Wanna have a tantrum and smash something? Be her guest

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It’s a tough time to be in Houston right now. Ninety-degree weather, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and the oil and gas sector has been stagnating for the last 18 months. Eighty thousand people have gotten laid off, including Shawn Baker.

“I didn’t see it coming at all, not one bit, and I was very devastated, and I’m still very bitter about it, very bitter,” Baker said.

She took that frustration and decided after 25 years in the oil industry to finally become her own boss. She started a company called Tantrums LLC.

She bought a warehouse and converted it into five small rooms she fills with defunct electronics, glass bottles and anything that will break. For close to $3 a minute, she’ll help you pick out a tool, like a sledgehammer, a baseball bat or a lead pipe, and let you destroy everything in the room.

Television sets are available for trashing.

Television sets are available for trashing.

“Everybody’s had enough at some point of their day or their life or whatever, and so when you come in here, you can be as aggressive as you want in the privacy of your own room. You can let it out or whatever it is you’re in here for, and you don’t have to clean up,” Baker said.

Baker got the idea for the business a few years ago when she saw a few guys beating up some furniture behind a bar.

“I just thought it was genius,” Baker said. “I could see me doing it.”

There’s not much Baker can do about the downturn in oil and gas, but she feels she can help people cope.

“There’s a lot of stress in this city because we’re the energy capital, and there are lot of layoffs happening,” Baker said.

One of her customers, Lance Nolan, is a mid-level manager at a drilling chemical company outside of Houston. Work’s been tough lately.

“We actually had a fracking division and we had to shut it down, had to lay off 35 people the other day,” Nolan said.

That’s why Nolan’s wife, Holly McClellan, decided to bring him to Tantrums LLC as a surprise. They both work in oil and gas, and they care for Porter, their 10-month-old daughter.

Before Nolan starts smashing his room, Baker leads him to the safety equipment.

“The face masks are optional, but you have to wear safety glasses and you have to protect your hands, and [wear] closed-toe shoes and long pants,” Baker said.

Lance Nolan smashes into a TV. When he’s not pulverizing electronics with a sledgehammer, Lance Nolan is a mid-level manager at a drilling chemical company.

Lance Nolan smashes into a TV. When he’s not pulverizing electronics with a sledgehammer, Lance Nolan is a mid-level manager at a drilling chemical company.

Pulverizing electronics and glass objects is relatively safe, Baker said. Every so often customers walk out with cuts and scrapes, which they wear as badges of honor.

Entire offices, as well as couples and friends, come in here for team-bonding activities. If you give her some advance notice, Baker will even set up a themed room for you. A few weeks ago she had a teacher who wanted a replica of his classroom. When he walked out, Baker was surprised to find the room intact.

It turns out the teacher just wanted to scream.

Sledgehammer in hand, Lance Nolan has 15 minutes to smash a room full of glass bottles, an orange schoolroom chair, a bunch of porcelain knick-knacks and a giant TV.

When his session is over,  Nolan comes out drenched in sweat, with a big smile on his face.  He’s out of breath, but he feels good.

His wife tells him next time, it’s his turn to watch the baby. She wants a turn with the sledgehammer.

Oil bust forces Texas H-1B visa holders to exit country

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Twenty thousand workers have been laid off this year in the oil and gas industry across the country as the price of oil has slumped. The cutbacks are especially hard for foreign workers here on what are known as H-1B visas. For them, getting laid off doesn’t just mean leaving the office, it means leaving the country.

Scottish-born Graeme Slaven loves living in Katy, Texas.

“We like the fact that it’s easy to make friends here, we like the fact that the education system is fantastic,” Slaven said. “We enjoy being able to live in a house that for the same price back in the U.K. would be about a third or a quarter of the size.”

Slaven had survived several rounds of layoffs at the oil and gas security company where he worked for seven years. When his bosses called him into their office a few weeks ago, he wasn’t surprised. “I wasn’t in shock then, I could read the situation,” he said.

 The same thing had happened to a lot of the friends he met at his local golf club. In just a few months, he saw his entire expat community shrink.

“I actually got to the point where I couldn’t face going to any more going-away parties,” Slaven said. “They were happening with increasing regularity.”

Before getting a pink slip, Slaven was in line to get a green card. He owns a home, his sons play on local soccer teams. His youngest, Niall, who’s 9, has lived here since he was a toddler. “There are only, like, two people that I know in Scotland,” he said.

Slaven and his expat friends used to play golf at the Willow Fork Country Club.

“Every Friday during Lent we had fish and chips, and we had a big crowd that showed up for that,” club manager Richard Rowell said. “You know, if an Englishman tells you the fish and chips are pretty good, you have a thumbs up.”

The exodus of foreign oil workers has hit the club pretty hard in the last few months.

“Eighty to 100 families have relocated to their home country primarily because of job changes and changes in the economy,” Rowell said.

Graeme Slaven has a type of visa called an H-1B. Eighty-five thousand of them are allotted every year to professional workers through quotas to different countries.

Immigration attorney Ken Harder said once a foreign worker is laid off, they have few legal options.

“Much like Capt. Kirk might be beamed up by Scotty, in theory, when an H-1B worker is terminated from employment, he should vaporize and disappear,” Harder said.

Harder’s firm has seen the impact of low oil and gas prices directly.

“I would say since 8 a.m. on January 4th, the first business day this year, we’ve been furiously busy dealing with inquiries both from companies that need to downsize, as well as individuals who have been or are about to be downsized, so it’s been a real profound issue given the local economy here in Houston these last few months,” Harder said.

Slaven has a slim margin of hope. If he can find another employer willing to sponsor him, he can stay — but he knows that’s unlikely.

“The best-case scenario is a miracle,” Slaven said, “that somebody else is interested in employing me. The chances of that at this point in time are slim.”

A quick search on a job board turns up just a few companies willing to sponsor H-1B visas. Most of those companies are in IT, which is not a field Slaven has experience in.

Right now he’s trying to figure out a way to stay in the U.S. until the end of the school year, before he moves his family back to Scotland — a move he’s trying desperately to avoid.

Growing Up Latino and Disabled

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When there is a disability or a difficult diagnosis in your family, the journey can be tough. Research suggests that for Latinos with disabilities, families play an important role in either helping or hurting someone’s ability to live successfully and independently. In this story, we meet one family confronting those challenges.

Houston Is A Leader In The Funeral Industry

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If you’ve ever worked in the funeral industry, you know exactly who Bob Waltrip is. Waltrip is the John Rockefeller of funerals. He’s the godfather of the funeral industry.

Drive north of downtown Houston and you’ll find the National Museum of Funeral History. The museum’s main benefactor is Service Corporation International, the largest funeral home conglomerate in the world.

Museum director Genevive Keeney says the site is home to the burial plots of some of the world’s most influential entertainment figures.

“So I have just a little of everything in here, I mean there’s just like I say a century overload we pay tribute to cowboys, cowgirls that were in the film industry,” Keeney says. “Of course we have Marilyn Monroe…”

The museum is massive – some 35,500 square feet, featuring a dozen interactive exhibits. And it’s actually not as morbid as you’d think.

“This is a living, breathing kind of museum, I mean exhibit within the museum, that we consistently keep it updated as more people in the entertainment industry pass away,” Keeney says.

So why would the largest funeral company and the National Museum of Funeral History be in Houston and not New York or Los Angeles? Service Corporation International spokesperson Phil Jacobs says it’s all about personal preference

“Well, you know, those are all nice cities and they’re good markets for us, but Mr. Waltrip was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and this is his home and this is where it is,” Jacobs says.

Waltrip revolutionized the funeral industry by doing something no mom-and-pop shop had ever done before– he started buying as many funeral homes and cemeteries as he could. Now SCI is a publicly-traded company worth three billion dollars.

“So, Mr. Waltrip grew up in a family that had one funeral home here, in Houston, Texas, and he just grew up in his family’s funeral business, and overtime, assumed the management of this location in the 1950’s,” Jacobs says. “He worked with his mom and dad, and then he began to buy additional funeral homes in the 60’s.”

To train employees to work in his 22,000 funeral homes, Waltrip founded one of the top mortician schools in the country, also based in Houston. At the museum, Keeny says people don’t know that Houston dominates the funeral industry because we don’t like to talk about death.

“We tend to sweep the subject under the rug. We don’t really want to deal with it or think about it.”

But if you do think about it, Keeney says, you could have the best funeral ever.

“Your casket, your urn, your tribute video, your memorial folder, what you’re going to wear. The sky is the limit.”

Actually, the sky isn’t the limit. There’s a company called Celestis Memorial that will shoot your ashes up to space. Guess where it’s based.

In Southwest Houston, There Are More Sari Stores Than Starbucks

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Farrah Akhtar says there’s no such thing as getting a quick sari.

“No, no, no, you want to try everything on, then you need the jewelry the shoes, and then you want to bargain and then you might not be happy with the deal, so you’ll go somewhere else,” Akhtar says.

Akhtar is a community manager for Yelp, and a sari store insider. Our first stop is Poshak, off of Interstate 69. Owner Anas Ahmed gives us the grand tour.

“Let me show you where my saris are kept,” Ahmed says. “So, the side you were on was our fabrics and shoes, this is our bridal and designer studio.”

There’s a few ways to buy a sari here: ready-to-wear, or you could pick out some vibrantly colored cloth and have it sent to their in-house tailor, or – if you have a couple hundred dollars burning a hole in your pocket – they’ll design one for you from scratch.

“The design process could take up to a week,” Ahmed says. “You basically sit down, you pick out your threads, you pick out your fabrics and we show you the thread and the work and the beading, and she sketches everything in front of you and you can see your patterns and you can actually see what you’re imagining, and then we move on forward from that.”

Poshak’s designer Sameera Faridi will travel to Pakistan to hand-deliver your order, where it will be hand died, sewn and beaded. Three months later, she’ll get back on a plane to pick it up.

Ahmed says business has really picked up since the store opened eight years ago. He says their clientele is as diverse as Houston.

“We have white people coming in all the time, and I wouldn’t just say white, we have multi-ethnicities, multi-religious,” Ahmed says. “We have Arabs coming in, we have Middle Eastern folks, we have people coming in from European also, and a lot of island people – because they have Indian heritage – who want to do a mix and match of all their color schemes,”

Poshak’s boutiquey specialization contrasts with Houston’s sari warehouses, which boast huge selections of ready-to-wear saris.

Roop Sari Palace is about the size of a Texas supermarket.

“This is all their stuff, massive, you could spend hours in here,” Akhtar says.

On a weekday lunch, about 40 women browse through the racks. This part of town was designated the Mahatma Gandhi District in 2010, and is known for its South Asian restaurants and sari shops.

“In the South, definitely there is very little competition in other states,” Ahmed says. “You go to Alabama, Louisiana even up to Atlanta, very few people have as many options as you would in Houston.”

“From here down you can stop by at least a dozen stores and they’re all loaded and they’re full.”

Ahmed says a lot of his customers buy outfits in Houston and then wear them in Pakistan.

Although Ahktar has never been to Pakistan, she says she loves a good sari.

“This is the traditional sari the three piece style that I love, I just think it’s so elegant,” Akhtar says while examining a bright blue and pink style.

She’s found a few saris that she likes here, but she’s not buying; sometimes the hardest part of buying a sari is finding the perfect event to match.

Job Growth Spurs Temporary Housing Market In Houston

6-exterior-e1425954687996Get the full story on the Texas Standard 

 

Imagine waking up in your luxury apartment. There’s a knock at the door – in wheels some scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, a gourmet breakfast delivered. Every morning.

And your company’s paying for all of it.

That could be the reality for some Houston transplants — as early as June. If David Redfern has his way. He’s the president of Waterwalk.

“Waterwalk specifically is one part apartment, one part corporate housing and one part upscale extended stay hotel,” Redfern says.

While anyone who can afford the base rent of $2,ooo a month is welcome, Redfern has one specific customer in mind.

“Our customer is the people that are traveling for those types of business trips and so that tends to be companies that have relocations, trainings and projects,” Redfern says.

Houston added more than 100,000 jobs in the last 12 months and hosted more than 4 million business travelers. Forty-one percent of those jobs were in the energy and healthcare fields.

Relocation specialist and writer Michelle Sandlin says all those business travelers need a place to stay.

“Houston has a lot of temporary housing providers offering various products and there’s always been, for the last few years, an inventory shortage in that regard,” Sandlin says.

“So, I would imagine anybody coming into that market offering this type of product and service would certainly be welcome in the community.”

More than 5,000 energy-related firms in Houston compete for some of the best talent in the country. And when you’re trying to woo someone to your team, every little luxury counts.

“We deliver breakfast to each room, each apartment, we provide obviously housekeeping, we have a car service that will take people wherever they need to go,” Redfern says.

“It’s kind of a level of pampering you don’t get these days.”

Once the Houston property is up and running, Waterwalk plans on expanding to Austin, San Antonio and Dallas/Fort Worth.

“Well, Houston has had and Texas has had a steady influx of people moving here for several years, we’ve got population growth that continues to surge,” Sandlin says.

The state demographer says the Texan population will double by 2050. Part of that is projected birth rates, and part is people from all over the world moving here to work. Companies who can ease that transition for new Texas residents look at the statistics and see dollar signs.
 

Local Artists Struggle To Find Affordable Health Care

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William Miller is using his studio in the Heights for some decidedly uncreative things. His health insurance runs out next month, and he has to figure out a way to make things work. He’s HIV positive and borderline diabetic, which puts him in a high risk pool. This is the first time he’s without a safety net.

He got laid off from his job as a graphic designer last year and now he pursues his art full time. He estimates he’d have to sell 9 paintings a month to pay for the level of care he has now.

“It’s expensive, there’s no other word for it, it’s expensive. You know, they used to say well make sure that your rent and other expenses are like 25 percent of what you’re bringing in. Well, you add healthcare to that and it’s double, triple that.”

He’s thinking about getting a part-time job at Starbucks just for the benefits. But that would take him away from his studio, so he’s looking for other options. He found Legacy, a community clinic in Montrose that’s willing to treat him.

They’re helping him apply for federal coverage under a grant for HIV positive patients. If that doesn’t work out, they have a sliding scale fee structure for their uninsured clients.

Kimberley Paulus is with Legacy. She says their Montrose clinic serves many people in Houston’s entertainment industry.

“The artist community is such an important part of Montrose and our culture here in Houston and an interesting component of that is oftentimes those people face difficult access to care. Many of our fine artists and musicians go insured or underinsured.”

Legacy has been operating in Houston for 30 years, it played a key local role in the 80’s AIDS crisis. Now they’re a federally qualified health center. They provide preventative care, dental, pediatric — the works.

They say they’re trying to combat the sick, starving artist stereotype. Legacy says the situation has gotten a bit better since The Affordable Care Act started kicking in. Young people can stay on their parent’s insurance until they’re 26 and it’s easier to get coverage from a spouse. But for artists like Miller who don’t fall under those categories, it’s tough.

“Medicine costs so much, appointments cost so much, blood work costs so much, so do you decide to spend the money on that or the rent for your studio? Do you spend it on materials so you can sell more art — there always seems to be that trade-off.”

Freelancers in other cities have organized to buy health insurance as a group, but that’s yet to happen in Houston. For the meantime, the people behind Houston’s vibrant arts community are finding their own ways to get healthcare, even if that means staying uninsured.

Rice Students Make A Better Cup Of Space Coffee

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When Astronauts drink coffee in space, it’s hardly a gourmet experience. Like all liquids aboard the International Space Station, coffee comes freeze dried in an aluminum pouch. Astronauts rehydrate the pouch with hot water from a dispenser and drink through a leak-proof straw. The problem is that they can’t add anything to it because it might leak and damage the equipment. For now, there are just four ways astronauts can have their premixed coffee: black, with lots of sugar, lots of cream, or lots of both.

That’s how the Texas Space Grant Consortium described the problem to Rice students Robert Johnson, Benjamin Young and Colin Shaw in their Intro to Engineering class.

From the start, they started imagining what it would feel like for their design to go into space. This is Shaw:

“I think in first grade when I assembled all of the Jupiter and all of its moons. I thought being an Astronaut would be pretty cool. Since then I have toned down my dreams a little bit to just send stuff to the ISS.”

Throughout the year, Shaw’s team developed a system using aluminum pouches and a 3D printed roller to help Astronauts customize their coffee.

They had to develop a way to pour exact amounts of cream and sugar into coffee without the use of gravity. They started by putting creamer and sugar into aluminum pouches. They adapted NASA’s leak-proof straws to link the pouches together. Then they designed a special roller to push the condiments out of the bag. It looks like those plastic gadgets used to squeeze the last drops of toothpaste out of a tube.  The execution? It’s pretty easy.

First you add hot water to the coffee pouch. And then…

“I connect the pouch to pouch adapter from the coffee pouch to the sugar pouch. I unclip the clamp and start proportioning my sugar.”

A few cranks of the roller and the sugar is pushed into the coffee through the special straw. The lines on the pouch tell you exactly how much is going in. Same with the non-dairy creamer.

“I mix it around a little bit, unclip the clamp, and drink.”

Compared to the condiment bar at Starbucks, it might seem complicated, but the students say it’s a small sacrifice for the ability to make a perfectly blended drink. They hope that with more testing their invention will be ready to go up to the International Space Station.

NASA has told them that it might have other uses, like any time a precise amount of liquid has to be dispensed without the help of gravity, for example with IVs.

Friends Of The American Latino Museum Hold First Town Hall In Houston

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There are currently 12 museums on the National Mall and one more under construction. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is scheduled to open in 2015. A group of activists is now urging the Smithsonian to build another ethnic museum, this one to celebrate Latino contributions to the U.S.

The idea for a National Latino museum was borne in 1990 when a task force reported the Smithsonian was largely ignoring Latinos in its exhibits. At the time, out of the 470 “notable Americans” in the National Portrait Gallery, only 2 were Latino.

Since then, the Smithsonian designated an internal office devoted to including Latino stories within the existing framework.

But The Friends of The American Latino Museum say that’s not enough. Estuardo Rodriguez represents the group.

“The truth is there’s so much more out there that simply isn’t being told and instead of pointing fingers, we simply suggest that it’s time for a national museum on the National Mall to fill those gaps.”

Congress is currently reviewing a bill to designate a vacant Smithsonian building as the future home of the American Latino Museum.

Critics of the project say the Smithsonian should stop building specialty museums and should instead concentrate on improving the ones it already has. New museums are expensive, and some argue that ethnic museums promote cultural isolationism.

Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez is a journalism professor at the University of Texas Austin. She says the American Latino Museum isn’t about segregation, it’s about education.

“As long as there’s that lack of awareness, people aren’t going to understand that we’re not all immigrants. We’ve made a lot of contributions to our country, our communities, to our states. And there’s still this sense among people that we’re outsiders; we’re not outsiders.”

Rivas-Rodriguez hopes the museum’s creation will prompt the inclusion Latino-American History in schools all over the country, which she says is sorely lacking. She wants the museum to be a national meeting place, and a symbol of the experiences of the more than 50 million Latinos living in the U.S.