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.