Bringing 2007 to a successful close has meant avoidance of recorded commercial holiday music (except for Tejano) and avoidance of crowds and traffic by shopping locally and close to downtown. It looks as though the word of the day will be “snug at home.” Nevertheless, we enjoy quite an assortment of types and temperaments here for the holidays, and we have a list in reserve for this evening to suit the taste of each group. Here goes: free First Night parade, downtown starting at about 6:30 this evening; or Alvin Crow at the Broken Spoke; or Latin music at the Monarch event center at Lincoln Village, with my favorite Cerronato bringing vallenato music to the excellent and varied mix that includes Grupo Fantasma; or the Gourds at Jovita’s; or, a great deal for the foodies, a $55 four-course meal at Cafe Josie that includes sparkly stuff for that brindis at the midnight hour. Tomorrow brings the BookPeople New Year’s sale, another wonderful place to take the out-of-towners starved not just for books but for Austin souvenirs as well.
I’m talking about Maudie’s on South Lamar at lunch today, with people in their work-clothes and people on vacation, people driving expensive vehicles and people arriving on bicycles. The work-clothes were outfits for sitting at a desk and outfits for tough jobs outdoors. The TV was on at the bar; if there was sound, though, it wasn’t drowning out the faint strains of Tejano music and the waves of lively conversation, inspired both by iced tea and by margaritas and more exotic brightly colored mystery beverages in martini glasses. It was breakfast-time and it was lunch-time. Maudie’s still has some items on the menu from the Jorge Arredondo days, though not denoted as such. I couldn’t decide whether to illustrate this with a photo of the hand-painted seasonal embellishments on the windowpanes or select something from the permanent outdoor show. I do love this art, though, placing Maudie’s right there in front of the capitol. Maudie’s has a great view of the current Ray Hennig’s Heart of Texas Music sign and the downtown skyline. I love Maudie’s on Lake Austin Boulevard and I love Maudie’s on South Lamar.
Today’s version of the sign promised “famous whip’t cream pies” but what we wanted was an apple pie to take home. It was not to be. There wasn’t one to be spared. We were almost too late for the perfect, featherlight biscuits. On weekdays, breakfast is served only from 7 am until 11 o’clock (it runs an hour later on the weekends), and otherwise the Frisco’s open until 10 pm seven days a week. I didn’t see cornbread on the current menu, but the kitchen must still bake a little, because people were asking for it. There are a few places in Austin that make good, unsweetened cornbread, but there’s no other place that bakes biscuits as light and tender as these. They alone are sufficient reason to head for the Frisco Shop. Our party is also partial to the Frisco, the Top Chop’t, the slaw, and the peerless French fries. It was good to see that, at the old Curra’s location, work is progressing on the Frisco location-to-be.
Harold’s Outlet Barn was jammed late this morning at the beginning of the lunch hour for those who dine early. Harold’s is quitting its location for the usual real-estate reasons. How much longer Harold’s will be open isn’t known, but there’s still plenty of stock. Our party bought over a dozen all-cotton men’s shirts for an average of $15 apiece. The tropical-weight sport jackets were going fast. There are lots of silk repp neckties left at excellent prices and some of them are not pink or combinations thereof (there are red and navy club ties, for instance). Women’s clothes remaining seemed to be in stock mainly in the smaller sizes, but there were beautiful cotton-linen jackets, some with embroidered details, and there were many very good-looking short cocktail dresses. Where in the store they were located, I don’t know, because I saw them only at the checkout counter, but women’s shoes were selling like the proverbial hotcakes (“new shipment,” said one of the guys behind the counters; apparently some people shop Harold’s Outlet every day just to catch the newly arrived items). This place is at 8611 North Mopac, telephone 794-9036, Monday-Friday 10am-7pm,Saturday 10am-6pm, Sunday 12pm-6pm. The parking lot was full of giant top-of-the-line SUVs fresh from the dealer. These people were there to buy and buy they did.
Many are the central dining establishments closed for lunch today, all apart from those whose custom it is not to open on Mondays. Matt’s will be going strong all afternoon, but an astonishing number of other places are battened down. I’m happy to know that the Farm to Market Grocery on South Congress will be open today until five o’clock and open tomorrow, Christmas Day, from 10 am to 5 pm. Those calendars with the naked musicians are still in stock there to give as special last-minute presents. My favorite page is the one with the sexy saxophonists. Although the for-sale calendars are sealed by a sticker, there is an examination copy available. Butler Park pitch and putt course was very busy today; sometimes people forget that it’s one of the very best places in town to combine a modest amount of wholesome fresh air and exercise with avoidance of life’s duller responsibilities. The fountain was even set to spray. All over town, it’s impossible to overlook the fact that so many defenseless dogs are forced to appear in public wearing Santa Claus caps; this practice seems to do nothing to promote canine jollity.
The author, a travel writer by trade, lists what he calls “beloved places I’m supposed to like, but don’t.” I agree with him about New Zealand, although on different grounds. I certainly agree with him about Colorado, which he calls a midwestern state posing as a western one (or, as one review paraphrased it, “Kansas with hills”). And he didn’t even get into all the reasons why Boulder in particular isn’t great. So, why does he put Austin on his list of beloved places that, by him, aren’t? Why does he say that, if Austin weren’t surrounded by Texas, it would be Sacramento. I kind of like Sacramento, but other than the fact that it is also a state capital and sited on riverbanks, where is the resemblance between it and Austin? Just wondering. (On the other hand, I wonder whether bus-riders in Sacramento are barred from waiting near the governor’s mansion and are scheduled to be barred from waiting in front of the capitol.) The book is Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer, by Chuck Thompson. It’s entertaining for lots of reasons. I totally agree about bed-and-breakfast outfits, but I can’t quite understand his animus against Lonely Planet books. Don’t read the book for more opinions on Austin; the author says he doesn’t like it and that’s it.
Unless you want to pay a dollar for the new version of the Capital Metro schedule book due out in January, hold on to your current copy of Destinations. The system is returning to a big and free route map, to be used in conjunction with individual pocket route schedules, also free. Few people carry the big Destinations book around with them, but in the years since the all-in-one schedule has been available, I’ve always found it to be very useful, in both a detailed and a big-picture way. There’s always a current one at home, at work, and in the household motor vehicle. I don’t know when this announcement went up on the Web site; an e-mail release went out yesterday afternoon. To me, it’s not quite clear whether the promised on-line PDF version is free; in any case, with the cost of printer toner what it is, it would be a decent guess that paying a dollar for a saddle-stitched printed copy would be cheaper than investing a lot of toner in a print-out of loose pages printed on one side if what’s wanted is the entire package of route and schedule information in one publication. The little route folders are portable, but not such a quick reference as the big book when traversing multiple, unfamiliar routes, when a bit of page-flipping outdoes unfolding individual schedules or even that handy-dandy all-in-one map. I can’t remember when the first big book appeared but, when it did, the map came stapled inside it and most of the old system of individual route maps and schedules disappeared for a long time, but first reappeared with the first ‘Dillos, as I recall. January will mark the institution of some route and schedule changes but I don’t think that my current Destinations booklets will lose their usefulness.
It’s the one at 4300 Speedway, in Hyde Park. Yesterday morning, after our annual pilgrimage to the county tax office, we stopped at this postal branch to mail a couple of afterthought packages. Even though official opening time wasn’t until 8:30, three people were assisting those in line a good twenty minutes or more before that. There was a plate of cookies out on the counter for any who wanted one, and they looked good. As someone who doesn’t like to buy generic stamps from the lobby machines, I liked it that all the available issues are out in the open and visible, in contrast to those branches where a clerk has to open a drawer and turn pages to show designs one by one. Just as I’m on perpetual tour of Austin supermarkets and library branches, if I’m passing by a post office I like to check it out. This is one of the few old-style small branches, very much like the South Austin branch that is now home to Eco-Wise and the southside Vulcan Video. In other words, it’s smaller than the South Austin branch that will be the new Twin Oaks library one of these days. Anyhow, I loved seeing so many happy, unharried-looking people in one place at this time of year.
At about 7:18 this morning, councilmember Sheryl Cole is scheduled to appear on the Wakeup Call, now in progress on radio station KAZI 88.7-fm. This appearance is one of a series of conversations with members of the Austin city council, usually with call-in features. This series thus far has been an illuminating one, and we shouldn’t expect this morning’s installment to be any different.
Lighten your heart and brighten the darkness this evening, at the twelfth annual luminarias trail of lights in Big Stacy Park. This is a wonderful family-scale alternative to the big trail of lights, with homemade music and neighborly conviviality just part of the pleasure. All that’s asked in return is that carolers bring an article of non-perishable food to donate. The Girl Scouts will see that it reaches the Capital Area Food Bank. There will be illuminated trails to walk and spirited singing back at the bonfire, and refreshments of hot chocolate and apple cider are promised. It all begins at around 6:30 (or dusk) this evening and will continue until 9 o’clock. The official address for Big Stacy Park is 700 East Side Drive. Begin near Travis Heights Elementary School on East Side Drive between Live Oak and Woodland, a little east from South Congress (see map one or map two). The goal is happy hearts and 650 pounds of donated food. Only a downpour will cause cancellation.