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Best Air
Home Respiratory and Pharmacy

Even in her pristine, natural state, Central Texas is an allergy locus. And with air quality steadily worsening in recent years as a result of pollution, Austin can be especially rough for folks with breathing difficulties. The home boys at Home Respiratory have only been on the home-med-supplies scene for a year, but their personal service and genuine customer care make them the logical choice for big ticket home-health items that serve the lungs. They specialize in nebulizers, oxygen, and CPAP machines for sleep apnea sufferers, and also carry supplies for diabetics. Dare we say it? Home Respiratory makes us breathe easier …

Home Respiratory and Pharmacy, 4211 Medical Parkway, 512/452-0004

Best Arachnid Wrangler
David Moellendorf

Looking for a specific tarantula? A Tiger Rump Doppleganger, perhaps, or a Big Bend Gold Carapace? Craving a live specimen of Hadogenes Troglodytes, the big scorpion with the Dr. Seuss-looking tail, or maybe an Amblypigid with whips over a foot long? We've got your source: David Moellendorf, who works out of the Zoo Keeper exotics shop at Burnet Road & Highway 183, has over 22 years of arachnological experience (and the scars to prove it) and either has what you're looking for or, probably, knows where to find it. He's such a nice, cheery guy for someone so familiar with the creepy-crawlers, it's little wonder he's got a portable exhibit available for classes and birthday parties, too.

Zoo Keeper, 9012-C Research, 512/453-8800

Best Clock Repair
Bob Larson's Old Timer Clock Shop

Yep, this Bob Larson is that same Bob Larson of Austin City Council fame. When it’s time to fix our clocks (especially when we’re watching our wallet), we wind up at the Old Timer Clock Shop. Whether it’s a grandfather clock or our grandmother’s Timex, these friendly folks will make sure your second hand runs first rate.

Bob Larson's Old Timer Clock Shop, 512/451-5016

Best Concrete-Staining Artist
Tiffany Hill of Cutting Edge Concrete

photo by John Anderson

Slab foundations don't seem to enjoy the same cachet as their pier-and-beam counterparts. Pier-and-beam homes have hardwood flooring, usually preferred to concrete. Well, a number of local artists have made the art of concrete-staining accessible to the masses, and now, instead of hiding those hideous slabs, folks are opting to show them off. Many different concrete contractors measured our rooms and offered estimates, but we chose Tiffany Hill of Cutting Edge Concrete. It was a match made in heaven. Tiffany not only has the mad skillz to clean, surface, score, stain, and seal your concrete in a variety of colors, designs, and finishes, but she is also a visionary artist. She'll turn your floor into a work of art. Plus, she is terrific at listening and manifesting a client's own vision or specific design, as well. So, if you are wanting to get rid of that nasty wall-to-wall carpeting, call Cutting Edge. Their commitment to creating tasteful, elegant interiors is set in stone.

Cutting Edge Concrete, 512/844-0962

Best Emergency Room Assistance
Brackenridge Hospital

Public ERs get a bad rap – but when you're feeling bad enough to go to an ER, you're probably not going to be too happy anywhere. As a public hospital, Brack sees its fair share of horrible emergencies ... and treats them with profound caring and consideration. But more often, it's the everyday broken bones and assorted illnesses that bring most of us there ... and we are treated with the same kind of profound caring and consideration. The staff at Brack excels in doing what is surely one of the most difficult jobs on Earth.

Brackenridge Hospital, 601 E. 15th, 512/324-7000,

Best In-Home Computer Repair
Mobile Nerds

When Donald Lopez bought out Mobile Nerds a few months ago, he brought with him the firsthand experience of working in customers' homes. His emphasis on reliable and fast service makes the Nerds most valuable for the home computer users (or even in the office). Go ahead. Invite a Nerd over today. You'll be running at optimum speed in no time.

Mobile Nerds, 3605 Ruby Red, 512/238-6776

Best Inner-City Paradise
Ted's Trees

photo by John Carrico

Enter between the stone lions on Tillery, and you are in an unexpected Eden. Hop on a golf cart and be treated to a tour of a 10-acre tree farm where the majority of the plants are native, and a staff of 45 men tend to trees as tenderly as they would babies. They won’t mind if you spend hours walking through the crepe myrtles, magnolias, and palms with your mind in the branches. Ted’s Trees is a family business that specializes in commercial and residential trees, plants, and the delicate craft of transplanting. “When it's time to go, the tree’s gotta say bye. But we go real slow and gentle, we take good care of the roots, so he feels good and feels all right,” says foreman Randy Lopez. You, too, will feel good and all right after visiting this East Austin urban paradise.

Ted's Trees, 1118 Tillery, 512/928-8733,

Best Last-Minute Massage
TIE: Morningstar Trading Company, Castle Hill Specialized Fitness

Some mornings you wake up stiff … and it’s not a good thing. Maybe you slept wrong. Maybe you worked all night at your computer on a crazy deadline. Get thee to a massage, your body cries out, and make it snappy. Austin has more massage therapists per square mile than any city in this nation, yet many of them are booked weeks in advance. (We are a city that loves to be rubbed.) So if you wake up one day with a crick in your neck or shooting pains in your lower back, and your regular masseuse is busy, call Morningstar or Castle Hill Fitness, and you’ll get top-notch relief. Expect a variety of massage techniques, from cranial sacral to myofascial release; the repertoire, and the cast of therapists, is diverse. It’s not that both of these places don’t get booked weeks in advance, like a favorite fancy restaurant – they’re somewhat small, and they do – it’s that they often have openings just when you need them the most. And that puts the cherry right on top.

Morningstar Trading Company, 1117 W. Fifth, 512/476-1727

Castle Hill Fitness, 1112-B N. Lamar, 512/478-4567,

Best Low-Income Medical Services
City of Austin Medical Assistance Program

The only thing worse than being down on your luck is being sick and down on your luck. The city of Austin's Medical Assistance Program (MAP) offers eligible enrollees excellent medical care in several different facilities. From prenatal to geriatric, finding your way around low-income health care is easy when you have a MAP.

City of Austin Medical Assistance Program, 100 N. I-35 #2000, 512/972-5200

Best Mothers' Little Helper
Heart of Texas Doulas

Doulas guide moms-to-be through the strange and transforming land of childbirth, and beyond. The care from this mothers' advocate during childbirth cuts, by an astounding percentage, the need for complicated medical intervention and the use of pain medications. The mission of these compassionate caregivers is to provide physical, emotional, and educational support to women during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Schooled in methods of drug-free pain relief and focus techniques, doulas serve to protect and maintain the sacred space around the new or expanding family. Bless yourself and your baby with help from a doula on one of your most significant days. Call her in after the birth to get you through those first exhausting weeks. You deserve it, mama.

Heart of Texas Doulas,

Best No-Bull Car and Body Repair
Unlimited Auto Repair

Mak and Karl got it going on down at Unlimited, the shop with the funky muffler sculpture out front. They're glad to show you what's wrong with your vehicle, and, if it's minor, they don't make up some story about you needing major repairs. Their hands are always dirty, too – excellent sign of great mechanics. They don't care if you drive a 2003 Mercedes or a 1985 Subaru wagon – they are equal-opportunity vehicle geniuses.

Unlimited Auto Repair, 4500 Duval St., 512/473-2317

Best Online Source for Not Stepford Moms

Ever feel like raising children is, yes, wonderful, but also kind of terrible sometimes? You'd never know anyone else feels the same way, to read most parenting publications. They're chock full of how-blissed-out-am-I-now-that-I-have-this-adorable-baby blatherings. Recipes for low-fat chicken fingers. "Best Birthday Party Ever!" decorating ideas. How to make play dough at home. Useless parenting advice for the clueless. Austinmama is a welcome antidote to all that marching in Supermommy lockstep, offering a look at the childrearing experience (and, duh, the rest of your life, too) that's a little more grounded in the truth, and far more interesting to read. Each week's features at least two essayists (many of whom are the Chronicle's former finest ), such as Spike Gillespie, Adrienne Martini, Robin Bradford, and Penny Van Horn. Male voices — Stephen J. Lyons and Michael Nabert — add to the mix. Need a new mama friend (who doesn't)? Find one on the message boards or in Yahoo! groups and head out for the new, weekly gathering of mamas at Ruta Maya. And yes, there are recipes, but for stuff like Persian Noodle Soup and Fettucine With Garlic Shrimp and Basil Mint Pesto. It's all put together under the critical eye of mama and alumna Kim Lane., 512/301-9871,

Best Pane-in-the-Glass Remedy
Binswanger Glass

Let's say you accidentally put a chair (or fist or rock) through the window of that lovely 1935 cottage you're renting. And let's say you'd rather not get the landlord involved. No problem. Cough up roughly 100 clams, and the nice folks at Binswanger's will drive to your house, finish breaking out what's left of the window, put a new one in, and be out of your hair in under an hour. Plus, when you call for an appointment, they can usually show up the next day, unlike the cable guy. Very cheerful. Very helpful. The joy of pane.

Binswanger Glass, 300 S. Lamar, 512/472-2421,

Best Place to Go When You Haven't Got Time for the Pain
Integrative Pain Services

The name says it all. Integrative. Dr. Mark White is the genius behind Integrative Pain Services, which has been serving Austin since 1999. Dr. White is an osteopath whose background includes anesthesiology and acupuncture for physicians. He has specialized in pain management since 1996. All of which is to say that Dr. White knows how to treat your pain. Utilizing a range of therapies from the usual medication and cortisone injections to the more unusual such as radio-frequency procedures, IPS will find a way to improve your quality of life. An osteopath treats the whole person, not just a collection of symptoms. The onus is then on the patient to trust the doctor and try something new. We can only speak from our own experiences living with chronic pain, but we felt like we were let out of a cage. We wouldn’t let just anyone tinker with our spine, either. If you’ve been living with an intolerable amount of pain, get thee to Integrative Pain Services and let the expert Dr. White and staff free you.

Integrative Pain Services, 4807 Spicewood Springs Rd., 512/795-9977

Best Place to Kick It
Austin Recovery

Per capita, the Austin area has the highest rates of alcohol and illicit drug use and problems in Texas. Shame and the stigma of being an addict keep too many people from seeking the help they need. At Austin Recovery, you’ll find the nonjudgmental, compassionate care you’ve been praying for. For more than 30 years, AR has helped detox and rehabilitate thousands of Austinites. They offer detox services (usually an eight-day commitment) and 30-day inpatient programs for men, women, and women with children each in their own separate facility. There’s also an outpatient program if you can’t walk away from your world for a month. So don’t waste any more of your precious life, get help now. You are worth it. Give yourself and your family a break, and go for it.

Austin Recovery, 8402 Cross Park Dr., 512/997-0101,

Best Reason Not to Have a Cell Phone
Courtesy Phones Around Town

Call us old-fashioned, but we don’t own a cell phone. Too much hassle and just a little too precious for our sensibilities. And really, who needs one, when there are so many courtesy phones around town? Inside each Central Market, Whole Foods, Kinko’s, and Austin's own Wheatsville Co-op, you can find a little-used, 100%-free, please-dial-nine-for-an-outside-line, public phone. There’s even one in Trianon, a little coffee shop on Far West. With all these locations, there’s practically a free phone in every corner of the city. So next time you need to make an emergency call (or just find out if you’re bringing the guacamole to a party), take advantage of the courtesy phone, our city’s gift to Those Without a Cell Phone.

Central Market North, 4001 N. Lamar, 512/206-1000,

Central Market South, 4477 S. Lamar, 512/899-4300,

Whole Foods Market, 9607 Research #300, 512/345-5003,

9 more locations

Best Sheet-Metal Specialist
Pat's Sheet Metal

Needed: One 4-foot-by-4-foot slab of noncorrugated sheet metal for a senior thesis. Recommended: Pat’s. One of the only places in town that handles even the most modest of jobs. No sheet too small! Plus, the friendly service and helpful advice is thrown in for no extra charge.

Pat's Sheet Metal, 601 E. Seventh, 512/478-3672

Best Ticket to Ride
Capital Metro's Tour the Town Bus Service

This weekend bus route provides a link between popular tourist attractions from the University of Texas to Barton Springs Pool. Designated as Route 470, the bus winds past several museums, public gardens, and popular restaurants, and it services downtown hotels. The special transit service runs every 45 minutes on Saturday, between 10am and 6pm, and Sunday, from 11am to 6pm, for the bargain fare of 50 cents.

Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 2910 E. Fifth, 512/389-7400,

Best Training for "None of the Above" Occupations
Austin Community College

It shouldn't really be a surprise that the community college of the Live Music Capital of the World would offer classes on the commercial music industry – or that they are proposing a degree plan in it. But ACC is pretty special, considering less than 10 (nontech) schools nationwide have programs that teach audio engineering, the legal aspects of the entertainment industry, and the nuances of music publishing. And this is only one of the many possibilities Austin Community College students have, beyond the more traditional track of just building up transfer credits. ACC should be recognized for its variety of excellent, unusual classes and vocational programs that offer alternatives to the usual college fare.

Austin Community College, 817 W. 12th, 512/474-7528,

Austin Community College Bookstore, 817 W. 12th, 512/474-7528

Austin Community College Rio Grande Campus, 1212 Rio Grande, 512/223-3000

2 more locations

Best Vehicle Inspectors
Alan's Vehicle Inspections

It's easy to miss this little inspection shack on Lamar, but it's worth looking to find it. The inspectors (Hi, Ben!) are chilled dudes, and the in-house dog is ever-cheerful, too. You're in and out fast, and even if you don't pass the first time, they'll break it to you real easy. The whole experience is very preboom Austin.

Alan's Vehicle Inspections, 5253 N. Lamar, 512/323-6763,

Most Divine Chairs on Earth

photo by John Carrico

When Carolyn Carlson and Dale Sengelmann of the design firm Meringue offer you a chair, they don't just mean "have a seat." Meringue's approach to seating is all about presentation – as long as we have to sit, why not sit in luxury and style? Magnificent fabrics and gorgeous lines make a Meringue chair a piece of art. They were a sensation at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, and Elle magazine is featuring Meringue's Soho Spank chair in their September issue. Meringue is designing a suite at the famous Chelsea, the historic hotel of the hip in New York City, and their work is in the homes of luminaries such as Madonna. Meringue – another firm putting Austin on the map of international design.

Meringue, 411 Brazos, 512/755-5509,

Most Hopeful Place
The Wright House Wellness Center

photo by John Carrico

Work, kids, traffic, laundry, bills … hard, right? Well, imagine handling all that while coping with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or hepatitis C. You end up with work, kids, traffic, laundry, really big bills, chronic pain, crushing fear, sterile doctors' offices, a sense of isolation. Now imagine a refuge – a lovely house surrounded by trees, filled with compassionate folks offering gentle, holistic therapies and a healthy dose of hope. From acupuncture to yoga, from prevention programs to long-term-survivor support groups, the Wright Wellness Center may not be what the doctor ordered, but it's the best house call in town.

The Wright House Wellness Center, 8101 Cameron #105, 512/467-0088,

Most Indulgent Place to Spend a Day
Bella Salon

With a quirky luxury that's funky and fabulous, Bella's attention to detail provides a luxuriously indulgent experience from head to toe. From cutting-edge hairdressing and wondrous products to top-notch skin care and deeply satisfying spa treatments, Bella has a stellar reputation among its enormous clientele. With a cafe and beautifully appointed lounging areas, you'll never want to leave.

Bella Salon, 1221 W. Sixth, 512/474-5999

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