6,500 workers at 15 plants -- with about 5,000 coming from 12 oil refineries -- since the strike started on February 1. Locally, the strike started by pulling union workers out of LyondellBasell, Marathon's Texas City Refinery and Shell Deer Park. The two sides are reportedly butting heads over safety issues, rules that make sure fatigued workers aren't stuck on the job, and contractors. Talks haven't exactly been going well.

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Striking Refinery Workers Hold Rally at Shell HQ

Categories: Sole of Houston

Photo by Max Burkhalter
USW protesters had an old-school rally on Friday outside of the Shell building.

At noon Friday, about 125 United Steel Worker union members gathered across the street from Shell's Houston headquarters. Most arrived on a yellow school bus that pulled up to the curb across the street from One Shell Plaza, a gleaming tower of cream-colored concrete located at 910 Louisiana Street in downtown Houston.

The union members at nine refineries across the United States, including three in the Houston area, have been on strike since 12:01 a.m. Sunday and they show no signs of letting up. These refineries account for about 10 percent of the U.S. refining capacity. USW's national leadership called a strike after negotiations between USW, which is working on behalf of U.S. refinery workers, and the oil industry, which is being represented by Royal Dutch Shell, ended without a new contract. The points of contention are mainly on safety concerns and the amount of overtime employees are expected to work. Union representatives say they still haven't resolved things with the oil industry, and noted that more refineries may go on strike in the coming days.

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Valero Refinery Wants Another Sweet Tax Deal

Categories: Sole of Houston


The Houston City Council is slated to vote Wednesday on whether to allow the only refinery still in Houston city limits to pretend that it's somewhere else entirely, tax-wise. Specifically, Valero Energy wants to remove 168 acres of the refinery's roughly 190-acre site to an industrial district (the refinery can't remove the other acres because that's more than 2,500 feet from the Houston Ship Channel so the acres have to be counted as part of Houston by state law.)

This may all sound like a bunch of pointless property line limbo but of course it's all about the money behind it. The San Antonio-based Valero has never shied away from doing what's necessary to save a few (or a few million) dollars, even though that has meant suing HISD and other school districts to be allowed to use a tax break loophole that would have cut the districts off from millions in funds.

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Open Carry Advocates Plan to March Through the Fifth Ward (Updated)

Categories: Sole of Houston

Photo by Lucio Eastman
Will being armed in the Fifth Ward get more canned food donations?

UPDATE: The Fifth Ward Open Carry March has been postponed because C.J. Grisham can't attend the walk due to a scheduling conflict, specifically another demonstration in Big Spring.

However, the event itself has only been postponed, not cancelled. Grisham says they planned the Fifth Ward event as a way of reaching out to the community and encouraging people in the community to step up and assert their rights where guns are concerned.

He acknowledged the Fifth Ward isn't the most obvious choice to stage an Open Carry Walk (they're usually held on Saturdays at the Galleria or Almeda Mall) but this is about getting in touch with other communities. See, this whole event wasn't intended to be a bunch of white guys showing up in the Fifth Ward, because it was going to be about empowering the community to assert their own gun toting rights. "Somebody's got to stand up and sit at the front of the bus." (The Rosa Parks comparison may have been taking things a little far, we think, but we suppose it's cool they're approaching this as just a pro-gun thing and not a weird racist thing.)

Either way, the Fifth Ward walk won't be happening for a few weeks. David Amad, the chapter organization for the Houston branch of Open Carry, said they will reschedule so that Grisham can attend. Instead, they'll be holding their regularly scheduled Open Carry walk starting at 10 a.m. Saturday at Almeda Mall.

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Houston's Hungry to Dine on Feral Swine

Categories: Sole of Houston

Photo by Texas Parks and Wildlife
Feral hogs, less of a nuisance when they're on the table?

A hog is a hog but a feral hog is widely held to be a pain in the ass. Over half the estimated 2 million to 6 million feral hogs in the United States reside in Texas and they do about $400 milllion worth of damage on an annual basis, according to The Smithsonian.

All of this means that feral hogs are not smiled upon in the Lone Star State. Houston is no exception to what the hogs have done.

Usually the hogs are just killed -- with a bullet, a knife or a good thwack from a very tough pickup truck, whatever works. However, in Houston they're taking a different approach.

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Five Things to Know About the Houston Marathon's Security Measures

Categories: Sole of Houston

The time has come.

A lot has changed since the final person loped across the finish line for the Houston Marathon last year. Namely, a couple of bastards decided to bomb the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring scores of people. The bombing also altered how marathons across the country are now handled, and the Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Half Marathon is no exception..

In this post-Boston world, the 2014 Houston marathon will have a few changes in how things are done. If you're running in the marathon or half marathon, or coming down to to the course to cheer on those who are, here's a head's up on a few things to know.

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UPDATED With Good News: Rushmore's Doug's Barbershop, Heights Institution, Not Closing After All

Still from Rushmore
Jason Schwartzman, as Max Fischer in Rushmore, barbering in Doug's Barber Shop.

Things looked bad for Doug's Barbershop on Friday. The Heights institution -- known for being a continuously working barbershop since 1929 and made even more famous when part of Wes Anderson's 1998 film Rushmore was filmed there -- had received an eviction notice from the owner of the property, J. Conti Interests LLC.

The notice would have forced Doug's Barbershop to close on November 15, proprietor Doug Dreher said. The eviction notice was served because the landlord said Dreher had not paid rent or shown the company proof of insurance, he said. Dreher remembered dropping off the October rent check before going out of town for a few weeks. When he got back to town, just before the end of the month, he was notified that his business, located at 219 East 11th Street, was being evicted in two weeks.

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UPDATED: Doug's Barber Shop, Heights Institution Featured in Rushmore, Closing

Categories: Sole of Houston

Still from Rushmore
Jason Schwartzman, as Max Fischer in Rushmore, barbering in Doug's Barber Shop.

UPDATE: Owner Doug Dreher said he is working on mediation with the company, J. Conti Interests LLC. If they don't succeed, the business will have to move, he said.

Dreher has been renting the establishment for the past 13 years without a problem, until last month. Dreher said he dropped off his rent check before going out of town for a couple of weeks, but the company informed him that they never received a check.

His landlords informed him that they'd been trying to reach him for weeks when they notified him of the eviction, he said. "That one was on me. My employees somehow didn't relay the message," he said.

Dreher has filed for mediation, hoping that the two sides can work things out. "I know customers will follow us if we have to move, but it's the historic aspect of this place. This is where Rushmore was filmed, and I'm pretty sure it's the oldest continuously operating barbershop around," he said.

The lights were on and buzz clippers were whirring, but all was not well Friday morning at Doug's Barber Shop, the storied location made even more famous after it was used extensively in Wes Anderson's 1998 film Rushmore.

Employees didn't deny that it looks like the shop, at 219 East 11th, which has reportedly been in business since 1929, will be closing on November 15. There were two barbers at work and a handful of customers gathered in the shop, but everyone went silent when asked about the shop closing its doors.

The barbers were reluctant to say more or give their names and would only confirm that the barbershop is expected to close, and that they believe the closing is related to a problem with the landlord, J. Conti Interests LLC.

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Man Plans to Run 24 Hours for LINC Houston

Categories: Sole of Houston

Like those guys in the movie, Mark Junkans is about to run. A lot.

You can always put your money where your mouth is, but then there's the put-your-feet-there option.

Mark Junkans, executive director of LINC Houston, is getting literal about the feet thing. On Saturday, Junkans plans to run 24 hours straight to raise $100,000 for LINC Houston programs and the communities LINC serves, according to a release issued Tuesday.

Junkans started LINC Houston in 2002, an organization focused on helping Houston families become self-sufficient. The organization has helped more than 125,000 people and started more than 35 churches, according to the release.

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The Intrepid Walker's Guide to Houston: A Sole of Houston Forerunner, Circa 1975

Categories: Sole of Houston

The Last American City: Douglas Milburn's second pedestrian guidebook to Houston, written in 1979, when pedestrianism here was truly heroic.
(Part one of a planned series...)

As the Preacher says, there's nothing new under the sun, and it turns out I was not the first Houstonian to write about adventures on long walks and/or bike rides in the Bayou City.

More than 30 years prior to my first adventure (a 16-mile slog down Westheimer from West Oaks Mall to Bagby), Douglas Milburn and Eli Zal beat me to the punch with their 1975 booklet Intrepid Walker's Guide to Houston. (Tom Richmond supplied the photos; he went on to Hollywood where he was director of photography for the films Stand and Deliver and A Midnight Clear, among others.)

In truth, my work and the Intrepid guide varied somewhat in approach. Zal and Milburn, a former Rice roommate of Larry McMurtry who went on to edit Houston City magazine and run the lysergic Magellan's Log blog), set out to write a guidebook, albeit one that aspires to literature. (I still don't know what the Sole of Houston series is, exactly.)

Zal and Milburn confined themselves to Montrose, downtown, the museums, the parks along Buffalo Bayou, Rice, Broadacres and Glenwood Cemetery.

After my first trek with Geoffrey Muller, David Beebe and I spent much more time scouring Houston's more touristically neglected roadways, though not ignoring our more famed and salubrious Inner Loop hoods.

By 1979, Zal had left his native Houston, and Milburn carried the torch alone with The Last American City: An Intrepid Walker's Guide to Houston.

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