Wednesday, May 30, 2007

My Lucky Day

Today is Kate’s birthday. She was born on May 30, 1978.

Sometimes I like to think about what I was doing that day. I was nine years old and just about to finish third grade in Houston.

Between multiplication and division, third grade was the first time school made me feel stupid. The loss of self-confidence associated with not being able to keep up in math was a powerful (de)motivating force.

Feeling somewhat lost and differentiated in a less-than-desirable way, I often stared out the window and daydreamed about a place far better than West University Elementary School. I also spent a fair amount of the school day drawing maps of imaginary cities or KISS-style stage sets for my fantasy rock band. Whatever I was doing as third grade came to a close on May 30, I probably wasn’t paying attention to Mrs. Goodeau.

There’s no way my doodling, daydreaming nine-year-old self could have possibly known it, but May 30, 1978 was my lucky day.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Of Red Sox and Refried Beans

Kate and I drove to Arlington on Sunday to see the Texas Rangers lose to Kate’s beloved Boston Red Sox 6-5. Texas has been playing like ass this year, but at least they took the Sox down to the wire before losing. It was Kate’s first non-Fenway Red Sox game and my first Rangers game since 1975. The trip was a surprise early birthday gift from yours truly.

There were almost as many Red Sox fans at the game as there were Rangers fans. The Rangers have never been an easy team to like. Between never winning more than a few lousy AL West Division titles and foisting the worst president in history upon our once-great nation, I feel absolutely zero affinity for them. When it comes to baseball, the Astros are the only team I’d cheer against my girlfriend’s team for.

After the game, we spent about an hour looking for our hotel. It was a nondescript AmeriSuites in Irving that had recently been rebranded as Aspen Hotel & Suites. Between the impossibility of intuitive navigation and the look-alike design of the endless corporate offices surrounding D/FW Airport, I quickly found myself consumed with loathing for greedy developers who’d thrown all this crap up with no regard for humanity. A region like this deserves the Texas Rangers.

Not wanting to spend another hour searching for a restaurant in this suburban wasteland, I decided to drive to the more familiar environs of Dallas to dine at Campisi’s Egyptian Restaurant on Mockingbird Lane.

Campisi’s serves old-fashioned Italian food with lots of red sauce and an iceberg lettuce salad on the side. Jack Ruby ate there the night before JFK was killed and former owner Joe Campisi was the first person to visit Ruby in jail after the Oswald shooting. Kate said Campisi’s reminded her of the homestyle Italian places back East. It really hit the spot.

We were hoping to visit the art museums in Fort Worth on Memorial Day, but apparently every art museum in the Metroplex is closed on Monday. We wound up at the Sixth Floor Museum in the former Texas School Book Depository Building.

As we approached the infamous window itself, we loudly expressed our surprise at the torrential downpour outside and were shushed by the docent as though we were rowdy kids on a school field trip. Between the constantly-looping audiovisual presentations and all the other yammering yokels, no one could’ve possibly intuited the need for increased decorum. I guess that’s why they have to pay a guy to shush people.

When we got downstairs, another museum employee asked if we'd enjoyed our visit. "Enjoyed" isn't the first term that comes to mind when I think about visiting the place where JFK had his brains blown out all over his wife's pink dress, but it was nice of them to ask.

Then it was time for the weekend’s biggest challenge – a trip to Pancho’s Mexican Buffet. This would be Kate’s virgin Pancho’s experience and my first in over a year. I’d been reticent to bring Kate to Pancho’s because not everyone understands its sloppy Tex-Mex allure.

Given her inquisitive reporter’s mindset, though, I knew Kate would eventually want to eat there. One can only hear so many oft-repeated Pancho’s yarns before demanding to see what all the fuss is about. I could only hope she’d spy a sliver of Pancho’s appeal and not find the whole thing disgusting.

Much to my surprise, my Maine-born, Massachusetts-bred girlfriend totally got it. She ate like a seasoned pro. The only trouble spot was the neon orange melted cheese, which is something no one I know can eat much of. Everyone loves the honey-drenched sopaipillas and Kate was no exception. However, it was her enthusiasm for the entrees that let me know Pancho’s was truly a place of coalescence for us.

When we stood up to leave, she said, “I’m high on food, Greg!”

My heart heaved in exultation. Or maybe that was just the beans.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Thursday Night Fish Party

I got to be Kate's "plus one" last night at a five-course wild salmon tasting put on for media types by McCormick and Schmick's to mark the opening of the brief Copper River fishing season.

Some of the salmon we dined on was caught the day before and flown in from Alaska. They also served plenty of Willamette Valley wine. I had no choice but to sample all three varieties, which isn't doing wonders for my noggin this morning.

It was one of those decadent, three-figure meals I'd normally only indulge in for anniversaries and birthdays ending in zero. For a freelance music writer whose percs are typically confined to promo CDs, guest list spots, free beer and the occasional thanks-but-no-thanks herbal offering, this was a rare treat.

Needless to say, having a business reporter for a girlfriend has its privileges.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Yacht Rock Boat Party Memories

Henri from the Alamo Drafthouse blog compiled this lovely photo montage/live video of last week's super-fun Yacht Rock/Captain Smoothe Boat Party on Lake Austin.

I apologize in advance to my loved ones for the vulgar man-boob flash.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Goat Hill Revisited

One of the touchstones of my childhood years in Dallas was the Pearl Beer waterfall billboard. The iconic billboard was constructed high atop Goat Hill in 1962 to tempt thirsty motorists traveling the Stemmons Freeway just north of downtown. It has since been used to advertise Salem Cigarettes, Absolut Vodka and the Dallas Stars.

Seeing this sign from afar always seemed like a mirage to my young eyes. I wasn’t entirely sure it was actually a waterfall until I saw it up close. A mine-themed restaurant called Baby Doe’s opened next to the billboard in the mid-Seventies. Baby Doe’s was a popular brunch spot for many years, but it eventually closed down and the building became a homeless refuge.

When I was about 13, I drew some crude elevations of a mixed-use residential/retail development built into the side of Goat Hill beneath the waterfall billboard. It was completely out of scale with the site’s actual dimensions, but the basic idea was clearly ahead of its time because Trammell Crow is now seeking approval to build a five-story, 300-unit high-end apartment complex on Goat Hill.

Potential future residents will be able to walk to Reverchon Park and the Katy Trail. The units facing southeast will have some of the best downtown views in the city. Best of all, the Pearl Beer waterfall billboard will not be harmed by the redevelopment. Now that’s something I’d pay extra to live next to.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Think EMOTION, Not Facts

If you get all your news from TV, you are likely to wind up being a bigger moron than someone who doesn’t get any news from any source ever.

That’s because of people like Regent Ducas, the new VP for news at KTVT, Dallas/Fort Worth’s CBS affiliate. On Friday, former Dallas Morning News TV columnist Ed Bark unearthed this memo from Ducas two days after it went out to staffers.

"As we're doing live shots and writing . . .

Think: EMOTION & Conversational.

Viewers (people) remember emotion, not facts . . .

Critical facts are important, not all facts are.

I've seen a little too much 'police speak' or 'court speak.'

The suspect faces charges of blah, blah, blah, . . . no one will remember this fact and it's not that important . . .

If the suspect faced the 'death penalty' or capital murder charges, etc.' . . . then that would be important . . . but, for the most part, someone's next court date is not . . .

Think emotion . . .

This neighborhood tonight is in a state of panic, not sure what do to (sic) next.

Fans have decided to stay away from the ballpark, they'd rather spend their money elsewhere.

Feel free to stop by, email or talk about any of this."

Neighborhoods in panic? I smell May sweeps!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Shower Holds for Now

Since I divulged the details of last week's shower-related mental meltdown (that'll look good if a prospective employer decides to Google me), I suppose an update is in order.

My contractor came by last Friday and adjusted the flange around the drain. I've used the shower three times now (though those are not the only showers I've taken in the last week) and haven't noticed any more leakage. Of course, the shower didn't leak for a couple of weeks last time, too.

I'm not yet convinced the leak is really fixed, but in this particular case, I don't think my hardened veneer of cynicism is necessarily without warrant. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, though.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

It's Poteet Strawberry Ice Cream Time!

Much to my delight, I found my beloved H-E-B Creamy Creations Poteet Strawberry Ice Cream at the Hancock Center location last night. They're selling it in both half gallons and quarts this year.

I've yet to find a better tasting strawberry ice cream in my grocer's freezer. The cows may think Brenham is heaven, but the strawberries are clearly partial to Poteet.

H-E-B only sells Poteet Strawberry Ice Cream in the spring, so stock up soon.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Just Regular Guys

How did our Connecticut-born president manage to reinvent himself as a no-nonsense good ol’ boy from Texas?

Maybe we should ask the dutiful Washington media, who pretend to be ink-stained, working class muckrakers even as they sup themselves complacent on the black tie party circuit of corruption. From Digby's Hullabaloo:

When the equally phony George W. Bush came to town it was love at first sight, and why wouldn't it be? Here you had a man whom these people could truly admire - a rich man of the bluest blood, born into one of the most powerful families in America who nonetheless pretended to be some hick from Midland, Texas. He took great pride in his phoniness, just as they did, and they all danced this absurd kabuki in perfect step for years each pretending to the other that they were all ’just regular guys.’

Read Digby’s full post here.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

My First 5K

David, Kate and I ran in the Chuy's Hot to Trot 5K this morning. It was a nice course that started at Oyster Landing on Lake Austin before going up through Tarrytown on Exposition and Windsor and back down to the lake again via Scenic Dr., which has always been one of my favorite streets in town.

I finished in just under 35 minutes, which was fine by me since I didn't think I'd be able to run the whole thing a few weeks ago. They even announced my name as I crossed the finish line. That was a nice touch.

Kate and I hung around for the awards ceremony in anticipation of a raffle that had already happened. Oh well. At least we got to see 80-year-olds winning awards for running the course faster than us. Pretty inspirational stuff.

I'm pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoy running. I have Kate to thank for that because I'm quite sure I would've never even tried - let alone not given up after the first few excruciating attempts at it - without her encouragement.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Captain Smoothe Sails Again!

We interrupt this shame spiral for a shameless exercise in self-promotion…

If you missed the Yacht Rock/Captain Smoothe extravaganza at the Alamo Drafthouse back in September, fret no longer. On Friday, May 18, one week from today, Captain Smoothe will take to the high seas (okay, Lake Austin) aboard a vintage party vessel to perform all your nautically-themed soft rock favorites from the Seventies.

This will be my first-ever performance in motion and not on terra firma. The only thing that could possibly be more exciting than this would be if I was singing while weightless aboard NASA’s famed Vomit Comet.

Best of all, the cast of the side-splittingly hilarious Yacht Rock will be there in person, including J.D. Ryznar (Michael McDonald), Hunter Stair (Kenny Loggins), Hollywood Steve and Koko! You’ll never experience Yacht Rock in a more appropriate setting than this.

The ship sets sail at 7pm on a three (or four) hour tour. There’s a two froofy drink minimum, but you won’t mind that at all. Purchase tix here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Six Months in a Leaky Shower

Not to put too fine a point on it, but my goddamn fucking shower is trying to kill me.

After noticing some minor leakage between the shower threshold and the floor last week, I called my contractor over to recaulk two days ago. After waiting for the caulk to cure, I climbed in the shower this morning and a large volume of water began pooling on the bathroom floor.

Having already been awake and unable to sleep since 4am, I couldn't contain the sudden rush of white hot anger I felt. I started pounding on the front door until my fists hurt and screamed profanities at the top of my lungs before collapsing in a sob-choked meltdown that morphed into a paralyzing spiral of self-loathing once my girlfriend left for work. This is roughly the same reaction I would've had to adversity when I was four. It made me feel undignified, unmasculine, immature, scared, ashamed and more than a little crazy.

Not wanting to chance a repeat performance in public, I took a few hours of leave and embarked on what must've been a very wooden and deranged-looking walk about the neighborhood to calm myself down. A retired lady walking her dog eyeballed me suspiciously from the opposite end of the street, but then an older man with a T-shirt reading, "When in doubt, sing loud" greeted me warmly. I'm grateful to that man and his T-shirt for steering me back toward the living. The walk worked just enough for me to make it through the rest of the workday.

Nevertheless, my mind was literally reeling as I tried to focus on my work. It was like being high and not in a good way. I felt dizzy, like I'd been strapped upside down in a flight simulator for too long.

I know the leaking shower is just a mundane household nightmare with an end point, but that point is nowhere in sight. Besides, my anger over the shower is only a metaphor for how I feel about all my perceived inadequacies. I thought I was starting to get a step up on my crisis in confidence, but today's outburst just washed it all away. All I can do now is start rebuilding.

This is an Emergency Situation

It is rare for the National Weather Service to bump a "tornado warning" up to a "tornado emergency," but this May 4 bulletin from the Dodge City, Kansas weather office undoubtedly saved many lives in Greensburg.

941 PM CDT FRI MAY 4 2007
941 PM CDT FRI MAY 4 2007






LAT…LON 3749 9936 3745 9929 3760 9901 3764 9936

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Austin Buildings Garner National Nods and Frowns

The American Institute of Architects released its annual list of America’s 150 favorite architectural landmarks last week.

The Empire State Building holds on to the top spot this year, followed by the White House, the Washington National Cathedral, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Austin made the AIA’s list twice with the Texas State Capitol (#92, the highest ranking building in Texas) and UT’s Battle Hall (#150), both of which are endearing standouts in their respective classes. Unfortunately, Austin also made James Howard Kunstler’s "Eyesore of the Month" back in February with the Capitol Complex Child Care Center (pictured above).

"Believe it or not, this dreary death box is a child care center, located in the ostensibly thriving Uptown 'arts district' of Austin, Texas - just between downtown and the state capitol complex," Kunstler writes. "Someone call Joel Schumacher in Hollywood and tell him we've found the perfect location for the new musical version of Silence of the Lambs."

Although the center in question is unmistakably hideous, I don’t even think it’s the ugliest state building in Austin.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Greensburg Tornado Damage

The Wichita Eagle has some truly amazing aerial photos of the damage left behind by Friday night's mile-wide F-5 tornado in Greensburg, Kansas. It's thankfully rare for a tornado to cause this intensity of destruction on such a wide scale.

Because Greensburg had ample warning and storm cellars are common in Kansas, only 10 people have been found dead thus far. Ten years ago, an F-5 tornado killed 27 people just north of Austin in Jarrell. The same storm system dropped a massive tree branch on my first ex-wife's car and left us without power for two or three days.

Friday, May 04, 2007

We Love God. How 'Bout Yew?

The Texas House voted 124-5 to add the words "under God" to the Texas pledge of allegiance early this morning. Not surprisingly, three of the five "no" votes came from Austin.

Public schoolchildren in Texas are now compelled to pledge allegiance to both the U.S. and Texas flags every morning. When I'm home from work, I can hear the principal at the school across the street leading the students through both pledges over the loudspeaker. It sounds both silly and vaguely fascist to my ears.

I'm a native Texan and I love my home state. However, if anyone tries to make me recite a pledge to the Texas flag with the words "under God" shoehorned into it by a bunch of used car salesmen for Jesus, I will turn my glaringly white hiney to the flag and walk out of the room.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Docs Deferring HPV Vaccine for Poorly-Insured Patients

Here’s another reason why I’m in favor of universal, single-payer health care in America. The Washington Post reports some doctors are refusing to give their patients the HPV vaccine because their insurance company’s reimbursement rates aren’t high enough.

This familiar cycle of pitting doctors against insurance carriers against drug companies is fruitless because the entire American health care system is hopelessly bloated on low-value administrative and marketing functions. Who do you think ultimately pays for those high-heeled, short-skirted drug reps wheeling free box lunches into your doctor’s office at noon?

As a state employee, I’m much less afraid of not being able to choose any doctor I want (which I realistically can’t afford to do now anyway) under universal health care than I am of the nickel-and-diming Republicans in the state legislature watering down my health coverage in order to offset revenue loss created by granting property tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy.

While we’re at it, why should your employer even have anything to do with your health insurance? Can you imagine how many soul-sucking, economy-draining man-hours are being squandered away at this very second by people who are only staying in their current jobs to hold on to health coverage? What a huge goddamn waste of time and potential.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

31 Cent Scoop Night

It’s not quite as good as getting a free slice of pizza, but your friendly neighborhood Baskin-Robbins will be doling out 31-cent scoops of ice cream on Wednesday, May 2 from 5-10pm in honor of the National Fallen Firefighters Association.

I’m all for honoring our nation’s fallen firefighters, but am I the only one who thinks it’s a little weird to commemorate their sacrifice with a discount ice cream promotion?

Old Alamo to Become Trendy Nightclub?

If you think Austin needs more velvet ropes, overpriced cocktails and women who smoke cigars in a suggestive manner, you might be in luck.

The soon-to-be former location of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on Colorado St. is apparently slated to become the next outpost of Pangaea, an ultra-hip nightclub chain where Anna Nicole Smith liked to hang out. At least that's what Page Six of the New York Post says.

I think this means it's about time for another recession.