Wednesday, December 31, 2008

No new museum for you

Kate broke some not altogether good news in the ABJ earlier today with word that Houston-based Hines Industries is not renewing its option to build the proposed new home for the Austin Museum of Art and an adjacent 30-story office building on a museum-owned site just south of Republic Square Park.

With no MTV and no new museum, 2009 is looking like a real good year to go middlebrow.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

BREAKING: Viacom/Time Warner Cable dispute

More good news for Time Warner Cable subscribers. According to this post on the Los Angeles Times blog, Viacom is threatening to yank MTV, Nickolodeon, Comedy Central and several other channels off Time Warner Cable systems just after midnight on January 1 if they can't reach a new carriage agreement. What a way to start the new year.

UPDATE (12/31): Time Warner subsidiary News 8 Austin says last-minute negotiations continue today with Viacom. Tune in tomorrow at 12:01am to see if you're going to be paying for a bunch of cable networks you're no longer receiving.

Monday, December 29, 2008

N. Austin prepares for mediocre BBQ war

The Bill Miller BBQ on Burnet Rd. is about to get some (re) heated competition from a Dickey’s Barbecue Pit going in at Northcross Center.

San Antonio-based Bill Miller and Dallas-based Dickey’s both specialize in middling, cafeteria-style barbecue along with faux-comfort side items and gigantic tankards of sweet tea. It is most definitely not the real thing, but if you’re a sullen worker drone in need of rapid sustenance, it beats a poke in the gut with a desiccated french fry.

I fondly recall going to the original Dickey’s at the corner of Central Expressway and Henderson when I was a lad. I also remember returning to that Dickey’s many years later and being sorely disappointed that it didn’t live up to my childhood memories. This summer, Dickey’s announced plans to open an astounding 85 new restaurants in 2009, which would make them the largest barbecue chain in the U.S.

For its part, Bill Miller claims to have sold seven pounds of chicken for every man, woman and child in San Antonio in 2001. Might be time to update the ‘ol website, yes?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Of Milk and Marley

Merry post-Christmas from Houston, where temps are expected to flirt with the 80 degree mark later this afternoon. Kate and I arrived here on Christmas Eve to enjoy some down time with family and friends.

Right now I'm feeling too lazy to do much of anything beyond drinking coffee and reading news feeds. We may catch a movie later today if I can overcome my aversion to crowds. To that end, I'm thinking "Milk" instead of "Marley and Me." I'm not expressly opposed to the cockle-warming holiday movie as a concept, but paying eight bucks to sit in a room with a hundred other people to watch something I know will make me weep doesn't sound like a good day off.

I should probably ask myself why the depiction of a dog's life and death is more likely to activate the waterworks than Harvey Milk being assassinated by a vicious, Twinkie-eating bastard, but that's a whole 'nother hour on the couch.

Friday, December 19, 2008

If you've got the money, I've got the song

If you have last minute holiday shopping or seasonal dining to do, be very careful. There's a song out there with its eye on your wallet.

According to this consumer blog entry from KVUE News anchor Terri Gruca, music can influence your purchasing decisions and businesses everywhere are searching for the perfect cut to make you hand over the dough-re-mi. "Research has shown it can make you feel sophisticated, wealthy or, if you're really caught up in it, music makes you forget how much you're spending," Gruca asserts.

It doesn't take science to make a believer out of me. I once purchased and consumed three corn dogs at a traveling carnival in the parking lot of a shuttered Woolco all because the Tilt-A-Whirl DJ was playing "Rock and Roll, Hootchie Koo" by Rick Derringer.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Farewell to Texas Stadium

The Dallas Morning News published a special "Farewell to Texas Stadium" section last Sunday in anticipation of the Dallas Cowboys' final regular season game in the stadium against the Baltimore Ravens this weekend. I was in Dallas that day and would've picked up a copy had I known, but at least they have it on the website now.

My own memories of Texas Stadium come from the four or five years my family drove there on Thanksgiving to watch the Cowboys play. As I recall, we always sat in above the end zone because season ticket holders already had all the good seats. The game always started at 3pm, and if you were seated in the end zone facing west, you could count on being blinded as the sun receded between the roof and the top of the opposite-facing stands. This was before Jerry Jones filled in that gap with more luxury boxes, which probably improved the sun situation inside but made the stadium look architecturally slapdash from the outside.

Parking sucked. We always had to walk across the freeway and over a levee to a remote lot that was at least a mile away. It was usually cold during that time of year, too.

The first Cowboys game we saw was against the Chicago Bears in 1981. Walter Payton was playing for the Bears and Danny White was starting quarterback for the Cowboys, but he got hurt. As the fourth quarter wound down, backup quarterback Glenn Carano drove to within field goal range and kicker Rafael Septien won it for the Cowboys 10-9 with seconds to spare. None of the other games we saw were as exciting as that one.

I think we quit going to Cowboys games when I got out of high school. My family and I still recall those games fondly, but it was always kind of a relief to watch it on TV instead of schlepping through the parking lot and freezing in the stands.

That relief was particularly intense when we watched the icy 1993 Thanksgiving game against the Miami Dolphins in which defensive tackle Leon Lett mistakenly touched a live ball after a botched Dolphins field goal attempt, allowing them to kick again and win. O.J. Simpson was working as a sideline reporter for NBC Sports and his kids were throwing snowballs at him. I remember my mom saying she thought O.J. was really going to let his kids have it once the cameras cut away.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Beetsolonely's Secret Santa Corner

Need a holiday gift for a friend or loved one who happens to be an overly nostalgic child of the 70s? My old pal Chepo sent me a photo of this $28 T-shirt from Wire and Twine earlier today.

Yes, it's an authentic replica of the spiraling rainbow "CBS Special" logo that used to precede all those Charlie Brown specials. And who can forget the jazzy, vaguely Polynesian-sounding musical accompaniment?

If you really want to go all out, throw in A Charlie Brown Christmas on DVD and a box of Zingers.

Southwest 86'ing Austin-Midland

Southwest announced yesterday that it is ending nonstop flights between Austin and Midland when its spring schedule rolls out May 9. Tom Craddick is gonna be pissed.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Paul Benedict R.I.P.

Eminently likeable character actor Paul Benedict, best known as Harry Bentley on The Jeffersons, has died at age 70. I especially enjoyed him as the beleaguered hotel attendant in This is Spinal Tap and the elusive namesake “theater critic” in Waiting for Guffman.

Unbeknownst to me until I read this morning’s L.A. Times obit, Benedict wasn’t British - he was born in Silver City, N.M. and grew up in Boston. I also didn’t remember he played the “mad number painter” during the early days of Sesame Street. Here’s a clip of Benedict using condiments to paint 3s on bread that is voraciously wolfed down by a young, hot Stockard Channing.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Country music and rasslin'

If you were living in Houston in the late Sixties and early Seventies, you had yourself a whole mess of syndicated country music TV shows. Here's a telling promo from KHTV, which changed its call letters to KHWB several years back only to have the WB Network go away. Then they realigned themselves with the new CW Network by becoming KHCW. Now they're borrowing a page from the airport and going by KIAH. The station's new You Tube channel features several similar promo spots from throughout its 42-year history.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Huey Lewis meets Bigfoot

Wanna pay nothin’ to hear the hits of Huey Lewis and the News performed live by a band of people who have no association whatsoever with original artists? The New Drugs emerge from Huey-iatus again this Sunday at Birds Barbershop, 2110 S. Lamar, for Manfest ’08. We'll be going on around 5:30pm.

Here’s the full skinny from John Gross at PartyEnds

It's that time of year. Time for ascots, hot toddies, snowmobiles, hot tubs, ski lifts, and hot babes in bikinis and ski-gear. It's Manfest '08!

Last year was amazing, and if you missed it: confidence rock, knife throwing, a karate demonstration, arm wresting contest, flannel, deep fried snickers, pretty much everything a man could want. And this year, it's even bigger. Check out the poster; that's just the beginning. And no one is manlier than our guest of honor: Bigfoot.

Join us in a celebration of all things macho, and enjoy a strip of SoLa transformed into a ski lodge as you kick back with frosty beverages provided by Dewars and SteamWorks. Huey Lewis and the News cover band The New Drugs (5:30) will perform on the outdoor patio with Listener Project (4:30) who is making it in all the way from Arkansas. Listener Project head honcho Dan Smith was the champion of arm wrestling last year so he is coming back to defend the title. If ANYONE can beat him they get a YEAR of free haircuts and glory! As if things couldn't get any manlier - International Knife Throwers Hall of Fame member Cliff Hill will be chunking axes. That is right. AXES. Start growing your mustaches and we'll see you Sunday, December 7th 20-08 from 2-7pm. Did I mention that it is FREE?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Homecoming, unwired

Although it was bittersweet to say goodbye to Kate's family, we were lucky to get out of New England this morning before the weather got nasty.

In the future, we will have to remember to allow three hours door-to-door when leaving Worcester to catch a flight out of Boston. Our slightly late start alone wouldn't have killed us, but searching for a gas station near the airport to fill up the rental car at the last minute, getting left behind by the rental car bus (thanks for nothing, Budget!) and a post-Thanksgiving bottleneck at security came within minutes of making us miss our flight.

The plane was all set to board when we finally got to the gate, so there was no time to grab coffee. They serve Dunkin' Donuts coffee on JetBlue, but I figured I'd just wait until we got to Austin to get my fix since coffee from an airplane almost always tastes terrible regardless of who makes it. That was a mistake. My head was throbbing by the time we landed.

Fortunately, Cisco's Bakery is just a short drive from the airport. Once we settled down to cups of coffee and plates of migas, my cranium slowly began to loosen and I regained the ability to speak in semi-complete sentences without mumbling. All I need now is one more day off.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving in pilgrim land

Kate and I are winding down from our third turkey dinner since arriving in Massachusetts for Thanksgiving. We've had a short but very full visit. It's cold here, but not as cold as it could be this time of year.

Aside from visiting with family, we've been taking it very easy. We did squeeze in a short walk through the woods with Kate's longtime chum Caitie earlier this afternoon. The woods here take on a different character with each season. Coming from Texas, being in an environment with four distinctive seasons is really quite remarkable.

Our JetBlue flight leaves from Logan at 8am tomorrow. Since we're driving into Boston from Worcester, we'll need to wake up around 4:45am and amp ourselves up with some large regulahs from Dunkin' Donuts. It's already way past time to start nudging ourselves toward sleep, so I know we'll need the traditional New England pick-me-up.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What's up with the waterfall billboard?

I was in Dallas for my job earlier today and noticed the landmark waterfall billboard on Goat Hill overlooking Stemmons Freeway is currently a skeleton of its former self.

Back in May 2007, this here blog noted a report about Trammell Crow building luxury condos on Goat Hill where Baby Doe's Matchless Mine restaurant once stood, but the billboard was supposed to remain.

Seeing such a nostalgic totem of my early childhood ripped up like that was traumatic, but I had to play it cool because I was piloting an embarrassingly large rental SUV full of fellow state employees. Fortunately, the waterfall billboard is merely being repaired, not done away with.

The Dallas Morning News reports Clear Channel Outdoor is restoring the iconic billboard to its original 1962 condition, when it was constructed to advertise Pearl Beer. This news segment about the billboard aired on KXAS in October. Restoration is expected to be completed in January.

All I can say to this ray of hope in a troubled world is, "Great job, Clear Channel!" Gee, that felt weird.

Photo by Debra Jane Seltzer

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Southwest plans to bite the Big Apple

Southwest Airlines may finally start flying to New York City proper if an upcoming bankruptcy court ruling goes its way.

The Dallas-based airline has confirmed a Bloomberg News report that it plans to buy the assets of bankrupt ATA Airlines for $7.5 million so it can obtain ATA's 14 takeoff and landing slots at LaGuardia Airport. This would allow Southwest to fly seven round trips a day to supplement its current service to Islip, N.Y., which is way the hell out on Long Island.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Indianapolis is expected to consider the plan Dec. 2.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

As the stomach turns

I accidentally made my wife throw up for the first time Friday night.

We were having pints at Dog & Duck as we often do, but Kate had given blood earlier in the day and never had time to eat a full lunch. As such, she was both tired and hungry, so we ordered a plate of nachos.

Just as we dug in, I decided to recount a somewhat disgusting yet noteworthy incident from the workday. Shortly after I'd arrived at the office Friday morning, my colleague Jean walked over to my cube and asked he to look inside her coffee mug. I peered in and saw the corpse of a large cockroach floating in a sea of cold coffee. It was pretty gross, but at least it enlivened the morning.

As regular readers of Kate's blog know, she cannot stand cockroaches. They freak her right the flip out. Having grown up in New England, she never had to come to terms with cockroaches as big as Hyundais crawling across her pillow as I did while growing up in Houston. Seeing one of those for the first time as an adult is bound to be traumatic, especially if you have a proclivity toward cleanliness and order.

That said, I didn't expect merely relating the café au cucaracha saga would do anything but give Kate a fleeting case of willies. As it was, she bolted up from the table and ran toward the ladies room. Fortunately for everyone, there was no line. I'd literally made my wife sick.

When she got back to the table, I apologized profusely. It is to Kate's eternal credit that she was able to laugh about it.

Any way you spin it, though, I'm now saddled with some seriously negative vomit karma.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Longtime Top Notch manager dies

Although I was not a regular patron, I was saddened to hear about the death of Top Notch manager James Stanish at age 50. Stanish died unexpectedly in his sleep on Sunday. The restaurant has been closed ever since and its future is currently uncertain.

The Stanish family has owned Top Notch since the early Seventies. Stanish started working there when he was 12. He was the only person in possession of the Burnet Road drive-in's secret sauce recipe. Aside from burgers and fried chicken, the restaurant's biggest claim to fame came in 1993, when Austin-based director Richard Linklater used Top Notch as a focal point for Dazed and Confused.

The thing I admired most about Top Notch is the fact that Stanish closed the place for two weeks every summer and hung a giant banner out front that read, "On vacation." I always found it quite heartening to pass by that banner every morning on the way into work.

UPDATE (11/19/08): KVUE says Top Notch will reopen on Monday.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fun, Fun, Fun

I turned 40 last Wednesday. I couldn't find a newspaper to commemorate the occasion to save my life, but that's what you get for being born at election time.

Two Sundays ago, my clever and thoughtful wife threw me a surprise bowling party to commemorate the occasion. Kate encouraged attendees to dress like me at different points of my life, so my dad showed up wearing a Hawaiian shirt and Chuck Taylors, which were my somewhat unfortunate uniform for much of the late Eighties and early Nineties. For her part, my mom dressed wore a Randall's uniform to represent my illustrious sacking tenure there. I don't think I could've been more surprised at that particular sight.

This past weekend, Kate and I went to Fun Fun Fun Fest in Waterloo Park. Aside from the dust, the festival lived up to its Big Boys-inspired name with spirited performances by the Krum Bums, Young Widows, Municipal Waste, the Dead Milkmen, the Ugly Beats, the Cynics, D.O.A. and many more under mild blue skies.

The only downer of the festival came when I overheard a couple of youthful punk rockers referring to someone in one of the many reformed acts playing by saying, "Shit, man. That dude's old. He's like 40 or something."

I don't mind the loud music one bit, but I wish the kids would keep it down when they say things like that.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

President-Elect Obama

Wow. It's not often that I shed tears on account of a historic national event. There were a few on 9/11. And after Hurricane Katrina. But tonight, as I watched the crowd at the church where Martin Luther King once preached celebrate the election of Barack Obama, there were tears of joy.

There's plenty to be done, but tonight we celebrate.

Today is the day

I was born the day Richard Nixon successfully harnessed white resentment and Democratic disarray to squeak his way into the White House. I’m fervently hoping I can close the book on this last full day of my fourth decade on the planet knowing Barack Obama will be our next president. That would be one hell of a birthday present.

In my first five presidential elections, it always felt like I was voting for the lesser of two evils. This year was different. Obama is the first presidential candidate I've ever truly voted for.

Assuming he's elected, whether Obama can live up to the promise that precedes him remains to be seen. If he does, and I think he may in spite of my tendency toward pessimism, we could go a long way toward undoing the catastrophic damage wrought upon the nation and the world by eight years of Bush/Cheney rule.

Here's hoping today is the day.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

How white was my pony

Who says Lawrence Welk didn't know how to get with the changing times? Here are dancers Elaine Balden and Bobby Burgess doing their rendition of "Land of 1,000 Dances" from 1981, a mere 19 years after New Orleans R&B great Chris Kenner recorded it for the first time.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The best Halloween party ever

Like every other hour-long TV drama during the Seventies, this (non-Halloween but seasonally appropriate) episode of ABC's The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries featured a guest spot from Paul Williams. Read all about it at Kindertrauma.

Hit it, Shaun!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

KXAN, Time Warner kiss and make up

Just in time for November sweeps, KXAN is back on Time Warner Cable’s lineup in Austin. Neither LIN TV Corp., KXAN’s warthog of a parent company, or Time Warner will reveal terms of the settlement that led to the local NBC affiliate’s reinstatement on cable channel 4 early this morning. LIN stations in 16 other markets have also returned to Time Warner lineups.

In the past month, I’ve missed having KXAN a total of one time, which was when Sarah Palin did her non-transformative cameo on Saturday Night Live. I already time-shift everything else I watch on NBC, so watching it online rather than via TiVo wasn’t such a sorry fate after all. In doing so, I discovered the hidden joys of Hulu, including full episodes of classic old chestnuts like Lost In Space, WKRP in Cincinnati and The White Shadow.

The one thing I regret is not yelling, “Hey, y’all still on the air?” as I drove past an unidentified KXAN reporter preparing to do a 6pm live spot outside the county courthouse a few days back. Then again, it wouldn’t have been funny to anyone on the planet but me and I derived almost as much enjoyment from the mere thought of yelling such a thing.

It’s called maturity, folks.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

State proposes suburban creep

The much-maligned state office ghetto between the Capitol and UT may not be long for this world.

The state is looking at moving 9,000 of its employees from downtown Austin to a new, improved ghetto to be constructed somewhere off Texas 130 in eastern Travis County. Texas Facilities Commission executive director Edward Johnson envisions "a new company town" sprawling over 250-300 acres on a site to be determined. The former state offices would presumably be replaced with more mixed-use totems to the well-heeled god of Live-Work-Play.

I find it unsettling that we've reached a point where downtown Austin is too gentrified to house anyone in state government beyond ribbon-cutters and their immediate underlings, but subdivisions to the east and north are teeming with state workers because owning a home anywhere near central Austin and raising kids on state salaries is an increasingly unaffordable proposition. Those folks would likely welcome the shorter commute and our local tax districts would undoubtedly welcome the prime real estate to their rolls.

The proposed new complex might be nominally better than much of what passes for state office space now. State Sen. Kirk Watson says this is "an opportunity to do it right," suggesting that the campus could include worker-friendly amenities such as access to public transport and childcare. Having spent nearly all of my adult life in state buildings, I think the key word here is "opportunity."

In a state that battles Louisiana and Mississippi in a race to see how many of its citizens can be left wanting for health insurance, it isn't hard to imagine a public complex of this scale devolving into a low-bid nightmare that makes Boston's Government Center look like the architecture of promise. Even better, our government center would be next to a tollway through suburban nowhere, a setting that is unlikely to engender livability, authentic culture or even a vague sense of place.

If it were left up to me, I'd prefer to stay in a shitty old building near stuff that at least lets me know I'm still in Austin.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Weekend to weekend

I haven’t had much time to post this week. The ol’ state job has been busier than normal with an HIV prevention social marketing campaign set to launch in Dallas on December 1.

On the writing front, I’ve been working on some pre-Fun Fun Fun Fest coverage, including an invigorating conversation with Dead Milkmen vocalist Rodney Anonymous last weekend. We discussed virtually everything under the sun except for his band’s much-anticipated one-off reunion gig at the Fest. Despite their limited practicality, my favorite interviews tend to be the ones that meander down a winding road of free-flowing tangents.

Kate and I took advantage of last weekend’s perfect weather by doing some long-overdue yard maintenance and taking a drive out to Pedernales Falls State Park. You can view photographic evidence of the latter here.

We’re off to the Long Center tonight because Kate scored some free tickets to Ballet Austin's season opener. I think this will be the first ballet performance I’ve ever attended that is not “The Nutcracker.” Maybe that's something I should be ashamed of, but I'm sure I'm not the only non-"Nutcracker" ballet virgin out there.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

More kidneys, fewer taxes

Way back in 1977, I was a midfielder on what may have been the single worst little league soccer team ever. Far outmatched by more established Southwest Houston teams, we regularly lost by scores like 10-0 and 15-1. The experience just about soured me on competitive sport forever.

One of my few fond memories of that awful season came when a forward from the opposing team air-mailed the ball toward our goal and a fellow midfielder named Jason decided to catch it in a brazen violation of youth soccer's most cardinal rule. The referee immediately yelled, "Hand ball!" and awarded our opponents a free kick. I asked Jason what he was doing and he explained, in age-appropriate language, that we were losers who weren't going to stop losing anytime soon, so why not have a little fun with it?

I think this must be the spirit in which Don Zimmerman, hopeless Libertarian-leaning Republican candidate for Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector, created the ad below (via Burnt Orange Report).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Northsiders getting some cupcake love

Yesterday turned into a banner day for new business sightings when I spied a "coming soon" marquee at 5530 Burnet for Hey Cupcake! on the drive home. The popular cupcake concern started last year in an Airstream trailer on S. Congress.

With the lower end of "NoBu" looking a lot more like "SoCo" these days (anyone who uses those appellations seriously should be banished to Ball's Notch), perhaps we denizens of our city's nosebleed section will live to see a day when the Common Interest can no longer call itself "the hottest bar in North Austin" in its magnificently annoying TV spots.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Natural Grocers coming to Austin

Looks like there's a little more flux coming to Austin's competitive alt-grocery scene.

According to a "coming soon" banner that went up sometime in the past 48 hours, Colorado-based Natural Grocers is opening a location in the former Rooster Andrews Sporting Goods building at the corner of Guadalupe and 39th. Which just so happens to be right across the street from my place of work on the Austin State Hospital campus.

Rooster's old roost seems like a good building for a small grocery store, but Natural Grocers will really have to hold the line on prices to compete with nearby stores like Central Market and Wheatsville Co-Op.

UPDATE (10/15): The Austin Business Journal now has a story about Natural Grocery's entry into Austin on its website.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A cotton pickin' good game

I've never been to a Texas/OU game in Dallas before. The prospect of sitting in Friday afternoon pre-game traffic on IH-35 and commingling with thousands of rabid pigskin fans in a WPA-era stadium never held much appeal for me even as a beer-happy 18-year-old.

That said, yesterday's game was one that would've been worth claustrophobia, inconvenience and overpricing to be at. I don't know if it was the best Texas/OU game ever, but it was definitely the best one I've ever witnessed. No matter what the Sooners did, the Longhorns had an answer for it despite having little running game beyond quarterback Colt McCoy's scrambles.

We'll just see if UT lives up to its new number one ranking next weekend when Missouri comes to town to try and avenge yesterday's upset loss to Oklahoma State. For more of our household's coverage of the big game, including an insightful analysis of my color commentary, click here.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

"The Shining" goes home for Halloween

Alamo Drafthouse’s Fantastic Fest has outdone itself yet again by setting up a Hallow’s Eve recreation of the Twenties era Overlook Hotel ball Jack Nicholson hallucinates about in 1980’s The Shining. The gala event takes place at Oregon’s Timberline Lodge, the ski resort where Stanley Kubrick turned Stephen King’s novel into one of the horroriest horror classics of all time.

V.I.P. tickets are a reasonable $100 per person (or $200 per couple), which gets you and yours dinner, cocktails and a room for the night where you can watch The Shining privately and give yourself bad dreams about that cackling old naked woman and poor ol' Scatman Crothers getting an axe in the chest. Come morning, they feed you Continental breakfast and send you on your scary way.

If not for the cost of a plane ride to Portland, I’d buy two tickets when they go on sale at 2pm tomorrow. Which is when you should buy tickets if you’re interested, because this is sure to sell out quickly.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Thrift drives the nation tomorrow

This is the lobby of the Drury Plaza Hotel in downtown San Antonio, which is where I'm staying on this lovely fall evening. It was built in 1929 as Alamo National Bank, which must've been an interesting time to open a bank. In light of our current economic doldrums, I'm rather taken with the slogans on either side of the stained glass rendering of the Alamo.

I've never stayed at a Drury before, but I like their "extras aren't extra" mentality. They serve an above-average free breakfast in the morning with real scrambled eggs and pancakes along with more healthy options like fruit and cereal.

They give you three free mixed drinks, pretzels, nachos and rabbit food with ranch dressing during happy hour. I had a Tom Collins with a beer chaser before cutting myself off. You also get free soft drinks and popcorn until 10 at night, which beats paying $1.50 for a can of soda pop. The $18 per day parking fee is tough to swallow, but it's par for the course around here.

Together with free wi-fi and an hour of free domestic long distance per day, you don't need an investment banker's expense account to lodge comfortably here.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Austin to Alamo City

Greetings from San Antonio. I'm here for the National Public Health Information Coalition's annual conference, where retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré of Hurricane Katrina renown gave this morning's keynote address.

Based on his CNN persona, I half-expected Honoré to call someone out for yawning or not silencing a cell phone, but he was relatively subdued. While I subscribe to his notion that the U.S. can do a much better job at disaster preparedness, I'm not sure how I feel about his idea about using RFID chips to keep track of us during evacuations. The only way I'd agree to get such a chip implanted is if it came with a coupon for free fries.

Kate's parents threw us a wonderful Texas post-wedding party at the Driskill Hotel on Saturday. It was great introducing the family to all our Austin pals who couldn't make it to Massachusetts for the wedding. I probably shouldn't have stuck my tongue in the chocolate fountain, but at least I had the common decency to wait until almost everyone had gone home.

Friday, October 03, 2008

BBC reveals post-nuclear broadcast script

BBC has released a chilling script written in the Seventies that was to be broadcast in the event of a nuclear attack on the U.K. The script tells citizens to stay indoors, avoid flushing the toilet and turn off the radio at the end of the broadcast to conserve battery power. For levity's sake, the Beeb's story on the script's release includes a reading of the script by Harry Shearer in the voice of Walter Cronkite (via MetaFilter).

Here in the U.S., Time reported in 1992 that Arthur Godfrey had pre-recorded morale-boosting announcements during the Eisenhower administration to be broadcast after a nuclear attack. The Cold War fanatics at CONELRAD have been trying to find this recording for years. While former CBS president Frank Stanton confirmed in a 2004 interview that the announcements were indeed recorded, the recording itself remains elusive to this day.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

I've got a tiger by the tail

I've long resisted the urge to lower this ol' blog's discourse with indulgent kitty porn, but since I'm combining it with a Buck Owens song reference, I think I'll skate on a technicality this time.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

KXAN holds 48% of viewers hostage

Unless a last-minute agreement emerges, those of us who have Time Warner Cable in Austin will have to do without NBC beginning at midnight Thursday because KXAN wants to squeeze more money for retransmission of their free, over-the-air broadcast TV signal from Time Warner.

When KXAN pulled this stunt with Suddenlink last year, that cable company substituted the NBC affiliate from Temple in place of KXAN. The station now has an exclusive transmission agreement in place with NBC, so that’s no longer a possibility.

I don't care about missing KXAN’s sensationalist local newscasts and I can watch most of the NBC shows I like online. While some folks might drop Time Warner Cable to switch to another cable company like AT&T or Grande, that’s not an option in our demographically-challenged nape of town. I’m not crazy about going the satellite route, either.

I'm no fan of Time Warner, but I'm even less of a fan of broadcasters licensed to serve the public interest pulling cockamamie extortion schemes. No matter how you slice it, KXAN stands to enter November sweeps with far fewer eyeballs than it has right now. Some 48 percent of KXAN’s viewers watch them on Time Warner Cable.

If I were one of the station’s advertisers, I’d be pissed. And if I were one of the station’s sales reps, I’d be scared.

Monday, September 29, 2008

ACL '08 enters dustbin of history

Another Austin City Limits Music Festival is now fodder for the ol’ memory banks. Aside from inhaling copious amounts of souvenir Zilker Park dust (no, I wasn’t partying backstage), this year’s installment was pretty decent. The daytime highs were almost reasonable, the stage sound was markedly improved and there were no major last-minute cancellations.

Because of a work-related trip to Dallas, I didn’t make it out on Friday. I wouldn’t have minded seeing David Byrne and Antibalas, but if I had to skip a day, the Friday line-up was one I could live with missing.

Kate and I started our Saturday with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. As a fan of Stax/Volt-style R&B, I’d been meaning to see them for awhile. Jones and company put on a fine show. I can’t attest to how much was lost in the festival setting, but as a first-timer, I thought they held their own and then some. Then we headed over to the tent sponsored by beleaguered Washington Mutual to see Boston’s Eli “Paperboy” Reed, yet another energetic soul revivalist. My Chron colleague Darcie Stevens found Reed’s Roll with You a bit too color-by-numbers for her taste. I can see where she gets that. After all, Reed was at least a decade from birth when his sound developed. Even so, the young man certainly knows how to work a room (or tent).

With Erykah Badu canceling her ACL TV taping at the last minute due to issues with her band, I wondered if her Saturday set would be up to par. Though I’ve only followed Badu’s music in passing, I thought her set was quite good. She reminds me of Innervisions-era Stevie Wonder, invoking a spirit of activism and adventure while maintaining a fair degree of pop accessibility.

I enjoyed John Fogerty at the Backyard in 2004, but this set was even better. No other act at the fest had this many Top 40 bullets in the war chest. Three generations were dancing in the dead grass to “Down on the Corner” and singing along to other Creedence classics.

After catching the first few songs of Roky Erickson’s set (which roughly mirrored his 2005 ACL performance), Kate and I situated ourselves just to the right of the sound tent for Beck. I thought his hit-laden set was good but not great. As someone who prefers Midnite Vultures to Sea Change, I find it troubling that Beck doesn’t dance like he used to.

The first band we saw on Sunday was the M’s. The Chicago indie quartet had an interesting sound, but their songs failed to seal the deal. They never got more than a polite response. It was hilarious to watch the Kills wilt in the heat later that afternoon. I really like their new album, but the London-based electropop duo was clearly out of their element. If they’d been performing a Sunday slot in 2005 when it was 108 degrees, I’m pretty sure one of them would’ve died onstage. Here’s a million dollar idea – goth clothes that wick.

We spent the next few hours wandering the festival grounds, watching bits and pieces of acts between handfuls of kettle corn. The dust was becoming more irritating and I finally resorted to covering my mouth and nose with a bandanna. Subcomandante Marcos would’ve been proud.

The last full set I saw was from Austin’s own White Denim. Though familiar with their music, this was the first time I’d seen White Denim live. It was something special, too. The trio’s rapid fire post-punk sound is girded by the big-time rock charisma of late Sixties rock titans like the Who and the MC5. It won’t be long before I see them again.

On the way out, I caught the tail end of the Raconteurs' blues-based hard rock explosion. It proved to be a nice belt to end the evening on before going home to file reviews.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hitchin' day

I've been wanting to blog more about getting married to and going on honeymoon with Kate, but catching up at home and work has kept both of us busy over the last several days.

Fortunately, we just received proofs from our ace wedding photographer, Brett Buchanan, so I'll let pictures do the talking.

Kate and I decided to do formal photos before the ceremony, so this was taken right after I saw her in her wedding gown for the first time. I was blown away, folks. Walking up to her made me feel giddy and a bit weak in the knees.

Here's my groomsmen and me doing the obligatory ham jive. From left, Kevin Fullerton, me, Jonathan Toubin and David Wyatt. David served as officiant for the ceremony and did an amazing job.

We were married in Wellesley, Mass. at the home of Kate's extraordinarily gracious Aunt Charlotte. Her backyard proved to be an ideal setting, though the arrival of Tropical Storm Hanna gave us a scare. As it was, the first big, fat raindrops starting hitting the tent just as the ceremony got under way. Since everyone was already inside, the rain helped make things even more romantic.

Once everyone was situated for the reception, Kate and I hit the dance floor for the first time as a married couple to Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me to the End of Love." If it's true that rain on your wedding day is good luck, we're in great shape.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Love and the Turtle Boy

The Tuesday before our wedding, Kate and I went down to Worcester City Hall to apply for our marriage license.

On the way out, we decided to take a candid snapshot of ourselves at the edge of Worcester Common in front of the long-dry Burnside Fountain (ca. 1912), which was originally part of a watering trough for horses.

I knew Massachusetts was liberal, but I had no idea the commonwealth would embrace a public work of art that seems to depict a young boy having his way with a turtle.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Weddings, honeymoons and hurricanes

Two weeks after leaving for our wedding in Massachusetts and honeymoon in Vermont and Quebec City, Kate and I landed in Austin last night.

We half-expected to be stranded in Detroit because of Hurricane Ike, but from what I could gather, the storm's direct impact on Austin was nearly nonexistent. That is certainly not the case on the upper Texas coast. My parents' house in Houston near Westheimer and Beltway 8 took in water after a tree branch came through the roof. They were able to get the branch off and cover the hole today, but like most of Houston, they're still without power and could be for some time.

The photos and footage out of Galveston are like nothing I've seen in my lifetime. Hurricane Alicia in 1983 was bad, but not like this. It reminds me of bad childhood dreams I used to have about driving along Seawall Boulevard and getting swept off the road and out to sea. My best wishes are with all the good folks digging out of that mess.

I'll be recounting the wedding and the honeymoon over the next several posts. Let me just start by saying my marriage to Kate was the most joyous occasion of my life. Not only because I was marrying Kate, which would've won the joy prize by itself, but because we were able to share the event with so many friends and family members.

I'm not sure if there's a heaven or if I'll make the guest list, but if there is and if I do, I'm pretty sure it'll feel a lot like I felt when Kate and I were surrounded by our loved ones, dancing like fools to an awesome cover band playing K.C. and the Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Last single man post from Texas

One week from today, Kate and I will be getting married. Accordingly, this here blog will be taking a back seat for awhile. I may try to post in the days leading up to the wedding, but we've decided to maintain radio silence during the honeymoon.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm a lucky man. But I'm also running late, so I best close now.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Hats off to Joel's hot muffler

Congratulations are in order for Ron Titter Band drummer/chef Joel Fried. His "Joel's Hot Muffler" sauce won first place in the commercially-bottled pepper sauce category on behalf of Tacodeli at last weekend's Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival.

Not too shabby for a guy who had gut surgery earlier this summer.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fire and cyclones

If only AstroWorld wasn't gone forever, here's how Kate and I would be getting married in a little over a week.

This de facto music video for Jimi Hendrix's "Fire" was shot at AstroWorld for a 1982 TV special about rollercoasters called Wild Rides. They used to air it on Nickolodeon all the time.

Host Matt Dillon introduces the clip in the pitch-perfect suburban stoner brogue he perfected in Over the Edge. While comparing a ride on the Texas Cyclone to being in three car accidents at once is a bit much (hey, that's what "this one kid" said!), it was widely recognized as the world's best coaster at the time of filming. Even if the rest of AstroWorld had to be shuttered in 2005 because the land beneath it was better suited for yet another boring "mixed-use development," they were fools to tear down the Texas Cyclone.

After all, if you're going to be stuck working, living and/or playing in a mixed-use development, wouldn't you rather have it be one with its own bad-ass rollercoaster?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Crime watch

Kate and I were walking around the neighborhood around 9pm last night when we heard a bunch of sirens screaming by. It turns out there had been a fatal shooting on the other side of the railroad tracks.

This is the second murder we've had in our area this summer. Both have occurred near slummy, run-down apartment complexes that dot the neighborhood. It's a bad situation that seems to be worsening along with the economy.

Hopefully APD can step up their presence and weed out the criminal element so the people who live even closer to it than we do can rest easy at night.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Smiling over spilled ice cream

Kate and I are in Dallas right now for her final bridal gown fitting at Priscilla of Boston. I walked in there when I dropped her off and immediately turned tail because all the brides and bridesmaids gathered at the front of the store had me feeling overwhelmed by estrogen.

The Priscilla location here is in Preston Center, a venerable shopping center at the corner of Preston Rd. and Northwest Hwy. Back in the day, my family used to go there to shop at long-departed stores like Sanger-Harris and World Toy and Gift. One of the places we used to frequent that is still located in Preston Center is Baskin-Robbins. It's right around the corner from Priscilla.

About 33 years ago on a warm summer night, I happily skipped out of that Baskin-Robbins with a scoop of something precariously perched on a cone. As my family and I walked across the parking lot to our 1966 Mustang, my scoop of ice cream toppled off the cone onto the hot concrete. I didn't see it happen and didn't even notice anything was wrong until I climbed in the back seat and realized I no longer had any ice cream to lick.

I asked my parents what had happened and they gently but firmly told me I'd dropped my ice cream. I flat out refused to believe this and asked them to show me where my ice cream had fallen. I'll never forget looking out the car window and seeing my fallen ice cream rapidly melting on the pavement. It was only then that I started weeping profusely.

As I walked by that Baskin-Robbins earlier this afternoon while my wonderful bride-to-be was getting fitted, I couldn't help but think that clumsy kid who'd dropped his ice cream had finally found redemption.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Kiehl's lands at Blue Elephant

As a big fan of Kiehl's Ultimate Brushless "White Eagle" Shaving Cream, I was happy to discover that Blue Elephant is now stocking Kiehl's products. Blue Elephant is located at 4001 N. Lamar, in the same shopping center as Central Market.

I feel a little ridiculous spending $15 on a tube of shaving cream when I used to be perfectly content with 99-cent cans of Barbasol, but I hardly ever nick up my face with Kiehl's. I'm also pretty stingy when it comes to portion control. A Kiehl's tube can last for several months because a little dab really will do you.

Coupled with a strategic grocery run, getting your Kiehl's stuff at Blue Elephant could save Central Austin shaving snobs a trip to Nordstrom at Barton Creek Square, Neiman-Marcus at the Domain or our silly little Saks Fifth Avenue out by the Arboretum.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Peanuts, pancakes, titties and guns

The Statesman reports that Kerbey Lane Cafe will be moving its Northwest Austin location soon.

I was interested to learn that Kerbey Lane's current Northwest Austin location is owned by the estate of Charles Schulz. The Schultz estate also owns the Hooters site at the corner of Riverside and Barton Springs, which makes for a pretty decent local commercial real estate portfolio.

The estate's local attorney? None other than Harry Whittington, the guy Dick Cheney shot in the face. Small world, indeed.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Flatbush by way of Woodstock

One more Kaptain Kool and the Kongs/Krofft Supershow/World of Sid & Marty Krofft/CNN Center/Atlanta-related post and then I'll shut up.

A relatively unknown New York-based singer/songwriter named Bert Sommer played "Flatbush" in Kaptain Kool and the Kongs. Earlier in his career, Sommer replaced "Walk Away Renee" singer Michael Brown in the Left Banke and played with Leslie West in a band called the Vagrants before West left to form Mountain.

After starring in the West Coast and Broadway productions of Hair, Sommer released an album on Capitol Records in 1968. The label didn't keep him, but his career was promising enough to net a spot on the bill at Woodstock. However, his performance didn't make the movie and he doesn't even have his name engraved on the monument at the Woodstock site. Sommer died in 1990 at age 41 of respiratory problems.

Here's some footage shot by D.A. Pennebaker of Sommer performing a haunting love song called "Jennifer" at Woodstock 39 years ago today. I think it's quite good. Sommer's voice is distinctively emotive and guitarist Ira Stone's flowing solos remind me of Jorma Kaukonen from Jefferson Airplane.

According to the official Bert Sommer website, "Jennifer" was written about Jennifer Warnes, a fellow performer in the West Coast production of Hair. At the same time Sommer was playing Flatbush on Saturday morning TV, Warnes had a major pop hit with "Right Time of the Night." She later had the distinction of singing on two number one soundtrack duets - 1982's "Up Where We Belong" with Joe Cocker and 1987's "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" with Bill Medley. Warnes also lived in Austin for a time in the Seventies and the Nineties.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cox pulling out of Austin

Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises announced today that it is putting the Austin American-Statesman up for sale. You can read all about the announcement in the Statesman, of course, but I'm posting it here so I can use the above headline.

Kaptain Kool and the Kongs, kontinued

Here's some grainy old video from 1976 of Kaptain Kool and the Kongs performing their theme song in what is now the atrium of CNN Center.

"Kaptain Kool" was played by Michael Lembeck, who went on to star as Mackenzie Phillips' husband on One Day at a Time. I had a schoolboy crush on "Superchick," the lovely brown-haired rocker played by Debra Clinger. I think the music was written by one or more of the Osmond brothers.

Someone remind me, how did I function before YouTube?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Not so hot Lanta

Greetings from Atlanta. I'm here for the 2nd Annual National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media. It's been a pretty good conference so far. The sessions are engaging and I've actually managed to do some worthwhile networking without feeling phony about it.

The conference is taking place at the Omni Hotel at CNN Center in downtown Atlanta. It's a big improvement over last year's conference at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's global communications center named for Sen. Tom Harkin, who I assume brought home quite a bit of pork if they named it for him while he's still alive and eating solid food. The Harkin facility itself was one of the nicest, most well-appointed government buildings I've ever set foot in, but they housed us at a Marriott next to IH-85 in the middle of suburban nowheresville. There were no sidewalks to walk on and no place to walk to.

By contrast, CNN Center is right next to the world's largest aquarium and a museum dedicated to Coca-Cola. CNN Center is a tourist attraction in and of itself, but I wish I'd been around back in 1976 when it housed the short-lived World of Sid & Marty Krofft indoor amusement park. I was always fascinated with the building when they showed Kaptain Kool and the Kongs perform in the atrium on The Krofft Supershow, which aired Saturday mornings on ABC. Now the whole thing is a mall food court where Nancy Grace's voice and likeness nauseates from multiple giant screen TVs.

This area of town was hammered by a tornado in March and a lot of damage is still visible. There's duct tape on my hotel room window and many windows at the adjacent Georgia World Congress Center remain boarded up. I think this is the first time I've ever slept in a building with semi-fresh twister damage, which is very exciting.

Perhaps the nicest thing about being in Atlanta is the fact that it only got up to 82 degrees here today. Even with a steady rain falling, I happily strolled about the surprisingly depopulated city earlier this evening without even breaking a sweat.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Black Moses R.I.P.

I was saddened to hear of Isaac Hayes' death today at the age of 65. The man gave us a lot of great music, both as a songwriter and a performer.

You cannot dissect cool without watching footage of Hayes' arrival onstage at Wattstax to the tune of "Theme from Shaft" while emcee Jesse Jackson just completely loses his shit, screaming "Yeah, yeah, yeah!" over and over again. Anyone who can stretch "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" past 18 minutes deserves to be in the dictionary next to cool.

In 2007, I stood about five feet away from Hayes at Antone's during sound check for the Stax 50th Anniversary Revue show with Eddie Floyd, William Bell and Booker T. & the MG's during SXSW. Hayes was there to introduce the show and he looked absolutely regal in a red caftan. At least one person asked for an autograph, but I didn't have the nerve.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A month and counting

One month from right this minute, I will be married to Kate Harrington. Our good friend David Wyatt will be officiating the ceremony in front of family and friends from all over the place.

All the cynical, curmudgeonly or irreverent things I may spew here should always be tempered by the fact that I could not be any happier about getting to spend my life with Kate.

I am a lucky man, folks.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Yo Eddie, bring us some rain already!

I had to pass along this cool photo taken by PogoPossum and posted to the Houston Chronicle's Chron.Commons site. This is a building in Uptown Park near the Galleria reflecting the western sky as Tropical Storm Edouard approached Houston from the east this morning. The effect reminds me of a bad Eighties music video.

We're supposed to get some decent rain out of Edouard here in Austin tonight, but I've only counted about four drops on my windshield so far. I'm going to be mighty preturbed if I mowed the lawn in triple-digit heat yesterday for nothing.

A hero among the Savages

Aside from the triple digits, you know it’s August in Austin when stories about the 1966 UT Tower shootings make their annual anniversary rounds. Most of this coverage is rote to anyone who has lived in Austin for awhile, but today’s John Kelso column is a real eye-opener.

Kelso reveals that Artly Snuff from longtime local comedic rock troupe the Uranium Savages was one of the brave souls who went into Charles Whitman’s line of fire to rescue pregnant shooting victim Claire Wilson James from the scorching South Mall pavement. James was profiled by Denise Gamino in Sunday’s Statesman.

Tom Eckman, James’ boyfriend, had been shot and killed right next to her. Those familiar with the shootings will recall news footage of a bloodied Vietnam veteran who carried Eckman’s body away from the scene. 17-year-old Snuff (real name: John Fox) and his friend James Love carried James to safety. Sadly, she later lost her baby at Brackenridge Hospital.

Snuff, who is also a curator for the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture, has known Kelso for years, but he never said anything about his involvement in the Tower shootings until this weekend. Although Snuff has no way of proving that he was one of the men in a still video frame of James’ rescue that ran on the front page Sunday, you’d have a hard time not believing it after reading Kelso’s column.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Fire at A+ Buffet

Looks like North Austinites will have to look elsewhere for at least the time being to satisfy gonzo buffet urges that necessitate the commingling of pizza with saag paneer and egg rolls. A+ Buffet, famed for serving “more than one hundred items you can eat,” caught fire early this morning.

The restaurant and several other tenants of the Austin China Center sustained extensive smoke damage. No word yet on when A+ Buffet might reopen.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Harvest of shame

Today at lunch, I went to my neighborhood Sun Harvest for a quick grocery run. Upon entering, I noticed all of the checkers were wearing blue shirts that read, “Customer service is an attitude!!!”

Aside from the fact that ending a sentence with three exclamation points is like screaming in someone’s earhole, I’d like to know what kind of executive mind thinks it’s a good idea to emblazon front-line employees with a popcorn fart “affirmation” that never should have left the motivational seminar it was first uttered in. Good customer service is perfectly capable of speaking for itself without the aid of a T-shirt and bad customer service looks that much worse when it’s cloaked in a phony slogan.

Speaking as someone who used to work in a grocery store, I can assure you the only kind of attitude having to wear a shirt like that will breed is a shitty one.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Steak & Ale: 1966-2008

I was waiting on an Austin-bound plane at Dallas Love Field yesterday when I found out from Kate that the parent company of Steak & Ale was filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and closing every last Steak & Ale on the planet effective immediately.

Although Plano-based MetroMedia Restaurant Group is also shuttering company-owned Bennigan's, that chain will live on through franchisees. Not so for Steak & Ale. Now my hypothetical children will never know the joys of the world's most antiquated salad bar.

The first Steak & Ale was opened in Dallas by future casual dining kingpin Norman Brinker in 1966. At one time, the restaurant was a trailblazing entity bent on bringing Ye Olde Englishe-style steakhouse experience to good working people like you and me. It was also a good place for Seventies high school kids to take dates when Bonanza wasn't serious enough to move things to the backseat.

My first experience with Steak & Ale came in 1975. My folks and I had driven from Dallas to Austin to go camping with a group of families. Unfortunately, the camping excursion got rained out and we wound up stuffed in an apartment watching Evel Knievel jump a bunch of Greyhound buses on live TV from King's Island, Ohio.

When suppertime rolled around, we convoyed over to a Steak & Ale near the intersection of Anderson Ln. and Burnet Rd., just a few blocks from where I sit typing this. I recall the two-story restaurant's exterior gaily festooned with flags and the interior being thematically faithful to the chain's Anglo-happy roots. Our server gave me a paper placemat to color and I remember getting really into it. The one-trip-only salad bar, which would be rendered pathetic in three decades, seemed positively bountiful to my young eyes.

I occasionally dined at that Steak & Ale once I moved to Austin. In fact, I took the Peenbeets there back in 2002 right after we broke up as a beef-enhanced fin de siècle to our (ahem) career, but Steak & Ale was already a shadow of its former "unmisteakable" self. The restaurant closed a week or so later and became a flower shop.

My final Steak & Ale repast came with Kate in January 2007 in Arlington during an ice storm. "The restaurant was almost completely empty, which made the rancid mix of braying ballads blaring over the PA system all the more disconcerting," I noted at the time, "but I enjoyed my mixed grill and some of Kate’s filet mignon, too."

Fare thee well, Steak & Ale. I raise a glass of something to the medium rare memories of your shuttered remains.

Mangia courts hungry state employees

In the wake of Souper Salad's 1978 price rollback on Monday, fellow civil servant Sharon C. informed me of a deal Mangia is running for state employees at its 3016 Guadalupe location through August 15.

If two properly-badged state employees come into Mangia and order the lunch special (one stuffed crust or regular personal pizza plus soup or salad), you'll get one of the lunches for free. That works out to $3.80 per person plus tip. I'm not a huge fan of Mangia's pizza, but that's not too shabby, kids.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A souper deal (sorry)

This Monday only, Houston-bred Souper Salad celebrates their 30th anniversary by lowering the price of their buffet to $3.49. That, apparently, was how much it cost to partake of soup and salad in the year of Grease.

Yes, I know there was a play before the movie, but nobody cares. Now go eat your cheap-ass salad.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Good wood for Austin Energy?

A doff of the cap to my fine fiancée for breaking news in this morning's Austin Business Journal about Austin Energy's $2.3 billion plan to build a biomass plant in East Texas fueled by wood waste.

The proposed plant must still be approved by Austin's city council. If built, the plant would account for over a third of Austin's renewable energy portfolio.

Although the ABJ currently has Kate's story behind the firewall, you can get the gist of it by reading the free paragraphs.

A farewell to Denny's

Though it may seem odd to mourn the closing of a Denny’s, I was a bit sad to see the Denny’s on Burnet Rd. next to Northcross Mall assume room temperature last week.

Denny’s may be crap, but it’s just about the cheapest place in North America where you can be served breakfast in a non-fast food setting. I took many $2.99 Grand Slam Breakfasts at the Northcross Denny’s over the years. It was a fine way to start the day whenever there was an obscure state holiday or presidential funeral that gave me a respite from the rat race. Why compete for cheese when you can get eggs, bacon, sausage and pancakes for one low price?

As the waitress refilled my cup with go-juice, I’d thumb through one of those motel discount guides and consider just hopping in my car and driving to some random, mundane destination like Tucumcari, N.M. to stay at a Days Inn for $39 plus tax. Needless to say, this was in the days before $4/gallon gas.

The most fun I ever had at the Northcross Denny’s was on Jonathan Toubin’s 21st birthday back in 1992. Denny’s used to give you a free meal on your birthday before they realized enterprising cheapskates would hit every location in town for multiple free meals.

After an evening of watching Jonathan shock several local bartenders with the news that they’d been serving him illegally for years, a bunch of us crammed into Denny’s after closing time to participate in the free meal ritual. My memories of that early morning repast are foggy, but I do remember bunny-hopping out of the restaurant to the amusement of staff and fellow diners alike.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Don't look, Ethel!

ZZ Top has signed with American Recordings and enlisted Rick Rubin to produce their next album. While Rubin has long been the default producer for mature-stage career resurrection, hiring him makes as least as much sense as continuing to plunder the 25-year-old sound of Eliminator.

I just hope they saw this Yacht Rock-style documentary by Travis Harmon and Jonathan Shockley about Rubin's collaboration with Ray Stevens before signing on the dotted line.

Free Huey!

Back in October, I enlisted with a Huey Lewis tribute band called the New Drugs that was formed by members of the Awesome Cool Dudes, Oh, Beast! and co-vocalist Dustin Boes. We figured we'd do one show at Beerland around Halloween and that would be that.

Then Trevor Middleton from the Yuppie Pricks said they'd like to have us play the release party for their latest disc, Balls. Since Yuppie Pricks and Huey Lewis go together like BMWs and failed S&L's, we had no choice.

Now I'm deferring both work and home life so I can go to "Huey Lewis practice." If you see me driving around Austin this week, chances are I'll be loudly singing along with "I Want a New Drug" just to make sure it's lodged in my brain forever. Such is life in the fast-paced, free-wheeling, laugh-in-the-face-of-death world of paying tribute to Huey Lewis, not to mention "the News."

If you're interested in seeing how this gig unfolds, we'll be playing this Friday, July 25 at the Beauty Bar along with the Pricks and Candi & the Cavities. I think we're on in the middle. There's going to be a hot tub and bikini contest, too.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Shower time

Kate and I made a whirlwind trip to Houston this weekend for a wedding shower thrown by my mom's good friends Patty and Karen.

We were fortunate to have a good portion of Kate's family in town from New England for the event. It was good to see everyone before the wedding, which is now less than 50 days away.

While Kate and the ladies opened gifts, Kate's dad, my dad and I dined at Tony Mandola's Gulf Coast Kitchen in the River Oaks Shopping Center on W. Gray. I had gumbo and linguini doused in shrimp marinara sauce.

Somehow, I made it out of there without wearing any of either.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Your local public library

It took me too many years to avail myself of our municipal commonwealth by using a library card. Why was I purchasing books I only intended to read once when I could be checking them out for nothing? Same with magazines. Why would I subscribe to Consumer Reports when I only make a few durable goods purchases per annum?

These days, an Austin Public Library card is all you need to MasterFILE Premier, an online database that allows you to access content from current and back issues of general interest periodicals, trade publications and academic journals. Hundreds of publications can be accessed, including firewalled periodicals like Consumer Reports, Texas Monthly and the Wall Street Journal. In the case of Consumer Reports, you can download full text versions of articles as PDFs. How cool is that?

While the database is somewhat cumbersome if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, it is free and you don't have to schlep to the library to get it. MasterFILE Premier and similar library databases can be accessed here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bitchin' nostalgia

Paige Maguire at Austinist reports that Philadelphia scruff rock legends the Dead Milkmen are reuniting to headline this year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest November 8-9 at Waterloo Park. Dandrew Stevens will take the place of original bassist Dave Blood, who committed suicide in 2004.

The Dead Milkmen are no strangers to Austin. They name-checked our city’s long-gone cheap rent on “Six Days” from 1986's Eat Your Paisley and recorded three albums in the area with Glass Eye bassist-turned-producer Brian Beattie.

I haven’t seen the Milkmen play since 1988 at Power Tools in Houston, but the Peenbeets occasionally turned to “Serrated Edge” when we needed a crowd-pleasing cover. Like many a dateless high school malcontent, I wore out my old cassette copy of Big Lizard in My Backyard while tooling about H-town in search of a sympathetic convenience store that would sell Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers to underage kids. Good times all around.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jilted John

This here's one of my all-time pop-punk favorites: "Jilted John" by Jilted John, seen here in a 1978 clip from Top of the Pops. Produced by Martin Hannett and championed by the late John Peel, the song made it to #4 on the British charts.

Sadly, I didn't discover this tune until well into my twenties because I really needed something this novel, biting and pathetic in my teens. On the brighter side, Jilted John creator Graham Fellows built on his one-hit wonderdom with a more lasting musical alter ego named John Shuttleworth.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Wave goodbye to ExpressJet

There's no joy for fans of nonstop flights from Austin on this muggy hump day afternoon. ExpressJet announced today that it will cease operations on September 2 because of high fuel costs.

The Houston-based carrier flew regional jets from Austin to Albuquerque, N.M., Jacksonville, Fla., New Orleans, Ontario, Calif. and Tuscon, Ariz. ExpressJet previously served Kansas City, Mo. and Oklahoma City from Austin, but those flights were cut earlier this year.

Friday, July 04, 2008

America eats!

On our nation's 232nd birthday, we should all stop and remember that America means many things to many people, but it doesn't mean any one thing more than any other thing to anybody. Except hamburgers.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Swimming in savings

Although I’d gone swimming at Barton Springs only once prior to meeting Kate, her penchant for aquatic recreation seems to have rubbed off on me. I don’t think we’ve gone more than a week without swimming since May.

Until recently, every dip was setting us each back $3. Then a helpful Austin Parks and Recreation Department employee at Northwest District Park Pool hipped us to the bargain that is the 80-punch family pool pass.

For $32, you and yours can go swimming 80 times at any municipal (pay) pool in town, including Barton Springs. Unlike the more expensive summer pool pass, this one doesn't expire at the end of the season, either. Interestingly, there’s nothing about this particular pass on the city’s website, but they're available at the pools.

If you use all 80 punches, it comes out to just 50 cents a swim. You can’t beat that with a wet towel.

UPDATE (7/4/08): My enthusiasm for our swim pass has been tempered somewhat by the realization that we're only getting an $8 discount off the gate price if we use the entire card because each adult swim equals six punches, not one. Nevertheless, that's like two whole gallons of gas (for now) in my tank.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Warren Chism will save your marriage

The same bunch of moralists who’ve spent millions on do-nothing abstinence education programs for kids are starting to implement similar initiatives for us grownups.

Starting September 1, the marriage license fee in Texas will go from $30 to $60 unless you and yours take a state-sanctioned eight-hour marriage education class. The state is using $8 million in federal welfare funds to pay for the classes and maintain a registry of who has taken them.

There’s more on the way when the Texas Legislature reconvenes next year. Longtime state representative Warren Chism (R-Pampa) wants couples seeking a divorce to wait two years unless they take a class designed to save their marriage.

While the administration of such classes would primarily be a publicly-financed sop to faith-based organizations, I’d love to see the comedy clubs get in on it. If they can teach defensive driving, there’s no reason our great state’s bastions of belly laughs can’t defend the sacred institution of heterosexual marriage.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Upset at the Juicebox

Well whuddya know? The Astros actually managed to beat the Red Sox 11-10 on Saturday night. It was a great game that went right down to the wire and the most runs I’ve ever seen the Astros score in person. They even managed to eke out a win on Sunday, taking the series 2-1. Not bad for a team that was fighting to stay out of last place.

We were somewhat lucky to make it to Saturday’s game. About 30 minutes after we left Austin on Friday, Kate realized we’d forgotten the tickets. This wasn’t a particularly happy realization, but at least it came before we strode up to Minute Maid Park.

Then it was my turn. Kate and I got together with her cousins after the game to close down a Pappadeaux Seafood on Richmond and I managed to leave my credit card there. I discovered this Sunday afternoon as I was preparing to gas up the car for the trip back to Austin.

Fortunately, the restaurant had my card and we didn’t have to go too far out of the way to retrieve it. Unfortunately, in my initial panic at seeing the card missing from my wallet, I left the gas station without screwing my gas cap back on.

My dad returned to the gas station that night to look for the lost cap, but his search was unsuccessful. He presumes the cap slid off the trunk of my car as I turned onto Westheimer and was washed into the storm sewer by a torrential downpour that hit shortly after we left. Replacement cost: $23.19.

I suppose I should also feel guilty about what this means for the environment, but if I had to lose a gas cap down a sewer, better to have it happen in Houston than near some organic farm where shapely strawberries are grown for NPR listeners.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Them's our Lastros

Thanks to my dad, Kate and I are going to see the Boston Red Sox play the Astros in Houston this weekend.

With the defending World Series champion Red Sox in first place in the AL East and the ‘Stros in next to last place in the NL Central, it probably won’t be too pretty. When you can’t beat the Texas Rangers, the last thing you need is the Red Sox coming to town. Unless you're Astros owner Drayton McLane, who's making a killing by charging premium prices for single game tickets to both the Red Sox and Yankees series at Minute Maid Park.

Kate is already ribbing me about how poorly the Astros are doing this year, and now one of their pitchers has been suspended indefinitely for grabbing the GM by the neck and throwing him to the floor in the club dining room. I’m hoping this lurid little donnybrook will serve as a cathartic catalyst for the Astros, much like “Babygate” did for the 1993 Houston Oilers until they were inevitably beaten by the Joe Montana-led Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional playoffs.

I wouldn’t bet falling American currency on it, though.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What's good about bad restaurants?

I’ve always had a thing about eating in bad restaurants. Over the years, I’ve dragged friends and family alike to justifiably-defunct chain establishments like Sambo’s, Steak ‘N Egg Kitchen and Toddle House with gleeful abandon, not to mention downright creepy local restaurants with water-stained drop ceilings and vinyl booths covered in duct tape.

When some well-meaning soul tries to point me toward an alternative with better food, more attentive service and nicer surroundings, I’ll often insist on mediocrity even when I have no rational defense for it. I’ve never been able to explain why this is, but Salon TV columnist Heather Havrilesky comes pretty close. In setting up what is ostensibly a review of “Flipping Out” and “Weeds,” Havrilesky describes why she continues to patronize a bad local coffee shop instead of a superior corporate place nearby.

As repellent and deeply wrong as the local cafe is, the overpriced, meticulously designed corporate eatery seems certain to transform you, slowly but surely, into the kind of person who pays too much for haircuts and shoes, the kind of person who experiences gazpacho that doesn't have a little dab of pesto in it the way the rest of us experience a herd of middle-of-the-room flies. And therein lies the paradox of American upward mobility: The higher you climb, the thinner the air gets, until you can barely breathe. You become like Julianne Moore in "Safe," suffering from a nervous breakdown when the delivery guys bring a black couch instead of the white one she ordered. You become the kind of hothouse flower who only feels comfortable in perfectly calibrated, beautiful spaces, the kind of person who's never satisfied and can't play nicely with others.

So there’s the elusive voice of reason behind this unspoken gut instinct I’ve always had. If a dollop of pesto in my gazpacho is the best thing the next rung on the social ladder has to offer, I’d rather just sleep in and miss the breakfast rush at Denny’s.

Wal-Mart downsizes Northcross plans

Who says there’s no silver lining in a recession? Wal-Mart has decided to slash the size of its planned Northcross Mall Supercenter almost in half.

The Supercenter’s scale is being reduced from 192,000 square feet to 99,000 square feet. It will now be one story instead of two and there won’t be a parking garage, auto repair shop or garden center.

This is good news for Supercenter opponents and not a bad business decision by the Bentonville mafia, either. Why build a store that’s nine times the size of God when you can easily fill the market gap with a store that’s only five times the size of God? Wal-Mart is going to save a bundle on construction and future energy costs while still leaving H-E-B in the dust in this part of town.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Maternal health update

My mom had surgery for her breast cancer at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston on June 10. She got out of the hospital on the following Thursday and has been slowly but surely recovering at home ever since.

Her surgeon told us he was pleased with what the first round chemotherapy had done, but my folks didn’t get the pathology report results until last Tuesday. Fortunately, the pathology mirrored her surgeon’s preliminary findings. They didn’t find any cancer in the removed lymph nodes, which is really good news.

Once she’s sufficiently recovered, she’s scheduled to begin a new round of chemo, followed by radiation, followed by more chemo. Despite the severity of this treatment regimen, it’s better than what was available for inflammatory breast cancer five or 10 years ago. I’m very thankful for that.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Weekenders on our own

Yesterday was one of those magical, open-ended summer days where one cool activity seamlessly flows into another despite not having any firm plans to do much of anything.

Kate and I met David, Rachel and young Miles Wyatt at Bookpeople before splitting up by gender for a walk around the 6th and Lamar area. We three bulls ambled up to Emerald City Press, a new coffee, magazine and flower shop owned by one of David's pals. We had a refreshing iced coffee and sampled some rather amazing organic frozen yogurt and iced toddy. My parents used to refer to an ice cold glass of Coca-Cola as a "toddy," but this was the real thing and it hit the spot.

Miles woke up from his nap when we were in Cheapo Discs. I figure it's important to start him young if we're going to have a chance in hell of still having honest-to-goursh record stores when I'm a crochety old coot. Master Wyatt has some of the biggest blue eyes you ever saw. I've never considered myself overly prone to hormonal tugs toward fatherhood, but when Miles looks up and smiles at me, I feel a lot like William Forsyth's character in Raising Arizona.

After ordering in dinner at the Wyatt house while watching the straining-to-be-transgressive Margot at the Wedding, Kate and I went back to Bookpeople to look around a little more. Before going home, we decided to take a walk through the former thicket of car dealerships that is now a thicket of expensive condos.

We walked past the Seaholm Power Plant, soon to be yet another mixed-use development making laughable promises of affordability, and across the Shoal Creek pedestrian bridge into downtown proper. As we neared Lavaca, we realized the Austin Pride Parade was in full swing.

Held in conjunction with the anniversary of 1969's Stonewall rebellion, Austin's parade is a bit tamer than companion events in San Francisco or Houston, but it was still a lot of fun. Well-coiffed drag queens and burly bears alternated with refreshing presence from corporate entities like State Farm and Wells Fargo. It was cool to see lots of families lining the street, but the most moving thing I saw was a smiling Austin police officer in uniform walking the parade route hand-in-hand with his same sex partner.

I suppose it's a bit sad that something Kate and I do without concern to publicly show our affection for one another becomes a poignant, almost revolutionary act when two people of the same gender do it. On the other hand, seeing openly gay and lesbian law enforcement officers marching in a Pride parade is forward historical change I'm glad to be witness to.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The 10-Cent Beer Night Riot

Here's a great story by ESPN's Paul Jackson on the 34th anniversary of a (ahem) great moment in the mostly hapless history of the Texas Rangers baseball club – the 10-Cent Beer Night Riot in Cleveland.

On June 5, 1974, the Cleveland Indians decided to sell cups of beer for 10 cents to increase attendance at their game against the Billy Martin-managed Rangers. Although the behemoth Cleveland Municipal Stadium could've held about 70,000 fans, the 25,000+ that showed up for 10-cent beer proved more than enough.

With each inning, the stadium descended further into chaos. Chairs were thrown, genitals were bared, reporters were punched in the face and bases were literally stolen as the stadium organist tried in vain to calm the drunken mob by playing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." As fans invaded the field and players brandished bats for their own safety, the umpires called the game and awarded a forfeit win to the Rangers.

"If the fucking war is on tomorrow," groused infield umpire Nestor Chylak after the game, "I'm gonna join the other side to get a shot at them"