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.