Friday, December 31, 2010

Baby's First Blizzard

Just in time for 2011, the family and I are back in Austin from a two-week holiday trip to New England to visit Kate's family. Alex and I had the added pleasure of experiencing our first blizzard together. The well-insulated residents of Worcester, Mass. don't consider 12 inches to be a lot of snow, but it was far more than I've ever seen in a 24-hour period. Although we didn't have a proper sledding device, Kate improvised nicely with string and a plastic bin so Alex could have an approximated sleigh ride. I don't think he knew quite what to make of it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 12/15/10

This is the last edition of Fave Five Food Deals for 2010. Our staff has worked tirelessly all year to bring you the week’s best Austin grocery deals, so in the spirit of the season, we’re giving everyone a two-week furlough. We’ll see you back on the clock in 2011 – enjoy!

Acorn, butternut, spaghetti and kabocha squash, .27/lb. at Newflower (through 12/22/10)

Navel oranges, .69/lb. at Sprouts (through 12/22/10)

Organic Fuji apples, .79/lb at Sprouts (through 12/22/10

Masa Brosa masa mix, 4.4 lbs., .99 at Fiesta (through 12/24/10)

Wild mahi mahi filets, $2.97/lb. at Newflower (through 12/22/10)

Also, pick up half gallons of Blue Bell ice cream for $3.99 each and 12-packs of Shiner for $9.99 each during Sun Harvest's 72-hour sale on Dec. 17, 19 and 19.

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Oh Christmas, Up Yours!

X-Ray Spex vocalist Poly Styrene and her daughter Celeste sing "Black Christmas" from Styrene's forthcoming solo album, Generation Indigo, due March 2011. A Class of '77 punk rock icon singing a reggae Christmas song with her kid may sound like a novel proposition, but it works.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Check from John Lennon

I don't have a particularly poignant recollection to share about John Lennon on the 30th anniversary of his murder. But I know someone who does.

Rob Patterson, who was my first editor at the Austin Chronicle, wrote an astute and moving essay for the Huffington Post about the time he received a check from John Lennon. Read it here.

Fave Five Food Deals - 12/8/10

This week's top Austin grocery deals might make you want to pay homage to B-52's vocalist Fred Schneider by screaming, "Let me kiss your PINEAPPLES!"

1. Pineapples, .99/ea. at Newflower (through 12/15/10)

2. Boston butt pork roast, .99/lb. at H-E-B (through 12/14/10)

3. Small Texas red grapefruit, 5 for $1 at H-E-B (through 12/14/10)

4. Romaine, red leaf and green leaf lettuce, .77/ea. at Sun Harvest (through 12/15/10)

5. H-E-B pure cane sugar soft drinks, 12 pack, $1.50 at H-E-B (through 12/14/10)*

*With in-store coupon


Also, pick up a 5 lb. box of Cutie clementine tangerines for just $3.97 at Sun Harvest on Thursday, Dec. 9 and Friday, Dec. 10 only.

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Sunday, December 05, 2010

I'm Gonna Ferberize You, Baby

Alex has really come into his own over the last several weeks. At nine and a half months, he's crawling all over the house, his smile now includes four top front teeth and his expressions are increasingly those of a little boy rather than an infant.

The one problem we've run into is sleep. For months, Alex would wake up a couple of times a night and we'd go into his room to rock him back to sleep. Each wake-up took about 10 minutes. This wasn't ideal, but it was manageable between two people.

Then he started cutting teeth. The resulting soreness dramatically increased the amount of time Kate and I had to spend walking and rocking him. Even if he appeared to be sound asleep after 45 minutes, he would often start crying again within a minute after we placed him back in the crib.

We figured this would only happen when he had new teeth coming in. We were wrong. In spending such a long time getting him to sleep in our arms, we unintentionally created a new sleep habit that wasn't serving any of us well.

The prolonged sleep deprivation took a toll. My back was killing me and it became more difficult for me to fight off background anxieties. Even after Alex got to sleep, I'd lay awake in bed, playing worst-case scenarios of all sorts on an endless loop in my head. My waking attitude toward life in general became more dour and cynical.

Both Kate and I started forgetting things. Until I read Kate's blog post from yesterday, I'd totally forgotten the following episode of extreme forgetfulness even happened:

One afternoon this fall, Greg and I took Alex out somewhere. I think it was the Farmer's Market. We had a lovely time, and congratulated ourselves on making it out of the house and participating in one of the many, many activities that Austin has to offer. That self-satisfaction wore right off when we returned home to find that we'd left the door open. By "open" I don't mean unlocked - I mean we'd left the front door wide open. Luckily, everything in our house was intact and where we'd left it. But wow, did we feel stupid.


Visiting my family in Houston for Thanksgiving was a blast, but the change of scenery only compounded Alex's inability to sleep for more than an hour or two at a time. We arrived back in Austin last Sunday hoping against our better judgment that being back home would help get Alex back on his pre-teething sleep schedule. It did not.

Around 4am on Wednesday morning, Kate and I came to an agreement that the current situation was no longer sustainable. I'd mentioned the idea of using the Ferber Method of sleep training to Kate before, but the idea of walking away from a crying baby - even for a few minutes - was completely counter-intuitive to her maternal instincts.

However, the more we learned about the Ferber Method, the more it made sense to us. In holding Alex in our arms until he was completely asleep, we made it inevitable that he would be completely confused and disoriented any time he woke up in the crib. Who could blame him? I'd freak out too if I woke up someplace other than where I went to sleep.

While putting him down in his crib right before he went to sleep as Ferber recommends would definitely involve a crying jag of unknown length, we would be checking on him and reassuring him at gradually increasing intervals. This was not just letting him "cry it out."

Once we decided to try the Ferber Method, we decided to delay implementation for one more day so we could mentally prepare and be totally sure about it. Alex responded with another night of frequent wake-ups. Nevertheless, as Kate and I took turns trying to get him back to sleep, I felt a slight twinge of sadness knowing this phase of Alex's life was about to be phased out.

On Thursday, Kate put Alex to bed just as his eyelids got heavy and left the room. He immediately started crying. The crying intensified once he realized Kate wasn't coming right back in. Three minutes passed. Kate went in to comfort him without picking him up. The crying subsided momentarily, then picked up as she left the room. Six minutes passed. I went into the room, stroked his chest and told him everything was going to be all right. Then I left and the crying picked up again.

We girded ourselves for another 10 minutes of listening to Alex cry, but then his sobs started losing steam. Then they stopped altogether. After a minute or two, Kate peeked into his room. He was sound asleep. He woke up a couple of times during the night, but even without being rocked, neither wake-up was drawn out more than 10 minutes. This was bliss.

Alex hasn't woken up at all during the past two nights, which I believe is only the second or third time we've had two consecutive no-wake nights since his birth. When you consider all the crying Alex did by waking up every two hours, the total amount of sleep-related crying is a fraction of what it was.

The Ferber Method isn't for everyone. Some parents have strong philosophical objections to it and some babies don't respond to it. Moreover, we're going to have to re-Ferberize Alex every time something funky happens to his sleep schedule, but that's a small price to pay compared to what we were facing. As far as we're concerned, the good Dr. Ferber is a real American hero.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Yeah, Baby!

Richard Branson (that's Sir Richard Branson to you and me) was at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport yesterday to inaugurate Virgin America’s new service between DFW, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The launch ceremonies also included a gala shindig at the Winspear Opera House featuring Willie Nelson, fresh off his West Texas pot bust (how can anyone who has ever played a gig along the IH-10 corridor not know about that checkpoint?).

Virgin America’s expansion strategy appears to be highly hub-centric at this point, but here’s hoping Branson and his sexy stews set up shop in Austin soon.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 12/1/10

Sorry for the post-holiday delay in posting this week's best Austin grocery deals. A 9-month-old who's waking up every couple of hours all through the night will do that to a blog.

1. H-E-B seasoned boneless skinless chicken thighs for fajitas, 5 lbs. for $5 at H-E-B (through 12/7/10)

2. Russet potatoes, 5 lb. bag, .47 at Newflower (through 12/8/10)

3. Avocados, .49/ea. at Sprouts and Sun Harvest (through 12/8/10)

4. Oranges, 15 for $1 at El Rancho Supermercado (through 12/7/10)

5. Organic arugula, .99/ea. at Newflower (through 12/8/10)

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Turkey Trot Chaos

This year’s Thundercloud Turkey Trot accidentally being cut half a mile short by a wrong turn reminds me of the scene in Animal House where Stork leads the marching band into an alleyway. The ensuing confusion is hilarious, unless you happen to be the first place runner or the guy whose trombone gets bent.

Given how many runs close our streets during the spring and fall months, it’s a wonder nothing like this hasn’t happened before.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 11/24/10

We weren't planning to do a FFFD entry this week because most of the supermarkets in town don't send out a sales circular during Thanksgiving week. Despite this paucity, we've ferreted out a few deals you should know about in case your drunken uncle horks all the leftover turkey.

1. Boneless skinless chicken breasts, $1.19/lb. at El Rancho Supermercado (through 11/30/10)

2. Jewel and Garnet yams, .48/lb at Newflower (through 12/1/10)

3. Green or red cabbage and premium Russet potatoes, .50/lb. at Newflower (through 12/1/10)

4. Green beans, .88/lb at Newflower (through 12/1/10)

5. Pork stew meat, .99/lb. at El Rancho Supermercado (through 11/30/10)

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dorothy "Dot" Hewitt R.I.P.

Former Dot's Place owner Dorothy Hewitt died Saturday night. She was 71.

If you never had the opportunity to eat at Dot's when it was located on W. Orchid Ln. in far north Austin, you missed out. Regular servings of Dot's beef tips and rice made having to work in the awful industrial office hinterlands at the intersection of Kramer and Braker almost bearable.

Dot's was housed in a run-down edifice that looked like it had been crudely added on to one too many times. The dining rooms were spartan and cooled by overworked window units, but the meatloaf, mashed potatoes and greens made up for that. In 2005, the restaurant burned to the ground. The ever-resourceful Dot set up a trailer on the site of the burned-out restaurant years before such things became de rigueur on South Congress.

The last time I ate at Dot's was at this aforementioned trailer in November 2005. My pal Kevin Fullerton was visiting from Seattle and his luggage had been stolen out of my car the night before while we were watching the Diamond Smugglers at the Continental Club. After filing a futile police report for insurance purposes, lunch at Dot's did plenty to restore our faith in humanity.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 11/17/10

Be extra thankful for the extra money you'll save by taking advantage of this week's Austin supermarket deals.

1. Boneless skinless chicken breasts, $1.67/lb. at Sprouts (through 11/25/10)

2. Organic Romaine lettuce, .88/ea. at Sun Harvest (through 11/25/10)

3. Organic celery, .88/ea. at Sprouts (through 11/25/10)

4. 10 lb. bag of Russet potatoes, $1.47/ea. at Sun Harvest (through 11/25/10)

5. Granny Smith or Rome apples, .50/lb. at Sun Harvest (through 11/25/10)

If you do a fair amount of shopping at Sun Harvest, be sure to pick up this week's circular at the store. There you'll find a coupon for $5 off a purchase of $50 or more this week.

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Behind the Lines at Walmart

I recently decided to make a reconnaissance visit to the newly opened Northcross Walmart Supercenter that engendered so much controversy when it first squeaked through the city approval process just ahead of the big box ordinance three years ago.

I had no intention of actually purchasing anything there. I avoid shopping at Walmart whenever possible because whatever cost savings the average American consumer might realize there goes toward undermining the living standards of the average American worker. Their new Butthole Surfers-inspired logo does nothing to change that.

That said, a quick perusal of the grocery side of the store revealed a few standout deals. Bananas were .36/lb., a full eight cents lower than H-E-B's regular price. Walmart's in-house imitation of Triscuits sold for $1.32, compared to H-E-B Hill Country Fare Woven Wheats at $1.67.

I think you could save money by shopping at Walmart over H-E-B if you spent the majority of your grocery dollar on packaged food. However, one thing that struck me about the Northcross Supercenter is how relatively little floor space is dedicated to fresh foods and how few of Walmart's prices on meat and produce best those of H-E-B. And why not? A key component of Sam Walton's retailing genius was in making sure goods make it to stores just in time for customers to buy them. It's harder to do that with fresh foods.

The rest of the store was just about what you'd expect at a standard Walmart with a few subtle differences. There is more natural light coming in through the roof, which improves energy efficiency while cutting down on the depressing florescent glow. Also, the bicycle racks are shaped like bicycles, which I guess is Walmart's attempt at whimsy. Overall, it's less ugly than the traditional blue/gray box, but it's still a box.

Time will tell how much the Northcross Walmart will (or won't) alter the characteristics of its immediate surroundings. I haven't noticed much difference in traffic during my morning and afternoon weekday commutes on Burnet yet. The holiday season should provide a more meaningful snapshot of how the store will impact area traffic patterns.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 11/10/10

Hold onto your pocketbooks, Austin. It's time for your weekly dose of supermarket deals.

1. Haas avocados, 3 for $1 at Newflower (through 11/17/10)

2. Asparagus, $1.47/lb. at Sprouts (through 11/17/10)

3. Hill Country Fare split chicken breasts, $1/lb. at H-E-B (through 11/16/10)

4. Fuji apples, .50/lb. at Sun Harvest (through 11/17/10)

5. Brown Cow yogurt, 6 oz. cups, .59/ea. at Sun Harvest (through 11/17/10)

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Future is There's

The following was scrawled - presumably by a 6th grader - on the MetroRail crossing guard down the street from our house.


When American kids are falling behind the rest of the industrialized world in math and science, it's sad.

When our middle schoolers can't lob an insult without scoring an own-goal, it's probably not a bad idea to start stocking up on bottled water, canned peas and ammunition.

Friday, November 05, 2010

My Elvis Year

As I enter my 42nd year on the planet today, I’ve thought a lot about the day in August of 1977 when I walked to the Circle K down the street from my grandparents’ house in Victoria, Tex. and scanned a slew of “Elvis Presley Dead at 42” headlines while waiting to pay for a grape-flavored Slush Puppy.

I realized Presley’s death was undeniably tragic, but I also remember thinking, “Well, 42 is pretty old.”

And I guess it was if you were an 8-year-old kid whose parents were still in their early thirties and not cocked up on pills.

42 doesn’t seem so old anymore, though.

I’m vaguely aware of being well beyond the vaunted 18-34 demographic, but I never felt like I was at the zeitgeist to begin with. One part of getting older that I’ve always sort of looked forward to is the prospect of “aging into” the curmudgeonly nostalgia that was part of my personality even as a child.

Becoming a father has definitely made me feel older, but that’s more a function of parenthood than age. I still don’t feel the sociocultural gravitas I thought I’d feel at 42. I have a family and an accidental career in civil service, but I haven’t put away childish things and have no intention of doing it voluntarily.

I’m glad that spending most of my days garbed in jeans and a T-shirt just like my infant son makes me a thorn in the side of sphincter-lipped scolds like George Will. Let them choke on their dull, grey notions of maturity and propriety – plum-dumb commode humor has sustained me through far too much to give up on it now.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 11/3/10

Crazy cheap heads of lettuce lead the way in this week's list of Austin's best supermarket deals.

1. Romaine lettuce, 2 for $1 at Sun Harvest (through 11/10/10)

2. Organic Jonagold, Braeburn or Gala apples, .99/lb at Sprouts* (through 11/10/10)

3. Buttermilk sourdough bread, $1.99 at Central Market (through 11/9/10)

4. Boneless skinless chicken breasts, $1.49/lb. at Fiesta** (through 11/9/10)

5. Top sirloin steak, $2.99/lb. at Sprouts (through 11/10/10)

*Organic Jonagold and Braeburn apples are also on sale for .99/lb. at Newflower
**Sold in family pack, limit 2 with $10 additional purchase


If you shop at H-E-B, be sure to glance at your checkout coupons. In the past two weeks, we've gotten one for a free pound of red or white seedless grapes and another for $3 off a purchase of $30 or more. That right there is free money, hoss.

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Do the Crawl

Kate shot this iPhone video of Alex crawling today. He's been making tentative crawling movements for about a week now, but today he just took off.



Seeing Alex start crawling in earnest is really something. As Kate aptly noted, "It's like he's a whole new baby." It reminds me of the essential human instinct for exploration. It also reminds me that our house just got a whole lot more fraught with danger.

Friday, October 29, 2010

I Gotta Dance to Keep from Crying


Want to pick up the latest album from Motown legend and onetime SXSW keynote speaker Smokey Robinson? Then cruise on out to your nearest Cracker Barrel this Monday.

Yes, Cracker Barrel - the same Tennessee-based restaurant-and-country store chain that reportedly paid $8.7 million in 2004 to settle a slew of racial discrimination lawsuits.

“It’s time to change that imagery of Cracker Barrel,” Robinson says. “I’m very happy to be the one breaking that ground with them. It’s progress."

Indeed it is, Smokey. Now all they need to do is hire Harvey Fierstein as a spokesperson to begin patching things up with the gays.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 10/27/10

From our ink-stained hands to your screen, here are the week's best deals at Austin area supermarkets.

1. Green leaf, red leaf and Romaine lettuce, .88/ea. at Sprouts and Sun Harvest (through 11/3/10)

2. Texas Ruby Red grapefruit, 6 for $1 at Newflower (through 11/3/10)

3. Boneless skinless chicken breasts, $1.88/lb. at Sun Harvest (through 11/3/10)

4. Marinated skirt steak for fajitas, $2.29/lb. at El Rancho Supermercado (through 11/2/10)

5. Red seedless grapes, .99/lb. at H-E-B (through 11/2/10)

Also, if you need something economical to give trick-or-treaters this Sunday, pick up the Hill Country Fare Kids Play Mix - 50 solid ounces of what we old-timers used to call "penny candy" for just $5 at H-E-B. We're talking Smarties, Double Bubble, Tootsie Rolls and the like. The kids won't like you as much as the people handing out Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, but at least your house probably won't get egged.

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Monday, October 25, 2010

Just About a Mile from Texarkana

I’m in Texarkana, Tex. tonight. Texarkana is one of those towns that gets sung about a lot because it makes for a nice rhyme, as Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Cotton Fields," Crazy Elephant's "Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'" and Jerry Reed's "Eastbound and Down" can attest.

One thing that doesn't rhyme with Texarkana is syphilis. The Ark-La-Tex region has some of the higher syphilis rates in the country, so I'm here for a meeting with public health folks from the tri-state area to discuss coordination of prevention and messaging efforts across state lines.

I would’ve preferred to meet in Hot Springs, Ark. for the spring-fed baths or Shreveport, La. for the casino buffets, but our leash ends where Texas does. As far as I can tell, the primary extracurricular activity in Texarkana would be to have a photo taken on State Line Ave. with half my girth in Texas and the other in Arkansas. Having already done that in several obnoxious iterations over the years, I’m content to hit the hotel treadmill and watch the Cowboys try to soak up some Texas Rangers mojo on Monday Night Football.

Yup, just another crazy night of road-hogging in the name of public health.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 10/20/10

In this week's exciting edition of Austin's best grocery deals, Sprouts ups the ante on apples.

1. Apples (Braeburn, Gala, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji, Jonagold, Red Delicious and Rome), .49/lb. at Sprouts (through 10/27/10)

2. Asparagus, $1.29/lb. at Newflower (through 10/27/10)

3. Organic broccoli, .99/lb. at Newflower (through 10/27/10)

4. Boneless skinless chicken breasts, $1.50/lb. at El Rancho Supermercado (through 10/26/10)

5. Boneless pork loin, $2.47/lb. at H-E-B (through 10/26/10)

Also, if you are carnivorous, be prepared to start paying more for meat in the next few weeks. For that, we can thank our good friends at the ethanol lobby.

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Miles for Miles to Fight Diabetes

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation is holding its annual Walk to Cure Diabetes on Halloween. Kate, Alex and I will be walking - or strolling, in Alex's case - as proud members of Team Miles for Miles here in Austin.

The team is named for young Miles Wyatt, son of our good friends David and Rachel Wyatt. Last year, shortly before his 2nd birthday, Miles was diagnosed with Type 1 (or "juvenile") diabetes, an autoimmune disorder of the pancreas. Kate and I have watched with admiration at how the Wyatt family has responded to Miles' diagnosis, but we know it hasn't been easy for them.

Type 1 diabetes requires constant monitoring of carb intake, blood sugar levels and multiple insulin injections per day. In the past 11 months since his diagnosis, Miles already has endured over 3,500 finger pricks and 1,300 insulin injections. In addition to his rigorous blood testing and insulin shots, everything he consumes must be weighed and measured, and his blood levels need to be checked every couple of hours - even at 2 a.m. while he sleeps. Miles will be insulin-dependent for the rest of his life - or until there is a cure.

There are many devastating diseases people face in the world today. The difference with type 1 diabetes is that wiping it out of existence is extremely attainable and within reach. Researchers indicate that a cure could be available even before Miles goes to high school, helping him and countless others avoid the complications of heart and kidney disease, blindness, amputation, and early death that is a reality for many people with type 1 diabetes.

If you'd like to help Team Miles for Miles help raise funds for JDRF, you can make a donation here. All contributions are tax-deductible and every little bit makes a difference. Thanks for your consideration and support.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Embassy Unsweet

If you’re traveling to Dallas for business or pleasure anytime soon, do yourself a favor and stay the hell away from the Embassy Suites Dallas Market Center. I have stayed at this sub-par facility four times this year for my job. Yesterday, I checked out for what I fervently hope is the last time ever.

I am not a man of high standards when it comes to lodging. I thumb through those green discount motel guides you pick up in the foyer at Denny’s with the same tenacity a hedge fund trader pores over Investor’s Business Daily. I have stayed quite happily in off-brand motels and well-worn motor courts all across this dying empire. But I do believe in good value and that is where the Embassy Suites Dallas Market Center eats it.

Shoddily built during the mid-Eighties boom cycle, this Embassy Suites has endured several cosmetic renovations since, but none have addressed the fundamental problem of the building’s proximity to the Stemmons Freeway. Subsequently, the early morning rush hour was an unwelcome wake-up call in every one of the rooms I stayed in.

Now throw in archaic CRT TVs, middling reception of local channels and beige carpet stained with the unspeakable remnants of numerous after-prom parties. These are not things you can look past when you’re dropping $117 a night plus the obligatory Tom Hicks sports arena tax.

According to an alarming number of consumer reviews, the hotel’s parking lot is a hotbed of car theft. The hotel’s response to this is to have a crossing arm at the lot entrance that opens for anyone and everyone who drives up to it along with prominent signage to let you know you’re parking at your own risk.

I accept that it’s not the hotel’s fault that this area of Dallas is a den of thievery, but their ham-brained approach to addressing the problem is a waste of everyone’s time and money. This logic model carries over to the lobby restrooms, which have auto-flush toilets with lids that prevent the auto-flush sensors from knowing when it’s time to flush.

Then there’s the hotel’s management, which managed to bump half of our meeting delegation on two of the four times we stayed there this year. The first time was due to a plumbing issue, which wasn’t entirely their fault, but this week’s massive bump was never adequately explained to us.

Instead of stepping up, they tried to pass the entirety of blame off on our event planners – a cowardly move that indicated they were more interested in finger-pointing and ass coverage than trying to make things right for their guests. This is a hallmark of a business that simply doesn’t care, so why should you?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 10/13/10

Austinites, feast your senses on this week's slightly belated five best grocery deals:

1. Red or Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Braeburn, Gala, Fuji, Jonathan, Jonagold and Rome apples, .67/lb. at Newflower (through 10/20/10)

2. Texas Rio Star grapefruit, .19/ea. at Sprouts (through 10/20/10)

3. Asparagus, $1.48/lb. at Sun Harvest (through 10/20/10)

4. Spinach, Romaine, green leaf or red leaf lettuce, .88/ea. at Sprouts (through 10/20/10)

5. Pork sirloin chops, .89/lb.* at Fiesta (through 10/19/10)

*In the family pack, limit 2 with $10 additional purchase.

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

SXSW Getting New Digs

SXSW is getting a new home at 400 W. Bowie St. The 3-story building, now housing an architectural firm, is conveniently sandwiched between the Whole Foods behemoth and the Spring condo tower on the site of the Electric Lounge. This will put SXSW considerably closer to the epicenter of festival-related action in March than their current Hyde Park offices on 41st St.

This is a long, long way from the late 80s, when SXSW was run out of a conference room at the Chronicle's old offices on the corner of 29th and Rio Grande. Not long after that, I remember marveling at the fact they needed an entire ranch-style house (year-round, no less!) to run the fest.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 10/6/10

Fresh from our dead junebug-littered mailbox, here are this week's finest Austin grocery deals. Mmmmm.

1. Boneless pork loin roast, $1.99/lb. at Sprouts (through 10/13/10)

2. Boneless skinless chicken fryer breasts, $1.49/lb.* at Fiesta (through 10/12/10)

3. Red or green bell peppers, .49/ea. at Sprouts (through 10/13/10)

4. Yellow peaches, black plums, Bartlett or red pears, .77/lb. at Sun Harvest (through 10/13/10)

5. Green beans, .88/lb. at H-E-B (through 10/12/10)

*Family pack, limit two with additional $10 purchase.



Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Friday, October 01, 2010

New Drugs and a Boatful of Beards?

Do you have a thing for boats, facial hair and/or Huey Lewis? If so, I can plan your Halloween weekend for you right this instant.

The New Drugs will be playing a benefit to help get the Austin Facial Hair Club's most hirsute hunks to the 2011 World Beard and Moustache Championships in Trondheim, Norway. This benefit will take place Saturday, October 30 at 7:30pm on the good ship Commodore as it motors about the tranquil waters of Lake Austin.

The 3-hour boat trip will set you back $25, but drinks on board are gratis. Advance tix are available online or at Breakaway Records and End of an Ear Records. Act now or start pricing dinghies.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 9/29/10

We're ending the month with fine weather and an even finer assortment of top Austin grocery deals. From Manchaca to Metric, our intrepid deal monkeys have you covered.

1. 5 lb. bag of Russet potatoes, .47/ea. at Newflower (through 10/7/10)

2. Columbia River Coho salmon filets, $5.99/lb. at Sprouts (through 10/7/10)

3. Organic Bartlett or red pears, .98/lb. at Sun Harvest (through 10/7/10)

4. Organic acorn, butternut or spaghetti squash, .88/lb. at Sun Harvest (through 10/7/10)

5. Blue Bell Ice Cream, half gallon/all rims, $3/ea.* at Fiesta (through 10/6/10)

*Limit two with $10 additional purchase.

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Trader Joe's in Texas? Ha, Made You Look!

Back in August, Fortune tried to uncover the very secretive world of Trader Joe's. The company is privately owned by an ├╝ber-wealthy German family that owns the worldwide Aldi supermarket chain, never talks to the press and leaves most of Trader Joe's business decisions to Americans. Most of the information in the story was gleaned from former executives and other off-the-record insiders.

While the discussion of Trader Joe's less-is-more approach to groceries is interesting in its own right, Texans hoping for an Lone Star expansion in the wake of Aldi's entrance into the Dallas/Fort Worth market may find the sentence below dismayingly revealing:

Texas and Florida have cities that boast consumers Trader Joe's covets, but insiders say the current distribution infrastructure makes it difficult for the company to efficiently get products to those states.

Well, at least they didn't say "impossible."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Southwest Plans to Buy AirTran

Massive airline news today as Dallas-based Southwest Airlines announced its intention to buy AirTran Airways for $3.4 billion in cash and assumed debt.

Assuming the regulatory gods approve the merger, this will give Southwest a big "in" at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and Washington's National Airport. It will significantly expand the airline's presence at New York LaGuardia and Boston Logan. The acquisition will also make Southwest an international airline, with service to Mexico and the Caribbean.

One logistical hurdle of the merger is AirTran's fleet of 86 Boeing 717s. Southwest's operational efficiency has long been based on flying nothing but Boeing 737s, but you can't just '86' 86 717s, so we may get to see 717s decked out in Southwest's livery in the short-term.

We know AirTran will stop serving Dallas/Fort Worth International once the merger is finalized since the end of the Wright Amendment restrictions at Dallas Love Field were partially predicated on Southwest not flying out of DFW. Additionally, smaller airports served by AirTran but close to another airport already served by Southwest may not be able to sustain service. To name a few, I would not be confident about airports in Flint, Mich., Pensacola, Fla. and Newport News/Williamsburg, Va. being served by the combined airline in the long term. Here's a telling phrase from the merger website:

We are interested in serving the great majority, if not all, of AirTran's current markets.

Perhaps most importantly to passengers, how will Southwest/AirTran reconcile the bag fee issue? The first two bags fly free on Southwest, while AirTran charges $20 for the first bag and $25 for the second. Again, from the merger website:

Upon full integration, it is our intent to have a consistent product offering. It is our intent that the bag fees would not be part of that product.


Likewise, the combined airline plans to adhere to Southwest's policy of having only one class, no assigned seating and no change fees. Overall, I'd say this merger is a net positive - even more so if we get an Austin-Atlanta run to break Delta's stranglehold on that route.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 9/22/10

The vernal equinox equals big savings in this week's list of Austin's best grocery deals.

1. Utah peaches, .57/lb. at Newflower (through 9/29/10)

2. Bartlett pears, gala apples, black plums or vine ripe tomatoes, .88/lb. at Sun Harvest (through 9/29/10)

3. Yellow nectarines, red or black plums, broccoli crowns or baby carrots, .88/lb. at Sprouts (through 9/29/10)

4. Romaine lettuce or spinach, 2 for $1 at Sun Harvest (through 9/29/10)

5. Boneless skinless chicken thighs or chicken sausage, $1.77/lb. at Sun Harvest (through 9/29/10)

Also, if you buy 12 double rolls of Quilted Northern Soft & Strong Bath Tissue at H-E-B before Sept. 28, you can get 12 double rolls of H-E-B Twice as Soft Bath Tissue with an in-store coupon for absolutely nothing.

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pixies Drummer Talks to Me

Although I'm not attending the Pixies' two-night Doolittle extravaganza over at the Austin Music Hall, I did interview drummer/magician David Lovering for the Chron a couple weeks back.

It was 9pm here in Austin and noon two days later (or something ridiculous like that) in Brisbane, Queensland when we spoke. I wound up having to edit the transcript considerably, but most of what I cut out was covered in the three near-simultaneous interviews conducted with the other three Pixies.

The only time I've ever seen the Pixies was when they played the ACL Music Festival back in 2005. That was a mob scene, so my pal Kevin Fullerton and I watched most of the show from behind the fenced-off backstage area, enjoying Lovering's monitor mix much more than the muddy sound up front.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dude, You Have No Qur'an: The Remix

Jacob Isom, the bespectacled, rat-tailed skateboarder who stopped a Qur'an burning in Amarillo by swiping the book and saying, "Dude, you have no Qur'an!" has been Auto-Tuned. I think the result has almost as much staying power as that "Teach Me How to Dougie" song, but see for yourself below.



According to an interview with Gawker, the 23-year-old Isom's goal was to parlay his moment of glory into an appearance in High Times. Mission accomplished, sir.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 9/15/10

This week's list of Austin's top five grocery deals is all that and a (free) bag of chips.

1. Asparagus, $1.77/lb. at Newflower (through 9/22/10)

2. Yellow onions, 5 lbs. for $1 at Sun Harvest (through 9/22/10)

3. Red, green and black seedless grapes, .67/lb. at Newflower (through 9/22/10)

4. Wild caught Mahi Mahi filets, $3.97/lb. at Newflower (through 9/22/10)

5. Italian white bread, $1.99 ea. at Central Market (through 9/21/10)

Also, if you buy an 8.75-9 oz. bag of Lay's baked potato chips at H-E-B this week, you can get a free bag of H-E-B baked potato chips with an in-store coupon.

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Live Dallas Tornado Coverage

Yesterday's 6pm newscast on WFAA in Dallas was enlivened by real-time coverage of a tornado touching down to the west of downtown.



The Tropical Storm Hermine-spawned twister followed a somewhat similar path to the famous April 1957 tornado, striking first in West Dallas before crossing the Trinity River and tearing through industrial properties around the intersection of Irving Blvd. and W. Mockingbird Ln. KDAF has some pretty amazing tower-cam footage of this damage as it happened.



The tornado was headed in the direction of Love Field when it lifted just after taking a weak swipe at the area around the Stemmons/Carpenter Fwy. split. Fortunately, there were no reports of serious injuries.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 9/8/10

Direct from the wholesome wad of grocery circulars I just pulled out of the mailbox, here is this week's belated and soggy edition of Austin's top grocery bargains.

1. Cantaloupes, 3 for $1 at Newflower (through 9/15/10)

2. Yellow peaches, nectarines or plums, .49/lb. at Sprouts (through 9/15/10)

3. California Bartlett pears, .77/lb. at H-E-B (through 9/14/10)

4. Organic broccoli or cauliflower, .98/lb. at Sun Harvest (through 9/15/10)

5. Texas Russet potatoes, 10 lb. bag, $1.97 at H-E-B (through 9/14/10)

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Thursday, September 02, 2010

New Drugs for Sale This Friday

Start Labor Day weekend off right with a heady dose of the New Drugs at the Beauty Bar. We'll be rolling the Huey Lewis canon in between the bombastic Queen tribute band Magnifico! and the Descendants of Erdrick, who play music from video game classics of yore. I haven't seen the former in ages and I'm excited to see the latter live for the first time.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 9/1/10

If you're going to be grilling and/or drinking beer for the final holiday weekend of the summer, this week's fave five Austin grocery deals will help you do both a little more cheaply.

1. Corn on the cob, 6 for $1 at Sun Harvest and Newflower (through 9/8/10)

2. Yellow nectarines, peaches, pluots, red and black plums, .88/lb. at Sprouts (through 9/8/10)

3. Organic red and green grapes, $1.50/lb. at Sun Harvest (through 9/8/10)

4. Boneless skinless chicken breasts or 85% lean ground beef, $1.88/lb. at Newflower (through 9/8/10)

5. J.W. Dundee Craft Beer 12-Pack Sampler, $10 at Sprouts (through 9/8/10)

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

KTRU Leaving the Airwaves

The University of Houston Board of Regents voted 4-3 last week to purchase the transmitter and license of Rice University's KTRU 91.7 FM, effectively ending the station's 43-year run as a college radio trailblazer. KTRU will now become KUHC, a 24-hour classical music station, which frees up KUHF, UH's other radio station, to be a 24-hour NPR affiliate. KTRU will live on as an online streaming station, but that's a far cry from broadcasting with a 50,000-watt transmitter.

I first discovered KTRU as an impressionable 12-year-old listening to the S&M Show on Friday night. In 1980, KTRU was the only station in Houston where you were likely to hear anything to the left of "Whip It" on a regular basis. The first time my own music was played on the radio was on KTRU. Having worked as a DJ at UT Austin's student-run KTSB/KVRX in its cable radio infancy, I can authoritatively state that many of us considered KTRU's programming a benchmark to measure ourselves against.

Rice University's leadership shamefully engineered this $9.5 million deal in secret and made sure it went down in the dead of August to avoid the firestorm they knew would ensue if word got out while students were in town. Even so, a hastily assembled group called "Save KTRU" has formed in response.

Although the sale of KTRU to UH is still subject to FCC approval, it's unlikely the feds or anyone else can or will do anything to stop it. According to today's Houston Press, KUHF/KUHC is scheduled to take over KTRU's programming on Monday.

To some, the hue and cry over Rice's off-loading of KTRU may just seem like a bunch of music snobs whining about a station that played weird noise that most people don't listen to. But as someone whose student radio experience helped foster my career path as much as any class, I know there's way more at stake here. Former KTRU DJ Ray Shea sums it up as well as anyone:

KTRU was the driving force that would eventually propel me through six years and two college degrees. My best lifelong friends are all people I met at KTRU. And together we learned about music, about business, about media and promotions and organization and scheduling and budgeting. We learned how to deal with people, how to compromise and reach consensus. Sometimes we didn't learn as well as we should have, but goddammit, we learned.

And somewhere in all that craziness, all those late nights drinking beer and listening to records and arguing about music, we accidentally participated in a movement. A movement that would permanently change the face of the music industry forever.


Rice is short-sightedly gutting a learning laboratory that helped generations of students channel their passion for music and radio into viable skills for business and life. At $9.5 million, they're selling out cheap.

Fave Five Food Deals - 8/25/10

Temperatures aren't the only thing that's hot this week. Check out Austin's best grocery deals.

1. Strawberries (1 lb.), blueberries (4.4 oz.), blackberries (5.6 oz.) or raspberries (6 oz.), $1.25 ea. at Newflower (through 9/1/10)

2. Fresh Hatch peppers, $1.29 at Central Market (through 8/31/10)*

3. Yellow peaches, .48/lb. at Sprouts (through 9/1/10)

4. Organic Romaine hearts, 3 ct. package, $2 at Sun Harvest (through 9/1/10)

5. Green Bell peppers, 4 for $1 at Sprouts (through 9/1/10)

*You can also get roasted Hatch peppers for $2.79/lb. and just about any other Hatch-accented food item at Central Market.

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Big 6-M

Alex hit the 6-month mark today. He celebrated this morning by tipping the pediatric scales at 20 pounds, 6 ounces. That was followed by a series of shots, which quelled the celebration somewhat.

The boy has started supplementing his heroic breastmilk intake with mushed-up solid foods such as brown rice cereal, bananas and avocados. I don't think he dug the latter too much, but he hasn't quite figured out how to refuse the spoon yet. I'm sure that will come soon enough.

As a dad, the best thing about this age is that he's starting to reciprocate my goofing with him by making funny noises and wet raspberries you'd swear were the work of an 18-month-old. Sometimes he'll even get right up in my face and go, "AAAGGH!" with a wide, two-toothed smile. Even when I'm dead-tired at 6 a.m., you just can't beat that.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 8/18/10

This week's best Austin grocery deals include several dangerously low prices on produce. If you dare to brave the crowds today, you can really make a killing with Double-Ad Wednesday in full effect at all three of this week's featured stores.

1. Gala apples, .37/lb. at Newflower (through 8/25/10)

2. Yellow peaches, Bartlett pears and cantaloupes, .48/lb. at Sun Harvest (through 8/25/10)

3. Green or red leaf lettuce, .48/ea. at Sun Harvest (through 8/25/10)

4. 1 lb. baby carrots, .77/ea. at Sprouts (through 8/25/10)

5. Red bell peppers and Hass avocados, .77/ea. at Sprouts (through 8/25/10)

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Monday, August 16, 2010

Credits Roll for Dobie Theatre

It's the end of the line for the Dobie Theatre. The 4-screen cinema across the street from UT will close Sunday.

The Dobie was never a particularly great place to see a movie. Parking was a hassle, the screens were small and the auditorium seating configurations were weird. Despite all that, the Dobie's adventurous programming during its 80s/90s heyday made it an integral part of Austin's film scene. In many ways, longtime Dobie owner/manager Scott Dinger set the stage for the Alamo Drafthouse's ascendancy.

The first movie I ever saw at the Dobie was a midnight screening of Liquid Sky 23 years ago this month. I saw a lot of midnight movies at Dobie between 1987 and 1989 because it was an easy stumble from my dorm room. Alcohol definitely enlivened repeated viewings of low-budget, Troma-style gore vehicles like Blood Diner, Street Trash and Surf Nazis Must Die. Then there was the 3-D porn movie with the late John Holmes literally coming right at you.

I remember going to see Slacker there in 1990 when it was just a weird local indie film. The girl I went with thought the movie was pointless, but for me, Slacker epitomized why disregarding potential career opportunities to stay in Austin after graduation might not be such a bad idea.

The last movie I remember seeing at the Dobie was the Ramones doc End of the Century in 2005. After Landmark Theaters took over the Dobie in 1999, they gradually began shifting toward more typical art-house fare that could just as easily be seen at other cinemas around town. Landmark announced it was abandoning the Dobie earlier this year. The chain sought a new operator to take over, but like many formerly thriving UT-area businesses, the Dobie has become functionally obsolete.

When I came to UT, you could see movies at the Dobie, the Varsity and at several on-campus locations curated by the Texas Union Film Program. What a difference a quarter-century makes (adjusts dentures).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Texas Troubles

This summer is the 150th anniversary of the "Texas Troubles," a forgotten spate of pre-Civil War racial hysteria started by a fire of disputed origin that destroyed the Dallas business district. The most likely cause of the fire was high temperatures combined with highly combustible phosphorus matches. However, other fires in Denton and Pilot Point fueled the notion that a coordinated slave revolt was underway.

Without any proof of the latter, the editor of the burned-out Dallas Herald called for vigilante justice to be carried out against suspect slaves and white abolitionists. This ultimately led to the public lynching of three slaves near Dealey Plaza. All told, at least 30 and as many as 100 blacks and whites alike died at the hands of vigilantes across North and East Texas. Some credit the Texas Troubles as a major-but-largely-unexamined factor in the South's swing toward succession.

Dallas-based writer Julia Barton has an very interesting story about the Troubles and their aftermath in this month's Texas Observer.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Stuff I Been Writing About

I did a bit of music scribing in this week's Chron, reviewing the latest releases from local pop bands Masonic and Household Names. I also wrote a preview blurb for the 7th Annual North vs. South Music Festival, which is taking place down at the Hole in the Wall as I write (sigh).

I'm still writing event picks for the local Austin and Dallas pages of go2.com, too. So check it out if you're into the whole mobile web brevity thing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 8/11/10

The seedless watermelon price cuts go deeper in this week's edition of Austin's best grocery deals.

1. Mini seedless watermelons, .88/ea. at Sun Harvest (through 8/18/10)

2. Pork loin roast, $1.88/lb. at Newflower (through 8/18/10)

3. Bartlett pears, .49/lb. at Newflower (through 8/18/10)

4. Blueberries, .99/pint at Sprouts (through 8/18/10)

5. Stonyfield Farms organic fat-free yogurt, .50/ea. at Whole Foods Market (through 8/18/10)

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Monday, August 09, 2010

Walking On a Thin Line

Here's some handheld video of the New Drugs trying to bring on Vietnam flashbacks with our rendition of Huey's "Walking On a Thin Line" last Saturday at Antone's.



Guitarist J.D. Fanning goes kinda nuts at the end. He later told me he'd accidentally been possessed with the spirit of Paul Leary circa PCPPEP.

Many thanks to the Diamond Smugglers for letting us start the show.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Prop. 8 Ruled Unconstitutional

Proposition 8 cannot withstand any level of scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause, as excluding same-sex couples from marriage is simply not rationally related to a legitimate state interest.
-Chief U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker

The Proposition 8 battle is far from over, of course. Nevertheless, Walker's full ruling is worth reading for the manner in which it systematically and logically lays waste to every argument against same-sex marriage made by Proposition 8's proponents.

Whole Foods Takes Aim at Newflower

Big grocery news yesterday with Whole Foods Market announcing its Austin area expansion plans. We already knew about WFM's delayed Domain store to replace their cramped Gateway location, but the new locations at Hill Country Galleria and William Cannon and MoPac will give Newflower's nearby stores some serious competition.

This is particularly true for the Hill County Galleria store, which will be right across the highway from Newflower. Although Newflower's sale prices are hard to beat, price point isn't necessarily the driving force for hill-dwelling Escalade moms.

Between Newflower, Sprouts, Natural Grocers and Sun Harvest (but still no sign of Trader Joe's), you could argue that Austin's budget natural grocer sector is starting to get overbuilt. Of all these stores, I think Newflower may be in for the toughest ride. The Colorado-based chain already had to shutter a Dallas store earlier this year.

It's worth noting that Newflower is an offshoot of Sunflower Farmer's Markets, which was started by Mike Gililland, the co-founder of Wild Oats. Whole Foods acquired Wild Oats in a contentious 2007 transaction that garnered plenty of attention from federal antitrust regulators. There is no love whatsoever between Gilliland and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey. When Whole Foods opened a store in Wild Oats' Boulder, Colo. backyard, Mackey famously sent Gilliland a copy of the board game Risk with a note reading, "forewarned is forearmed."

Fave Five Food Deals - 8/4/10

Now that your electric bill is about to spike thanks to triple-digit heat, it's time to start saving with the week's best Austin grocery deals.

1. Yellow peaches, .49 at Sprouts (through 8/11/10)*

2. Natural boneless, skinless chicken breasts, $1.88 at Newflower (through 8/11/10)

3. Texas seedless watermelons, $1.99/ea. at Newflower (through 8/11/10)

4. Sweet white corn, 5 for $1 at Sun Harvest (through 8/11/10)

5. Mr. Bubble bubble bath, .67 at H-E-B (through 8/10/10)**

*Central Market, which typically stocks superlative produce, also has yellow peaches on sale this week for .99/lb.

**Price with in-store coupon, and no, despite the fact that this is "Fave Five Food Deals," we do not recommend ingesting Mr. Bubble.


Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Monday, August 02, 2010

The Bass Line from "The Brady Bunch" End Theme as Rendered by Some Guy in Shorts

Back off, Barney Miller! From Listener Kliph Nesteroff at WFMU's Beware of the Blog, get ready to experience "The Bass Line from The Brady Bunch End Theme as Rendered by Some Guy in Shorts."



The "Guy in Shorts" is actually named Jason Long, and the awesome bass line from The Brady Bunch End Theme was originally performed by the great session bassist Carol Kaye, who also played on the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep - Mountain High," Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons" and a bajillion other hit records produced in L.A. during the 60s.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Hot August Shite

Nationally renowned and exquisitely sequined Neil Diamond tribute band the Diamond Smugglers play their only Austin show of the year this Saturday night at Antone's. If you've never witnessed the Smugglers' turn "Longfellow Serenade" into "Long Duck Dong Serenade" - not to mention their versions of wholly inappropriate songs like Nirvana's "Rape Me" delivered in the Diamond brogue - well, now is the time.

As an added bonus, my Huey Lewis and the News cover band the New Drugs fills the spiral slicer slot on this bill.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Continental Trailways

One of my fondest childhood memories was riding on a Continental Trailways bus with my mom from Dallas to Victoria via Houston to visit my maternal grandparents. In the early 70s, Continental Trailways Golden Eagle buses still had on-board hostesses who would bring you soft drinks and light snacks. Bayou City History blogger J.R. Gonzales has unearthed a November 1968 Houston Chronicle profile of one such hostess accompanied by plenty of hairspray-infused photos. Although the photos are in black and white, I totally remember the fabric patterns on those seat cushions.

The hostesses disappeared from the buses sometime in the mid-70s, but we continued to ride. Once we moved to Houston and I got a little older, my parents even let me ride the bus to Victoria by myself. I'm pretty sure we won't be letting Alex ride the bus alone until he's 35.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 7/28/10

This week's edition of Austin's best grocery deals boasts some of the lowest prices we've seen in months on chicken breasts and tomatoes. While we haven't yet checked out the quality of tomatoes at El Rancho Supermercado, we're pretty sure you won't find a better price without a time machine set for 1972.

1. Boneless skinless chicken breasts, $1.47/lb.* at Fiesta (through 8/3/10)

2. Broccoli crowns, .77/lb. at H-E-B (through 8/3/10)

3. Strawberries, .99/lb. at Sprouts (through 8/4/10)

4. Tomatoes, 4 lbs. for $1 at El Rancho Supermercado (through 8/3/10)

5. Bulk pinto beans, 4 lbs. for $1 at Fiesta (through 8/3/10)

Bonus buy: Peruvian Mahi Mahi filets, $2.99/lb. at Sprouts (through 8/4/10)

*Limit two with $10 or more additional purchase


Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Disco Demolition Night!

I meant to post this on July 12, which was the 31st anniversary of Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in Chicago.

By 1979, disco had become a musical trend pushed too far. Hell, even Ethel Merman had a disco album out by then. A nation of disaffected - and, it must be said, overwhelmingly white - rock and rollers took up the rallying cry, "DISCO SUCKS!" You saw it on T-shirts and bumper stickers everywhere. While much of the knee-jerk disdain for disco can legitimately be ascribed to barely latent racism and homophobia, the velvet-rope exclusivity famously epitomized by Studio 54 was fairly deserving of a massive backlash.

Disco Demolition Night was conceived by Chicago DJ Steve Dahl of album-rock station WLUP-FM (a.k.a., "Loop 98") as a promotion to get more fans to come cheer for the then-moribund Chicago White Sox as they took on the Detroit Tigers in a doubleheader. Everyone who brought a disco record to Comiskey Park would gain admission to Comiskey Park for just 98 cents. Between games, the records would be collected and ceremoniously blown up at midfield between games.

What could possibly go wrong with that? Watch this ESPN clip and find out...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 7/21/10

This week's money-saving missive features the best Austin grocery deals of the year (so far) on corn, peaches and nectarines.

1. California sweet corn, 10 for $1 at Newflower (through 7/28/10)

2. Peaches or nectarines, .49/lb. at Sprouts (through 7/28/10)

3. Northwest blueberries (6 oz.) or cantaloupes, .88 at Sun Harvest (through 7/28/10)

4. Texas green beans, .97/lb. at H-E-B (through 7/27/10)

5. Lola Savannah Coffee (Breakfast Blend or Vanilla Cinnamon Pecan), $5.99/lb. at Central Market (through 7/27/10)

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Talk Bossy to Me

There are a lot of things to question about the emerging hagiography of the late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, but I think Matt Taibbi's obit raises a good point by using Steinbrenner's demise as an opportunity to question why Americans have such a soft spot in their hearts for egomaniacal aristocrats:

In no other country do people genuinely love their bosses the way Americans do. They'll go home after 12 hard hours of capricious superiors peeing in their faces, and the very first thing they'll do is call up some talk radio show and denounce the graduated income tax that gives them a break at their bosses' expense.

And once you've been trickled down upon by "wealth creators" for 12 hours, you probably wouldn't dare question the fact that because Steinbrenner had the good fortune to die in 2010, his heirs will pay no federal estate taxes on his estimated $1.1 billion estate, resulting in a potential tax savings of almost $500 million.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Alex: The First 5 Months (A Slideshow)

Alex is hitting the big 5-month mark on Monday. Like all parents, Kate and I can't believe how fast time flies. After successfully transitioning the boy to the crib a couple of weeks back, we wistfully folded up the trusty sidecar co-sleeper this weekend. Even though we're all sleeping better now, I miss having Alex right there next to us. And I absolutely don't want to forget anything about what he was like as a newborn.

Accordingly, I decided to compile a whole mess of Alex photos into a slideshow-style retrospective. I'm posting it here so all the people who've asked me for photos when I haven't had any on my person can have a look-see. The music is "Cool Strut" by Bernie Hayes from The Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles, Vol. 2: 1968-1971. I like to think Alex would appreciate the funky soundtrack.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 7/14/10

Even if you're not a cherry person, you'd be foolish not to test drive a few specimens from this year's extra-sweet Northwest cherry harvest. This week's edition of Austin's best grocery deals offers a nicely priced opportunity to do just that.

1. Northwest red cherries, $1.77/lb. @ Sun Harvest (through 7/21/10)

2. 6 oz. Northwest blueberries, .88 @ Newflower (through 7/21/10)

3. Sweet yellow corn on the cob, 5 for $1 at Fiesta (through 7/20/10)

4. Asparagus, $1.77/lb. @ Sun Harvest (through 7/21/10)

5. Strawberries, $1.47/lb. @ H-E-B (through 7/20/10)

Also, if you're the type whose idea of lunch consist of wolfing down a Lean Cuisine in the shadow of the EEOC poster hanging in your dreary workplace break room, H-E-B has a Full Meal Deal this week that's sure to zazz things up. Buy four Stouffer's Lean Cuisine entrees and get a box of Dreyer's Fruit Bars, a 4-pack of Juicy Juice Sparkling Juice, a pound of bananas and a 4-pack of Yoplait Fiber One Yogurt for free with in-store coupons.

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tales from the Parkside

I've had some really good meals at Parkside over the years, but having learned of chef/owner Shawn Cirkiel and his parents' attempt to strong-arm The Best Wurst out of their longtime spot at the corner of Sixth and San Jacinto, I'm done with them (at least for now).

The Best Wurst has been on the disputed corner since 1993. By all accounts, they had a good working relationship with Dan McKlusky's, the restaurant that occupied 301 E. Sixth St. prior to Parkside's arrival in 2007.

Now Parkside is building a balcony that will overlook Sixth St. A sidewalk cafe is planned next. Perhaps not so coincidentally, when The Best Wurst's operating permit came up for renewal earlier this year, Cirkiel asked the city to deny it. The mobile bratwurst cart is currently operating on a week-to-week permit until the issue is resolved. From The Best Wurst's press release:

Among the several allegations, Parkside asserts that Best Wurst creates a public safety hazard and has violated their license agreement with the City of Austin. They also assert Best Wurst blocks vehicular traffic and "impedes the flow of pedestrian traffic" and renders the sidewalk "impassable." "All these allegations are total nonsense," states (Best Wurst owner Jon) Notarthomas. "We have an outstanding record with the City as well as the health department." Amongst other claims, the Cirkiels state The Best Wurst blocks the view of the "Sixth Street experience" for its customers, promotes a "bad boy" image, and sells products that compete with the Parkside's French seafood menu.


I didn't want to post about this until Cirkiel had a chance to publicly respond. Thus far, his comments to the Statesman and on the Best Wurst's Facebook page have come across as more than a little disingenuous.

"Why is it wrong for me to not want my front window blocked with people eating, making a mess, and causing trouble?" Cirkiel asks in one post.

Dude, you run a restaurant and you're upset about people eating in front of it? If anything, you should be thanking The Best Wurst's customers for blocking your diners' picture-window view of "Sixth Street Experience" standards such as drunken revelers vomiting up their Jell-O shots. And I don't think anyone sober enough to stumble through Parkside's doors is going to mistake $30 Chilean sea bass for a $4.50 brat.

Perhaps Parkside thought no one would care if they tried to force a venerable local business off "their" public sidewalk. I think they're going to find out that Austin can be a hard place to do business in if you do something that is popularly perceived to be malevolent. Running a restaurant in the middle of a recession is hard enough without dealing with an image problem like this.

Accordingly, my unsolicited PR advice to Cirkiel would be to try and work something out with The Best Wurst. Figure out what you really need from Best Wurst and engineer a mutually beneficial compromise that allows both businesses to coexist. Bury the hatchet publicly and with good humor.

Until then, there are plenty of other nice restaurants in town.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Fave Five Food Deals - 7/7/10

Some insanely low prices on summer fruitstuffs lead the way in this week's round-up of Austin's best grocery deals.

1. Yellow peaches and nectarines, .47/lb. at Newflower (through 7/14/10)

2. Cantaloupes, .49/ea. at Sprouts (through 7/14/10)

3. Organic grape tomatoes, $1.50/pint at Sun Harvest (through 7/14/10)

4. Bing cherries, $1.77/lb. at Newflower (through 7/14/10)

5. Saltwater taffy, $1.99/lb. at Newflower (through 7/14/10)

Austin supermarket links (directs to weekly ads where available):
El Rancho Supermercado
Fiesta
H-E-B
Natural Grocers
Newflower Farmers Market
Randall's
Sprouts Farmers Market
Sun Harvest
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
Whole Foods Market

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Farm Aid 2

On July 4, 1986, my high school pal Alex Botas and I trekked up Highway 290 from Houston to Austin for Farm Aid 2. Willie Nelson's benefit concert for America's family farmers was originally slated to take place at UT's Memorial Stadium. Then they announced it would be held at Southpark Meadows. Finally, the show landed at Manor Downs, a dilapidated horse racing track that offered little in the way of amenities.

At 17, I hadn't yet discovered that sitting in a shadeless, dusty field in 100-degree heat with 50,000 people is no way to enjoy music. I remember we had a cooler stocked with cans of root beer, but they wouldn't let us bring in cans, so we just poured the root beer into the cooler and ladled it out with paper cups. We didn't think to bring food, blankets or sunscreen. A nice lady in her thirties found us pitiable enough to donate a couple of sandwiches from her well-stocked cooler to our lost cause.

We got there in time to see Willie join War for a round of "Why Can't We Be Friends?" and stuck around through the fallow rock jam session led by Bon Jovi. I should've known it was going to be anti-climatic when Don Johnson was drafted to introduce everyone. Joe Walsh meandered through an unsteady "Rocky Mountain Way" before Motley Crue's first-string drunk driver Vince Neil showed up to sing "Smokin' in the Boys Room" while Willie and his longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael played along just for fun.

If you think the TV clip below sounds bad, imagine how it sounded a quarter mile away from the stage.



After four or five hours, we gave up and drove into Austin to watch the rest of the show on TV in a cheap motel room.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Hats Off to "Louie"


I've never been a particularly fervent follower of Louis C.K., but after his bumbling portrayal of Leslie Knoupe's law enforcement love interest on Parks and Recreation, I made it a point to check out Louie, his new FX sitcom that premiered Tuesday.

While Louie borrows pages from Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm in that the endearingly cynical comedian is portraying "himself," neither Jerry Seinfeld nor Larry David ever held themselves out to be this awkward and hopeless. C.K. portrays a beaten down, sad sack of a man. Mirroring C.K.'s real-life status, "Louie" is divorced at 42 with shared custody of two daughters. TV Louie has few ideas and even fewer options for reinventing his life as a single man. He's acutely aware of his shortcomings and he doesn't have the energy to pretend otherwise. The ill-fated date he goes on in the pilot episode is both cringe-inducing and instantly recognizable to any male who doesn't fit the suit when it comes to conventional dating techniques.

In our next episode, Louie reconnects through Facebook with a formative middle school crush who once commanded him to "whip it out" between cigarette drags and shots of Peppermint Schnapps. While better-adjusted adults would've left such events behind long ago as harmless anecdotes, it's clear that Louie is still hanging on to the humiliation of not having complied with the troubled young deb's command as a defining life event.

Louie trades in the kind of humor that is likely to inflame partisanship. It is most definitely a male-centric show replete with graphic riffs on why it would be okay to have sex with animals if (and only if) the animals were capable of consenting. At the same time, a sticky poker table discourse on gay sex is allowed to evolve into an unexpectedly poignant sidebar about what it feels like for a gay teenager to be called "faggot." Even if Louie doesn't end its 22-minute treatises with standard gift-wrapped repentance, the show deserves plenty of credit for its contradictory-yet-astute contemplation of the modern male condition.