Archive for November, 2006

Right there in black and white

Austin’s home to a million-selling recording artist heretofore unknown to me, but not to the world of modern Christian music. When I found some brief samples of music by Chris Tomlin, I recognized some of it, much to my surprise. It must be because, in this non-cable household, beyond the three “major networks,” there are just PBS, Univision, the jewelry channel, and, not least, Trinity Broadcasting for those times when a tired person just wants to stare mindlessly at something moving on a screen and emitting sound. Time magazine devotes two full columns to him and his work this week (November 27 issue, page 70; “Hip Hymns Are Him“). Chris Tomlin is reported to be one of the participants in the Gibson Austin GuitarTown project.

This is no doubt syndicated in many places and I’m late running across it, but I learned from the December Funny Times that Garrison Keillor has a soft spot in his heart for Austin. He has kind things to report about his experience with security screening at Bergstrom, saying “that woman’s Sunshine shone on me for the rest of the day, and a week later I still remember it.” The piece is called “Everyday Sweetness in America.” Of course, he writes as a man being spoken to by women; one equivalent for a woman being addressed by a man is “little lady.”

Dancing fish and uncalled-for turkey

chuyfish.jpgAll our secret parking places east of the Avenue were full, so we resorted to a secret space to the west and then dashed through the Capitol grounds to San Jacinto just in time for the start of the Chuy’s parade. My favorite part of the parade this year was hearing Los Texas Wranglers and whatever components of Asleep at the Wheel and other groups shared the float with Ray Benson play several numbers together informally while they waited before they were split up to take their assigned places in the line of march. Another favorite was seeing the kids from Travis High. I always love the super-giant-sized Oak Farms cow. The Biscuit Brothers made what I think was their inaugural performance at this parade, to the very great delight of the little kids. I do think that this was the biggest spectator turnout in years, perhaps ever.

We saw that El Patio and the Co-op were doing big, big business. The Frisco was jam-packed. Rooster Andrews was busy, too, with most of the stock going at deep discount, as much as 70% off. I think we may be seeing the beginning of the end of an Austin sporting-goods tradition. We bought some left-over Diwali lights with sparkles at MGM Indian Foods, which was also the businest we’ve ever seen it to be.

On the way back home, we acquired a fresh turkey in the customary way: taking one home that somebody had reserved but had failed to come by for on the day itself or the day before. We always find a good one at either Kash-Karry / Fresh-Plus or at Wheatsville. This year it’s Wheatsville. I love Austin on major holiday weekends, when the population shrinks drastically and it seems more like its old cozy self.

Austin suffers status demotion

Will the C of C or the city council fire off letters of protest? No longer “live music capital of the world,” according to the NYT, Austin is described as “live music capital of the South.” The front-page article (“Cities Compete In Hipness Battle To Attract Young,” byline Shaila Dewan) says that loser cities are those failing to attract college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds, placing us behind Las Vegas and Charlotte. The on-line version of the piece (on pages A1 and A10 in the hard copy) does include the little box with the city descriptors and some actual statistics, in which, for instance, besides the live-music fall in status for Austin, “Frisbee golf” is named as a leading factor luring younger people to Charlotte (click on “Graphic” under the map to the left to see it). It’s really Atlanta in the spotlight, with Vegas, Charlotte, Portland, and our own, dear, unrecognizable Austin as supporting players. Isn’t “hipness” one of those long-discarded terms remaining in use only by those without a clue?

First look: Bess Bistro

bess.jpgThat’s not only look; this place merits repeat visits. The lunch menu’s not all that different from the dinner menu. Dinner has more items daily and also a regular special to mark each day of the week. As soon as today’s game ended, we were on our way to Bess, which is in the basement of the old Stratford Arms, once apartments and then for a while home of a financial institution before a memorable big economic crash. Bess Bistrot is open continuously until doors close at night, six days a week. There’s a break in food service, though: lunch service ends at 4 and dinner begins at five. The kitchen’s tiny; that’s why.

There were at least two, and perhaps three, large flatscreen televisions. They were muted, though, and it’s possible to sit away from their sight and sound. This may be a basement establishment (this image is from the awning covering the entry stairs), but there’s nothing cavelike about it, even in the daytime. The banquettes, astonishingly, were actually comfortable. The acoustics promote conversation, but the seating is such that there’s no eavesdropping. Sight-lines will encourage table-hopping. The soundtrack, not over-loud, tended toward the cabaret side: some non-intrusive vocals, some jazz, some “world music.” There were giant, extravagant bouquets of flamboyant blooms, including lilies. True gaslights flared from the walls. The fixtures were akin to coachlamps, but I haven’t seen anything even remotely like that since the days of Gage & Tollner.

Of the two kinds of bread that came to the table, the multi-grain slices incorporating toasted nuts or seeds, or both, tasted wonderful and would be great chicken-salad foundations. The three-bean soup met with approval all round the table. The salad did not arrive with the promised blood-orange vinaigrette; somehow a goat-cheese concoction had erroneously been applied. Fish came to the table piping hot and in a generous portion. The fellow diner who engages in the minor hobby of sampling a cavalcade of crabcakes around town approved of these. Luncheon items not tasted but tempting for another day included shepherd’s pie, the “Bess Burger” as described, and a plate of flank steak and fried potatoes. Can the pot pie at supper be as good as it sounds? The bar was doing a brisk cocktail business, lifting the spirits of those arriving at frequent intervals still in their burnt-orange colors. There were four desserts: one I can’t remember; the others were tres leches cake, apple pie with Mexican-vanilla ice cream, and a flourless chocolate cake with a raspberry sauce; this latter was elegant and rich. Bess Bistro opened just over a week ago. I hope that the future’s a rosy one.

Parade today, parade tomorrow

aggidome.jpgThe fog was just clearing as the Aggie parade formed up on the Congress bridge. By the time the band, the mounted unit, the gun, and the corps of cadets had reached the Capitol grounds, only a bit of fog was left, just enough to obscure part of the dome, while ground-level monuments and statuary stood out in sharp relief.

We turned in our winning lottery scratch-offs, went by the credit union, and picked up a calendar at Tesoros. By the time we headed south to choose a tree at Rudolph’s on Lamar at Bluebonnet, there was already a line waiting outside Ringers for the door to open. I bet the Tavern will be busy, too. There were a couple of people on the Avenue begging to buy tickets, but there were none to be had.

The two helicopters that have been buzzing rooftops all over town for a couple of days now are supposedly here to do a flyover at the game. I hope they’ll be gone tomorrow, so that the bands at the Chuy’s parade (starting at 11 am tomorrow) won’t be drowned out.

Open this day

mands.jpgAlthough H-E-B is closed now until 6 am tomorrow morning, we observed that the Stephen F. Austin, the Driskill, and Doc’s Motor Works were full of happy people. (By the way, if you want to bring some of the Doc’s atmosphere home to your yard, Callahan’s General Store is having a sale of those metal Gandy chairs, just like the ones at Doc’s, tomorrow and Saturday, at a bit under $30 per chair, a bargain for these vintage-style items made to last a lifetime.) McCormick & Schmick’s is offering delectations not just of turkey and other traditions of the day but also its customary oyster arrays and crabcakes (here, I say, “yum!,” but where are the oyster crackers? Saltines just don’t cut it.). McCormick & Schmick’s, surprisingly, offers a wonderful cup of expresso, good and strong. This may be the third year for some of us to hit McC and S. There are always very large parties of West Austin people, as well as very large parties of friends of the House or families of the staff. There were very long lines of unhappy-looking people to be seen waiting and waiting outside Threadgill’s. Hoover’s was jumping. Luby’s is open until 8 pm this evening, and the parking lot is full. That’s where we’ll be heading in a little while for some of that good, good pie, so we can sleep well, dream of sugar-plums, and awaken fresh and frisky for the Aggie parade up Congress tomorrow morning starting at 8:00 am.

Update: We weren’t the only ones with the Luby’s idea. Pies! Brussels sprouts (they were excellent and fresh and sweet)! Cornbread! As we were leaving, tables were being pushed together for a large number of APD people. We counted 8 marked cars and some that appeared to be unmarked ones in the lot. I hope there was enough of everbody’s favorite items left for them.

Pre-Tryptophan Ramblings

Thanksgiving is one of those days I never seem to spend in Austin. As usual, my wife and I will be among the 38 million people hitting the road for the holiday, albeit this year’s trek is only to San Antonio.

It’s a short trip, but tomorrow’s return will likely take twice as long, thanks to Black Friday madness. Stores everywhere look to the day after Thanksgiving to jump start their holiday revenues, but I’m particularly dreading the drive past the San Marcos outlet malls , which will clog I-35 with legions of shoppers looking for deals. Or as I’ve learned to say after years of watching Jennie Covert commercials, “dills.”

And now, Black Friday is creeping into Thursday. CompUSA is taking the first step towards eliminating all holidays from their retail calendar, opening their stores at 9pm on Thursday night. This type of commerce creep is about as predictable as the five blade razor, and I suppose it makes sense on some level. By 9pm you’re ready to shoot Uncle Mortie if he tells the “missing turkey leg” story again, and likely in need of a discreet location to dis-ingest Grandma’s green bean casserole. So that might as well happen in a CompUSA parking lot.

It’s obvious that CompUSA is based in Dallas, because they shrewdly scheduled their bold step towards ubiquitous consumerism AFTER the Cowboys game. Thanks to Tex Schramm’s drive to create “America’s Team,” everyone gets to watch Dallas play on Turkey Day, starting at 3:15pm on Fox.

I’m no Cowboys fan, but the rise of Tony Romo makes for football worth watching. And drinking. Because Tony Romo is more than just an undrafted quarterback with a kitschy duosyllabic symmetry to his name. He is more than a 3-1 replacement for Drew Bledsoe, and still more than a rumored replacement for Nick Lachey. Tony Romo is also a drinking game, which may come in very handy — even necessary — for an extended visit with extended family. Just make sure you use the updated “starter” rules and not the original “benchwarmer” edition.

According to CBS, this merger of feasting and football has been going since the 1890’s, which prompted a diatribe from the New York Herald: ” … Thanksgiving Day is no longer a solemn festival to God for mercies given. It is a holiday granted by the State and the Nation to see a game of football.”

And, if you don’t disrupt your family holiday to go buy stuff, the terrorists win.

Footloose, fancy-free, festive, and finding

rudy1.jpgIn the twinkling of an eye, I was freed of some possessions (and of some money, too). The good people at Goodwill on South Lamar unburdened me of the old 386 desktop. What I hated to see go, but was glad to see gone, was the LaserJet III with the PostScript cartridge. Back when I was going crazy laying out newsletters and filling them with content, that was a lifesaver; for longer than I care to admit, it’s been merely a space-taker. Gone are its manuals, cables, and other paraphernalia. Replacing the hulking desktop, monitor, and printer are vistas and vistas, almost as far as the eye can see, of Empty Horizontal Surfaces!

The Twin Oaks branch library still has an operating swap table. I wish many happy hours of reading to whoever gets there first to recycle the periodicals. And when photos were picked up at the CVS almost next door, there were Cella dark-chocolate-covered cherries. Well; there were. Even though they cost twice as much as they used to at Target, those festive red cartons are a holiday tradition. And it’s the “dark” part that’s important. Milk-chocolate candies are not that hard to find. The “Cella” part counts too, because the rivals’ quality isn’t comparable. Target failed the other day on the house-brand razor blades, too, but the drugstore had some that appear to be identical, right down to the shape of the packages. That marks two quests concluded, in practically no time at all.

And the peripatetic Rudolph’s Christmas-tree stand has found just enough space to return to the Maria’s (and now Walgreen) spot at Bluebonnet and South Lamar. The trees aren’t set out yet, but I bet they will be tomorrow or the day after. The holidays are upon us and now I’m a little bit more ready for them, thanks to a bit of time well invested.

Iggy and Stooges at SXSW – 3/17?


Word out is that Iggy and the Stooges (well, most of them) will be at SXSW next year on March 17th. They’re releasing their first studio album in over 20 years with Mike Watt of Minutemen on bass. Iggy played a SXSW in either 1996 or 1997, one of those shows where they blocked off Brazos or San Jacinto between 6th and 7th. I wonder if it’ll be another free show?

Photo by fortdrastic and info via DoneWaiting

Austin biz on the page

Under the Finance / Private Equity rubric, Business Week (November 27, p. 60; “A Dicey Win for Blackstone,” byline Emily Thornton) takes a look at the Freescale buyout and declares it to be “fraught with risk.” The teaser subhead reads: “The bidding war over Freescale went to the private equity powerhouse and its partners. But the chipmaker’s debt load may jeopardize its future.” In its hard-copy form, this is a two-page article. There’s an analysis of the chip industry in general. Elsewhere in the issue, we learn that Michael and Susan Dell stand eleventh in a list of the 50 most generous philanthropists and there’s quite a bit of detail on amounts and beneficiaries. There are those with lesser net worths who give more in dollars, and more proportionately. T. Boone Pickens is on the list, and we have some of the Walton family here in Texas, but the Dells represent Austin in the world of large-scale giving. The impression is that there may be less giving to area recipients, here where it all began, and more of an attempt to make a splash in the greater world.

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