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!