Monday, December 31, 2007

Target...Austin, Texas

Here’s a somewhat harrowing Cold War-era clip to end 2007. Target...Austin, Texas was a documentary produced by KTBC-TV in 1960. Cactus Pryor narrates a nightmare scenario in which CONELRAD is activated in response to reports of advancing enemy aircraft. Of course, in the event of an actual emergency, the city would’ve likely been cooked long before the radio announcer finished following official procedures.

Civil Defense was big business in Austin. Bergstrom Air Force Base spent much of its postwar commission as a front-line Strategic Air Command post, making the city a likely target in the event of a Soviet attack. The base was protected by two NIKE missile batteries. One of the missile sites is located on private land just south of the airport and the other is west of town just off Bee Caves Rd.

Fortunately, Austin never got nuked by the Russians. Cactus Pryor is still here, too. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Remember the Colonial House!

This TV spot will definitely jog the memory of anyone who lived in Houston during the pre-bust 80s. Here's well-coiffed Michael Pollack offering free VCRs (and perhaps a sweet young thing in a bikini) to new residents of his Colonial House apartments. This ad ran all the time and everyone in town knew who Pollack was.

I love the way he refers to "beautiful Southwest Houston." That particular area of Southwest Houston has been known as the "Gulfton Ghetto" for more years than I can remember, but even before that nickname came into use, no sane person would've deemed it beautiful.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Happy Minutes Still Rolling

Chron staff writer Lee Nichols’ December 20 post at his I Love Beer blog revisited the joys of Texas Showdown’s Happy Minutes special. I had no idea they were still doing it.

From 3 to 3:15pm, the Showdown sells 10-ounce cups of domestic beer for 40 cents. As Lee points out, that’s just five cents more than what they charged in 1990, when Austin was a town where one could live peaceably for under $300 a month.

I only recall doing Happy Minutes once. I was in the middle of an afternoon copy editing shift at The Daily Texan and a group of us walked across Guadalupe for a quick beer break. After pounding back several foamy cups of Shiner Bock, I slouched back down to the Texan's basement newsroom and found myself profusely nauseated by the green glare of the video display terminal.

Thinking I was about to toss my tacos, I hurried to the men’s room and splashed cold water on my face. That kept the slosh down and got me through the rest of my shift, but I still lament not being able to fully embrace this wallet-friendly Austin tradition.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Merry Massmas 2007

As you may have surmised from the lack of posts this week, I have been on holiday. Kate and I flew to Massachusetts Friday afternoon. After a two-hour layover in Houston, we arrived in Boston just before midnight. After scraping several inches of snow off our rental car, we drove to Worcester and got there just before 2am. We stayed with Kate’s mom and her stepdad, Michael.

Kate spent Saturday afternoon looking for wedding dresses with her 12-year-old sister, Eloise and her stepmom, Phyllis. Meanwhile, I had lunch with Michael and his son, Patrick. Michael was kind enough to show me around Worcester, pointing out various historical and cultural places of interest. Worcester has a grand train depot and lots of cool older buildings, both of which are in short supply in go-go Austin. We even got to see a real live American bald eagle at the EcoTarium, where Kate’s dad was once executive director.

When Kate finished her dress hunt, we picked up her sister, Eloise and drove down to Rhode Island for the night to visit Kate’s dad and his wife, Mary. Poor Eloise was subjected to all eight minutes of “Free Bird,” courtesy of the local classic rock station. After arriving in Portsmouth, we sat down to a superb roast beef and Yorkshire pudding dinner. Then we had homemade brown sugar ice cream and conked out early.

Kate and I took a nice walk around the neighborhood with her dad and Eloise on Sunday morning. Although there was plenty of snow on the ground – at least by Texas standards – it really wasn’t all that cold. Being closer to the coast probably helped on that count.

We drove Eloise back to Worcester that afternoon, stopping at Weintraub’s Deli for an amazing corned beef sandwich and their house label birch beer. I also had a cup of chicken soup to ward off any pathogens inadvertently acquired during our travels. I don’t care what Marc Katz says – there’s really no such thing as authentic East Coast deli food in Austin.

Kate’s family has a long tradition of attending the Christmas Revels show at Harvard’s Sanders Theater. The Revels started back in 1971 and are now a venerated Cambridge tradition. Phyllis graciously took Kate, Eloise and me to the Sunday night performance. The Revels spotlight the winter solstice traditions of a different culture every year. This year’s culture was the Balkans, which offered lots of colorful costumes, acrobatic dancing and haunting women’s choral pieces. The entire audience was invited to sing “Dona Nobis Pacem” and I was vaguely able to follow along thanks to Kate’s pre-Yule tutelage.

Christmas Eve day was comparatively low-key. We wrapped gifts in the morning and had lunch with Kate’s mom and Michael. His two sons were there, too. Then we visited Kate’s grandparents and her Aunt P.K. in Paxton. We took a nice walk through Moore State Park as the sun was setting. There we saw an 18th century mill along a placid flowing stream. It was about the most picturesque thing I’ve seen all year, so naturally I didn’t have a camera with me.

Because Kate has three sets of parents, one set of grandparents and an extended family gathering to visit, Christmas was something of a whirlwind. I think we ended up doing seven separate gift exchanges this year. That’s a far cry from the sparsely attended Bloody Mary Christmas morning I typically do in Houston with my folks, but it was fun getting to see everyone and eating all that food. It was also my first white Christmas, though no snow actually fell during our trip.

Speaking of H-town, four of Kate’s cousins are planning to converge there in June for the big Red Sox/Astros showdown at Minute Maid Park. Now I really need to find a way to get good tickets for that game. Naturally, I’ll be the only ‘Stros partisan in the bunch.

We ended up at the Wellesley home of Kate’s Aunt Charlotte on Christmas night. Aside from the excellent food and company, Kate showed me the back garden where we’ll be getting married in September. It was covered in snow, of course, but I was able to imagine how it might look in late summer. We stood on the freezing cold porch and I remarked that next time we were there, we’d be just about married. That helped warm me up.

Kate’s mom took us to the Worcester Art Museum on Wednesday. Worcester has one of the best smaller art museums in the country. We spent a couple of hours there and had lunch. I’d like to go back sometime and see some of the exhibits we missed.

Just as we did last year, our final night in New England was spent in Petersham at the rustic family farm house of Kate’s friend, Caitie Huppert. Before dinner, Caitie had everyone join hands and told us how good it was to have us there. Although I’ve only known them since last Christmas, the Hupperts really have a way of making one feel welcome. In fact, the same can be said of Kate’s family. That’s just one more reason I consider myself to be one very fortunate Texan to be by Kate’s side.

Friday, December 21, 2007

UT Southwestern at Austin?

Kate broke a big story today about UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas conducting a feasability study on building a small medical school branch in Austin. Non-ABJ subscribers - which I imagine constitutes a solid majority of this here blog's demographic - can read part of the story here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Greetings from the Gay Nineties

My former Noodle bandmate turned Chron sports desk captain Mark Fagan recently posted a bunch of old photos to his Flickr site. Talk about a stumble down memory lane.

This is Noodle performing at the Blue Flamingo in late 1994. The “Goatee Years,” as I call them. The Blue Flamingo was a combination gay bar and punk rock club at the corner of Red River and 7th. There's a dance club called Plush there now.

As I recall, we began this show dressed in bad drag. I almost can’t recognize Jonathan Toubin on guitar to my left. He always made the prettiest girl of us all.

Lance Farley is playing drums in the background. Mark was no longer playing bass for us by the time my goatee came in, so I’m pretty sure that’s Clay Brown to my right. I'm hoisting the giant inflatable penis we often used as a stage prop.

Ending a show clad in nothing but underpants and pantyhose was not all that unusual for me. I often removed clothing during shows, but I don’t think I ever actually exposed myself. At least not on purpose.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Houston Awash in Turd Juice

This will not come as news to anyone who has ever lived in Houston, but a new study shows the city’s bayous are brimming with fecal bacteria. Apparently, someone has finally decided that something should be done about this.

Mary Ellen Whitworth, executive president of the Bayou Preservation Association, is one of many prominent Houstonians lamenting the fact that the “Bayou City” has literally let its namesake waterways go to shit.

“We don’t want to be known for that,” Whitworth told the Houston Chronicle.

While cleaning up Buffalo Bayou would be a wonderful thing, I find it amusing that the impetus for Houston to improve livability often stems from a desire to avoid embarrassment on the national stage. Beneath all the Lone Star braggadocio and Sun Belt business boosterism lies a humidity-soaked hotbed of latent civic insecurity. No other major American city is so easily wounded by what the neighbors think.

If you tell someone from Philadelphia their city sucks, they’ll tell you to go fuck yourself. If you tell someone from Houston their city sucks, an ad hoc cadre of community pillars will join together and develop a marketing campaign to instill hometown pride.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Jason's Deli Now Serving Dublin Dr Pepper

Kate and I had a late dinner tonight at Jason's Deli on Great Hills Trail. After not eating there for quite a while, I was pleased to discover they now offer Dublin Dr Pepper as a fountain drink selection.

Dublin Dr Pepper is made at the Dublin (Texas) Dr Pepper Bottling Company using Imperial Pure Cane Sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. They're the oldest Dr Pepper bottler in the world and the only one that never stopped using the original, sugar-charged formula.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Year of Austin Music?

Austin music veteran Troy Dillinger is heading a campaign to have City Council proclaim 2008 as “The Year of Austin Music.” His objective is to get Austinites to see live music at least once a month. Despite explosive population growth and a go-go economy, Dillinger says it’s harder to make a living as an Austin musician now than it was 25 years ago when our population was smaller and our economy was in the bog.

"I made the same amount of money per night playing in Austin clubs in 1966 as I did in 2006," local guitarist John Inmon quips on the campaign's Web site. "But in 1966, one night of work paid my rent."

I’m not aware of any systematic study of musician wages in Austin, but I don’t doubt the veracity of such claims. Go-go economies seldom favor the plight of people like musicians. Between higher living costs, tour-killing gas prices and declining CD sales, the break-even point for marginal musical pursuits is farther away than it used to be. Making less at the door is just salt on an already-nasty wound.

Austin's live music market balance overwhelmingly favors the buyer. It’s laughably easy to find free shows featuring top local performers playing for tips. The drawing power of “live music” has compelled scads of heretofore-unrelated businesses to offer it regularly. No one expected to see live music at grocery stores and airports 30 years ago, but now the concept flirts with ubiquity. With so much live music available for free, where’s the impetus to pay for it?

Although commissioning a blue ribbon committee to write a white paper that ferrets out all the “whys” would be interesting enough, it probably wouldn’t change anything. Maybe Dillinger’s campaign will strike a chord with salarypeople who like the idea of living in a live music mecca but aren’t getting out to the shows. A little civic-minded encouragement won’t hurt.

Of course, if you really want more day jobbers at shows, it might make sense for Tuesday night headliners to start playing before midnight.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Mexican Retailer Unshuttering Old Albertson's

The former Albertson's at the corner of U.S. 183 and Ohlen Rd. is slated to become the first Austin outpost of FAMSA, a Monterrey-based appliance, electronics and furniture retailer that lets you purchase goods in the U.S. to be delivered to folks in Mexico. If you don't know anyone in Mexico to send a plasma screen TV to, I think they'll just let you take the stuff home, too.

Given the large Hispanic population in the area, that location seems like a pretty good fit for FAMSA. I would've preferred a grocery store within walking distance of our house, but it would be tough going for a supermarket on that corner because of the elevated highway.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Doing the Ham Jive

After assuming they were gone forever when their 26 Doors location on W. 38th was replaced by a lousy, stinking bank, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that T.J’s Hickory Honey Hams has reopened in the former Travis County Farmer’s Market location of Dog Almighty at 6701 Burnet Rd.

I went over there today to pick up a ham sub for lunch. I made it a combo by adding a side of their excellent baked beans and a drink. The grand total came to $9, including tax. That’s not cheap for a sandwich, but you can’t argue with their soft, crunchy sub rolls and generous portions of succulent, spiral-sliced ham. My only complaint is that the baked beans were lukewarm by the time I got back to the office. Hickory Honey Hams also sells bigger portions of ham for holiday dinners and the like for $6.19 a pound.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Astros Juice Up for 2008

So what if newly-acquired Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada was named today? We need hits, dammit!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Yogi Beets?

I've been making noise about taking a yoga class for several years, but Kate finally coaxed me into action this evening. We took a Hatha flow class at Yoga Yoga. I found much of it beyond my ability to comprehend, let alone physically keep up with. The fact that I have to think about the difference between left and right before committing to the appropriate limb certainly doesn't help.

Nevertheless, I'm glad I did it. The teacher did a good job of making sure I had something to try when the more bendable students were in more challenging poses. I'd like to try taking more yoga classes in the not-too-distant future. We'll see if I still feel that way tomorrow morning.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Stumping for Thumpers in Aggieland

I’d hate to see someone not get elected solely because of their religious beliefs, but seeing the Republican electorate divided against itself by Mitt Romney’s religion in 2008 would be sweetly ironic.

Romney’s admonitions against not voting for him because he’s Mormon would be a lot easier to stomach if he wasn’t cloaking them in the default notion that one must publicly waggle their faith around like a giant dildo to run for national office in the first place.

The primary purpose of Mitt's phony “Kennedy moment” in College Station Thursday was to whip up support among Southern theocrats, not to dispel concerns about how religion would guide his policy decisions. Regardless of what he did as governor of Massachusetts, anyone who doesn’t recognize that a Romney presidency would be carrying water for the religious right in the form of restrictive public policy is a fool.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Welcome to My Nightmare

Last night I had a dream in which this loutish, drunken asshole in a pickup truck backed into my car and tried to drive away. I immediately thought to take down his license plate, which read YRA-LSR (you’re a loser).

When he attempted to exit the parking lot, a police cruiser cut him off. Then he climbed out of the truck and started coming toward me while brandishing a power tool of some sort.

As he encroached upon me, I noticed he looked a bit like Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds. With no help forthcoming from the cops and no weapon to defend myself with, I woke up at 5am and didn’t go back to sleep.

I hope I have the dream again soon so I can slay that demonic fucker Wes Craven style.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Judy's Reissued

My pal Kar, who you may know from his seminal vocal work with The Blanks, passed along some good news this morning. After languishing in Out-of-Printsville for more than a decade, Wasted Talent Records is preparing to reissue the Judy’s catalog on CD.

Emerging from the suburban Houston enclave of Pearland in 1979, the Judy’s translated geeky adolescent disdain for convention into irresistibly minimal pop-rock jingles about the People’s Temple mass suicide (“Guyana Punch”), the Three Mile Island accident (“Radiation Squirm”) and the Iran hostage crisis (“Vacation in Tehran”). Although the Judy’s were a big regional draw in the 80s, they never broke out nationally. Even so, they influenced a whole boatload of subsequent Texas bands, including my own.

The Washarama reissue includes all six tracks from the band’s Wonderful World of Appliances EP, while The Moo Album reissue contains bonus tracks from guitarist/vocalist David Bean’s solo EP, Modomusic. The latter includes Bean’s “Marsha’s Car,” which became the first song I ever danced in public to when the Dishes – another 80s Houston band with a geek-friendly penchant for retro-futurism – performed it at AstroWorld.

The first 200 reissue orders will also receive a free Judy’s button and the “Guide to Good Smells” originally included with the band’s 1986 single, “Girl of 1,000 Smells.” While you’re at it, don’t forget to pick up a limited-edition “Don’t Be a Hippie” pocket comb for $5.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Study Finds Divorce is Killing Our Planet

Some unhappily married couples stay together for religion. Others stay together for the children. Pretty soon, they may be staying together to reduce their carbon footprints.

A new study out of Michigan State University says divorce is bad for the environment because couples and families living together consume resources more efficiently than those living apart.

"For a long time we've blamed industries for environmental problems,” said study co-author Jianguo Liu in a desperate bid to spin quantification of conventional knowledge into something that passes for news. “One thing we've ignored is the household."

Liu and company calculated that divorced households used between 42 and 61 percent more electricity and water in 2005 than before splitting. If those couples had stayed married for the sake of our big blue marble, the U.S. could have saved 73 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and 627 billion gallons of water.

Following this study's logic, I guess we should all keep living with our parents until we become polygamists.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Evel Knievel R.I.P.

Evel Knievel, Greyhound bus-jumping hero to all American boy-children of the 1970s, has died at age 69. For a man who lived like he did, making it to 69 is roughly equivalent to a mild-mannered salaryman living to 112.

Despite the “don’t try this at home” mantra that accompanied every TV broadcast of Knievel’s stunts, you don’t have to look far to find men of my generation who still bear scars from trying to jump something on a bicycle. For me, it was a rusty chain about two and a half feet off the ground that blocked a driveway at West University Elementary School in Houston.

Emboldened by Knievel-style visions of my bike sailing over the chain in a graceful, photo-worthy arc, I attempted this brave feat at age 8 without the aid of a ramp. Unfortunately, the laws of physics conspired against me. I crashed straight into the chain, flew over my handlebars and landed on the pavement in a heap of ignominy.

Although no bones were broken and no organs were ruptured, I sustained a nasty cut to the elbow. When the school principal applied hydrogen peroxide to the cut, it stung my wound as well as my ego. Then he summoned my horrified mother to pick me up from school. She rushed me to the pediatrician, where I received stitches of some sort.

To this day, there remains a scar on my left elbow to remind me of my failed attempt at daredevil greatness. Tonight, I will pour some alcohol on that scar in honor of the man who inspired me.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Who Cares About Them Cowboys?

Although I’ve been a Dallas Cowboys fan for years, I’m not all that broken up about the fact that Time Warner Cable isn’t carrying tonight’s showdown with the Green Bay Packers on the NFL Network. Screw ‘em if they’re going to make it hard for me to enjoy their product. There are plenty of other things I can do with my free time.

The Dallas Cowboys are just another business that doesn’t really represent anything but their own bottom line. It’s fun to pretend otherwise on occasion, but the magical childhood construct of die-hard sports fandom is ultimately best consigned to the Santa Claus file.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Time of the Season

I wish I could say I’ve been too busy to write lately, but the truth is I’m just feeling more unmotivated than usual these days. I’ve been dragging ass at work and coming home with little initiative to do anything other than watch reruns and surf the net.

Perhaps I’m subconsciously conserving psychic energy for the holidays. I’ve noticed my energy levels often drop off precariously when I’m preparing to engage in a higher-than-usual amount of social activity. Even when there’s good times and fellowship to be had, part of me would rather stay at home.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Tale of the Fleeting Taco

This past Tuesday I was taking my regular mental health walk around the periphery of the Austin State Hospital campus when I spied a discarded beverage cup game piece from Taco Bell near the corner of 45th and Lamar. The game piece read, "Free Crunchy Beef Taco."

I was moving at a decent clip, so I kept walking another two or three feet before my brain clicked to the fact that I'd walked right past a free taco. At that point I came to a dead halt, turned around and returned to pick up the game piece. I quickly scanned the small print until I came to the words, "expires 11/13/2007." What had been a free crunchy beef taco one week ago was now useless garbage.

I don't have a word that approximates the noise that accompanied this realization, but I think it sounded a bit like Charlie Brown's "Aaarraugh!"

Whatever the noise was, it attracted the attention of a woman idling in the left turn lane with her window rolled down. We made eye contact and it was clear she took me for less than sane. I thought about showing her my ID badge to prove I was merely a cheap state worker and not a furloughed mental patient, but she'd already driven away.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Return of Yacht Rock

Actor/director J.D. Ryznar (Michael McDonald) recently announced that the long-awaited 11th episode of Yacht Rock is now in production. This is the first new episode since 2006.

Episode 11's world premiere is scheduled for Thursday, December 27 at New York's Knitting Factory.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Royal Blunder

Kate: I first noticed this billboard while driving on I-35 south, where it stood out because of the dazed expression on former UT football coach Royal's face. The poor guy, I thought, probably didn't expect to end up looking like that in this ad campaign. But not being a native Texan or a particularly huge football fan, I didn't notice the sign's most glaring error until I showed Greg the billboard. His exclamation "They misspelled his name!" almost caused me to swerve off the road - not because I was appalled by the copy editing error so much as the volume of the observation.

Greg: Well, what do you expect, Kate? This is Darrell freakin' Royal we're talking about. The Longhorn brain trust loves this man more than Jesus and the Beatles. They put his name ahead of our nation's war dead on the football stadium and he's not even dead yet. I thought the worst local copy editing error one could make was to spell Stevie Ray Vaughan's last name "Vaughn," but this is worse. The deer-in-the-headlights look on the man's face makes me feel sorry for him even though he undoubtedly scored a rather large check for his services and probably doesn't care that one of the world's largest media conglomerates can't spell his name right.

Kate: The thing that gets me about these billboards - that's right, there are at least two of them in Austin - is that Time Warner has been making a point in their recent campaign of stressing their local connection with the "we think like you" messages. Here's what I think - someone needs to do some basic fact-checking.

Greg: I never thought I'd find myself defending the honor of Coach Royal, but I hereby challenge Time Warner to a dual!

This post simultaneously appeared on Lone Star Kate

UPDATE (12/2/2007): My pal Kent B. pointed out another typo on the Royal billboard. The "K" in "Darrell K Royal" is not a middle initial and therefore should not be followed by a period. The "K" is a tribute to Royal's mom, Katy, who died of cancer when he was still a baby. So not only did Time Warner misspell Royal's name, they insulted the memory of his mother.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Calling All Batchelosers

The Austin Chronicle is now searching for our fair town's least eligible bachelor in its Batcheloser contest.

You can learn more about the candidates and vote here. The winner gets a SXSW wristband (which, honestly, is probably the last thing such a man needs).

What makes a Batcheloser? Is it serial unemployment, involuntary celibacy, hobbyism-as-compensation, social paralysis or bad hygiene? Nah. I think these factors are merely symptomatic.

To truly embody the ideal, you must knowingly squander potential in an inelegant manner before shrugging your shoulders and saying, "Fuck it" to no one in particular. To that end, many of Austin's foremost would-be Batchelosers can't even be bothered to enter a contest.

And when that happens, ladies and gentlemen, we all lose.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The World's Saddest Cubicle?

Wired has posted a photo gallery of the winning entries in its saddest cubicles contest.

Not surprisingly, the “winner” is in the employ of a public institution. Pictured is the workspace of David Gunnells, an IT guy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Although his cube is smaller and more despressingly-lit than my own, I too use filing cabinets to surround my government job box. I like it that way. The fewer people who can see what I’m doing (or not doing), the happier I am.

What really sets the winning cube apart is its proximity to both a microwave oven and a toilet. Thankfully, I’m far enough away from both to avoid the stench of buttered popcorn commingled with morning coffee shit.

Monday, November 12, 2007

CONELRAD Revisits the Daisy Ad

To this day, the Democratic National Committee's 1964 “Daisy Ad" for LBJ is the most controversial political TV spot in history. No Advertising 101 class would be complete without showing the little girl counting flower petals juxtaposed with a mushroom cloud.

Given his escalation of the war in Vietnam, it’s ironic to see LBJ portrayed as a candidate of peace, but Barry Goldwater gave Johnson plenty of ammunition by publicly discussing the use of low-yield nuclear weapons against the Viet Cong. With just one paid airing, the ad achieved its objective – fairly or not – of casting Goldwater as an unbalanced loose cannon whose finger didn’t belong anywhere near The Button. The longtime Republican senator from Arizona was handily trounced in the 1964 election.

The Cold War obsessives over at CONELRAD have put together an engrossing history of the “Daisy” ad, from its conceptual genesis clear through to the (ahem) fallout that ensued after its one paid airing on September 7, 1964. There’s even an interview with the “Daisy” girl herself, Birgitte Olsen.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cactus Records Returns to Houston

A year and a half after shutting down its last location on S. Shepherd in Houston, Cactus Records has reemerged in the form of a new 6,000 square-foot store near the corner of Shepherd and Portsmouth.

Former Cactus manager Quinn Bishop bought the store name when former owners Bud and Don Daily retired in 2006. Their father, H.W. "Pappy" Daily, left an accounting job at Southern Pacific Railroad in 1933 to sell jukeboxes in downtown Houston. He opened Daily's Record Ranch in 1946 and sold it to Bud and Don in 1959. They opened Cactus in 1975.

Bishop's partners in the new Cactus are Saint Arnold Brewing Company founder Brock Wagner, New West Records owner George Fontaine and Bruce Levy.

I bought a lot of vinyl at the old Cactus when I was a lad. I may have even applied for a job there once. These are not good days for music retailers, but perhaps Cactus can take a cue from venerable independent stores like Austin's Waterloo Records and thrive in spite of the industry's ongoing woes.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Even More New Drugs

Here's some YouTube footage of the New Drugs (Awesome Cool Dudes + Oh, Beast! + Dustin Boes + me) collectively channeling our inner Huey Lewis at Beerland on October 30.

Yes, we really did stretch "Hip to be Square" out to five minutes.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Abstinence-Only Education Fails Again

The Bush administration remains gung-ho about dropping a cool $141 million on abstinence-only education next year despite mounting scientific evidence that such programs do not delay sexual debut.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy released a report Monday and the best thing they could say about abstinence-only education is that two programs in Ohio and Arkansas showed “weak but encouraging results.” Contrast that with several studies showing that two-thirds of 48 programs which combined abstinence with honest instruction on contraceptive methods actually resulted in delayed sexual debut and increased condom use.

Moreover, a five-year, $8 million study completed in April found no difference in the age of sexual debut between teens enrolled in four abstinence-only programs and teens not enrolled in the programs.

The Dallas Morning News headline for the story about this study is, “Teaching only abstinence not certain to curb teen sex.” I’m fairly certain that nugget belongs on the short list for understatement of the decade.

And how do abstinence-only proponents respond to these findings? By crying “faulty science,” of course.

Despite having no evidence to refute the research piling up against abstinence-only education, Kyleen Wright of Texans for Life says this is all just an attempt “to discourage parents from supporting what they feel in their gut is right for children.”

By law, the only way condoms and other forms of contraception can be discussed in federally-funded abstinence education is in terms of their failure rates. So not only does abstinence-only education omit discussion of condoms, it actively discourages their use.

The core principle of abstinence-only education is that sex outside marriage always has negative consequences. Anything that might reduce the odds of this ordained fate is viewed as sending a harmful message. Kids who don’t get pregnant or infected with an STD because they used condoms can’t be used as cautionary tales, so abstinence-only education simply pretends they don’t exist.

Schools in Texas are overwhelmingly wary of comprehensive sex education. Who can blame them? We live in a country where a surgeon general serving under a Democratic president lost her job because she suggested telling kids that it’s normal to masturbate.

To introduce comprehensive sex education is to invite religiously-induced histrionics into school board meetings that will be duly covered by local news outlets on the hunt for sexy sweeps fodder. It’s easier to just keep your head down because the faces of children failed by abstinence-only education will eventually morph together into an ambiguous, self-perpetuating social problem that no one will be held accountable for.

In the course of my job, I’ve talked to more than a few teachers and school nurses who do their best to get around abstinence-only education. When students ask questions, they answer honestly at the risk of being reprimanded or even fired. They do what they can within the system they’re dealt, but piecemeal efforts like this are not enough to turn the tide.

The only way comprehensive sex education will ever be widespread in Texas is if parents who support it recognize what they’re up against and demand changes in a sustained, organized manner. All the social scientists in the world can’t hold a candle to the proverbial angry mother waving a rolling pin over her head.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

H-E-B Goes New Wave

When I was growing up, the only songs you heard at the grocery store were peppy canned instrumentals pseudo-scientifically designed to entice you into buying more foodstuffs.

During two lunchtime stops in as many days at the H-E-B at the corner of Burnet and Allandale, I've heard the following songs over the store's public address system:

I Wanna Be Sedated/Ramones
Making Plans for Nigel/XTC
Rock Lobster/B-52's

Since when did supermarket music and 101X's flashback lunch playlist become one in the same?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Geez, 39

Today I am 39 years old. Only one more year of youthful indiscretion left and so much remaining to be accomplished.

Over the next 365 days, my plan is to drink, drug, gamble and philander my way into a rock-bottom moment of clarity before turning to religion in a fit of sanctimony. Then I’ll hire some well-starched consultants to rehabilitate my image and join the Republican party.

I’m also thinking about getting a puppy.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Want Some New Drugs?

Getting to perform the music of Huey Lewis & the News with the New Drugs at Beerland was way more fun than anyone should be allowed to have on a Tuesday night. Between feeling the power of love and feeling the power of Pabst Blue Ribbon, I was a lukewarm lump of nothing at work on Wednesday.

And let's not forget the strain of listening to nothing but Huey Lewis for a week. This was the psychological equivalent of eating nothing but cotton candy for a week. I'm sure the military could extract lots of good dirt from enemy combatants by locking them in a room with speakers blaring "Hip to be Square" over and over.

My esteemed co-vocalist Dustin Boes (left) sent me this photostream of the show. Go there now to relive the magic all over again.

Mixed-Use Mania in NE Austin

Kate has a big front-page story in today's Austin Business Journal about more than three million square feet of mixed-use development planned for the intersection of U.S. 290 and SH 130 in Northeast Austin. Read it now while it's still on the free side of their website.

Though I don't doubt that Northeast Austin will grow to support this cluster of development, my main concern is the long-term fate of the Austin Country Flea Market. It's still the best place in town to wolf down Frito Pies to the strains of Tejano music after purchasing an bootleg T-shirt of Calvin pissing on Iraq.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Three Things Worth Reading

Here’s a poignant feature on the mixed blessings of Alberta’s 21st century oil boom by Aida Edemariam of the Guardian. Although the tar sands of Alberta hold oil reserves six times higher than those of Saudi Arabia, those sands don’t give up their oil easily. Edemariam touches on the environmental ramifications of the resource-intensive mining process, but her portrayal of the human side of boomtown life is what cuts at you.

This New York Times Magazine essay by Shalom Auslander on the contrast between wearing a $3,000 suit and his usual jeans and T-shirt ensemble had me laughing out loud. Frankly, I see nothing wrong with grown men wearing the same clothes as their preschool-aged sons. It beats the hell out of wearing trousers cut like Capri pants.

The Week, a magazine that compiles national and international news items into digest form, has launched a new website called The Week Daily. I received a free subscription to The Week when I subscribed to Salon’s premium service for a year. They continue to send me new issues despite the fact that my subscription should’ve lapsed months ago. I like The Week. It gives you just enough information to not be completely in the dark when you're hanging around with Economist readers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Paul Lynde Meets KISS

Center square Paul Lynde (RIP) hosted his own Halloween variety special on ABC back in 1976. It featured the debut network TV performance of KISS along with guest stars like Roz "Pinky Tuscadero" Kelly, Florence Henderson, Tim Conway and Margaret Hamilton reprising her Wicked Witch of the West role from The Wizard of Oz.

Not surprisingly, the show was a wonderfully garish trainwreck. Check out this clip of KISS performing "King of the Night Time World" for a taste.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Frisco Replacing Curra's on Burnet

Looks like one of Austin’s oldest restaurants will live to flip a few more burgers after all.

The Frisco Shop, now located at the corner of Burnet Rd. and Koenig Ln., will be moving north to the current location of Curra’s Grill at 6801 Burnet. The Frisco is taking over Curra’s 20-year lease on its "midtown" Burnet location.

Opened in 1953 when Burnet and Koenig was at the edge of town, the Frisco is the last of the Night Hawk restaurant chain started by former Austin mayor Harry Akin. The diner-style restaurant’s future had been in doubt since developers announced plans last year to replace the existing Frisco with yet another Walgreen’s.

Hill’s Cafe owner/KVET morning man Bob Cole is taking over operations at the relocated Frisco, which is scheduled to open in early 2008. Hopefully Cole will step things up, as my last few visits to the Frisco have been more for the soon-to-be-gone vintage atmosphere than the food.

As for Curra’s, I’ve always thought their midtown location was inferior to the original on Oltorf.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Blue Bells Ringing

When Kate got home from work last night, I not-so-nonchalantly foisted a box of Blue Bell Pop & Fudge Bars into her hands and suggested we enjoy a couple of banana fudgesicles while discussing supper plans.

Unbeknownst to her, I’d spent my lunch hour surrupticiously opening the Pop & Fudge box from the back, removing some of the frozen confections and placing an engagement ring inside the box before resealing it with semi-concealed strips of packing tape.

I'd also placed a semi-frantic call to Russell Korman Jewelers the night before to make sure the ring wouldn’t be damaged by being in the freezer for a few hours. The lady who answered the phone assured me that a few hours wouldn’t hurt. The conversation that followed went like this:

“Just out of curiosity, what are you planning to do?”

“Um, my girlfriend really likes banana fudgesicles so I thought I’d surprise her by putting the ring in a box of banana fudgesicles and resealing it.”

“Oh...well...good luck with that!”

This was the first time I had voiced my plan out loud to anyone. I didn’t realize how ridiculous it might sound to some people until right then. I could only hope Kate would appreciate it.

When she noticed the ring amid the pop and fudge, I dropped to one knee, pulled a dozen roses out of the cupboard and asked Kate if she’d grant me the privilege of becoming her husband.

I’m very happy to report that she said yes.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Rock Agenda

Lotsa stuff going down on the musical front. The Ron Titter Band plays its final show before going on hiatus this Saturday at the Continental Club. Our guitarist David Wyatt is going on paternity leave, so this is your last chance to get a Titter fix until the spring of 2008.

We’ll be going on at 9:45, followed by David’s acclaimed Queen tribute band, Magnifico! The night closes in a Neilward mood with the seductive, sequined growl of the Diamond Smugglers. Admission is $10 and costumes are encouraged.

Then on Tuesday night at Beerland, I’ll be joining members of Oh, Beast! and the Awesome Cool Dudes in a Huey Lewis tribute band called the New Drugs. With Pataphysics as Hall & Oates, Diamond Caverns as Roky Erickson and the Jazzus Lizard as the Jesus Lizard, this show promises to be stronger and harder than a bad girl’s dream.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

P&K Grocery Shuts Doors

Austinist reports that P&K Grocery at the corner of S. 5th and W. Mary has closed down. That’s too bad. Kate and I occasionally enjoyed walking over there from her old apartment for a delicious breakfast muffin or a Cuban press sandwich that was one of the best in town.

Unfortunately, P&K’s limited epicurean grocery selection and attendant high prices ensured only those wildly unencumbered by financial constraints would actually shop there on a regular basis. Despite spiraling property values in Travis Heights, there aren’t many South Austinites willing to drop $5 for orange juice just for the privilege of bragging that they don’t shop at H-E-B.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Buenos Fotos

This is a house down the street from our hotel in the Palermo Viejo area. I like the way the yellow contrasts with the blooming red flowers. It's spring down there, ya know?

Here's me trying to look cosmopolitan in the condo-crazy enclave of Puerto Madero on the swampy banks of the Rio de la Plata.

Kate wanted me to take a photo of her kissing this statue of a famous Argentinian Grand Prix driver whose name escapes me. In my attempt to frame Buenos Aires' Microcentro behind her, I totally lost the accompanying race car.

The beautiful green slopes of Plaza San Martin in the Retiro neighborhood were a prime necking spot on this sunny afternoon.

Kate took this cool shot of the art deco Kavanaugh Building (which was the tallest in South America for many years) through the barely budding trees in Plaza San Martin.

Here's Kate on the giant Buquebus ferry that took us from Buenos Aires to Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay in about an hour.

Overlooking the Rio de la Plata in Colonia. We were only there for a couple of hours, but it was a nice, quiet respite from the city.

Me striking a hipster pose on the legitimately hip balcony patio next to our room at Casa Alfaro.

Upon our arrival back home, I had no choice but to strip off my clothes and wrap myself in the green cellophane wrap you get at the Buenos Aires airport to foil would-be luggage thieves. Kate had no choice but to take this photo.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Ciao, Argentina

Well, Kate and I made it back to the good ol’ U.S.A. on Saturday morning with minimal fuss. After having an oversized tube of sunscreen lotion in my carry-on bag through several security checkpoints, the Department of Homeland Security finally confiscated it in Houston right before our final flight to Austin. I actually noticed I still had it in my bag when I was in Buenos Aires, but I figured I’d take my chances on getting it back home.

Despite having to be at the Buenos Aires airport four hours prior to our 9:50pm departure (not a bad idea, as the pre-board security measures there were a bit non-intuitive), we made the most of a mild Friday afternoon by languidly poking about the Palermo Viejo one last time. As I turned the key to our front door, it was a bit hard to rectify that I’d been happily immersed in a bowl of dulce de leche on a South American street corner not 24 hours earlier.

Our grand total of beef-based meals at parillas turned out to be three. How I wish we had such reasonably-priced and perfectly-juiced cuts of steak here in the States! Nevertheless, one cannot live on steak alone. The massive wave of Italian immigrants into Argentina at the turn of the 20th century means you can get some of the world’s best pizza and gelato in Buenos Aires. We wound up having an excellent Moroccan dinner on Thursday night, too.

I’m not sure when I’ll ever make it back to Argentina, but I wholeheartedly recommend B.A. as a warm, friendly alternative to the dollar-crushing Old Country. If I do make it back, I’d like to get out of the city to explore Patagonia, Izagu Falls and the wine-growing region around Mendoza.

Click here and here to read Kate's musings on B.A.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Greetings from Buenos Aires

Welcome to the very first Beetsolonely blog entry from the Southern hemisphere.

I'm writing you from the communal computer in the lobby of the Casa Alfaro B+B in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Kate and I came down here last Saturday via Continental's 10-hour flight out of Houston. Despite the length of the flight, the jet lag wasn´t so bad because we were only two hours ahead.

We spent Sunday strolling through San Telmo, where tango orchestras set up in the streets and antique stores brimmed with wares. That evening, we dined at our first parilla (La Casera) and ordered way too much bife de chorizo. Although the menus at each of the parillas we've gone to have been pretty much the same, each savory cut of Argentinean beef has had its own unique high points. Morton´s and Ruth´s Chris have nothing on the everyday neighborhood parilla in Buenos Aires.

We hit the Recoleta on Monday and walked through the rich folks´city of the dead, which was a fine contrast with the nearby Biblioteca Nacional - a brutalist-futurist monstrosity that was built on the site of Juan and Eva Peron´s former residence after an oppositional regime razed it.

Tuesday was a smog-choked subway ride into the Microcentro (B.A.´s central business district) and Puerto Madero, the city´s refurbished wharf district where expensive condo projects now reign supreme. The hustle-and-bustle of downtown B.A. is similar to what you might find in any huge metropolis, but the neighborhoods just outside the Microcentro all have their own charms. I´m very partial to Palermo Viejo, the barrio we´re staying in. The tree-lined streets and corner stores evoke a real sense of place, though there are plenty of boutiques and fancy restaurants, too.

Today we took a ferry boat across the Rio de La Plata to Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay. Colonia is an old Portuguese military settlement turned resort town. It was nice to get away from the big city for a few hours.

I´m not sure what we´re doing tomorrow because our flight leaves at 9pm and we have to be at the airport four (!) hours early. I imagine we´ll take it a little easy because both of us are fighting cold symptoms. Nevertheless, it has been quite a fun trip thus far.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Dutch Ban Shrooms

Sad news for magic mushroom fans. The historically-tolerant Dutch banned the sale of psychedelic mushrooms today in the wake of a visiting French teen-ager who jumped to her death from an Amsterdam building while under the influence.

This was not the first instance of tourists running amok on mushrooms in the Netherlands, though vendors say all of the incidents reported in the media involved the mixing of mushrooms with alcohol and other drugs.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

NBC Leaving Burbank

After 56 years, NBC Universal announced today that it was moving the venerable NBC Studios from Burbank to a new site across the street from Universal Studios at the intersection of the 101 Freeway and Lankershim Blvd. in Hollywood.

Burbank’s place in the national consciousness was largely secured by NBC through disparaging Johnny Carson monologues and announcer Gary Owens’ satirical “beautiful downtown Burbank” intro to Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. When Conan O’Brien takes over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno in 2009, it will air from Studio One on the Universal lot, a soundstage initially built for The Jack Benny Program.

NBC expects its new facilities to be completed by 2011. The network’s first West Coast headquarters was also in Hollywood at the corner of Sunset and Vine.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

H-Town Punk Rock Memories

If I wasn’t going to be out of the country, there’s no way I’d be missing the Axiom 20th Anniversary Party in Houston at Fitzgerald’s this Friday and Saturday.

Sprawl, deSchmog, Bayou Pigs, Cinco Dudes, Sad Pygmy, Fleshmop, Grindin’ Teeth, Anarchitex and the Cave Reverend are just a few of the bands resurrecting themselves. I feel way worse missing this than I did missing my 20-year high school reunion earlier this year. After all, the Axiom is where I cut more than a few of my punk rock teeth as both a fan and a performer.

The Axiom opened east of downtown Houston on the corner of McKinney and Live Oak in the fall of 1987. Another all-ages punk venue called Cabaret Voltaire had occupied the same location in 1986. At the time, the neighborhood surrounding the club was an urban wasteland of shotgun shacks and abandoned warehouses. I haven’t been over there in awhile, but I’m pretty sure it’s all lofted up these days.

I first played the Axiom in November 1987 with the Ingopods, the high school-era band I sang for alongside guitarist Kilian Sweeney (deSchmog, Churchbus), bassist Noah Sternthal (Willis, Big T), rhythm guitarist Jonathan Sage (deSchmog) and a succession of drummers. We were opening for Austin’s Nice Strong Arm.

Although the Ingopods replaced me with Troy Black when I moved to Austin for school, I’d always try to get back to Houston to get shitfaced on Milwaukee’s Beast and sit in with them for a few songs. It sure beat getting shitfaced on Milwaukee’s Beast alone in my dorm room.

Cheezus played the Axiom several times, too. One of our most fun shows was when we played there with the Shoulders and deSchmog in the summer of 1991. Later that year, we were playing the Axiom with 27 Devils Joking when the TABC showed up. You could usually tell when a raid was going down because the agents always seemed to be wearing khakis and blue blazers.

Although the Axiom closed in 1992 and gave way to a similarly-themed venue called Catal Huyuk, followed by Harvey’s in 1994, I still thought of that club as the Axiom. Accordingly, I’d have to say my favorite ever Axiom moment came at a Noodle show in 1993, when our guitar ace Jonathan Toubin vomited on several people in the crowd while his mother watched from a safe distance. Being part of that was definitely a watershed moment in my musical career.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Last-Second Win Embarrasses Fair-Weather Fan

I know I’m not the only moronic Dallas Cowboys fan who turned off the TV in disgust last night when Terrell Owens couldn’t make the two-point conversion play that would’ve tied the Buffalo Bills with 20 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. With Tony Romo throwing five interceptions, the fact that Dallas stayed in the game was implausible enough.

Who would’ve thought the Cowboys would recover an onside kick and make a 53-yard field goal to win the game 25-24 as time ran out? That sort of thing just doesn’t happen in pro football. Despite Romo’s horrible night, you have to give the team credit for staying cool under pressure while I was screaming profanities at the top of my lungs.

I’ve been refusing to bet Kate on Sunday’s Cowboys-Patriots showdown without a spread, but now I think I’ll have to give up the points just to ameliorate the shame of skulking away from the Bills game before the final gun.

Photo by Louis DeLuca/Dallas Morning News

Monday, October 08, 2007

Baghdad Highways

A couple of weeks ago, our state’s biggest daily newspapers reported that TxDOT is running out of money to pay for new roads and bridges.

That’s largely because the gas tax hasn’t been increased to keep up with inflation and there’s no new highway money forthcoming from the federal government. But where is all the money going?

One answer is that federal highway funds are being cut by Congress to pay for the war in Iraq. The Federal Highway Administration has slated $871 million in highway improvement funds for rescission this year to feed the war effort along with hurricane relief and veteran’s care.

Kate wrote a nice story about these cuts in the October 5 ABJ, but unless you’re a paid print subscriber, you’ll have to wait for it to pop up on the free side of their site to read the whole thing. You can also find the ABJ in the periodicals section at many of Austin's public libraries (cue NBC’s “The More You Know” logo).

At any rate, I sure hope all the dead-enders out there don’t mind longer commutes and the occasional collapsing bridge.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Houston 100

Here's a good Friday afternoon time-killer for obsessive music geeks with a Houston connection. John Nova Lomax and my former Austin Chronicle compatriot Chris Gray have compiled a list of the 100 greatest Houston songs for the Houston Press music blog.

Aside from songs written and/or performed by Houstonians past and present, songs recorded in Houston, released by Houston labels or about Houston were eligible. The sum of each song's relative "Houston-ness" also figured into the ranking. However, no songs released in the last five years were considered.

If you can't guess which song came out on top, then it's definitely time for you to make it mellow...

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Ron Titter Plays Clean-up for Big Band Frenzy

Come on out to Ruta Maya tomorrow night at 8:30pm to see the Golden Hornet Project's Big Band Frenzy. The big band in question will feature three trumpets, three trombones, three saxophones, guitar, piano, bass and drums performing compositions by Graham Reynolds, Peter Stopschinski and Josh Robbins.

Then stick around for the after-party at 10:30 with sets from The Ron Titter Band (your favorite and mine) and the Invincible Czars. Admission is $10 for the whole shebang and $5 for just the after party. Ain't no monkey gonna stop this show!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

HAAM Benefit Day

Don’t forget that today, October 2, is HAAM Benefit Day in Austin.

Businesses all over town are donating a percentage of the day’s profits to the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians to help provide low-cost health care, dental care and mental health services to Austin’s many uninsured musicians. A list of participating businesses can be found here. Several businesses are also hosting musical performances.

Meanwhile, ME Television is hosting an all-day telethon to raise money for HAAM. Charity Partners of Austin will match up to $10,000 raised through the telethon.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Bank 'Em Horns!

When one sees a headline like "The Longhorn Economy" splayed across the front of the Sunday Statesman, it's natural to assume you're about to read a rah-rah puff piece about how great UT football games are for our local economy.

As it turns out, Eric Dexheimer's series about the engorged budget of UT's athletics department is required reading for anyone who cares about higher education in Texas. Set against the backdrop of rising tuition and student services fees, dwindling need-based financial aid opportunities and student loans that take forever to pay off, it's hard not to be sickened by how much money is being thrown around by the Burnt Orange Brass ($107.6 million this year).

Although UT's athletic program does make money, the school's role as pacesetter among programs forces the vast majority of college sports programs that don't make money to mortgage their futures in the name of remaining competitive. For example, four out of every 10 dollars of Texas Tech's current debt service now goes to pay off new and refurbished sports facilities.

Meanwhile, our tax code rewards well-heeled alumni with hefty deductions for donations to athletic programs. Believe it or not, 80 percent of the donations made to university athletic foundations to secure luxury box rentals and prime season tickets can be written off.

Aside from funneling donations away from academics, allowing deductions on luxury box rentals encourages wasteful, extravagant spending of Other People's Money under the phony guise of "doing business." The whole system stands as yet another indictment of our depraved sense of priorities in this country.

All this for a football team that can't even beat Kansas State!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Where Have All the Lutherans Gone?

Another day in Austin, another high-end hotel development with condos on top.

Hyatt wants to build a 17-story Andaz Hotel on the soon-to-be-former site of Concordia University near the intersection of IH-35 and 32nd Street.

From the rendering, it appears as though the architects stole the punch-card facade of UT’s Burdine Hall and stuck a glass box on the front. Steve Haggerty, head of Global Hyatt’s development and real estate arm, says the planned hotel aims to attract customers looking for “fresh, uncomplicated luxury.”

“Uncomplicated luxury?” Sorry, but if I’m paying $500 a night for a luxury hotel room, it better goddamn well be complicated. I want a bed like a mother’s womb, a TV that reads my mind and a toilet that sings “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” when I pee.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Cans Film Festival

Wanna see a movie for cheap and do a good deed all at once? Check out the Cans Film Festival this Thursday, September 27.

Bring three non-perishable food items or $3 to Austin-area Regal Cinemas and receive one free movie ticket and a free small popcorn to boot. The comestibles will be donated to the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas. Click here for more information.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Jack in the Box Revisited

This animated Jack in the Box commercial is from 1970. I just watched it for the first time in about 36 years.

While Jack in the Box's cartoon characters never gained the same traction as kiddie fast food icons like Ronald McDonald, I never could get that last frame of the Jack in the Box sign spinning around with birds chirping in the background out of my mind.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Tap My Thumbcasts, Baby

Do you know what a “thumbcast” is?

Well, I didn’t either until recently. Thumbcasts are simply text messages that are broadcast to people’s mobile phones. Although my fat thumbs are not nimble enough to text at the rate of your average American youth, I am now generating thumbcasts as an independent media correspondent (or “freelancer,” if you will) for 80108 Media, a Boston-based company that sends mobile messages about local goings-on to subscribers in several markets around the country, including Austin.

Each 80108 correspondent gets a channel. Mine is called “Austin Out There.” I cover everything from shows to food to sales on building supplies. I try to focus on under-the-radar items that are free or relatively cheap so you’ll have more beer money. You can check out my most recent thumbcasts online here.

Take a look and please consider subscribing to get my messages sent straight to your phone if you have a supported carrier with unlimited text messaging. It’s a free service and you stand to save a nice chunk of change following my tips. Most importantly, the home office will reward me handsomely if I generate enough subscriptions.

Jeez, I feel like one of those elementary school kids selling Ranger Rick subscriptions to raise money for a new jungle gym.

Feasts for Ears and Mouths Alike

It’s a little late for an ACL wrap-up, but click away if you’re interested in reading my thoughts about the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Back Door Slam, the Arctic Monkeys and DeVotchKa.

Aside from the music, Kate and I had a pretty good time at this year’s fest. It wasn’t insanely hot and we were fortunate enough to find nearby parking in a friend’s driveway. The weekend’s biggest bummer came on Saturday afternoon when we walked over to Barton Springs and found it closed due to flooding. I guess we should’ve headed north to Deep Eddy instead. If that’s the worst thing that happens to you at a ginormous music festival, you’re doing pretty well.

Kate’s dad and his wife paid us a visit from Massachusetts this weekend. It was great to see them again. We celebrated her dad’s birthday Friday night with dinner at Eddie V’s Edgewater Grill downtown. I had an excellent swordfish steak with a crabmeat and avocado topping.

I’ve always heard great things about the beef at Eddie V’s, but I was saving myself for Saturday’s barbecue pilgrimage at Smitty’s Market in Lockhart. That too was gastronomically satisfying, especially the pork ribs. I still haven’t comparison shopped at the cavernous new Kreuz Market, but between what I hear from friends and what I read on the message boards, Smitty’s seems to be the cue to beat.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I Don't Like Mondays (Or Tuesdays)

I've recently developed a well-timed morning routine in which I turn on the shower and then spend two minutes brushing my teeth while the water gets warm.

This morning, much to my chagrin, the water was still cold when I finished brushing. I waited another minute or so and the temperature failed to change appreciably. As valuable commuting seconds ticked away, I finally had no choice but to jump in the cold shower and quickly wash my body in befuddled anger.

Upon finishing, I beckoned Kate and asked her if she'd had hot water. There was no problem on her end. My mind immediately jumped back to my months-long shower debacle and I began to panic. My face contorted into a scowl and I informed Kate in a breathless, clipped tone that I'd probably have to move my man-gear back into the main bathroom she uses for lack of warm water in mine. It wasn't even 8am and the entire day was now a great big pile of misfortune.

As it turns out, I was turning the wrong knob. It never even occurred to me to try turning the other knob. I just assumed the hot water on my shower was broken.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the same brain I use to operate a two-ton motor vehicle each and every weekday morning.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Dining for Life

If you haven’t made dinner plans yet, keep in mind that more than 60 Austin-area restaurants are donating 15% of their proceeds to AIDS Services of Austin today and tomorrow.

Dining for Life is the tastiest fundraising event around. Click here for a list of participating restaurants.

Friday, September 14, 2007

ACL Day One: After the Fire

Although two concession stand employees were critically injured in this afternoon's fire, there was little evidence of crisis when Kate and I arrived at the ACL Festival around 5pm.

We saw most of LCD Soundsystem's set, which was pretty fun and irreverent, before walking over to see Spoon. The sound for Spoon's show was middling from our vantage point behind the sound booth. They had a four-piece horn section to play "Cherry Bomb," which is my favorite song from the new album, but they were wavering in the mix. The non-horn songs came across a little cleaner.

From there, Kate went to see the Kaiser Chiefs and I went to see the Mighty Clouds of Joy. I found the latter mildly entertaining, but they didn't rock the gospel stage with the intensity of Texas-bred gospel groups like the Mighty Voices of Navasota and the Jones Family Singers. Frankly, they seemed a little too by-the-numbers.

I caught the tail end of the Kaiser Chiefs and they were definitely holding their own with the crowd. Meanwhile, Reverend Horton Heat was engaged in a set of time-traveling covers that went from the Fifties (Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues") through the Seventies (Black Sabbath's "Paranoid"). The latter may have been the single best song I heard all day.

Breaking News: Fire at ACL Festival

I was just about to head out from work at the Austin State Hospital campus to the ACL Festival when I noticed a giant plume of black smoke billowing up from the general direction of Zilker Park.

Moments later I got a call from Kate, who was getting text messages from friends saying there was a fire at the festival. Apparently a fire broke out near some concession stands between the Washington Mutual stage (where I'm supposed to review the Mighty Clouds of Joy in a few hours) and the AT&T stage at about 2:30pm. KXAN says two propane tanks exploded. The fire department is reporting some injuries and 911 callers said several trailers were burning.

As of right now, though, the music continues...

Midwest Launches Austin-KC Nonstop

Austinites will now have a choice of nonstop flights to Kansas City.

Midwest Airlines is launching two daily regional jet nonstops to K.C. starting Monday. These flights will compete with ExpressJet’s Austin-Kansas City flight that launched earlier this year.

As bad as putting more planes in the air might be for the environment, I'm glad the advent of regional jets is bringing more nonstop flights to non-hub airports like Austin’s.

After all, having to dine at the D/FW Airport Popeye’s during a layover isn’t that great for the environment, either.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Texas International Pop Festival

On the eve of another Austin City Limits Music Festival, it feels appropriate to look back to 1969, when Grand Funk Railroad rocked the Texas International Pop Festival in the Dallas suburb of Lewisville. Here they are performing "Are You Ready."

Other performers on the bill included Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, B.B. King, Sam & Dave, Santana, Nazz and Chicago (still billing themselves as "Chicago Transit Authority" at the time). The latter group performs "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" and "I'm a Man" in the box below.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

H-E-B Buys Albertson's Out of Austin

There’s big news today in grocery-land. According to a brief Kate just wrote for the Austin Business Journal, H-E-B is acquiring five Albertson’s locations in the Austin area and converting three of them to H-E-B stores.

The three Albertson’s that will assume the Mark of the Butt are located at 12860 Research Blvd. in Austin, 701 Capital of Texas Hwy. in West Lake Hills (“Wesslayke!”) and 3750 Gattis School Rd. in Round Rock. H-E-B will sit on the other two former Albertson’s on Pleasant Valley and at the “Y” in Oak Hill as real estate investments – not to mention hedges against potential competition.

This effectively ends Albertson's tenure in the Austin market, a milestone I semi-predicted over two years ago. Still no word on what might happen to the shuttered Albertson’s at the corner of Research and Ohlen, though.

Burger King Kares About Kids

Although Burger King’s primary business objective is to shove large quantities of meat and cheese down the pieholes of coarse-demeanored man-boys, a nod to children’s health is a primo way to curry positive puff. It’s the ol’ Hitler-got-a-puppy approach to media relations.

In an effort to head off calls for government regulation of fast food advertising, BK has pledged to restrict marketing of its most unhealthy menu items to kids under 12 while also developing healthier offerings for kids that no one in their right mind would go to Burger King to eat.

My favorite is “BK Fresh Apple Fries,” which AP business writer Adrian Sanz describes thusly:

The red apples are cut to resemble french fries and are served in the same containers as fries, but they are not fried and are served skinless and cold.

Mmm, skinless and cold. Doesn’t that make your mouth water?

If I was a kid at Burger King and someone handed me a fry container filled with apple slices, I would throw a goddamn fit – especially if dear old dad was contentedly munching his way toward coronary bypass surgery on a Triple Whopper with Cheese.

In case you’re wondering why the “french” in “french fries” isn’t capitalized, I consulted the AP's stylebook and that is correct according to them. Although fried potatoes likely originated in present-day Belgium and “French fries” is a misattributed 19th Century American term, I still think “french fries” looks wrong in all lowercase.

On the other hand, I have no problem with “french kiss” or “french tickler.”

Monday, September 10, 2007

Keep America Rolling, Suckers!

As the gap between rich and poor in the U.S. drifts closer to Third World proportions with each passing year, at least American plebeians can do their part to uphold the virtues of extravagance by working harder for not much more money, buying more crap and watching more rich people on TV.

Quoth Heather Haverilesky in today’s Salon:

It's been obvious for years that Veblen's standard of pecuniary decency -- the minimum amount of conspicuous consumption one must maintain to be considered acceptable -- keeps inching higher and higher in this country, until Americans consider themselves struggling unless they're taking luxury spa vacations or redecorating that unbearably tacky half-bath. These notions aren't formed out of thin air, though. As a scan across the dial this fall makes clear, the TV doesn't just celebrate the supreme excitement and importance of money, it presents a lavish lifestyle as the norm, while casting average Americans as its money-grubbing guinea pigs, poised to stab each other in the back in the pursuit of the material wealth it taught them to covet in the first place.

Friday, September 07, 2007

So Long, Sherman

When I was a kid in the back seat of my parents’ 1966 Mustang, I remember going north on the Central Expressway in Dallas and seeing the highway signs directing travelers north to Sherman. I asked my dad where Sherman was and he said it was a town near the Oklahoma border. I don’t think I’ve ever actually been to Sherman, but seeing the town’s name on those big green signs always triggered fond childhood memories when I returned to Dallas years later.

Now I hear TxDOT has altered directional signs for the Central Expressway by replacing Sherman with McKinney. There wasn’t much going on in McKinney when U.S. 75 became an expressway in the Fifties, but now the Collin County seat has a population of about 110,000. As such, it is a much more suitable “principle city” than Sherman.

It’s a sensible enough change, but I’m going to miss Sherman.

Photo by Louis DeLuca/Dallas Morning News

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bad Rap

Here's an early MTV chestnut from Austin's own Joe "King" Carrasco & the Crowns. This mix of "Bad Rap" from 1981's Synapse Gap is much hotter than the album version in my estimation. The video is loads of kooky, low-budget fun and there's even some vintage footage of Austin's skyline during the magic carpet ride sequence.

Believe it or not, Carrasco also coaxed Michael Jackson into singing a duet on Synapse called "Don't Let a Woman Make a Fool Out of You." You could still do that in 1981.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

West Texas in the Rear-View Mirror

Shortly before having to trek to Alpine to buy underwear on Sunday, Kate and I drove up to McDonald Observatory for a daytime program. I found it somewhat long and ponderous, but it was still cool to watch a giant telescope move with the touch of a button. Our tour guide even let some little kids move the telescope. I was jealous of them.

Even more impressive was the vista from Mount Locke at the terminus of the highest roadway in the Texas highway system. This summer's above-average rainfall made the normally desert-leaning landscape uncommonly verdant. I half-expected Julie Andrews to emerge from behind a boulder singing "The Sound of Music."

After Alpine, we pressed onward to Marfa, where the annual Marfa Lights festival was wrapping up in front of the Presidio County Courthouse. We browsed through the Marfa Book Company and checked out the Hotel Paisano, where the cast of Giant stayed during location filming. Unfortunately, there were no decent restaurants open, so we wound up at Dairy Queen. I live about three blocks from a Dairy Queen I never go to because the food is always disappointing, but somehow Dairy Queens are better when they’re in small towns. Lack of choice will do that to you.

The foodstuffs weren't much better back in Fort Davis. We wound up having fajitas at Pop's Place, which was better than Dairy Queen, but not by much. My temporary 3-day membership at the Hotel Limpia Sutler's Club was still in effect (you need to belong to a "club" to drink in Jeff Davis County), so Kate and I decided to put away a couple of brews.

The Sutler's Club overlooks the Hotel Limpia's dining room from a balcony. A plexiglass window separates the two spaces so people in the bar can smoke. As we drank, Kate noticed a rather angry professional-looking woman reading the riot act to our waitress from the night before. Apparently something was wrong with her meal and nothing the waitress said could placate her. As this was going on, the angry woman's two male companions just buried their faces in their plates. They ultimately left a $2 tip after having their meals comped. Kate and I never did figure out exactly what was going on, but it was amusing to surreptitiously watch the scene unfold from above. After one last look at the stars, we retired for the evening.

We drove back to Austin Monday, stopping briefly in Fort Stockton for a Tex-Mex lunch in a dreary, windowless restaurant with no natural light. It looked like something out of The Last Picture Show. Even though the food was pretty good, Fort Stockton is best seen receding in the rear-view mirror.

For the Seafood Glutton in You

Some people like fall because the leaves change colors. Others like fall because it brings a respite from the heat of summer as winter’s chill gradually settles in. I like fall because it means Endless Shrimp at Red Lobster.

For a limited time, good Americans like you and me can waddle into any participating Red Lobster throughout the contiguous 48 states and get shrimp after shrimp after shrimp for just $15.99. You can choose from Crunchy Popcorn Shrimp, Garlic Shrimp Scampi, Hand-Breaded Shrimp, Shrimp Linguini Alfredo and Red Lobster’s new Buffalo Shrimp (pictured) with a side of ranch. If putting away the most shrimp is your goal, I suggest staying away from the linguini and doubling up on the scampi.

During last year’s pilgrimage, I ate 60 shrimp along with a salad, baked potato and two cheddar biscuits. That was respectable enough, but my goal was to eat 100 shrimp. I’m afraid the century mark may still be elusive given my lack of conditioning, but 75 is a real possibility.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

In the Clearing Stood the Boxers

I haven't had time to compose a full recounting of our last full day in Fort Davis, but I didn't want to leave faithful readers hanging like I was regarding the underwear situation.

For the record, I did find new underpants on Sunday. There was a place called ALCO in Alpine that is sort of like a low-rent Wal-Mart. You typically see them in towns that are too small to support a Wal-Mart, but the proprietor of our hotel said Alpine wanted nothing to do with Wal-Mart in any case.

The underwear in question were cut too large and cost nine bucks for a pack of three, but it was either that or Beall's. Although the latter might have served me better, I've been loath to shop at Beall's since the infamous Farting Salesman Incident of 2006.

I'll write about less significant trip-related ephemera later.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Underneath It All

Despite my seemingly meticulous packing, it came to my attention early this morning that I forgot to pack underwear. This is not the first time I've left home with no clean drawers. Obtaining replacement britches is not a problem in Houston, but out here, it typically involves an hour-long round trip.

I meekly asked the hotel proprietor where I might find "clothing items like T-shirts and jeans" on a Sunday and she directed me to the nearby humane society thrift store. I'm pretty cheap, folks, but not cheap enough to buy used underwear. If that is my only option, I will be free balling it for the remainder of this here vacation.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Fort Davis Fadeaway

Although I started the weekend wiped out from having to wake up at 4:50am on Friday morning to catch my make-up flight out of Atlanta, Kate and I set the alarm for 6:30am Saturday morning so we could wake up and drive to Fort Davis.

As it turned out, Kate’s penchant for hitting the snooze button multiple times and my own piddling morning ways delayed us well past our planned 7am departure. We didn’t get on the road until almost 8. My windshield got dinged pretty badly on IH-10 and I made a mess of my Guayabera shirt while attempting to eat a delicious whole tomato, but the trip was otherwise unmarred.

We made surprisingly good time, too. I almost got the ol’ Civic up to 100 on U.S. 90 between Sanderson and Marathon before a Satan-sized buzzard in the middle of the road slowed me down. That turned out to be a good thing because I had to swerve into the emergency lane moments later when some shit-for-brains in a pickup truck tried to pass cars in the opposite lane without enough space.

I wanted to stop at Shirley’s Burnt Biscuit Bakery in Marathon, but they’d already closed for the day. We walked around the Gage Hotel a bit and salivated at the sight of their swimming pool. Their well-apportioned men’s room was festooned with an autographed photo of James Arness from TV’s Gunsmoke. I’ve always thought it would be kind of cool to have autographed photos of myself hanging on the walls of various commercial establishments, but maybe not so much in the pisser.

We arrived in Fort Davis about an hour later. It was 3:15, which was only 15 minutes later than we’d planned to get here. Kate made reservations at a B&B called The Veranda. It is housed in an old turn-of-the-last-century hotel. It’s a very quiet place with no TV, but they do have a middling wi-fi connection through which I’m coming to you now.

The proprietor warned Kate to advise me that the only room she had left was equipped with a tub but no shower. She said many men have a problem with that. I am not one of those silly, insecure men. In fact, we have purchased Mr. Bubble for the occasion.

We never really had lunch on the road, so we decided to grab calzones at Murphy’s Pizzaria and CafĂ© on the courthouse square. The calzones were much better than anyone has a right to expect in the middle of Far West Texas.

Then we took a late afternoon walk so I could work up an appetite for dinner at the Hotel Limpia dining room. Kate had grilled eggplant and tomatoes and I had burgundy-marinated roast beef with cream cheese mashed potatoes. We split a slice of obscenely rich buttermilk pie for dessert. Both our entrees were also really good, but if you want something unique at the Limpia, try their chicken fried tenderloin sometime. It’s so wrong it’s right.

The stars at night really are big and bright in Fort Davis. In deference to nearby McDonald Observatory, there are no streetlights. The night skies out here have a texture and depth that can almost make you dizzy if you’re not used to it. You can’t get much further away from hustle and bustle than this. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my bubble bath.

For a different point of view regarding our West Texas sojourn, click yo' self on over to Lone Star Kate.