I USED TO BE ASHAMED to admit that I was born in Houston, that smelly, soulless, murder-plagued wasteland of strip malls. Not anymore. I've been converted, won over by the ambitious downtown renaissance, the small-town feel of the Heights neighborhood, and the stellar Museum District. I've even fallen in love with a roadway, Memorial Drive, a tranquil route from west Houston to downtown that winds through parks and along Buffalo Bayou. But I'm not here to praise the city's well-known charms, like the Disney-designed Space Center Houston, the odd and oft-touted Orange Show, Beer Can House, and Forbidden Gardens, or that consumer paradise the Galleria. This tribute, a belated apology for my past bad-mouthing, celebrates the quirky and the unexpected, the (mostly) unsung gems that make me proud to reclaim my hometown.