Friday, May 30, 2008

Colt .45s cap day at Dell Diamond

My pal Mark Fagan over at the Chron sports desk reports on a sweet Round Rock Express giveaway out at the Dell Diamond this weekend. The first 3,000 fans through the gate at Saturday night's game with the New Orleans Zephyrs will receive a free Houston Colt .45s cap.

Beginning play in 1960 at a mosquito-infested ballpark just north of the present-day Astrodome, the Colt .45s were Texas' first Major League Baseball team. When the Dome opened in 1965, the Colt .45s became the Astros.

To this day, the Colt .45s are the only team in Major League history to lose a game when their pitcher threw a nine-inning, complete game no-hitter.

Happy birthday, Kate!

Today is Kate’s 30th birthday. Yay, Kate!

For roughly the next five months, Kate and I will get to be in our 30s together. Then I’m going to have to start pricing Harleys for my impending mid-life crisis.

In all seriousness, sharing existence with Kate makes me feel like the luckiest guy around. Even if May 30 wasn’t already the traditional observance of Memorial Day in the U.S., Kate’s birthday will always feel like a holiday to me.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Running to Marathon

Sunset in Marathon, May 24, 2008

Kate and I made good use of our three-day weekend with a really nice trip out to Marathon. We began our stab westward around 7:30am on Saturday morning. Upon our arrival in Fredericksburg, I noticed our passenger-side front tire was almost completely flat. Because I'd been having unexplained air loss in my driver-side rear tire that mysteriously rectified itself, I naturally assumed the two problems were related.

I anxiously told Kate I had bad feelings about going further west. I've known several people with aspirations of going west from Austin who've been waylaid in Fredericksburg by breakdowns, pot busts and other bouts of misfortune. I doubted the fix would be simple or inexpensive, but Kate wisely counseled me to withhold judgment until we had the flat tire examined. The mechanic on duty at 7-Day Tire said we had a stem leak and fixed it for $8. As it turned out, that was all we needed.

The trip continued without incident until we left I-10 on the last remaining stretch of the former U.S. 290 west of Ozona. Now decommissioned, SH 290 offers a dramatic panorama as you descend from the I-10 exit toward Fort Lancaster State Historical Park and Sheffield. If you're headed toward the Big Bend region, this is a nice - though slightly slower - alternative to taking I-10 to U.S. 385 in Fort Stockton.

At Sheffield, ramshackle site of a recently-closed Texas Youth Commission boot camp, we headed south on SH 349. A few miles outside of town, I was pulled over for speeding by a state trooper. I thought the speed limit was 70, but it was only 60 on this two-lane state highway in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, the trooper let me off with a written warning. I made sure to mention that I was a fellow state employee when he asked what I did in Austin and that probably didn't hurt.

A few miles later, we turned west on FM 2400. This was the most isolated part of the trip, with no towns and very little traffic. I would've normally taken this road going 80 or 85, but I kept my speed down just in case. About five or 10 miles before we hit U.S. 285, we came upon a broken down truck carrying three men I assume were working on one of the area's many oil and gas wells. We pulled over and one of the men asked if we could drive to his house in Sanderson and tell his wife to come pick them up. We found the wife in Sanderson and relayed the message before pressing on toward Marathon on U.S. 90.

We had reservations at the Gage Hotel, a nicely-refurbished hotel built for ranching magnate Alfred Gage in 1927 and designed by celebrated El Paso architect Henry Trost. Upon our arrival at the Gage around 4:30pm, we celebrated with a refreshing dip in the hotel's oasis-like cement pond. Then we ate dinner at Café Cenizo, the hotel's pricey-but-excellent dining room. Despite the blaring of train whistles from the old Southern Pacific line at 4:30am, we slept pretty well.

On Sunday morning, we grabbed some breakfast burritos from the surprisingly well-apportioned French Co. Grocer and headed toward Big Bend National Park. Although Marathon is the closest incorporated town to Big Bend, it still takes over an hour to get to park headquarters. Our goal was to hike the Lost Mine Trail, which is a five-mile round trip.

Kate applauds the beauty of the Lost Mine Trail

The first half of the trail featured a 1,250-foot elevation gain, but the view from 6,850 feet was well worth it. After having lunch at the top, we stayed preoccupied on the hike back down by naming words that begin with "in."

Aside from Café Cenizo, there were no restaurants open for dinner in Marathon, so we decided to drive into Alpine - a relative metropolis of 5,000-plus inhabitants 30 miles to the west. Unfortunately, a lightning-rich thunderstorm stood in our way. I'm not sure I've ever felt that close to getting struck by lightning before. While I've always heard your car is the safest place to be in the event of a lightning strike, neither Kate nor I wanted to find out if this was true.

After eating a mediocre-but-passable hamburger meal at a 24-hour diner next to a motel in Alpine, we headed back to Marathon. As we drove, we were rewarded with a wonderful view of two rainbows on the backside of the thunderstorm we'd just driven through. Meanwhile, the sun was setting in the rearview mirror. There's nothing quite like being able to see that much sky all at once.

Barely visible rainbow along U.S. 90 between Alpine and Marathon

Back at the Gage, the air was almost cool enough to warrant a long-sleeve shirt. As the sun finally receded around 8:45pm, we stepped into the hotel's White Buffalo Bar to watch the Spurs-Lakers playoff game. We sat next to a couple from San Antonio whose daughter works for the Spurs, which made the game more interesting. Kate said her margarita may have been the best she's ever had and I'm still kicking myself for sticking to beer. After a couple of drinks, we retired to our room and fell fast asleep.

Yesterday's trip back to Austin was much smoother than our outbound leg. We had a really tasty Tex-Mex lunch in Ozona at a place called Pepe's Café. I'm certain it's the only restaurant along the I-10 corridor between San Antonio and El Paso with Frank Kozik posters on the walls.

For more on our Marathon expedition, read Kate's blog entry here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Last stand at the Texas Showdown

I just got this reminder from Hunter Darby of the Service Industry - who perform tonight at Hole in the Wall with Nic Armstrong - about yet another iconic Austin business assuming room temperature at month's end.

"Remember that it is also the last weekend of the Texas Showdown right down the street," Darby writes, "so if you didn't get to attend the fall of Saigon during the Seventies, now is your chance to witness, firsthand, utter confusion, desperation and chaos."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

WKRP closing theme lyrics revealed

If you're like me, you've expended many large, greasy chunks of brain power over the years wondering what the lyrics to the closing theme of WKRP in Cincinnati were.

Thanks to the following clip from Sewerewes, this particular wonder can now be laid to rest.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Me and Dr. E

Look who's been hanging out with former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders! I forced our conference photographer to snap this snot on Monday when Dr. Elders visited us as part of Trojan Condoms' "Evolve" campaign bus tour to promote sexual health.

As some of you will recall, Elders became a political lightning rod at a 1994 U.N. HIV conference when she was asked if masturbation should be promoted among young people as a less risky alternative to sex. "I think that it is part of human sexuality," Elders said, "and perhaps it should be taught."

In the ridiculous furor that followed, Elders was fired by President Clinton (male version) - who would've been much better off had he heeded her words.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Oakville Grocery fails to Domain-ate Austin

So much for the utopian mixed-use ideal of living, working and playing at the Domain - at least for now.

Kate and I went out there tonight to pick up her repaired laptop from the Apple Store and noticed that Oakville Grocery has closed down. The Napa Valley, Calif.-based epicurean mart (est. 1881) lasted less than a year here.

We shared an overpriced chocolate drink at Oakville a few weeks back and I noticed the shelves looked suspiciously bare. I told Kate that didn't bode well and it turns out I was right for once.

With a giant new Whole Foods scheduled to open at the Domain next year, they never stood a chance in the long run. I hate to see a business crash and burn like that, but Oakville could've saved themselves an assload of capital by giving me 50 bucks and a bag of something sundried to tell them they were going to get hosed.

On the way back to the car, we noticed several nice wooden chairs and tables on Oakville's darkened patio. I briefly considered helping myself to some new lawn furniture as payback for the Domain's tax subsidies, but getting caught by their elite squad of rent-a-cops would've likely entailed hours of being subjected to the godawful smooth jazz they play out there.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Conference time

This week is Texas HIV/STD Conference week. Every two years, the program I work for puts together a four-day conference for HIV/STD workers from around the state. Although my own role in preparing for the conference is diminished from years past, it still dominates my schedule when it comes around.

Aside from providing everyone with disease statistics and prevention strategies, the conference is a chance to catch up with familiar faces and recharge the 'ol batteries to avoid burnout.

Many of the prevention counselors, disease intervention specialists and direct care providers who show up at our conference year after year are unsung heroes in my mind. Despite limited resources and a hostile political environment, they manage to reach the "unreachable" on a daily basis.

The least we can do is throw 'em a good conference.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Where the hell is Ron Titter?

Long-time readers of this here blog will recall that I used to dip an extremity or three into the local live music arena with an outfit called the Ron Titter Band.

We decided to go on hiatus last fall when our guitarist David Wyatt became a dad. The plan was to start playing again after SXSW, but as anyone who’s ever tried to restart a coordinated, collective effort with no reward beyond the doing knows, inertia is a formidable foe.

In this case, it was just as well because our bassist Reed Burnam received an academic stipend to study in India for 12 weeks this summer and our drummer Joel Fried is having gut surgery next week. Meanwhile, guitarist Andy Loomis developed a bad case of poison ivy and I got a couple of really nasty ankle blisters while attempting to two-step in brand new boots at the Broken Spoke.

It looks like we'll continue to be waylaid into the fall. Just as Reed returns to our shores in late August, Kate and I will be shipping up to Boston for our nuptials.

Since whatever work we would’ve accomplished toward returning to gig strength during this time would’ve been for naught in lieu of these life events, I’m glad we chose slack over striving. It’s much easier on the ol’ constitution.

That said, the five of us met over beer and brownies at Opal Divine’s prior to last night’s thunderstorms and reaffirmed our intentions to return to the stage. In the meantime, we’ll be getting together in splinters to write songs and goof around.

October is now our target reentry date – exactly one year from the last time we played out.


This is my one-thousandth post to Beetsolonely and I'm giddy as all hell over it!

That is all.

Friday, May 09, 2008

"That was my skull! I'm so wasted!"

Three Houston area teens are in hot water for allegedly digging up a grave, removing a skull from a coffin and using it as a bong.

According to court records, one of the teens actually volunteered this story to police while being interviewed about a stolen debit card. He is being charged with abuse of a corpse, which is not the kind of thing you want on your permanent record.

Guess we need to do a better job of educating our young stoners on what a “head shop” is.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Goodbye Nonstops, Hello Layovers!

The recent surge of nonstop flights from Austin started rolling backwards yesterday with the announcement that American Airlines is cutting its nonstops to Seattle, Orange County, Calif. and Raleigh/Durham, N.C. as of Sept. 3.

With the Wright Amendment dust-up more or less settled, American is also ending its spite-driven nonstops to Dallas Love Field on July 3. If that weren’t enough, Aeromexico is ending its Mexico City service on June 13.

Usual suspects for the rollback include soaring fuel prices and economic uncertainty. Plane size is another possible factor. Keeping an American MD-80 full and profitable on a long, thin route like Austin/Seattle is no small feat. It wouldn’t surprise me to see JetBlue expand upon its Austin "mini-hub" strategy by adding a Seattle run with a smaller E-190, but since that airline is also cutting flights, it probably wouldn’t happen anytime soon.

As for Aeromexico, I think they saw the writing on the wall with this month's much-heralded arrival of VivaAerobus. The low-cost Mexican carrier is advertising introductory fares from Austin to its Monterrey hub and Cancún for as little as $10 plus taxes and fees.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

If the Pillow Doesn't Fit, You Must Acquit

Less than three years after I last served on a jury, Travis County called me back for jury duty and I was selected yet again. I wound up spending Wednesday afternoon, all day Thursday and Friday morning cooped up in a chilly courtroom climatized for three-piece suits. Damn this honest-looking mug of mine.

Some folks say they wouldn't want a trial by jury because your fate is being decided by 12 people (or six in this case) who were too stupid to get out of jury duty. Despite all the problems with our system of justice, I'm still a bit of an idealist about jury duty. I wouldn't lie to get out of it in the absence of dire economic hardship because I think serving on a jury is a quintessential American experience. It's absolutely a pain in the ass, but so is going to Disneyland.

We were deciding a 2004 theft case in which an interior designer allegedly stole pillows from a local globe-girdling furniture store I won't name here. The specifics of the case weren't all that interesting, but the designer had once worked for Vanilla Ice and the ridiculous, overpriced furniture at the store in question was the source of great amusement to Kate and I during a Saturday browsing tour months ago.

As it was, the state's case fell laughably short of beyond a reasonable doubt and the store owner's haughty, inconsistent testimony did her cause way more harm than good. The defendant had no previous criminal record and has been employed at another furniture store since 2004. I couldn't help but wonder if the state's attorneys actually wanted to lose.

It took us about 20 minutes to return a not guilty verdict. As foreperson, I got to stand up and read the verdict to the judge. The defendant's response was quite emotional. Even though the alleged theft was only a Class B Misdemeanor, as a licensed designer, a conviction would've jeopardized her career. I would've found her guilty had the evidence supported such a verdict, but I was really glad I didn't have to.