Saturday, February 28, 2009

Burritos and roller coasters

The NASCAR Cafe at the decidedly downmarket Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas has a sporting proposition the younger man in me finds more than a little enticing (cue up Rocky theme).

Earlier this week, the cafe started selling a 2-foot, 6-pound burrito called "The Bomb." If you manage to finish this $19.95 behemoth, they'll comp it and give you two free unlimited ride passes for the Sahara's roller coaster, which goes frontwards, backwards and upside-down. They also give you a keepsake T-shirt that says you "Conquered the Bomb." The AP story doesn't say if there's a limit on how long you get to finish the burrito or how long you get unlimited roller coaster rides.

However, if you fail to finish "The Bomb" burrito, they make you take a photo wearing an extra small pink T-shirt that says "Weenie," which is still kind of honorable in its own special way.

Friday, February 27, 2009

It was 90 degrees here today

Good garsh, it was 90 degrees here today. And a rare lunch date with Kate at Central Market was nearly sullied when a bird pooped dangerously close to my sandwich. After examining the splatter pattern, I decided to go ahead and finish my sandwich because I didn't think a traceable amount of poop could have hit my sandwich. Even if it did, I wasn't about to go buy another sandwich because I'm cheap. And I'm hot, because good garsh, it was 90 degrees here today.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Big Rich's last rodeo?

Vanity Fair correspondent Bryan Burrough just published a book called The Big Rich that dissects the sordid-yet-unmistakably colorful influence of Texas oilmen like H.L. Hunt, Sid Richardson and Clint Murchison on American politics. I wanted to go Burrough's in-store at Bookpeople a few weeks back, but happy hour ran long that day. Here's a juicy little excerpt involving J. Edgar Hoover, Joan Crawford and lots of alcohol.

In a related Washington Post editorial published last Sunday, Burrough suggests the end of the second Bush era marks the end of Texas' political dominance, at least for the time being.

Even though I live in a city that would not be a real city without LBJ's oil-fueled rise to power and subsequent pork barrel Colorado River dam projects, I'm sorta glad to see Texas get some comeuppance in Washington for promoting a culture of bend-over-for-business politics that left America looking a lot like Jett Rink drunkenly babbling at the hotel ballroom podium in Giant.

Photo from Everett Collection

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Touch and Go exits distribution business

Bad music news out of Chicago today as Touch and Go Records announced the shuttering of its manufacturing and distribution arm. The label itself will continue, but an untold number of employees will be laid off and Touch and Go-distributed labels such as Merge, Drag City, Kill Rock Stars and Estrus will have to find new ways to manufacture and distribute their products.

During the 80s and 90s, Touch and Go distribution was key to helping many smaller indie upstarts achieve enough cachet to get into more record stores, receive more college radio airplay and send their acts on European tours. For fledgling indie bands trying to build a following through shoestring tours, getting on a label with Touch and Go distribution or (gasp) Touch and Go itself was a vaunted goal.

Trance Syndicate, the Austin-based noise rock imprint started by Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey in 1990, was one such label until the Surfers sued Touch and Go to retain their back catalog. I interviewed Coffey in 1998 when Trance shut down and he still had nice things to say about Touch and Go owner Corey Rusk despite the lawsuit. Many consider Touch and Go to be a model operation in its reconciliation of punk spirit and music business reality.

"I guess maybe one of the reasons that we have made it this long is that I'm a very responsible personality, and things weigh heavily on me," Rusk told Chicago Sun-Times music critic Jim DeRogatis in 2006. "If something is not getting done or I feel like a situation is not being handled right, it bothers me. I take the responsibility of accounting to and paying our bands on time and properly as my highest priority, and it's one of the things I've prided myself on through our whole existence. The world of indie labels that we live in is constantly full of horror stories of 'I never got paid for that record.'"

Saturday, February 14, 2009

UT executive pay jumped as tuition climbed

Check out this AP analysis in today's Houston Chronicle showing how the pay of UT executives increased 30 percent or more between 2004 and 2008. During the same time frame, tuition and fees at UT climbed 57 percent, thanks largely to the Texas Legislature's 2003 decision to deregulate tuition.

I have two degrees from UT, but when they decided it was more important to be a university for the elite than a university for the people of Texas, I decided to stop donating to them.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Greetings from the Golden Triangle

I took a day trip to Beaumont yesterday to meet with local public health stakeholders and discuss ways of responding to an increase in the number of syphilis cases there.

There's no easy way to get to the "Golden Triangle" from Austin. You can't fly direct and driving straight through often means being delayed by Houston traffic. I split the difference by flying Southwest to Hobby Airport and driving the rest of the way with staff from our regional office in Houston.

On final approach into Hobby, I noticed every fourth or fifth house still had a blue tarp covering roof damage from Hurricane Ike. Beaumont was still recovering from Hurricane Rita when Ike showed up, so blue tarps are pretty ubiquitous there, too. Aside from insurance delays and fly-by-night contractors, I imagine a lot of families in Southeast Texas have more pressing needs than a hole in the roof right now.

The other thing I noticed was the piss-poor condition of IH-10 between Houston and Beaumont. Between road construction and the claustrophobic four-lane Trinity River bridge, it may be the single scariest stretch of highway in the state right now.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

From the Grass Roots to "The Office"

What's better than a useless tidbit of music trivia? How about a useless music/TV trivia tidbit combo?

Yesterday, my pal Kent B. hipped me to the fact that Creed Bratton, the actor who plays skeezy old-timer "Creed Bratton" on The Office (U.S. version), was the lead guitarist for the Grass Roots during their glory days.

Not quite able to wrap my mind around that, I went to You Tube and found this clip of Jimmy Durante introducing the Grass Roots playing their 1967 hit, "Let's Live for Today." I'm pretty sure the clip is taken from The Hollywood Palace. Sure enough, when the band gets to the bridge, you'll see Bratton playing the hook.

I'm surprised the writers haven't worked Bratton's past into the show more. Especially with rich source material such as this chestnut from his official bio:

Creed had an infamous acid trip on stage at the Fillmore with concert promoter Bill Graham screaming at him ...and him dropping his pants and strolling casually off stage...where he proceeded to lecture to all who would listen on the meaning of life....and of course Creed's habit of running naked through small towns next to the tour bus on bets from the band.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Alaska Airlines coming to Austin

Some surprising airline news today. Despite our nation’s assy economic climate, Alaska Airlines will launch service to Austin with a daily nonstop to Seattle on Aug. 3, which is a great time to get the hell out of Austin.

I’ll be glad to see Alaska’s Eskimo tail livery in these parts, but I think they’ll have a rough time making an Austin-Seattle nonstop work. American couldn’t do it before the economy tanked even with the hook of OneWorld miles.