Thursday, June 30, 2005

Caught Up with Millie Jackson

Georgia-bred R&B diva Millie Jackson comes to Austin on Friday, July 15 at Doris Miller Auditorium. In Jackson's case, "R&B" could just as well stand for "raw and bawdy." Although she can be heard spinning tunes afternoons on KKDA-AM in Dallas, Jackson hasn't played Austin in awhile.

Jackson's adultery song-cycle Caught Up (1974) and its follow-up, Still Caught Up (1975) are two of my favorite Southern soul records of the Seventies.

Backed with the rhythm of the Muscle Shoals Swampers, Jackson uses each side of Caught Up to tell the story of a love triangle from both the other woman's and the spurned wife's point of view. The album ends with an amazing remake of Bobby Goldsboro's "Summer (The First Time)."

Still Caught Up starts with the wife's side and ends with the other woman going insane while pleading for her married man on Mac Davis' "I Still Love You (You Still Love Me)." Jackson used to end her concerts by having men in white coats wrap her up in a straight jacket and drag her off the stage as she sang this song.

Her last LP, 2001's Not for Church Folk, was released on her own Weird Wreckuds imprint. Go to Jackson's official site to hear a snippet of the lead single, "Butt-A-Size."

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Hoky Smokes, That's My Old Place!

My old duplex at the corner of I-35 and Crestwood was the lead story on KVUE's 6pm newscast yesterday because some moron in a high-speed police chase crashed into it in a pickup that didn't belong to him. The current residents were not home at the time and there were no serious injuries. I can't find any photos on KVUE's website, but I'll post a photo if I can find one.

UPDATE: Click here to access video from KVUE (registration required). The name of the story is "Chase Ends with Truck Hitting House."

Frankly, I'm surprised something like this didn't happen sooner. The duplex itself was a nice, comfortable domicile when I lived there from 1995 through 1998, and I could hold band practice in the living room because no one in the other unit could hear us playing.

However, the duplex's proximity to I-35 (basically right under the exit ramp to Airport Blvd.) meant you saw car accidents on a regular basis. There was a late night high-speed police chase while I lived there in which some guy took out the signpost at the curb, but I'm pretty sure no one put a vehicle into the living room wall until Tuesday.

There was also one successful and at least one foiled break-in while I was there, courtesy of the neighborhood drug addicts. Because all the I-35 service road traffic was headed in one direction with no view of our back porch, would-be burglars could stand there indefinitely while trying to jimmy their way inside.

One night I came home to the sound of someone trying to do just that, so I bellowed "HEY!" in the meanest voice I could muster. Whoever it was ran off before I could get outside and stab him in the eyeball with a dirty steak knife.

I wonder if that would've made the news?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Stories from the House of Ram


Ram Wall Painting
Originally uploaded by H. Michael karshis.

H. Michael Karshis has started a blog called Stories from the House of Ram to gather stories about Ram Ayala and Taco Land. Everyone is encouraged to contribute.

On Sunday, there was a memorial show at Taco Land to close the book on the legendary San Antonio bar. "Now that Ram is passed and gone, there is no more Taco Land," said Robert Tatum, a friend of Ram's, in yesterday's San Antonio Express-News. "It's over. None of us are even thinking twice about continuing to run it."

Money raised at the show will go to help the two surviving employees, bartender Denise "Sunshine" Koger, 41, and doorman Douglas Morgan, 53, who were also shot at the bar early Friday morning. Koger and Morgan are at University Hospital. Both are listed in stable condition.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Centennial Liquor Demolished

I was driving down North Lamar yesterday when I noticed the Centennial Liquor at the corner of Lamar and Brentwood next to the Yellow Rose has been reduced to a pile of rubble. Too bad. Where are these poor kids going to get their sixers now?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Enduro and the Crack Pipes

After wishing Brandon Tucker of Xcella and Coco Candissi reknown a happy birthday over at Billy's last night, I took in an extra-fun show at Beerland. It was Enduro's first show in five years and they flailed tightly like they hadn't missed a beat. The trio's scratchy blues-punk assault just feels right at a joint like Beerland. I hadn't seen the Crack Pipes in awhile and they were also enlivening. Their latest LP, Beauty School is a peach that tastes different with each bite.

You know you're getting older when it takes a reunion show to get your ass out on the town.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

More on Ram and Jon Dee Graham

Today's San Antonio Express-News expands on the circumstances surrounding the shooting death of Taco Land owner Ram Ayala early Friday morning. Police say they have no leads on the shooter and his accomplice. The story also contains reaction from friends and family. Everyone seems to have a good yarn about Ram involving booze and words you can't print in a family newspaper.

Hopefully the two men responsible for this stupid, senseless murder will read today's paper and start to realize what they've done.

Over on the more positive side of humanity, last night's Saxon Pub benefit for Jon Dee Graham's six-year-old son Willie was a lot of fun. I walked in just as the Skunks (Jon Dee on guitar, Jesse Sublett on bass and Billy Blackmon on drums) were playing "Gimme Some." They also did an immoliating workout on "Sister Ray."

Roky Erickson and his brother Sumner played a short acoustic set that included "You Don't Love Me Yet," "Splash 1" and "Starry Eyes." All great songs, often imbued with very personal connections for lots of us Texas rock fans young and younger. Roky is still pretty tentative by "normal" performance standards, but he's looking better than I've ever seen him in my time in Austin.

For a band that hasn't played together regularly since the Reagan administration, the Standing Waves delivered an amazingly cohesive set. The Delinquents (Lester Bangs' backing band during his Austin stint) were also fun to watch. I was either too young, or not yet born in Roky's case, to see these groups the first time around, so it was good to see them now for an equally good cause.

Jon Dee Graham's son has a rare condition called Legg-Perthes, which causes the head of the femur to lose blood and die. Although Graham had health insurance, his provider declared Chapter 11. Now Willie has a pre-existing condition and no one else will cover it. You can find out more and donate to Willie's health fund via PayPal here.

America isn't the worst country in the world, but until we do something about the robber-barons denying us affordable health care, there's no way in hell we'll ever be the best.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Taco Land Owner "Ram" Killed

In the midst of the Spurs' victory, we have some very sad news out of San Antonio today. Taco Land owner Ramiro Ayala, 72, better known as "Ram," was fatally shot at the legendary bar early this morning. He died at Brooke Army Medical Center at 2:25am.

An unidentified 40-year-old woman and 54-year-old man were also shot and were listed in critical condition at San Antonio's University Hospital. Initial reports are sketchy, but police believe two suspects exchanged words with the victims and at least one of them began shooting. The suspects apparently took the money from the bar's cash register and fled in an unidentified vehicle.

Ram opened Taco Land in 1965 at 103 W. Grayson, selling food to workers from nearby bottling plants. The old Pearl Brewery was right around the corner. He converted Taco Land into a bar in 1969. The bar became a celebrated punk rock venue in the Eighties, immortalized in the Dead Milkmen's 1987 song, "Tacoland."

I only played at Taco Land a few times, but two of those times included memorable Ram encounters. The first was in 1993 at a Noodle gig with Gut and Boxcar Satan. I'd broken up with my girlfriend of two years earlier that day and was lucky to have even completed the 78-mile trek to San Antonio on account of a rapidly dying car battery. I couldn't wait to get inside the bar and pop a cold Pearl to calm my nerves before the show. Unfortunately, I'd left my driver's license in Austin and my youthful appearance made it difficult to even get into Taco Land, let alone drink.

"If I catch you drinking," Ram warned, "I'll have your motherfuckin' ass thrown in jail!"

Needless to say, I was one sober 24-year-old that night.

About a year or so later, Noodle was back at Taco Land and I had my I.D. firmly in hand this time. We were right in the middle of a particularly sweaty set and I was bowled over in some ridiculous spastic contortion with my eyes closed. Then I felt something ice cold press against my forehead. I looked up and was pleasantly surprised to see Ram trying to hand me a Pearl for my efforts. I remember thinking that was about as close to winning a Grammy as I'll ever get.

photo by Mark Greenberg, www.nightrocker.com

R.I.P., Ram.

Goodbye, TEX, and Good Luck

"Welcome to TEX, the Telephone Enrollment eXchange for the University of Texas at Austin."

Anyone who attended UT in the early Nineties will recall that utterance by Senior Vice President William Livingston from the semesterly ritual of registering for classes by phone. Compared to "running" for classes at the Erwin Center's adds-and-drops circus, TEX was a godsend. It didn't necessarily make getting the right class any easier, but at least you could salve your frustration with a cool Mickey's Bigmouth in the comfort of your own domicile.

UT began online registration in 1997, slowly but surely eroding the number of students using TEX. Today, almost 99 percent of students register online. After 15 years of service, UT will disconnect TEX forever on July 15 at 5pm.

If you need to hear Livingston say, "Goodbye and good luck" one more time, call (512) 475-9950.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Primary Voters Can't Get Kinky

Kat's question about how to get Kinky Friedman on the 2006 ballot for governor reveals a heinously anti-democratic catch-22 in Texas' election code. Kinky needs 45,000 signatures to get on the November 2006 ballot. He will have up to two months to collect these signatures following the March 2006 Republican and Democratic primaries. However, none of those signatures can be from people who vote in the primaries.

In other words, you can sign the petition for Kinky or you can vote in a party primary, but you can't do both.

So what do you do if you want to break the two-party stranglehold and send Perry packing? Perhaps informal swapping of Kinky signatures for Strayhorn primary votes is the answer. If this is illegal, it's a law I'd be proud to thumb my nose at.

If you would like to "save yourself" to sign Kinky's ballot petition by not voting in the primaries, the Friedman campaign has a abstinence-style purity pledge you can sign.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Grandma and the Rickster

Unless both Rick Perry and Carole Keeton McClellan Rylander Strayhorn get caught in bed with the proverbial dead girl or live boy, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the Governor's Mansion is occupied by someone other than a Republican come January 2007.

That said, I'm looking forward to an extra nasty run-up to the 2006 Republican Primary. Perry may have the hard right thumpers and their money, but One Tough Grandma isn't going down without a fight. Bush is wise to steer clear of the whole mess by refusing to endorse either one of them.

Perry's reign has been ineffectual at best and downright hateful at worst. His callous insinuation that gay veterans who want to marry should leave Texas is a telling window into his soul. Lacking Bush's cracker barrel charm offensive, Perry finds it difficult to command respect even within his own party. He's a lightweight who subsists on the political leavings of others.

Some left-leaning folks I've talked to don't like Strayhorn because she's a showboating blowhard whose politics are only a few insignificant degrees from Perry's. That may be true, but I still think she'd make a better governor because her experience (State Comptroller, Railroad Commissioner, Mayor of Austin) entails having a grasp of how government actually works. Strayhorn has also demonstrated a nominal interest in improving public education in Texas, while Perry's overriding goal in school finance reform has always been property tax relief for the wealthy. Most importantly, I kind of like the way Strayhorn says "Hawgwash!"

Trading Strayhorn for Perry would be a shallow victory, but it could work as the opening shot in a long-term repudiation of the status quo. In order to make sure it's not just the lunatic fringe of party faithful choosing the next governor of Texas, it's not a bad idea to consider voting in the 2006 Republican Primary even if you're not one. Assuming he makes the ballot, you can still vote for Kinky in the general election. Why the hell not?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Alamo Rolling Roadshow 2005 Tour



This summer, the Alamo Drafthouse takes its creatively unorthodox approach to motion picture exhibition on a 12-date tour of classic movie shooting locations throughout the Western U.S.

The 2005 Rolling Roadshow Tour kicks off Friday, August 19 with a showing of The Last Picture Show in Archer City, Texas. Director Peter Bogdanovich is scheduled to attend. Not only will you have the rare opportunity to see The Last Picture Show in what’s left of the Royal Theater (which burned in 1965), you can visit author/screenwriter Larry McMurtry’s Booked Up stores, four world-renowned rare book emporiums which are scheduled to close at year’s end.

The rest of the tour itinerary is no less impressive:

August 21
It Came From Outer Space 3D
Roswell, New Mexico

August 23
Once Upon a Time in the West
Monument Valley, Arizona

August 24
Planet of the Apes
Lake Powell, Utah

August 26
Repo Man
Los Angeles, California

August 27
Sideways
Los Olvios, California

August 28
North By Northwest
Bakersfield, California*
*Bakersfield stood in for the Midwest in the infamous Cary Grant crop-dusting scene

August 30
Bullitt
San Francisco, California

September 1
The Goonies
Astoria, Oregon

September 3
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Devil’s Tower, Wyoming (!)

September 5
Cat Ballou
Buckskin Joe’s, Colorado

September 7
Hud
Claude, Texas

If it wasn’t so far away, I’d really love to see Close Encounters at Devil’s Tower. They’re even having a mashed potato sculpture contest before the film!

Monday, June 20, 2005

Tornadoes: Run or Hide?

Big news in the world of tornado survival instructions. A study in last week's American Journal of Epidemiology found that people who decided to flee from the massive May 3, 1999 tornado that devastated the Oklahoma City area had better survival odds than those who stayed put.

Traditionally, you were never supposed to try and outrun a tornado in a car. Twisters don't have to follow roads and a car is no match for a tornado if you make the wrong turn. Mobile homes are well-established as easy prey for tornadoes, but for some people in the path of the F5 storm that hit Oklahoma, anything short of being below ground wasn't enough to ensure survival. Fortunately, F5's are rare beasts in the tornado spectrum.

It definitely makes sense in any case to get out if you're in a mobile home, but you'd probably still be better off in a closet or bathroom than in a car unless you're dealing with an especially destructive tornado. Real-time forecasting of how damaging a tornado will be from moment to moment is a young science, and it's hard to imagine an orderly "tornado evacuation" without more warning time.

I'd feel really stupid getting in a car wreck while trying to flee a tornado that doesn't even rustle the leaves on my porch. Especially if I'm not wearing pants.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

More Wacky Cable Woes

I met up with my parents for a pre-Father's Day repast in La Grange Saturday. We had a fine old time, but they were somewhat disturbed by the foul language and angry rhetoric in the last post about my ongoing telecommunications problems. Perhaps I was a bit too colorful in expressing my exasperation. It's usually not a wonderful idea to use words that would get you booted out of Dairy Queen when yer moms is reading.

In case you don't know my parents, I wasn't raised that way. I learned all the bad words I know from cable TV. In fact, everything that's wrong with me is Time Warner's fault.

My latest plan is to call Time Warner Monday morning and tell them no one indicated my TiVo box would not work on a digital phone line. Therefore, I want to cancel the digital phone while retaining cable and Internet at the same package price I was initially quoted. Then I'm going to call Grande and try to get my old phone back as a standalone product.

While it will cost a bit more than keeping everything bundled with one company, the difference is negligible and it's the most economical work-around I can think of that gives me Time Warner's superior cable signal and an analog land line to run TiVo (not to mention use as my primary phone). If that doesn't work, I can take TiVo to a friend's house, do the initial setup on their phone, construct a home wireless network and run TiVo via broadband. Or I can just start paying $10-12/month for Time Warner's DVR, which I've heard is sorely lacking compared to TiVo.

I'll let you know how things turn out with Time Warner and Grande, and I'll do my right darnedest not to use to swear words when doing that unless I absolutely have to.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Friday Night Meltdown

My cable conundrum has degenerated into a bona fide clusterfuck. Switching back to Time Warner resolved the shitty TV signal issue I was having with Grande, but because their digital phone system is voice-over Internet protocol (VOIP), I can no longer connect to TiVo to download program information. This renders my TiVo box (and the $300 lifetime service contract) worthless.

I've wasted the entire evening figuring this out and I'm about ready to start filling jelly jars with gasoline. The sanity spring is just about to pop loose and unleash a torrent of gut-rage. This is just the sort of thing that sends me right over the goddamn edge. It's a miracle I haven't actually destroyed anything. Yet.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Graham Central Station

A week ago today, the Austin area finally got its own Graham Central Station mega-club. Located in an unsightly big box just off I-35 in Pflugerville, GCS's "six clubs for the price of one" concept is based on the mall food court school of commerce. You have the "Denim & Diamonds" country beer barn, a biker-themed classic rock bar called "Choppers," the "Alley Cats" karaoke club, an unabashed Top 40 danceteria called "Z," the Coyote Ugly-styled "Wild Cats" with tank-topped honeys dancing on the bar, and an imaginatively-monikered live music room called "The Live Room."

Several years ago, attorneys representing Graham Central Station showed up at my neighborhood association meeting to try and explain why the club would make a great tenant at ailing Northcross Mall. I love the nightlife at least as much as Alicia Bridges, but having North Korea nuke Northcross would've been better for my neighborhood than having Graham Central Station there. Their business model necessitates an extra high volume of alcohol, and their primary target market appears to be guys with just enough beer money to become a genuine public nuisance. Perhaps that sounds elitist, but who wants a bunch of drunken buffoons careening through their quiet residential streets at two in the morning?

I'm pretty sure at least one person at our association meeting said the club would be better off if they chose a more northern location and that's exactly what they would up doing. It was a smart move in more ways than one. By opening in Pflugerville, Graham Central Station will duck Austin's new smoking ordinance when it goes into effect in September. Nevertheless, I doubt we'll see the denizens of Room 710 and Beerland fleeing up I-35 to drink Coors Light and listen to Big and Rich.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

How I Spent My Summer Vacation



Click here to view some disposable camera photos from my recent West Coast soujourn and relive the magic one more time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Mississippi Senators AWOL on Lynching Apology

Although Mississippi led the nation in the number of Jim Crow-era lynchings (Texas came in third), neither one of its senators was on hand to cosponsor a Senate resolution apologizing for not doing anything to stop the lynchings.

Sen. Thad Coleman says he couldn't sign on because he had to make an official trip to the Paris Air Show. Thurmond-lovin' Sen. Trent Lott had no comment on the matter.

While the lynching apology is primarily a PR move that does nothing to right past wrongs, the Mississippi senators' conspicuous absence speaks volumes about how far they'll sink to court the support of dead-end racist scumbags. Our own Sen. John Cornyn keeps Texas from looking much better by being another one of the senators that didn't cosponsor the resolution.

Although the House passed anti-lynching legislation three times in the first half of the 20th century, Southern senators derailed it for decades via filibusters. Because this week's apology was passed by voice vote rather than roll call, senators didn't have to go on record as opposing the resolution. As it is, guys like Lott can use their inaction to get out the racist vote while maintaining a thin veneer of plausible denial.

Given the GOP's spirited defense of its diversity in the face of Howard Dean's recent attacks, I was quite surprised to learn all of the senators currently on record as not cosponsoring the lynching apology are white Republicans.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Border Wars

While we were busy watching Michael beat it, Mexican federal troops assumed control over Nuevo Laredo Monday, replacing the local police force in an effort to curtail the spiral of drug trafficking-related violence that has plagued the city of 500,000 on the Texas-Tamaulipas border. Alejandro Dominguez, Nuevo Laredo's newly-appointed police chief, was assasinated last Wednesday after only six hours on the job. Troops will interrogate all 700 local officers, many of whom are suspected of being in the pocket of warring drug lords.

An estimated 600 people have been killed in trafficking-related violence this year, most in border cities. As a result, many affluent Mexicans at risk for extortion have sought refuge in Laredo while American tourists have stayed away in droves. It's going to be increasingly difficult for the U.S. to pretend that a river and some barbed-wire will keep Mexico's turmoil "over there." For a fuller perspective, take a look at NPQ editor Nathan Gardel's timely Huffington Post piece about the "Colombianization" of Mexico.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Spurred to Apathy

Unless you consider arena football a major league sport, the San Antonio Spurs are the closest major league sports franchise to Austin. There's a championship series on national TV happening 78 miles down the road and the Spurs appear to be heading for another NBA title. I couldn't care less.

Being from Texas, I'd rather have San Antonio beat Detroit, but I can't make myself get into it like I would if the Houston Rockets or the Dallas Mavericks were playing. It makes sense for Houston to be my favorite team since I grew up there, but even though the Mavericks didn't exist when I lived in Dallas, I still like them better than the Spurs.

Actually, the Spurs were the Dallas Chaparrals back then, but no one cared. They wound up having to play some of their home games in Lubbock because attendance in Dallas was so bad. I didn't even know the Chaps existed as a kid. It was mostly Cowboys with a small side of Rangers. Even the old Dallas Tornado NASL soccer team got more play.

Although the Spurs were the Rockets' closest rival, I never particularly disliked them. Hell, you had to like Billy "Whopper" Paultz. I've always liked San Antonio as a city, too. I like the team's lack of celebrity and the fact they don't come from a major media market. I just can't work up a lather for the Spurs. Is there something wrong with me?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

In-N-Out Update

True to their customer-friendly nature, I received this prompt e-mail reply from In-N-Out Burger regarding the possibility of expanding into Texas:

"Although we are unable to confirm a site in Texas at this time, we plan on expanding as far as we can, and particularly into areas in which our customers have expressed interest. As such, we are happy to let our Real Estate Department know that you are anxious to have an In-N-Out Burger® location in Texas!"

That, of course, is a public relations answer, but no company in its right mind is going to officially reveal expansion plan specifics prior to closing the deal. After all, I could be a spy for Whataburger for all they know.

Incidentally, Whataburger will have to get its act together if In-N-Out comes to town. In terms of quality, the Corpus Christi-based chain's product fares well against existing fast food outlets in Texas, but consistency varies wildly from store to store. Some Whataburgers run like a well-oiled machine, while others sputter about like an old lawn mower. I've never been to a middling In-N-Out Burger.

Based on their feedback, I'm going to predict we'll see an In-N-Out Burger somewhere in Texas before the next presidential election. Even if that doesn't pan out, California burger fans will be happy to know that Fatburger has announced plans to build in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Last Day by the Bay

My last full day in the Bay Area was a languid, boozy affair that left me as sated as one can hope to be upon returning to the workaday world after two weeks.

On Friday, I met up with Mr. Positive and his young lady friend Angie for a late breakfast at Mama Royal's Cafe in Oakland. Angie wanted to shoot some video for a experimental noise performance she was doing that evening, so we drove up into the heavily wooded hills overlooking the city. Mr. P. got bare-arsed save for an old wig covering his region. Then he ran around like some sort of demented Bigfoot while I watched for innocent bystanders and tried my damndest not to burst out laughing. Sadly, I was unable to see how the resulting video was incorporated into Angie's show.

Instead, I caught up with my host couple Heather and Mike after they got home from work and we went to a tapas bar. Mike said it was a quintessentially Californian dining experience bcause they were taking Continental cuisine and fusing it with super-fresh native ingredients. We polished off a bottle of wine and ate mussels, antipasti, duck and French fries. Then we had strawberry hibiscus sorbet with brown sugar shortbread for dessert. It was decadent and awesome.

Heather took both Mike and I to the Oakland airport this morning because Mike had to go to L.A. Mike and I had a farewell coffee before having to queue up for our flights. I got home around 8:30pm tonight and everything was pretty much how I left it, except for my Swedish ivy plant, which is now dead.

I wanted to go see the Dicks tonight at Room 710, but I'm just too beat. I need to start weaning myself from the two-hour time difference in order to avoid a full-body breakdown on Monday morning.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Extra Action Three Day Stubble

I saw a great show last night at the Eagle Tavern, a gay biker bar cum rock club at 12th and Harrison in San Francisco. Former Peenbeets drummer Mr. Positive (a.k.a. Brown Whornet vocalist Stin-G-B) told me he was playing with pioneering nerd-rock dadaists Three Day Stubble. Stubble doesn't play all that often, so this was a treat.

TDS started 25 years ago in Houston, but they wound up shifting their base of operations to San Francisco in the early Nineties for reasons that become obvious once you see them. Vocalist Donald the Nut was once a contestant on The Gong Show and he has wooed crowds from Edinburgh to Tokyo with his electrocuted hair and screaming polyester. He's even been known to lie down on stage and release a fount of pee straight up into the air.

Unbeknownst to me, Donald is in Japan right now. Imagine my surprise when my former bandmate bounded up on stage in full Donald regalia. Mr. P's spirited interpretation of the Stubble catalog was right on, and I'm sure there were people in the audience who didn't even realize something was amiss (at least not more than it already would be at a Stubble show). I love being tricked in the name of entertainment.

I was also fortunate to see the Extra Action Marching Band. They're an 40-piece marching band that would fit right in under the Friday night lights of Texas if not for the Gibby Haynes-style bullhorn antics of the pep marshal and the g-string clad drill team furiously shaking their sweaty forms on top of the bar mere inches from my befuddled yet not-altogether-unhappy face. They put on a big scrum of fun, highly-sexualized abandon that affirms the joy of existing. Seeing them in a club was perfect, but I'd be interested to see what they do at the Hollywood Bowl on June 26 when they open for David Byrne.

Also playing were the Dead Hensons, a very enjoyable troupe of seven or eight multi-instrumentalists playing old Sesame Street and Muppet Show songs. I've always been a sucker for the music of the late Joe Raposo, so this was right up my alley. They did a bunch of the great counting songs, but not the psychedelic "Jazz Numbers" animation (the one with the race cars) sung by Grace Slick, which is my favorite. That's all the more reason to come back out here and see them again.

The Sun Comes Out in Berkeley

The weather situation improved dramatically early Thursday afternoon with all the cloud cover burning off in under two hours. I'm finally getting some mild, sunny California in preparation for hot, sticky Texas.

I spent a couple of hours walking around the UC Berkeley campus, admiring the handiwork of master architect John Galen Howard, who also helped develop San Francisco's Civic Center complex after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Howard's famous Greek Theater was locked down, but at least I got to take in the spectacular view corridor from the UC bell tower, which goes straight out to the Golden Gate Bridge. Like many big state campuses (UT included), the newer buildings try to compensate for the harshly functional blunders of the Sixties and Seventies. Too often, though, this amounts to nothing more than putting a Spanish tile roof on a turd.

Unlike the Drag in Austin, Telegraph Avenue still has record stores. The Berkeley branches of Amoeba Music and Rasputin Music are a block away from each other and both seemed to be garnering plenty of foot traffic. I bought a used vinyl copy of Hubert Laws and Earl Klugh's soundtrack for the forgotten 1980 cable favorite, How to Beat the High Cost of Living. I enjoy listening to that brand of shopping mall jazz fusion when I cook. It makes me feel more successful than I really am.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Rainy San Francisco

After turning in the rent car, taking the shuttle bus to the Oakland airport, taking another shuttle bus to the BART station and taking a train underneath the bay, I was standing in the rain in front of San Francisco's grand City Hall. As my buddy Jonathan remarked several years ago, this is what a city hall is supposed to look like. The building commands more magisterial legitimacy than most state capitols. I wish I could've been there when they were marrying gay and lesbian couples.

Market Street was festooned with rainbow flags in preparation for the Pride Parade. One of the local TV stations actually broadcasts the parade live. Imagine what would happen if a Texas station did that on a Saturday morning.

I walked all the way up Haight to the San Francisco branch of Amoeba Music. Their prices on new releases aren't great, but their stock is huge and it's easily one of the best record stores in the country. I hear the one in Hollywood is even bigger. I found a late Sixties Elektra compilation for six bucks that had cuts from both the Stooges and Carly Simon.

I had coffee at a place that only had soy milk for cream. I don't like to get all Texan on anyone, but that just ain't right. Then some guy wanted the barista to shut the window so he could watch passers-by without getting his laptop wet. The barista wouldn't do it because it would've cut off the airflow to the back of the shop. Just when I was about to offer to trade spaces with the guy, he muttered something about workers not caring about customers and stormed off. What a dildo. I bet his coffee was something unnecessarily complicated, too.

Civic Center to Amoeba and back is a good hike, but I needed it after doing the old In-N-Out thing for breakfast. I took BART back to Berkeley and met up with Heather and Mike for burritos. I'm not the biggest fan of Cal-Mex, but they definitely do burritos right out here. They're huge, cheap and fresh.

Today I'm going to walk around Berkeley. I've stayed here several times, but I've always spent most of my time across the bay. Anne Bancroft's untimely passing got me to thinking about The Graduate, so maybe I'll stroll around the UC campus and hum some Simon and Garfunkel.

In-N-Out Coming to Texas?

On my way to turn in the Mustang (sniff) at Oakland's airport yesterday, I spied a brand new In-N-Out Burger as I was exiting the Nimitz Freeway. It was only 10:30am, but of course I had to stop. In-N-Out serves nothing but burgers and fries. Their burgers are made from fresh ground chuck, their buns aren't infected with preservatives, and their lettuce, tomatoes and fries are cut in the store. Some folks are weirded out by the company's religious leanings (you'll find chapter and verse numbers in small print on the paper cups and burger wrappers), but they walk the walk by giving their employees decent wages and benefits. Even Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, gives In-N-Out a thumbs-up.

So I'm ordering my Double Double Combo when I notice some In-N-Out logo stickers by the counter. I love their logo design, so I ask if they're free and the manager hands me several. I tell him I'll hand them out in Texas and he says In-N-Out will be coming to Texas soon.

If this is true, it's great news for the Texas fast food scene. In-N-Out is a private, family-owned business that historically hasn't taken expansion lightly. To date, they've only gone as far east as Phoenix. Moving into Texas would probably involve construction of a new commissary to ensure freshness. They would definitely give Whataburger a run for their money.

I've sent an informal e-mail to corporate headquarters in Irvine to see if I can get any further confirmation of this delicious assertion. You'll know what I know when I know it.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Crescent City to Berkeley

Highway 101 coming out of Crescent City quickly became spectacular again Tuesday morning as my car got dwarfed by a forest of impossibly tall redwoods. I didn't make great time with all those hairpin turns on a two-lane road, but who cares?

I arrived in Eureka around 10:30am. While the outskirts of town appeared heavily industrialized, the old city center was abuzz with a farmer's market and a Joni Mitchell-like busker. Finding sparkling mineral water was no problem here. Good hydroponic equipment would've been easy to find, too, as Humboldt County is probably the foremost marijuana growing region in these United States. All of the local media outlets documented the hometown indignation with Monday's Supreme Court decision.

I really hadn't realized the degree to which California north of San Francisco had been colonized by so many progressive/peacenik/hippie types. Even smaller towns like Garberville seemed to have organic foods, tribal drum stores and left of the dial radio options. Oddly enough, the restaurant I had lunch in was incongruously showing Fox News.

Instead of taking 101 straight into San Francisco and crossing the Bay Bridge to Berkeley, I simply had to stop in Calistoga to see the California Old Faithful Geyser. It wasn't quite like Yellowstone, but it's not like Yellowstone's on the way to anyplace, either. After about 15 minutes of sitting through mini-eruptions the guy next to me compared to premature ejaculations, Old Faithful did its thing, shooting steaming water 40-50 feet in the air for two or three minutes. That may sound simple, but I got my seven bucks' worth from it. I don't know if I can say the same for the guy next to me, let alone his wife.

Calistoga is right in the middle of Wine Country, but it was after 5 and all the wineries had closed. Even if they were open, I wouldn't have known which ones to choose (they go on for miles) and I wouldn't have been able to handle driving on those curvy, two-lane roads very well. Frankly, I wasn't doing that great sober.

The last part of the drive was the hardest. I hit the Bay Area right around rush hour and drove through some of the most visually unappealing parts of East Bay before finally arriving in Berkeley around 7pm. My hosts Heather and Mike have a very comfortable upstairs duplex with a big kitchen overlooking downtown Berkeley. They thoughtfully handed me a glass of wine and I began to unwind from the 350-mile trek. After another glass or two (?), I was ready for bed.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Other Crescent City

It took me about an hour to get from Eugene to the junction with U.S. 101 at Florence. I was listening to talk radio dissect the Supreme Court’s medical marijuana ruling, which is a big deal in both Oregon and California. I don’t think pot should be illegal even for people just doing it for fun (let alone for medical reasons), but federalism isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world once you’ve witnessed the Southern heritage set’s version of “state’s rahts.”

Judging from the paucity of it, you might think sparkling water was also illegal in certain parts of rural Oregon. I walked into two grocery stores in Reedsport and neither had a bottle between them. When I asked the checkout girl for Perrier, she looked at me like I was speaking Terrorist.

The biggest town on the Southern Oregon coast is Coos Bay. I believe it’s pronounced “cous” as opposed to “cooze.” I tried to eat at the local tribal casino buffet, but they’d already closed for lunch. After strolling around the center of town for a bit, I headed down to Bandon, a picturesque fishing village that bills itself as “Bandon-By-the-Sea” in deference to Carmel.

Despite the tourist trappings, Bandon was my favorite coastal town. I had a plate of fish and chips at the dock. The fries were lousy, but the fish was fresh Pacific cod. As I dined, I eavesdropped on a local contractor who was telling another diner that Bandon was blowing up like Carmel and would likely be just as exclusive in another decade or so. That’s what happens when Gregory “Gonzo Gates” Harrison has a place down the road in Gold Beach.

More importantly, the contractor revealed an alleged cure for seasickness he learned from a retired sailor. What you’re supposed to do is swish some seawater around in your mouth, then spit it out into the wind so the spray hits you in the face. The idea is that the smell is what makes you sick, and once you make the sea “part of you,” it can’t make you sick anymore. Has anyone ever heard of and/or tried this?

After eating, I walked out to the beach next to the Coquille River jetties. The ocean was both serene and menacing. There’s nothing quite like an empty beach on the Pacific to make you feel small and insignificant. It’s a long way to Japan.

The rest of 101 in Oregon featured a mind-blowing series of hills and curves overlooking the water. Bandon to Brookings is easily one of the most beautiful stretches of road on the planet. Everyone should see it.

Expecting to have my fruit confiscated at the California border (no, that’s not a euphemism), I gobbled down an apple and banana. Unlike every other time I’ve entered the Golden State by car, the inspection stations were shuttered. If some mutant fruit fly destroys California’s agriculture this summer, you’ll know who to blame.

Crescent City is about 20 miles into California and I decided to stop there for the night. The city is only 29 feet above sea level and prone to flooding from post-earthquake tsunamis. In fact, a series of tsunami waves triggered by the 1964 Alaska earthquake killed 11 people here. Otherwise, it’s a nice seaside town that makes a good staging point for jaunts into the redwood forests.

I stayed at a place called the Penny Saver Inn. The room smelled funky until I aired it out, but the king size bed was better than Motel 6 in Albany. I paid $45 because they had an indoor pool and hot tub, but by the time I got done watching the season premiere of Six Feet Under on HBO, it was too late to go swimming.

I plan to drive through some redwoods today and maybe do a quick detour on the Pacific Coast Highway through Mendocino. I have to see what Doug Sahm was talking about for myself. I might make the Bay Area (350 miles away) or I might not.

A quick technical note: cell phone reception is spotty on the ocean side of the Coast Range, so if you’ve had trouble getting in touch with me, that is why. I'm not ducking you. Honest.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Portland to Eugene via Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls is about 30 miles east of Portland on I-84 in the Columbia River Gorge. Despite being overrun with tourists, the 600-foot waterfall is unequivocally amazing. It’s the kind of natural wonder that makes you feel good to be alive.

Although it was raining when I arrived, one glimpse from the base of the falls was all it took to convince me to make the one-mile hike to the top. The trail is paved but somewhat steep with lots of tight switchbacks. It took me about 20 minutes to make the climb through towering pines and lush overgrowth. After getting to the top, I spent a few minutes surveying the splendor before heading back down. As I descended, the sun briefly managed to break through the cloud cover, casting rays of rainy light through the trees and upon the Columbia River. It was a sight to cherish.

From there, I drove to Hood River and did a quick spin around the town before concluding it was too touristy and expensive to stay there. I drove south on state highway 35 toward Government Camp and started going through high mountain passes still barren from the winter snows. The clouds hovered just over the trees below as the sun slowly receded.

I should’ve stopped driving at nightfall because those twisting two-lane roads aren’t exactly user-friendly in the dark. However, this long loop had left me only 25 miles away from Portland and I wanted to make some progress down the coast, so I pressed forward toward I-5. I was hoping to make it as far as Eugene, but at 11pm, I gave into my better judgment and exited at Albany.

Normally I’m a cheapskate when it comes to motels. I scrutinize those coupon books you get at tourist information centers and I’ll go to several different places before settling on a room. This time, however, I just stopped at Motel 6 because it was the first budget-oriented lodging I passed. The room was clean, but the bed was uncomfortable and I couldn’t get the dataport to work.

If you ask me, Motel 6 gets away with a lot because it’s known as a “cheap” chain. In fact, their prices nowadays aren’t that great and you can probably get better amenities at an Econo Lodge or Super 8. Tonight I’ll be more discriminating.

At the moment, I’m in downtown Eugene at a retail/food complex on 5th Avenue next to the railroad tracks. It was the first place I could find with wi-fi. No one is here, but maybe it’ll start filling up as the lunch hour approaches.

The tentative plan is to abandon I-5 and head over the Coast Range to Florence, where I’ll hook up with the 101 and continue southward. I’ll probably stay somewhere in Southern Oregon or far Northern California tonight. I was shooting to make the Bay Area by tomorrow, but it’s looking like Wednesday from here.

By the way, there’s no sales tax in Oregon and you can’t pump your own gas. The latter makes gas cost a bit more, but it’s almost worth it to hand your credit card to some guy and say, “Fill ‘er up.” I don’t think I’ve ever actually said that before.

It sure was fun to see Noah and Trish in Portland. I hadn’t seen them both since their wedding outside of Austin in 2001. Hopefully it won’t be that long before I see them again.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

I Really Like Portland

I can't seem to get my ass up and out of Portland. It's just too relaxing and I might wind up moving here if I don't watch myself. The city's vibe is friendly (much more so than Seattle), there's lots of cool things to look at and you couldn't ask for better vistas. These are all summary judgments, of course, but it's been awhile since I fell this hard for an American city.

On Saturday, Trish and Noah took me for a leisurely stroll down Alberta Street. We started off with a hearty breakfast and about five cups of drip coffee for me at Helser's. Then we window shopped our way through vintage shops and record stores. Trish bought a $1 copy of Aretha Franklin's Sparkle, an overlooked 1976 soundtrack album produced by Curtis Mayfield.

My hosts sated me like a king with a mixed grill of fish and sausage and a bottle of red wine for dinner. Then we tried to watch the Jerry Seinfeld documentary, Comedian, but the rented DVD was all gunked up and we missed several scenes. Or that might have just been my brain checking out on me after all the wine, tuna and an alarmingly phallic chocolate-covered frozen banana. Somehow, I successfully resisted the urge to take an obscene snapshot with it.

I slept like a log in the attic guest room and woke up early to the sound of gentle rain on the roof. The chill in the air was mitigated by the knowledge that it's probably 90 degrees with 100% humidity back home. We decided to hit Hawthorne Street, yet another enclave of eccentric commerce, this one slightly more gentrified than Alberta. Then we went to Powell's City of Books, the world's largest bookstore. The main Powell's is an entire city block and they have several other specialty bookstores nearby. I could easily spend a whole day there.

The plan right now is to head east out of town toward Multnomah Falls and Hood River before turning back in a southwestwardly direction toward the coast. I may get on I-5 to make some time, or I may wind up just staying somewhere near Hood River for the night. It's supposed to get down into the 30s in the mountains tonight, though, so I'm not entirely set on that idea. We'll just see how far I get, and when the body says stop, I'll stop.

Trader Joe's Rocks My Food World

With Central Market and Whole Foods going head-to-head, Austin has proved to be a pretty decent city for supermarkets. We don't have a Trader Joe's, though, and we are definitely poorer for that.

Trader Joe's is a California-based "natural" food store that doesn't charge elitist prices. They started out as a convenience store in 1958 and now operate about 200 locations in the West, Midwest and East. Their in-house brand line is huge and doesn't cost much more than we're used to paying for Hill Country Fare at H-E-B.

The Sun Harvest/Henry's Marketplace/Wild Oats family tries to do the mid-sized natural food thing, but their produce is often dog-eared, their prices aren't great and their selection isn't that impressive, either. If I were Trader Joe's, I'd think about taking over and improving Sun Harvest to gain a foothold in Texas and give Whole Foods a fight.

Just a friendly suggestion from a concerned shopper.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Big T in Little S

I-5 to Portland was a short, easy hop of about 170 miles. I stopped at the Mount St. Helen's Visitor's Center just off the highway, which is further away from the volcano than it sounds. You could at least see the thing, though.

I wasn't looking forward to hitting Portland at rush hour, but I did fine until I missed my exit and went over the Willamette River against my will. After spending almost half an hour to get back to where I was supposed to be, I found Noah and Trish's house. Noah is my old high school buddy and Trish is his former Austinite wife. Noah and I used to romp together and play in a psychedelic punk band that covered "White Rabbit."

These days, Noah's playing bass for an instrumental surf trio called Big T. The talented Eric Lovre from the Dharma Bums plays guitar. They had a gig in Salem, which is about 45 miles south of Portland. Oregon's capital city is a quiet place after dark, but a statewide chain of brewpub/eatery/theatre/hotel-type places called McMenamin's has a place in Salem called Boon's Treasury that books live music. It's a genteel sort of place with exposed brick walls covered in bric-a-brac from antique malls.

Boon's Treasury normally books quiet, acoustic music you can dine to, but surf rock is not meant to be played quietly. When the Big T started paying electric homage to Dick Dale, the bar staff asked them to turn down and Eric steadfastly refused to do so. Needless to say, this created a bit of tension, but the running battle of wills made for good rock drama.

Today I think we're going to hit Powell's City of Books and maybe check out the Portland's famed Rose Festival, which I didn't even know was happening. I normally try to avoid big events like that unless someone's paying me to be there, but it might not be half-bad in a vacation state of mind. So long as no one vomits on my shoes, I think I can handle a street festival.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Sayonara Seattle

After one last night of carousing with Kevin and some of his seafaring friends at a Fremont area pub, I left Seattle for Portland. Kevin graciously took me to pick up my rental car, but we got all turned around because I didn't realize I actually had to go inside the Seattle-Tacoma Airport to retrieve it. The maze of corkscrew-shaped ramps leading into the airport only added to the confusion.

Instead of a boring Pontiac Grand Am, the car rental folks set me up with a brand new 2004 Ford Mustang. It's the kind of car I'd never consider buying, but it's a fine piece of machinery to travel in. I've actually had total strangers come up to me and say, "Hey, man. Nice car." That never happens with a Honda Civic. The retro styling of the dashboard and steering wheel reminds me of the 1966 'Stang my parents used to drive. Although I'm not a particularly aggressive driver, Northwest traffic moves at a sluggish pace relative to Texas, so it's nice to be in a car that has some get-up-and-go. I'm looking forward to getting out on the open road so's I can find out what the engine is capable of.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Two Men and a Chinese Garden

The weather situation in Vancouver yesterday was much better. Blue skies, mild temps and no rain. Kevin and I lunched on a park bench overlooking the marina and took a quick tour of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. It’s the first Ming Dynasty scholar’s garden constructed outside of China. You have to take the tour to get an idea of what everything in the garden means. After all, those Ming-era designers didn’t have time to throw shit up all willy-nilly.

We left Vancouver right at rush hour, but despite not having any freeways in the center of town, traffic moved quite briskly along Granville Avenue and out toward the suburbs. I expected another long wait getting back into the U.S., but the border crossing only took about five minutes. The only thing that threw me is when the border guard asked Kevin and I how we knew each other. I almost said, “What is being implied here, sir?” before thinking better of the idea. No one goes home happy when you smart off to a border guard.

Today has been sort of lazy. I finished a blurb for the Chron and had lunch with my cousin. After one last night in Seattle, I’m renting a car and heading for Portland.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Horton Hears A "Wuh?"

Our eating plans went horribly awry last night. Between the hotel hot tub and the fascinating world of Canadian TV, we didn’t set out for dinner until 9:30. I’d purchased an umbrella earlier in the day, but naturally I left it in the room, only to have a fairly steady rain (not mist) come down on us. The first two places we went turned us away because they were closing.

We wound up at a place called Cactus Club CafĂ© or something where they were running a special on bellinis. I had a salmon burger and Kevin had spicy shrimp linguini. We also had double margaritas that didn’t seem to have any booze in them. We were way too old to be in such a place and both of us groused about the gaggle of college students sitting next to us. If you ask me, they were too goddamn noisy. The sexy, college-aged waitresses in black boots and minidresses were just fine, though. In fact, you could say they were the establishment’s saving grace. Vancouver is simply bursting with gorgeous, healthy women.

After sleeping soundly, we decided to go to Tim Horton’s for breakfast. For those of you south of the Mason-Dixon line, Tim Horton’s is sort of like the Canadian McDonald’s. Toronto Maple Leafs hockey legend Tim Horton started the successful chain in 1964, only to die in a tragic car wreck ten years later. Wendy’s bought them out several years ago, but their donuts, coffee, soups and sandwiches menu hasn’t been infected with Big Bacon Classics yet.

Another thing Tim Horton’s hasn’t been infected with is the ability to purchase your food with a credit card. Kevin tried to slide his Visa through and that didn’t work. Then he tried his debit card and that didn’t work. Then I tried my American Express and that didn’t work. Our American currency was no good there and we only had about four loonies between us. Just when I thought we were going to have to walk out of Tim Horton’s in shame, a very nice thirtysomething woman put $6.02 CDN on the counter and said, “My treat.” We tried briefly to refuse before thanking her graciously. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt such a poignant mixture of gratitude and utter doltishness in my life. We Texans pride ourselves on friendliness, but the unassuming, efficient Canadians seem to have us trumped when it comes to helping the clueless.

After our meal, Kevin had to use the washroom (as the Canadians call them). You can’t just walk into a business and bust pee in Vancouver without buying something, so Kevin walked up to the same Tim Horton’s cashier who’d taken our order earlier to ask for entry into the men’s room. Kevin thought she was saying, “My machine,” when in fact she was saying, “I’ll buzz you in.” They were very sorry to see us leave.