Archive for August, 2008

Street closures, task force and downtown disruptions this w/e

Better get ready for major downtown disruptions this weekend. First up the 4th Annual BatFest shuts South 1st Bridge all day Saturday, overnight and all day Sunday. Of course Saturday p.m., is the UT Football Game. This is something I have yet to experience, but given it’s the first game of the season, and with the newly expanded stadium(some 92,000 seats), roads will be closed and very busy in and around the Stadium, both east and west of I35.

Sometime Sunday probably well before 6.30p.m., Congress and a number of surrounding roads will close for the Human Race Nike 10k. You can see a route map here. It’s worth noting though that it’s not just a race. There will be a large number of entrants, and after the race their is a concert up by the Capital building at 8.30pm with Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals. All the run participants get free entry, you can also pay separately. So some roads will remain closed until late. The Nike 10k organizers have gone the whole hog. Not only are they providing a bag drop for a change of clothing after the race, but they are also providing a bike valet and compound service, I’ll be cycling down.

Meanwhile, just a few blocks East at Waterloo Park will be the KVET Party in the Park(*). at the same time. Starting at 12pm, roads around the park will be closed or have restricted access.
So that takes care of Saturday and Sunday.

Monday, starting very early (I know I’m volunteering and have been asked to show up at 4.30a.m.), more roads will be closed for the Austin Triathlon. Amongst the roads closed Monday morning will be Congress from the Capital, across the bridge to South Congress and Mary; Caesar Chavez from Congress to Austin High under Mopac, I assume both directions; South 1st Bridge, Riverside Dr from Barton Springs down to S Lamar, also Lee Barton Drive along the pitch and putt Golf Course.

I’m sure they’ll be more events than that, but those are the ones I know about. You could look at this as a major inconvenience, or you could take it as a great opportunity to walk or bike downtown. The 2nd St District shops will be open, you’ll have to wait to cross a few roads, but otherwise it should be car free.

Which brings me around to the Austin City Council Task Force on Street and Event Road Closures. Monday saw the latest meeting of the task force. Unlike the prior meeting which was packed to the gills with athletes, this time there were only about eight members of the public. After hearing from four of us the task force got on with it’s business. By the end of the session, a sense of urgency and organization had taken over from the fact-finding and discovery phase. If the task force is to produce anything meaningful, they’ll have to get going. They’ve agreed to meet weekly starting September 8th, organized around an agreed set of agenda items. As always, they’ll take the first 10-speakers from the public to register on the day.

If you didn’t get to speak previously and have any constructive suggestions, as opposed to testimonial on how this event, or that event changed your life, why not come along and speak. Make some notes, even feel free to read your speech, you get just 3-minutes though. What’s clear from this weekends event and road closures is that some coordination is needed, along with a much better, more coordinated road closure and alternative route scheme.

(*) Party in the Park organizers are going to have their hands full if their what to bring/what not to bring list is to be take seriously and enforced. Cell Phones and iPods that don’t have voice recorders won’t be allowed, nor will digital still cameras that also take videos. Also, what’s a laptop these days compared to some of the latest PDA’s and iPhones? Why differentiate? What’s the point of making rules that you can’t or won’t keep??

Strings attached

Rubber Soul Live - Strings Attached at Threadgills World HQ

Rubber Soul Live - Strings Attached at Threadgills World HQ

In my continuing quest to discover the Austin music scene I was over at my local corner store the other day picking up and ice and Chocolate milk for my post training recovery bath and I saw poster outside for Rubber Soul Live.

As a Brit. growing up in the 60’s in the UK, the Beatles had a huge influence on my peers and I, my parents played their early music a lot. Since the UK is a lot smaller than Texas, their influence was much bigger and crept into most facets of day to day life. As I started to go to parties and the like in my early teens the new, more orchestrated Beatles Albums we getting played, especially the b-side of Abbey Road. To this day, I still have a penchant for rock, and soul music that contains a good string section, real or electronic. And so it was I found myself Saturday evening at Threadgills for Will Taylor and Strings Attached.

Like most long time music venues in Austin, I know Threadgills World HQ is held in somewhat rarefied company. It was my first time. I have to say it wasn’t what I expected. I got there just before the scheduled start as I’d walked to dinner, and then walked to Threadgills. By the time I got there, the lawn in front of the stage was covered by people sitting in lawn chairs, many had bought their own. I don’t know why I didn’t expect this, after all if you bought a ticket to a mixed rock/orchestrated performance of a Beatles album, you’d be on the lawn at a stately house, like Blenheim Palace, on lawn chairs. And then it struck me, this was sort of an Austin equivalent.

Turns out that the lead singer and sometime guitarist of Strings Attached was the boyfriend of an ex-girlfriend’s friend, Kim. I discovered this when Kim came and sat next to me on the grass at the side of the stage. Just before the show started, Kim spotted the staff putting out some more chairs and we rushed up the back and grabbed two. Smooth move it turns out.

Strings Attached played the full UK Rubber Soul album, in vinyl format. That is, the took a break in the set where you’d normally have to turn the album over. They rounded out the set with I’ve just seen a face, which lead out the US album.

Their sound was rich and clear, not too loud. Not once did I curse that I hadn’t bought my ear plugs. They did their own arrangements of some of the songs, but followed the Beatles originals faithfully on others. Overall they were excellent and as we’d spent the show seated up the back, center stage, we got to see the whole show, which was supported by a brilliant set of projected graphics and film clips. Will Taylor carefully guided the performance, interjecting both musically during the songs, and between songs.

Going in, my favorite track from the original album was Girl, String Attached did good version, with good harmonies and subtle orchestration. However, their version of Michelle had me humming it for the rest of the weekend.

Will Taylor and Strings Attached will be back in September with a series of concerts performing Stevie Wonders Songs in the Key of Life.

Kerbey Lane Northwest moves…and loses its soul

Kerbey Lane Northwest was a place one of our regular haunts for great food, staff and atmosphere. They recently moved from their quirky, homey, very “Kerbey Lane” location to a strip mall at Anderson Mill and 183. We had asked the staff why they were moving and they said it was such a better layout. Much more room for operation and the staff wouldn’t be bumping into each other all the time trying to get the food out.

So four of us set out with anticipation yesterday morning to check out the new digs. Well actually, we forgot they had moved and so first we went to the old digs and found an empty parking lot and a sad lonely building. So we set out to find the new place. When we got there, there were a lot of people waiting (as is usual for Kerbey at lunchtime on Saturday) and we were told there would be an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes wait. Determined to have my pancakes, we decided to stick it out.

We all agreed that while this place is certainly nice, it did NOT feel like Kerbey Lane. It had lost its vibe. While they still had the same staff, many of whom have tattoos, piercings, fun hair styles and such, they all seemed a little more dressed up than they used to be. It seemed to us like they had turned up the staffs dress code a bit.

Even more frustrating was that while we were waiting over an hour for our table, there seemed to be many empty tables. The patio outside had maybe 2 of 10 tables occupied. I thought I heard a manager telling another couple that they were limiting their occupancy while the kitchen and staff “found their groove” but that didn’t make it any less frustrating to be standing and waiting while staring at empty tables.

The place just had a much less fun, homey, quirky, Austin, Kerbey Lane feel and more generic air. Everything felt strange. Even the staff seemed more lowkey or down. I mean they were still friendly and provided great service but I sensed some tension or stress, I speculate due to probably having to deal with pissy people with overdeveloped senses of entitlement who probably thought that waiting an hour was ridiculous but decided to go ahead and do it anyway but be grumpy and bitch about it.

All in all we were very sad to see what had become of our beloved Kerby Lane NW. I think we may be making one of the other Kerbey Lane locations our new home base. It seemed to us like they probably could have kept both NW locations open considering how busy it always seemed to be. I’m sure that’s probably not realistically practical but they sure never seem to be hurting for business and it seems like there is always a wait at any time of day.

Kerbey Lane was one of those places where we would always take visiting friends to eat. We might still, but it won’t be the NW location. I kind of feel like I’ve lost a friend.

Still the greatest show on earth

There are just four shows remaining: two today and two tomorrow.

I can never decide whether the opera or the circus is the fullest theatrical experience, and I never will. But the circus does have singing, dancing, stage magic, lighting effects, artful yet practical costumes, live music, and everything else that the opera does.

Today’s 11:30 am show seemed to be sold out. I loved the choreography with two-sided fans as props, and I think that the audience went along with me in giving the strongest applause to the little troop of acrobats composed entirely of very young women.

I’ve always liked the starring clowns of the Barnum & Bailey Ringling Bros. Circus, including Bello, of course, who is the focus of this performance. This year the supporting staff of clowns is very good, and the “dancing with the clowns” number brought down the house. As always, there’s an open house for children beginning about an hour before each show.

SugarMamas – new arrival on South 1st

SugarMamas bake shop display

SugarMamas bake shop display

Owners Olivia and Steve have two new arrivals, one took much longer in planning than the other, but was just as much a labor of love. This evening saw the opening party for SugarMamas bakeshop at 1905 South 1st, next door to SecretOktober, their 2nd new arrival.

Their first new arrival was young Jackson, I never asked, but I guess 6-9 months old, their first child. After careful planning and a change of direction a few times, SugarMamas, not just another cake shop. They have an innovative, interesting menu of specialty cakes and pies. While there, I tried a Bettie Page cup cake, described as “Buttery vanilla cupcake topped with a decadent chocolate buttercream ‘do. It’ll knock your bangs off!” and a French Toast cup cake, described as “Maple cupcake topped with a swirl of cinnamon sugar and finished off with cinnamon cream cheese frosting. What a great way to start your day!” – They were the business and lived up to their descriptions.

SugarMamas Menu

SugarMamas Menu

Both had sweet icing, but not overly so; both had light fluffy base and were delicious in that sort of, I could only eat two way, rather than that sort of hollow, “I’ll have a dozen to go” style.

SugarMamas will be open from 11-7, so its not a quick stop by on the way to the office in the morning, but somewhere to visit when you’ve got something to celebrate, or when you need a boost mid-afternoon. Olivia tells me they’ll do drip coffee, both hot and iced but are not looking to encroach on the business of the specialty coffee shops.

Still, stop by and see them.

[In the interests on transparency I should declare I wrote them and asked when they were opening, they invited me to the party, and before anyone thinks otherwise, it takes a lot more than two cup cakes to buy me, and I’ll be paying for any future delights!]

The Infamous Dog Story

So this is what it takes to bring me out of my blogging doldrums?

For those that aren’t familiar, Michael Gonzales had a choking poodle and decided to drive 100 mph to get the poodle help. He could’ve picked a closer vet? He could’ve learned the poodle Heimlich? In the video, he’s clearly panicking and emotional. He shouldn’t have been speeding. He shouldn’t even have been driving. I saw the interview with him after the fact. He’s annoying and self-righteous. I’m a dog owner. I’m sorry for his loss, but let’s get some fscking perspective here, please.

Newsflash, there are cops who don’t have the best people skills. Unfortunately, the job attracts a few like that. It also turns some people into that. The chief admitted it wasn’t handled well. The guy’s been reprimanded. Let it go.┬áPlease.

I’m tired of the news media rehashing it. I’m tired of hearing about it. Aren’t there more important things to worry about? Like, oh, I don’t know a war? The economy? Health care and education in the shitter? A worthless governor? I feel bad even giving it more attention. And now the dipshit cop is getting death threats? Death threats? That sort of thing makes me want to feed the animal activists to a pack of cranky pit bulls.

Three mummy movies and more

I love the exhibitions at Mexic-Arte. They’re always just large enough to offer a range of objects to consider and enjoy thoroughly and just small enough to be encompassable during a noon-hour. There’s usually a very small entry fee that’s charged in order to help defray the costs of mounting the show.

The current display of items related to the Mayan and Aztec cultures, including commemorations related to a world’s fair, the centennial of Mexican independence, and just the wild electicism of the first half of the twentieth century, will be there only through September 16.

It was a special pleasure to see the photographic post cards of Hugo Brehme in such quantity and where they could be viewed up close. The movie lobby cards from the Agrasanchez hoard are also a close-up treat, rewarding in every detail. We spent a long time watching the second of the Aztec mummy movies. Those theater chairs are very comfortable!

The information cards next to the displays are informative and repay reading in their entirety. They are pretty much all the information available, but they are quite thorough. The only souvenirs of the exhibit in particular that I saw were post cards related to movie promotion from the era of the movies being exhibited. They are lurid and funny. As always, whoever selects the beautiful handmade jewelry to sell in the little museum shop does a superlative job. Any of it would make a welcome present.

Danny Roy Young: The Mayor has left South Austin

Danny Roy Young, a man whose work and play helped define South Austin, died yesterday from a heart attack. With his passing, we lost a some-time activist, a long-time businessman and musician, and a full-time ambassador for the spirit of Austin.

Danny moved his family in ’75 and “figured out that Austin was exactly where I was meant to be.” Those who lived here pre-bust (as in oil, not tech) might remember the opening of his Texicalli Grill in an abandoned Burger Chef on South Lamar, which later became an institution of sandwiches and music memorabilia in an abandoned Taco Bell on Oltorf (next to Guero’s, now the present-day Curra’s). Danny sold the restaurant in 2006, and it closed the following year.

If you judge a man on the basis of his nicknames, then Danny Roy Young rose higher than most. The “Lord of the Rub board” denotes his enthusiasm for the washboard. He frequently played his custom apparatus around town, most regularly with The Cornell Hurd Band. His title as “Mayor of South Austin” was bequeathed by the Austin Chronicle after he successfully led the opposition to widening South Lamar.

While the designation was unofficial, Danny upheld the title with charm and sincerity that is lacking from most elected offices. Until yesterday’s tragic passing pre-emptively limited his term, the Mayor of South Austin often cruised his districts in a signature ’54 Chevy wagon motorcade, idling in the street to spin yarns with constituents new and old. It’s hard to imagine anyone else who could fill his office.

Michael Corcoran has a nice eulogy for Danny here.

Shoreline intemperance

No matter what changes at the Shoreline Grill, chocolate intemperance is the constant. It’s always on the dessert menu, no matter what else is on what other part of the menu. We always, always save room for this triple-chocolate delight.

We satisfied some of the rest of our appetite at lunch by trying two of today’s soups: a cannellini bean and a duck and sausage gumbo. I loved, loved, loved the gumbo, and so did the table of men with Louisiana accents just behind us. We also satisfied some appetite, and very wisely so, with crab cakes and the day’s salmon preparation.

Seafood is always impeccable here. There are also dainty but generous salads, as well as hearty fried chicken and various meat preparations for the non-vegetarians. When we splurge here, we often overhear some little morsel of gossip when the indiscreet speak loudly in the sort of commanding voices that carry, as those who must answer to no superior sometimes do when they imbibe at lunchtime. This was a beautiful day to dine here. The light coming through the expanse of windows changed moment by moment as the towering clouds by turns obscured and revealed the sun, and the waters of the river were choppy and in constant motion.

We were seated at once, even though we arrived shortly after noon. Later in the week, there’s sometimes a brief wait. I’m not sure what the parking situation is these days. We walked. Service, as always, was timely and professional. The chocolate intemperance, as always, was beyond compare.

Some food follow-ups

  • The Frisco has changed its seating method. It’s no longer “seat yourself.” There’s now someone leading the diners to a spot at the counter or to a table or booth. That didn’t mean we obtained one the second time we visited. There was a line out the door. We were just amazingly lucky the first time.
  • A second visit to Mesa Ranch Bar and Grill, southside version, introduced us to the wonders of cowboy beans. These were mysteriously but deliciously seasoned and contained generous quantities of smokey and tender brisket. The chile relleno accompanied by savory grilled shrimp was a lunch-menu winner. This was a second mid-day visit. Dinner remains in the future. Mesa Ranch is inviting all to an open house on Sunday afternoon, August 24, offering free appetizers from 3 to 8 pm at the new south location.
  • It was following a second lunch-time visit to Tien Jin that we stopped in at Buenos Aires Cafe. At T.J. this time, one of us tried the buffet and enjoyed it very much. Again, the price for the quality is amazing. We saw a table next to us enjoying some sort of delicious-looking preparation of scallops and noodles from the Chinese menu. A large family was seated at a large table equipped with a lazy susan and we saw course after course selected from the Chinese menu going to that table during the time that we were there. Maybe it’s getting to be time to order from that menu.
  • I forgot to mention that the fine coffee at Buenos Aires Cafe comes to the table with a proper coffee spoon and with a small, round paper doily under the cup. These are refined touches not often seen around town.
  • The pianist at Louie’s 106 appears to be none other than Kenny Luna; at least, that was the name at the piano with the tip jar just inside the door spotted at lunchtime earlier in the week. The ads in the local daily tout “our Resident Pianist,” playing Wednesdays through Saturdays, from 6:30 to 9:30 pm.
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