Archive for October, 2009

Retail campaigning

This is a beautiful day for it, and some campaigns were lured by this weather into going from door to door. I was out reading in the screened tent when someone on the front porch hailed me. It was candidate Raul Alvarez, former member of the Austin city council now running against a long-time incumbent for the office of Travis County precinct 4 commissioner. He made the mistake of asking what issues are of concern and probably heard way too much about proposed total elimination of our neighborhood bus route after a century of public transportation serving what began as a streetcar suburb and also about the lack of any health ordinances governing frequency of emptying or setback placement away from property lines of portable chemical toilets on construction sites. While Mr. A. was still on the front porch, the spouse of Democratic primary candidate Cliff Brown appeared and joined the conversation. He’s running for the office of judge of the 147th District Court. This was very much like the old days in Austin, when nearly all candidates running for city or county office went personally from door to door. What has changed is that modern candidates have Web sites and Twitter accounts. I’m glad that our doorbell doesn’t work, but I’m also glad to have enjoyed the opportunity to hear about these campaigns in person.

Early-voting sites few

vote aquiAnd what’s called “central” is not. In fact, for downtown workers accustomed to voting at the courthouse, there’s nowhere to vote throughout the early-voting period, which continues through Friday, October 30, apart from provision for “mobile voting” that appears at different locations each day. The county site listing early-voting locations available throughout the period lists the county offices on Airport and the north Fiesta Mart as “central.” And with our library austerity closings, Ruiz is not available on Fridays or Sundays (Carver’s available during abbreviated hours today and the Zaragoza Rec center is not available at all today). Despite these limitations, we saw a line today when we voted, and observed that the tally sheet showed a large turnout yesterday. On Election Day itself, November 3, it’s best to check to make sure that your customary precinct polling-place has not been consolidated with that of another. It’s never a bad idea to consult the nonpartisan voter guide prepared by our local League of Women Voters. Local political blog Burnt Orange Report has prepared a helpful explanation of the constitutional-amendment process and also a roundup of endorsements. Even though most of us, depending on our location, will not be electing officeholders, this is an important election.

Pumpkin patch

South Congress pumpkin patchThis is a view, showing one of the scarecrows, of the pumpkin patch just a block east of South Congress, at Grace United Methodist Church, 205 East Monroe Street. The pumpkins are priced according to size, and the proceeds benefit both the activities of this neighborly and welcoming church and also the Navajo agricultural enterprise that grew them. Usually, there are children being photographed against the backdrop of hay bales, heaps of the rotund orange gourds, and scarecrows, but we were early-birds and the first visitors of the day. The hours are from 4 to 7 pm on weekdays and from 10 am to 7 pm on weekends until Halloween itself or until the pumpkins are all sold out.

The sound of silence

Picture by Matt Wright on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattwright/

Picture by Matt Wright on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattwright/

There always seems to be a lot of push back against change anywhere, and here in Austin probably more so. And so it is with some trepidation that I mention this.

If you live anywhere near the railroad track that runs through town you’ve probably got used to sound of the horns as the many trains per day pass through, and continue into the night. In one recent discussion, a neighbor even told me they found the sound of the horn “re-assuring”.

The point of the horns is, obviously, safety. To let people know the train is coming. Despite a 2005 Federal Railroad Administration law, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Locally, Dough Taylor a Bouldin Creek resident has been working with the city and the railroad to try to get “Quiet Zones” established for the crossings and Oltorf and W Mary St. and before Dough, Susan Littlejohn was working on it, so this isn’t a project by a bunch of newbies.

In order to get these quiet zones, cities can apply for an exemption to the Federal law as long as they are willing to pay for safety studies, install a variety of improvements at crossings and submit to regular federal review.

According to Dough, the city of Austin has agreed to this and has earmarked money for the conversion, but Dough needs a few extra people willing to help and attend meetings to move the process along. Austin isn’t unique in this respect, in fact it’s behind the curve. Communities and cities across the nation are working on this or already completed projects and no longer get the horn at night(yes, I know I couldn’t resist), including places such as Coon Rapids, MN and Bend, OR amongst many bigger cities such as Arizona.

If you’d like to work with Dough on this please post a comment. When posting please use your real email address and I will put you in touch with Dough. Your email address stays private, will not be published and not used for any other purpose.

National spotlight on trio of restaurants

The three are Garrido’s, Olivia, and Uchi (“Austin Raises the Bar on Good Food,” WSJ 10/17/09, byline Katy McLaughlin).

The comments in the article regarding the individual establishments have their interest, of course (for instance, there’s one to the effect that there are those who’ll never taste the chips and accompanying salsas at Garrido’s because we’re not accustomed to being charged for them. That’s why I haven’t tried them, even though I love the carnitas at Garrido’s.)

It’s some of the declarations about Austin dining in general, though, that I find especially interesting, and quite perceptive. Tyson Cole seems to have been very generous with his time and to have spoken with the reporter at some length. I hope that this reporter does explore Tex-Mex food ingreater depth, as she seems to have some appreciation for it. The Fearless Critic Austin is presented as a milestone in the Austin food world. She describes Austin as a town that has long offered food for the budget-minded and also unimaginative high-dollar menus for lobbyists and legislators. “With so much good, cheap food . . . it’s been a long path towards convincing the public that $28 entrees have a place on the scene.” I’m happy with the countless $15-and-under outstanding ones out there, but the occasional splurge does have its place.

For all your turntable needs

Audio SystemsIt was mostly the stylus, but the cartridge was as ancient as the turntable, bought used and third in a line that began long ago with a Dual 1212, so I held them both accountable for the excruciating noise that came from the speakers. It was time for a quest. Where was a vinyl-owner to turn for turntable help?

I found my answers and the cartridge, stylus, and proper calibration thanks to the tactful and knowledgable and speedy artists of sound and all-knowing oracles at Audio Systems courtesy of a referral from a kind person who answered the telephone at Waterloo Records.

I was so happy not to be met with ridicule, but with understanding and kindness, and even more pleased by the results unexpectedly found at what I suspected would turn out to be a den of impossibly high-end equipment where people would have no use and no time for assisting me with my modest and antique turntable.

So, yes; some record stores here in town do stock and will sell a cartridge and stylus. I had planned to find replacements, install them myself, and carry on, but this was by far the better course of action. I’m so sorry that I took no names, but I certainly plan to return to Audio Systems when it’s time for an upgrade. The well organized workspace reinforces the confidence inspired by the Audio Systems people.

What’s spinning? It’s Maverick LP-001 (1980, entitled “For the Record”), featuring Marcia Ball and the Misery Brothers, Augie Meyers and the Western Head Band, Doug Sahm, Bobby Earl Smith, Joe Gracey, and more. The exact song at this minute? “Meet Me in Seguin (Once Again).” This album is in close to mint condition and it sounds just like new, thanks to Audio Systems. Look for the blue awning at 1102 West Koenig, telephone 451-5736.

Tarka Indian Kitchen quick-lunch

This is a wonderful addition and an especially welcome one to those south of the river. The tag-line is fresh…fast…flavorful and all three are true. Tarka India Kitchen was doing a busy takeout business in the rain today. This is a great place for those who are hungry and need food as soon as possible.

Here’s what we tried. The pair of vegetable samosas came to the table with a mint chutney. The chutney was a bit sweet. The samosas were generous in size and contained a beautifully spicy potato filling garnished with English peas. The wrapper was a bit on the tough side, but that was inconsequential when the contents were so delicious. The vegetable pakora was fine, but in the future I’d save my appetite to sample other items.

The person who ordered coconut curry asked for it to contain chicken and to be hot, not mild or medium. He was not disappointed and was pleased especially with the chidken. This dish contained potatoes and was very rich.

I want to try other dishes, especially the daal makhni and the channa masala, in the future, but it may be tough, since I always want to order the sheesh kebob. The menu said chicken and lamb, which I thought was chicken or lamb, but it’s a mixture. These were tender and fresh, beautifully seasoned and extremely tasty. The flavor was of lamb, predominantly.

I prefer the naan at India Kitchen on Riverside or at Taj Palace. For me, Tarka’s is too uniform and almost cakelike in texture. The long-grain rice accompanying our dishes was fluffy and wonderful. We could see cloves, bay leaves, and cardamom pods. I assume that this rice is a foundation for the biryanis, which I look forward to trying.

There’s even a children’s menu at very low prices and complete with a beverage choice of apple juice, mango lemonade, or a fountain drink. This is a very child-friendly place, since the recorded music covers a great deal. There’s a diaper-changing station in the restroom.

A diner orders at the counter and pays at that time. There’s a self-serve beverage station with straws and ice. Utensils are picked up there, also. I noticed Kingfisher and Shiner beers on ice. A runner brings the food to the table, recognizing it by the number card displayed. Even though Tarka was quite busy, the food seemed to be there almost instantaneously.

Tarka is related to the Clay Pit. Find it at 5207 Brodie Lane, suite 120, away in a corner next to Zen. If you get lost while trying to locate it, call 892-2008. Do look for it.

Driving License Record

So, the Officer said “you can mitigate this stop by taking a Drivers Safety Course and having this speeding ticket expunged from your record.” Or something to that effect, if he’d spoken longhand English.

And so I decided that would be the best course of action. Now, 30-days later I’m still not able to proceed and this is your warning not to get caught in the same Texas DPS license record downward spiral. In order to have a moving violation, in my case speeding removed from your record you need to get a “Certified List of All Accidents and Violations in Record (Type 3A)” from the Texas DPS.

Now, you can bet they’ve got a new automated, online system. It’s here. Only when I tried to use it I (un)helpfully told “The data you submitted does not match data on the Driver License Record or you are ineligible to use this online service. Please verify and correct the required information and resubmit your request.”

Only all the information was correct and re-submission did nothing to, err, mitigate the error. So I called, and I called, and I called… just a busy signal. Eventually I gave up, searched around on the website and submitted a help request via email. 3-days later I received a call. No they can’t tell me why I’m “ineligible” and unfortunately, the day the call came was the last day you could get this record “in-person”, which of course the web site never said was an option. I was handily informed by the operative calling me that “they’d had real problems with the new system” and there were “only 35-operators handling telephone calls for all of Texas”, and that the only way to proceed was to apply in writing using the form on the website here.

The only problem with this is it takes 7-10 days, which takes me over the 90-day limit. Sigh. So, just on the off chance I’m not the only person in this mess, let this be your lesson, don’t delay start today, check your eligibility at the above website.

ACL: Take the shuttle

but not for the environmental impact.

I’d guess there will be a lot of hand wringing over this years Austin City Limits, the bands, the venue, the environmental impact and of course the grass. I’d bet that right now, over at  C3 Presents , a member of staff will be working on a press release extolling the virtues of the recycling effort, etc. etc.

I only did ACL Friday this year, the music wasn’t really my “scene”. Anyway, to the point of my post. Saturday evening I found myself downtown for dinner at La Condesa on 2nd St. What stunned me was between 7:15pm and about 9pm, the sheer number of Cap Metro shuttle buses streaming past the restaurant completely empty.

Tonight I stopped off on the way home around 7:30pm and counted the empty buses on their way back to Republic park. Again, mostly for the 30-minutes I waited there were a dozen or more buses, travelling back completely empty. As far as I could see, none of these were Cap Metro’s fleet of Gas powered buses, they were the older stock diesel buses. On my way along Caesar Chavez doing the regulation 35MPH, I was overtaken by a bus doing at least 5MPH faster.

For a city that makes a big deal of it’s environmental efforts this needs addressing for next year. Sure, C3 contracts with Cap Metro to run a bus every so many minutes. At peak times, I’m sure that is not enough and a backlog of passengers builds-up. However, there has got to be a better way than shuttling back and forwards all these empty buses.

Next headline: Zilker Park becomes private entertainment complex, fenced off again for 2010!

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