Wednesday, August 31, 2005


If only the levees weren't breached, the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina might've been "merely" on the scale of Hurricane Camille.

As it stands now, most of New Orleans is under rising water and the entire city has been ordered to evacuate. Last night, Mayor Ray Nagin announced plans to plug the failed 17th Street Canal levee with airlifted sandbags weren't going to be carried out in time to stop an additional 10 feet of floodwater from possibly inundating the remaining dry ground in Uptown. Fixing the levee system and pumping all that stagnant, dirty water out of the city is just the beginning.

It's plausible that New Orleans proper could ultimately wind up being rendered a historical "shell city" like Venice by the aftermath of this disaster, but that is speculative. What isn't speculative is that hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama have been displaced. Some of them won't be able to return for months, and some won't have homes to go back to. They're going to need all the help they can get.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Down in Houston

I've been spending a lot of free (and not-so-free) time lurking in the Historic Houston forum on Much of the Houston I grew up with has been torn down or remodeled into something I can't recognize, so it's nice to read these posts that confirm my memories weren't all just one big hallucination.

I was especially taken with this wonderful postcard tour of Telephone Road on the southeast side of town. I wonder if that's supposed to be Grady Gaines blowing sax on top of the old Jimmy Menutis club that used to be at the corner of Telephone and Wayside? Most of these buildings were already gone or really run down by the time I got to Houston, but some of them still stand today.

Last night, I went to the library and checked out Down in Houston, a history of Houston's blues scene by Roger Wood with photography by James Fraher. I remember reading reviews of the book when it came out in 2003, but I never had the chance to read it.

I guess August just puts me in a Houston frame of mind.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Hurricane Jones

Since Hurricane Katrina didn't spell the end of New Orleans as we know it, let's unwind with some sordid celebrity tool talk.

Cinematical reports actress Cassandra Peterson, better known as Elvira (Mistress of the Dark), wound up in the hospital to get stitches after losing her virginity to well-endowed singing sensation Tom Jones at age 17.

Peterson, who was working as a Las Vegas showgirl at the time, said, "I ended up with a little tearing, a little bleeding and going to the hospital. I had to get stitches."

The future horror hostess, now 55, settled for Jones after failing to get to Elvis. "Elvis was constantly surrounded by his entourage, and I was only 17, and I'm sure they knew it."

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Katrina and the Airwaves

I was just watching the breathless cable news coverage of Hurricane Katrina a few minutes ago when the following phone exchange was broadcast live from the French Quarter:

Shepard Smith: I'm from Fox News Channel. What are you doing?

New Orleans Man: We're walking our dogs.

Shepard Smith: Why are you still here? I'm just curious.

New Orleans Man: It's none of your fucking business.

Now that's what I call keeping your wits in an emergency. Good luck and godspeed, New Orleans.

S.A. Family Vacation

I went to San Antonio yesterday to hang out with my parents for their 39th anniversary. The tradition is to meet at the Menger Hotel around noon, have lunch at Schilo's Delicatessen, go swimming at the Menger pool (largest pool in downtown San Antonio!) and eat dinner at the Menger's Colonial Room.

As we were winding down from dinner and drinks, I mentioned seeing an outpost of the Coyote Ugly Saloon empire and my mom decided we should go. I've never been to Coyote Ugly because I don't particularly enjoy having my sex drive marketed to. It makes me feel cheap. If I ever do go there, I think it would be best to do so without my mother in tow. My dad agreed wholeheartedly.

Instead, we went to the Ripley's Believe it or Not tourist trap across the street from the Alamo. Our tickets were $48, a ridiculous sum to walk through a gallery of mondo exploitation masquerading as history. I have nothing against exploitation per se, but it shouldn't be so damn expensive. I suppose it was better than Coyote Ugly, though.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

New Business Idea

My ex-wife and I went to the bank yesterday to cash our escrow refund check from the sale of our house. As we were leaving, the teller complimented us on how well we seemed to get along despite being divorced. It wasn't the first time someone we've done post-divorce business with has complimented us on that, either.

While it would be better to get nods for having a healthy long-term relationship, I'm proud of being told I come off like a "good" divorced person. Maybe I can posit myself as an authority on the subject and start giving speeches to church groups and civic organizations.

Friday, August 26, 2005

New US Airways Livery Unveiled

Earlier this week, America West and US Airways jointly unveiled the soon-to-merge airlines' new livery, which will begin flying this fall under the US Airways banner.

It's about as interesting a livery as you'd expect from two faltering airlines about to combine into one big faltering airline. Perhaps they're trying to curry favor with the Bush/Cheney cabal by aping their campaign plane look. In all likelihood, though, it's just mind-numbingly safe design-by-committee. If you have to explain to me what the "swoosh" lines signify, your livery isn't doing its job.

I do like the special classic liveries paying homage to past airlines that have been absorbed into US Airways over the years. It'll be especially nice to see PSA's "smiley face" planes return to the sky.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Pepsi Pushers

Is it just me, or is no one drinking Pepsi anymore unless it goes on deep discount?

Starting this Friday at Albertson's, you can get five 12-packs of Pepsi, Diet Pepsi or Mountain Dew for just $5 with an in-store coupon and a $5 mail-in rebate. You never see 12-packs of Coke products selling for a buck. At those prices, Pepsi is headed downmarket toward Faygo country.

I try not to keep soft drinks in the house anymore, and I don't even remember the last time I drank a Pepsi, but I'm a stone cold sucker for good deals. Knowing I could buy 60 cans of Pepsi for just $5 is like having a monkey on my back. That's how they get you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Get High and Fly Home with Wingman

Would-be drunk (or drugged) drivers in Dallas now have another reason to stay the hell off the road.

Wingman Designated Driver Services dispatches sober drivers on collapsible mini-bikes to ferry drunks and their automobiles home safely. The folding bikes weigh about 65 pounds and fit in the trunk of most cars. Wingman's owner, Brad Relander, eventually wants to expand the service to other cities in Texas.

Hiring a Wingman costs $15 plus $2 per mile, which is comparable to what you'd pay for a cab, but you wake up the next morning alive with your car conveniently parked at your domicile instead of in the empty parking lot of a bar. The $2 per mile fee will add up for folks in the suburbs, but it beats the continuum of potential horrible outcomes related to driving drunk.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Farmers Market Madness

One of the saddest non-starter developments in town right now is the Travis County Farmers Market on Burnet Road. Ever since I first started going there in the early Nineties, it's been increasingly under-utilized with one empty vendor space after another. Now you're lucky to find more than one vendor actually selling fruits and/or vegetables there.

These days, the real farmers market action seems to be out at the Sunset Valley Farmers Market and the Austin Farmers Market at Republic Square Park on Saturday morning, or at the all-organic Boggy Creek Farm Stand in East Austin (closed until October 1). While it's good to see new businesses like Dog Almighty and the Brentwood Tavern giving it a shot at Travis County Farmers Market, to paraphrase the late Clara Peller, where's the produce? It seems to me like the place is just begging for a makeover.

That said, I did buy a $5 basket of tomatoes from the Lightsey Farms booth there on Saturday that has proven to be the sweetest, most succulent bunch of tomatoes I've tasted all summer.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Office Moving Day

I moved into my new cube at work this morning. The room I'm in used to hold five mental patients. Now they've got six state employees crammed in there.

It's actually not as tight as I thought it would be, though. I threw away half of my files before moving in anticipation of not having any space. The cubes don't have privacy panels on the front yet, so I affixed an old bulletin board to the end of my desk and the modular wall with masking tape. It's kind of pathetic looking and possibly even dangerous, but at least I didn't tape a fake door on the carpet like Les Nessman on WKRP.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Dallas EZ's Demolition Photos

A few months ago, the EZ's restaurant housed in a former Kip's Big Boy at the corner of Northwest Highway and Hillcrest in Dallas closed down to make way for an expanded 7-Eleven.

Area preservationists tried to save the building, which was one of Texas' last remaining examples of "Googie" style coffee shop architecture, but the wrecking ball was already in motion. The building and its distinctive sign came down in May.

Randy Carlisle, Scott Dorn and James Davenport took these sad photos of the demolition in progress. The page also has links to photos of other "lost" Dallas area buildings like Big Town Mall, the Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts and the Sportatorium - site of the nationally-broadcast "Big D Jamboree" radio show and numerous wrestling matches.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Wake for Biscuit

The makeshift wake held for Randy "Biscuit" Turner last night at Pedazo Chunk was a poignant testament to the man's far-reaching impact.

There were lots of old friends, plenty of beer and a few firecrackers. KVUE even showed up to do a live remote for the 10pm news. I wonder how that played in the bedroom communities of Williamson County?

Everyone seemed to have a story about Biscuit. Whether it was his own artistic fearlessness or his enthusiastic encouragement of others in their artistic pursuits, he was a true catalyst. Austin might've still had punk rock without Biscuit, but there's no way it would've been as much fun.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Randy "Biscuit" Turner Dies

Randy "Biscuit" Turner, legendary Austin punk singer for the Big Boys, Cargo Cult and Swine King, was found dead in his home yesterday afternoon.

A cover story by Marc Savlov about Biscuit's transition from punk rocker to artist appears in this week's Austin Chronicle. The Statesman reports it was Savlov who looked inside Biscuit's South Austin home and called police. No further details have been released by police or the medical examiner's office at this point.

This is shocking, saddening news. I can't think of anyone who did more to shape the funky, catch-all aesthetic of punk rock music in Austin than Randy "Biscuit" Turner. The music of the Big Boys gave voice to alienated rage, but it was also ambitious, colorful, inviting and fun. The band's battle cry of "Go start your own band!" was an exhortation countless listeners wound up taking to heart.

I got to interview Biscuit in 1993 for a state-of-the-scene story in the Chron. Instead of bemoaning the lost glory days of Raul's, Biscuit talked up all the cool things that were happening right then and there. It was a refreshing change from the standard-issue Austin nostalgia wallow. He continued to grow as an artist long after the Big Boys broke up.

Rest in peace, Biscuit. You will be missed.

UPDATE: Biscuit was to have an art opening at 7pm tonight at Pedazo Chunk, 2009 S. First. The opening will now serve as a wake for friends and fans to pay respects and share stories, of which there are many. Also, Todd Wolfson took the wonderful photo of Biscuit you see above.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Peek-A-Boo and Three Day Stubble

Amid all the coverage of Madonna's multiple fractures, it's easy to forget we're celebrating two semi-notorious music anniversaries right here in Texas this week.

Ten years ago, Travis Higdon's Peek-A-Boo Records released its first vinyl EP - Unsafe At 45 RPM by Higdon's own 1-4-5's. Since then, Peek-A-Boo has released memorable albums by Silver Scooter, the Octopus Project, the Kiss Offs, the Prima Donnas and several other indie-leaning acts with Austin ties. Running a shoestring label out of an apartment through 10 years and 48 releases is no easy feat, as you can see from this 2002 Todd Wolfson photo of Higdon (at right) on the job.

To celebrate Peek-A-Boo's anniversary, Higdon is having a 50% off sale on back catalog items. I highly recommend Silver Scooter's The Other Palm Springs (1997) and the Kiss Offs' Goodbye Private Life (1999), two late Nineties Austin gems now on sale for $6 each.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Houston-born nerd rock pioneers Three Day Stubble (pictured here in an early line-up) celebrate their 25th anniversary tonight at Bottom of the Hill. Their rare debut, 1982's Nerd Rock, only came out on 8-track tape. My favorite Stubble album is 1991's Wafer of Darkness, which I recall went to #1 on the influential KTSB 91.7 Cable FM playlist.

I was fortunate enough to see Stubble play in S.F. back in June, but vocalist Donald the Nut was away in Japan, so my old pal Mr. Positive from the Peenbeets acted as understudy that night and did a very admirable job. I'm sure Donald will be there for the silver anniversary show, which should be disturbingly and amazingly groovy. For proof, here's some QuickTime footage of Donald's infamous pee fountain (NSFW unless you work in a urologist's office).

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Collin County Reds and Blues

Earlier this week, The Dallas Morning News examined the lifestyles of affluent Collin County in a multi-part series called "The Price of Prosperity." I think most of you can read it without needing a big box of tissue nearby.

Located north of Dallas, Collin County is the wealthiest county in Texas and one of the most conservative, yet its red-voting citizens tend to be further in debt than those of other similarly wealthy counties around the U.S. Collin County outpaces the wealthy county pack in the amount of bankruptcy filings, too.

How to explain this seemingly hypocritical disconnect between traditional fiscal conservatism and out-of-control spending?

In interviews with residents, the theme of hyper-consumerism rears its head again and again. One guy speaks of being beckoned to buy stuff at every intersection like a junkie running a gauntlet of dealers. A woman relocating from Sacramento to Plano recalls her SUV-driving neighbors deriding her 1996 Honda Civic. A dad who buys his daughter a 2001 Camaro is held up as a model of thrift.

You don't need to spend much time driving through places like Plano, Frisco and Allen to realize the area's most beloved cultural resource is an endless stream of ugly retail barns with acres of under-utilized free parking. Although the DMN is hardly a progressive voice, even they admit we can't go on sustaining this model forever.

But does the paper ever suggest plain ol' human selfishness might be at the root of all this? Hell, no! Check out this juicy rationalization from the same editorial page that endorsed George W. Bush as the candidate of personal responsibilty:

"Some say 'personal responsibility' is the answer. True enough when it's a fair fight, but it's not. As individuals we are grossly outmatched by enormous propaganda campaigns, market studies, Ivy League psychologists and 'perception managers' who do just that – manage our perceptions of everything. Sadly, they also manage the perceptions we have of ourselves."

I just knew those evil "Ivy League psychologists" were behind this! It's probably the same bunch of bastards who wanted to analyze the terrorists after 9/11.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Goodbye AMN, Hello M+E

After 11 years of red-headed stepchild existence, the Austin Music Network will go off the air September 1. Time Warner Cable Channel 15 will be taken over by M+E Television, a new for-profit channel run by Austin Music Partners, a private consortium headed by Connie Wodlinger. I haven't been able to find out whether Grande will pick up M+E, but since Time Warner is one of the investors, I wouldn't count on it.

Seeing AMN go dark (except possibly as an online stream) is sad but hardly a surprise. While it never managed to become what most people envisioned, AMN helped out a lot more artists than it ever got credit for. Several regimes tried and failed to make the channel survive on its own, but there's just not a lot of money to be made in showing music videos by local artists most people have never heard of. Anyone who thought AMN could be a cash cow was either painfully naive or writing a grant.

Last year, Wodlinger boldly projected her new channel would be $3.3 million in the black by 2009. Unless she's planning to air some horse porn alongside those Robert Earl Keen videos, I don't see it happening. That said, Wodlinger has lined up some solid staffers so far, including KGSR morning man Kevin Connor, Houston hip hop authority Matt Sonzala and former Show With No Name host Charlie Sotelo. With talent like that, perhaps there's hope for M+E Television after all.

Monday, August 15, 2005

WaPo Drops Out of Pentagon War Rally

Late Monday, The Washington Post announced it was backing out of its co-sponsorship of the Pentagon's 9/11 Freedom Walk.

"As it appears that this event could become politicized, the Post has decided to honor the Washington area victims of 9/11 by making a contribution directly to the Pentagon Memorial Fund," said spokesman Eric Grant, who almost certainly enjoyed Monday less than you did. "It is the Post's practice to avoid activities that might lead readers to question the objectivity of the Post's news coverage."

While I'll continue to question the "objectivity" of the Post's news coverage simply because there's no such thing as objective news coverage, they deserve credit for coming around. The donation to the Pentagon Memorial Fund was a nice touch, too.

WaPo Sponsors Pentagon's War Rally

The Washington Post has stepped into a big fat conflict of interest by deciding to sponsor the Pentagon's upcoming 9/11 war party.

Ostensibly a tribute to 9/11 victims and veterans, the America Supports You Freedom Walk has less to do with honoring sacrifice than it does with the Defense Department's increasingly desperate attempts to manufacture a connection between 9/11 and the Iraq War. Why else would it culminate on the National Mall with a performance by haggard country crooner Clint Black of "Iraq and Roll" renown?

Post spokesman Eric Grant disingenuously suggests the paper had no idea the Pentagon might try to use this event to promote the war. "The walk was never presented to us as a rally to support the war and we would be very disappointed if it took that approach," Grant said.

One quick peek at the official Freedom Walk Web site is all it takes to reveal the Post's explanation is a mile-wide river of happy horseshit. This is clearly a rally in favor of the war and no so-called "objective" news organization has any business underwriting it.

UPDATE: Newspaper Guild leaders at The Washington Post unanimously passed a resolution today calling on the paper to withdraw its support of the Freedom Walk. "The Guild supports the Post's stated intention of honoring the nation's veterans, including those who have served in Iraq," the resolution states. "But the Post undermines this goal by lending its support to a political event that links the September 11, 2001 attacks to the war in Iraq - a link that the Post, in its reporting, has shown to be false."

Sunday, August 14, 2005

August Ain't So Slow Anymore

With students still out of town, lots of people on vacation and everyone else just trying to stay cool, August has traditionally been a slow month for live music in Austin. Not last night, though.

Room 710 had Pong, the Horsies and Brown Whornet. Across the street at Beerland, Corpus Christi garage punk legends the Zachary Thaks played with the Ugly Beats and Eve and the Exiles. Both shows had a steep $10 cover, yet both were satisfyingly well-attended.

Pong always puts on a good show that makes the chicks butts rock, to borrow a phrase from Honky's Jeff Pinkus. Brown Whornet was performing sans Stin-G-B, so their set consisted of long, jam-oriented pieces successfully brought off by virtue of their collective musicianship and years of playing together. I missed the Horsies because I'd seen them a few months ago at Hole in the Wall.

Over at Beerland, the Ugly Beats were on fire. There's a risk to plumbing the past to the degree the Beats do, but if you're as tight and spirited as they are, it's still going to make for a good rock show. The Zachary Thaks were understandably rusty after years of not playing together. Interestingly, they opened with their regional hit, "Bad Girl," then started playing covers like the Kinks' "I Need You" and the Zombies' "Tell Her No." It probably wasn't all that unlike a teen dance at Port Aransas circa 1966. I watched seven or eight songs before heading back to 710 to see Pong.

We're about two weeks out from the implementation of the smoking ban. Perhaps the clubgoing population was enhanced by smokers enjoying the last few ban-free days much like the kids at Dallas' infamous Starck Club taking "E" one last time in May of 1985 before the DEA went all Schedule I on their asses. However, a more likely explanation is just having two painfully good bills right across the street from each other.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Hendrix Kicked Out of Army for Soloing?

My musically astute friend Kent B. directs us to Jimi Hendrix' Army records, obtained from the Military Personnel Center by The Smoking Gun.

Prior to revolutionizing rock guitar, Hendrix was drummed out of the Army in 1961 at age 19 amid poor performance evaluations from his superiors. Capt. Gilbert Bachman said Hendrix slept on the job, didn't follow rules and was once "apprehended masturbating" in the latrine at Fort Campbell, Kentucky by a suspicious fellow soldier who thought he was sleeping in the stall.

Hendrix paid homage to this fateful life event at 1967's Monterey Pop Festival.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Back to the Lab

Wednesday night was the first time I've set foot in a Music Lab rehearsal room in over a year.

After months of writing songs with Summer Breeze guitarist David Wyatt (a.k.a. Stinky Del Negro), we finally found a rhythm section in the forms of ex-Peenbeet Joel Fried on drums and Reed Burnham on bass. We're still looking for a fifth to play keyboards and maybe a little guitar for a more buxom sound, so if ya know anybody...

I was feeling surprisingly nervous prior to rehearsing, especially once I realized this is the longest I've gone without being in a living, breathing band since 1991. Practicing with new people can be a lot like going out on a first date, but we all wound up having a pretty good time. Things really took off when we busted out the A&W Root Beer.

No upcoming gigs or anything at this point, but when we get there, y'all will be the first to know.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Dallas Rep. Says Keep Wright or Close Love

Despite the fact that Southwest Airlines' Love Field headquarters is located in her district, Democratic U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas has thrown her support behind the anti-competitive forces at American Airlines who want to make sure the Wright Amendment stays in place so Southwest can't expand its interstate service from Love. She even goes so far as to call for closing Love Field if the Wright Amendment is repealed.

Why would a politician advocate closing the single largest economic engine in her home district? shows she recently received a $2,000 contribution from AMR's (parent company of American Airlines) PAC, and you can be sure she'll be handsomely rewarded for coming out against the Wright Amendment.

Johnson is also bringing race to the table, saying minority vendors at DFW Airport would be hurt by increased competition from Southwest at Love Field. However, this argument is somewhat disingenuous since there are also minority vendors at Love, not to mention those employed by Southwest. It's yet another wardist-style political slight of tongue designed to play off existing racial animosity in Dallas.

As it stands, Metroplex residents pay premium fares because of American's near-monopoly at DFW. While Southwest could move to DFW, the cost of moving their entire operation - headquarters and all - would be outrageously expensive. DFW's sprawl would also reduce the airline's overall efficiency. Southwest didn't sign the agreement to leave Love Field when DFW opened, and Love's existing flight restrictions ensures the airport will probably never pull a detrimental amount of traffic away from DFW.

What will definitely lower the Metroplex's commercial aviation prominence is if Southwest decides to move its headquarters. That's a real possibility if they can't grow interstate routes at Love Field, and cities like Phoenix and Houston would probably love to have the "Love" airline relocate there.

At the very least, Congress could compromise by allowing Southwest to fly from Love to Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee and Missouri. If independent research shows these flights pose a mortal threat to DFW Airport's continued viability, the (modified) Wright Amendment stays in place. If not, it goes away completely. That's a hell of a lot more reasonable than voting to close down Love Field.

I'm all for regulation that protects consumers, but the only thing protected by keeping the Wright Amendment in place is AA's bottom line.

UPDATE: Shortly after this story broke, it was revealed Johnson has blind trust investments in Hudson News retail concessions at both DFW and Love. Spokeswoman Lisa Hanna says having a stake in concessions at both airports renders her impartial. If that's the case, then someone needs to explain to me how closing Love Field wouldn't benefit Hudson News by allowing them to service the same volume of overpriced Advil-popping passengers with significantly less infrastructure.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Night the Lights Went Out in Texas

You know the line item on your electric bill that funds a program helping poor people pay their electric bills?

Well, the Texas Legislature has decided to steal that money.

Effective September 1, low-income Texans will no longer receive electric bill assistance from the state. Approximately 391,000 households have been getting power bill discounts amounting to an average of $13 to $17 per month. Clearly this is a socialist-flavored free ride that must stop.

The estimated $200 million raised by this fund each year will instead go to the state's general revenue fund so that do-nothing lawmakers can go home and tell their constituents they balanced the budget.

Ironically, this low-income discount fund was started as a part of state electricity deregulation, a controversial, corporate-driven scheme that promised lower energy bills and has thus far failed to deliver for consumers in deregulated markets. Electric bills from our city-owned utility in Austin are routinely lower on average than those of Houston and Dallas, where behemoth concerns like TXU and Reliant compete.

Senate Finance Committee Chair/Apologist Steve Odgen (R-Bryan) says the Lege had no choice but to steal from poor people because the body "lacked the will to reform the tax code." Of course, the centerpiece of Republican tax reform is shifting the tax burden away from the wealthy and onto the poor and middle class.

I hope everyone who supported raising poor people's electric bills in the heat of summer has vivid, soul-crushing nightmares about fixed income grandmothers roasting to death in their homes with the air conditioning turned off to save money. Night-night, Stevie!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Dick Cavett's Rock Icons

Next week, Shout! Factory is releasing a three-DVD set of rock star appearances on the old Dick Cavett Show that aired opposite Johnny Carson on ABC in the late Sixties and early Seventies.

Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Sly & the Family Stone and David Bowie are among those featured, but Cavett devotes an entire disc to three shows he did with Janis Joplin. Aside from capturing some fine performances, the talk segments shed light on Joplin's social awareness and quick wit, both of which unfairly get overshadowed by the Southern Comfort and sadness-soaked caricature of her.

A 1970 show where Joplin, Raquel Welch, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Chet Huntley volley back and forth on the issues of the day is a revelation. They spend very little time pimping their latest projects, and when Welch tries to posit Myra Breckinridge as an "important" film, Joplin tells her she thinks it's "choppy."

None of that would happen today. Few big stars would risk potentially alienating half their audience by expressing controversial political views, let alone say something untoward to Welch.

Back then, you actually needed to know how to talk to go on a talk show. Joplin certainly did, which is one of the reasons why Cavett had her on so often.

Monday, August 08, 2005

DiIorio Farms

While U.S. 290 usually isn't the quickest route between my folks' place in Houston and the Beetsolonely North American headquarters here in Austin, it does give me a chance to stop off at DiIorio Farms in Hempstead for some fresh produce.

I bought some large homegrown tomatoes, a pound of green beans and a rather large watermelon there yesterday. It's the height of watermelon season right now, and they grow some sweet ones in Waller County.

DiIorio Farms is on the old U.S. 290 business route that goes through the center of Hempstead. It's a nice way to break up the drive if you aren't in a huge hurry.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Moon Over Fajita Flats

I just got back from a quick Houston visit with my folks. We dined at Fajita Flats, their favorite Tex-Mex restaurant/watering hole on Fondren just south of Westheimer. The food is quite good and not too expensive, but perhaps even more importantly, the staff make you feel both welcome and uninhibited.

You'll sometimes see margarita-fueled diners stand up and start dancing to the jukebox, which features an obvious but surprisingly enjoyable selection of upbeat tunes everybody knows, like "Y.M.C.A.," "Macarena" and "Livin' La Vida Loca." Despite that, it's all good-natured enough to where you can bring your kids and not worry about them seeing some horrible display of drunk-ass buffoonery.

When it's your birthday, the jukebox stops and they play an ancient version of "Happy Birthday to You." I'm pretty sure it's the one you hear when Connie and Raymond Marble mail a turd to Divine in Pink Flamingos). Then your server puts a giant sombrero on your head and makes you ride a stick pony around the restaurant while people snap their napkins at your backside. Last night, one of the guys celebrating a birthday stood up on a chair and mooned his entire family. Now that's good all-American fun right there.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Friday Night at the Bowling Alley

I went bowling at Dart Bowl last night with some pals from the hood. We were drinking PBRs and having a fine old time gazing at all the nubile jailbait. Sadly, I'm too close to the age of their parents now to not feel like I ought to have an tracking device around my ankle just for looking. How the hell are you supposed to bowl with all these short-shorted, midriff-baring distractions running around?

After making sports-oriented conversation with the high school baseball player rolling in the lane next to us, his girlfriend asked Steve if he would buy them beer. He said he couldn't do it because he was on parole - an excellent excuse with cool cachet. Then she looked at me. I still have a lot of karmic debt to repay in this particular area, but the stiffer legal penalties along with piled-on life experience have convinced me that it's just not that good of an idea to buy kids booze. I cryptically said I "work for the state" and left it at that.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Creation Evidence Museum

My thinly-veiled secret "special assignment" last weekend was to drive up to Glen Rose and visit the Creation Evidence Museum for the Chronicle's "Damn Dirty Ape" issue. You can save your two bucks by reading all about it here.

The Creation Evidence Museum advances a "young earth" model of creationism that contends our planet is only 6,000 years old because the Bible doesn't go any further back than that. They also assert that God literally created the world in a week and that man and dinosaurs existed simultaneously. That last point is especially salient because the museum is right down the road from Dinosaur Valley State Park, where you can view 113 million-year-old dinosaur tracks in the streambed of the Paluxy River.

Glen Rose is a lovely little town, but between the dead dinosaurs, the end times religious motif and the nearby nuclear power plant, the place has a genuinely strange energy to it. After having our minds blown by the sights, my traveling companion Karla and I were harangued by two very drunk white trash harridans in the parking lot of the IGA. On that note, we high-tailed it out of town toward the (obviously relative) sanity of Waco.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Remembering Sea-Arama Marineworld

Long before Sea World came to San Antonio, there was Sea-Arama Marineworld in Galveston. Located just off Seawall Blvd. on the west side of town, it was an honest little marine-oriented amusement park.

My parents took me there once in 1976 or 1977. I couldn't have cared less about the dolphins and killer whales. I was there to see the reptile show where a man kissed the head of a cobra. That was pretty cool. To this day, my dad and I mimic the park announcer's refrain, "Cameras up and cameras ready!" whenever there's a sight to behold.

A couple of weeks after our visit, my parents showed me a newspaper clipping. The snake man had been bitten by a rattlesnake during one of his shows. As I recall, he was rushed to the hospital and he survived. Sea-Arama Marineworld, however, did not. The park closed in 1990.

Last time I drove by, only a graffiti-riddled concrete husk in overgrown grass remained. Tilman Fertitta of Landry's Seafood reknown purchased the property in 2003 and was considering developing a water park there to compete with the new Galveston Schlitterbahn, which is scheduled to open its indoor section in December.

CORRECTION (4/28/2010): An earlier version of this post said Sea-Arama closed in 1986. As the comments below correctly note, the park actually closed in 1990.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Nate Takes A Freedom Flight

By now, everyone who cares knows Six Feet Under killed off Nate Fisher on Sunday after first making us believe he was going to survive his adulterous post-coital brain explosion.

The death scene, shown as a shared dream with his brother David, was the most jarring dramatic sequence I've seen on TV in years, largely because they used the song "Strawberry Letter 23" by the Brothers Johnson. There are definitely worse ways to go than disappearing into the ocean after getting stoned with your brother and dad while listening to "Strawberry Letter 23."

I think they picked the song to build an idyllic (if not altogether accurate) vision of Nate and David's childhood. I also remember "Strawberry Letter 23" from my AM radio childhood, but I never knew the name of the song and was unable to track it down for years. Paul Shaffer used to play it going into commercial breaks on Late Night with David Letterman, but just knowing that opening hook wasn't enough to ID the song. At one point, I considered humming it on tape and sending it to Shaffer so he could tell me the name of the song. Then one day in 1989, I purchased an old A&M Records in-store sampler because it had Cat Stevens' "Remember the Days (Of the Old Schoolyard)" and Pablo Cruise's "Whatcha Gonna Do?"

What a thrill it was to plunk the needle down on side two and hear my 14-year search for the elusive "Strawberry Letter 23" come to an end. I literally cheered even though it was just me alone in my college dorm room. Later on, I found out the Brothers Johnson's version was a cover; Shuggie Otis wrote "Strawberry Letter 23" and does an equally excellent version on his 1971 album, Freedom Flight. David Byrne's Luaka Bop put out an Otis collection called Inspiration Information in 2001 that's definitely worth seeking out if you dig psychedelic soul.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

State Sales Tax Holiday This Weekend

Texas has one of the higher sales tax rates in the nation, and we could wind up with the highest if school finance reform passes. But not this weekend.

Yes, it's "One Tough Grandma's Annual Back To School State Sales Tax Holiday!" From 12:01am Friday to 12:00am Sunday, you won't have to pay tax on most clothes under $100. That includes diapers - both baby and adult variety (Depends party, anyone?).

While malls will likely be packed this weekend, you may be able to beat the crowds by knocking off a little early on Friday afternoon or going to stores most people have forgotten are still in business, like Beall's.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Whither Marfa?

The upscale hipster gentrification of Marfa is the lead story in today's issue of Salon. Andrew Nelson and Stephanie Corley's account of the rift between longtime residents and recent transplants highlights an interesting ethical dilemma for conscientious urbanites looking for rural outposts of like-mindedness.

What if the people you're moving in on would rather have a Wal-Mart than a local NPR affiliate? How do you reconcile the desperate need for economic development in a poverty-stricken border county with the fact that it might mess up your wide open vista? No one wants a town like Marfa to become a prohibitively expensive enclave for the genteel like Aspen or Santa Fe, but how will they keep that from happening as more city folk seek refuge there?