Archive for May, 2008

Oasis of tradition

Scholz GartenScholz Garten was its own perfect Saturday self today, with graduation parties thrown in. People of all ages were dressed in everything from their commencement finery to regular old Austin-style Saturday grunge and everything in between.

The tourists were dining in the biergarten, which is complete with heavy-duty fans these days, and we locals were enjoying the indoor atmosphere, with bantering waitstaff, people passing to and fro, and a fine view into the kitchen.

At our table to be enjoyed were French fries, nachos with extra jalapenos, potato salad, cole slaw, excellent brisket in the Green Mesquite tradition, sliced from the lean, and a selection of the brews on tap. Scholz’s continues to be a bargain (check the menu).

Beginning tomorrow Scholz’s will inaugurate its observance of the dog days of summer, planned for every Sunday through the season. The first 50 people accompanied by a dog will receive a free portable drinking bowl for their favorite canine, and 10% of sales will benefit Texas Hearing & Service Dogs. There will be live music from 11:30 to 2 pm (the Gunhands opening and Paula Nelson taking the stage at 12:45). There’s no cover; remember, though, that the bigger your tab, the greater the benefit to the worthy cause.

You want to do what in the park?

I’m conflicted over this report in the Statesman about the City’s project to levy a business fee from personal trainers and businesses using the parks and trails for coaching, training etc. Thanks to @mizmizuno for the heads-up and for Sarah Coppola at the Statesman for the original story.

As a typical Type-A over-achiever, I can see the benefits of understanding who’s doing it, getting the data, licensing them, making sure they have insurance etc. But on the other hand it seems like such a “dumb” idea for a city who wants to be a leader in fitness.

I’m conflicted not for the fee, but for the bureaucracy and practicality that comes with this type of project. It’s really not the Austin way it would seem, and comes from the same sort of obsessive, compulsive minds that want to track and regulate every aspect of our lives from traffic and speed cameras, to registration and ID cards, to snooping into what goes on in your own property.

So assuming the fee isn’t the issue, although clearly it is for the trainers and businesses, how would you administer this? So the Yoga teacher who runs classes on the Pier at the new pond in the park west of the Palmer Events center has to pay the fee. The classes are three times a week, 5-9 people, completely quiet, non-intrusive.

Compare that to the big coached run groups who meet at RunTex and then set off around the trail. Are they being coached, are they not? Are they using the park, are they not? Do the pay the fee do they not ?

The easy answer is to have Parks inspectors, or park Police patrol around on Segways or bicycles, with digital cameras, with wifi uplinks, taking pictures of anyone who looks like they might be a group, might be being trained. Issue compliance notices for those who can’t show their license, and on a 2nd or 3rd offense, taking DNA samples and issuing prosecution orders or fines.

Sound ridiculous ? Check out this BBC report on London Parks Police and the fears about their powers and scope. See also this piece on Newham Parks Police, as well as many others.

Doesn’t sound like a good idea to me, and it’s not about the money.

The parks should be open to all comers, only if they want to reserve or restrict the rights of normal users should businesses and trainers pay a fee. If the Yoga group doesn’t want me on the pier, or the RunTex run group object to me following along behind them, or with them, then they pay. I know from experience that neither is true!

Anything generally open to the public should be free.

Seating sorely missed

Once they may have been upholstered in chartreuse. I think they went through a coral and turquoise or aqua period. I’m talking about the wonderful chairs on wheels at Luby’s. As Joni Mitchell said, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Only the rolling highchairs for the little ones remain. The sturdy and high-seated, plumply upholstered, rolling wonders for the grown-ups have been banished. Dining at Luby’s will always offer that convenience and downhome comfort food that we sometimes crave, but some of the atmosphere has vanished. As we made our in-town rounds this past very peaceful weekend, Luby’s was one of the highlights and I was reminded again that I didn’t mean to let the disappearance of the famous chairs go without a public appreciation. All those king-size Texans and white-haired valkyrie ladies from the Wisconsin bus tour who were among the diners enjoying cornbread, pie, collards, and cooked-down green beans with bacon, along with the newer fish and chicken dishes, would have enjoyed the expansive luxury and convenience of the old chairs instead of spilling over the edges of the flimsy non-rollers that have replaced them. Bring them back! And let the tea-ladies have their carts again! And thanks for keeping those big pats of real butter.

Live and Let Live

Really, seriously.

I’ve been following the increasingly rancorous debate in the Austin Chronicle between the cyclists and the car drivers aka the motorists. It has from the start been very polarizing and has become increasingly aggressive as one side take offense at the other.

One thing’s sure, Austin is changing and there are loads of people that don’t like it. Buildings are getting bigger and taller, traffic is getting busier, the steets more cramped. Anywhere where people get “in your face” it causes friction. People in New York City are not a different species, yet they seem to have a hardened, more aggressive voice, nature and look, inside they are just people but they’ve had to adopt a certain attitude in order to survive the pressures of daily life.

And so it is here in Austin with the cyclists and motorists. I’ve been lucky enough to have cycled in many of the worlds biggest cities, London, New York, Paris, Sydney, Manchester, San Francisco, Melbourne as well as in Spain, Italy, Germany and more.

I bike to work from South Austin to up past Braker Lane a couple of times most weeks mostly on the most direct route up Lamar and Burnet. From time to time when I don’t have early meetings and have left my laptop at work, I do the whole length of 360 and some.

What I can tell you is that I’ve been really impressed with most motorists here in Austin. Mostly they do leave space, in town it is not uncommon to be cycling in the right lane and to have 25 out of 30 cars actually pass in the left lane. Would almost never happen anywhere else.

Yeah, you get the occasional driver who really doesn’t think through making their next right turn, overtakes and completely underestimates the 22-24MPH I’m going and cuts right in front of me, causing me to brake. Then there are the motorists not paying complete attention as they make a turn out of a parking lot and I am coming down the street, its hard to “stop on a dime on a bike”, the easiest way is to put a 2000lb steel object with 4-wheels in the way!

And yes, motorists and cyclists don’t adhere to the letter of the law. However, generally Austin is better than many. Rather than escalating letters blaming each other for our problems, lets try to understand that we both have “issues”, both are not perfect but things can get better.

I for one have realized that storming down the right gutter at a long line of cars waiting at a light, probably isn’t the smartest thing I could do. In other cities that might be acceptable, here in Austin though where most drivers will move into the left lane to overtake, it just frustrates the motorists as not only did I possibly pass dangerously, but now I’m making the line even longer forcing them to have to wait more. Mea Culpa, I’ll wait in the traffic from now on.

On the other hand, next time you are coming up on a right turn in your car, and there’s a cyclist between you and the turn, think about it. If you slow, wait for the cyclist to pass the entrance to the turn, at most it won’t even cost you a minute.

A pack of cyclists cycling together is often referred to as a “train”. When a train makes a crossing, you wouldn’t expect every carriage to stop in turn, the same for cyclists. Cycling in close proximity requires attention and a pack like behavior, while the law might require each cyclist to stop individually, in reality, it’s impractical and probably more dangerous, so cut us some slack when it’s our turn to go, please wait if there are more than one or two.

Equally, cyclists need to realize they are often the master of their own destiny, cycling in a cavalier or irresponsible manor will ultimately get payback. We need to take a sensible, consolatory perspective. Many drivers are increasingly finding Austin a difficult place to drive in, and increasingly expensive. Many can’t afford to make the changes that they want. Apart from a minority, nobody enjoys sitting in traffic on I35, Mopac or downtown to go a few miles, and watching the dollar bills get blown out of the tail pipe. Like it or not, cycling to work isn’t an option for most people, most days even me.

I for one applaud the cities efforts in raising awareness of a healthy lifestyle, including cycling. I appreciate their effort to provide an increasingly cycling focussed means of getting around. But equally motorists and cyclist need to focus on safe driving. As the city gets bigger and busier, we all need to do better and focus more, blaming each other for the problem gets us nowhere.

Collide by Howie Day is playing in the background, nothing more than a coincidence I hope.

Even the best fall down sometimes
Even the wrong words seem to rhyme
Out of the doubt that fills my mind
I somehow find
You and I collide

Missing twin

Earthen street artThere used to be a nearly identical version of this creature, sans vegetal hair-tuft, over by the railroad tracks, but it has been vandalized so severely that it is scarcely recognizable.

This one is slightly the worse for wear: weeds for whiskers, a smile a bit displaced, somewhat tamped down by the force of the downpours, but keeping on keeping on, so far.

These earthen siblings obviously come to us from the same anonymous progenitor. They face west. Smile back at the one still smiling; find this face at Duval and 51st Street, the Flight Path corner.

Fairwell 603 W Live Oak

Las Manos MagicasWell another one is on it’s way out of the neighborhood. The house that was most recently Las Manos Magicas, a house converted into a sort-of store come showroom for brightly colored masks, candles and religious icons and pots and jewelry. The store shut down a few months back and I can’t say I’ve missed it, I did buy a couple of gift pots there once though.

More interesting to me is the whole American thing about taking houses away and re-installing them elsewhere, it’s something I’ve rarely heard about, let alone seen in any other country in the world. I guess it’s the ultimate in recycling and from that perspective I thoroughly approve.

603 W Live Oak I called the house movers, Come and Take it Structural Movers, and ask when they were taking it. They said sometime next week, but the house is already prep’d and almost ready to go. If the Cities planning database is to be believed, the house will end up at 7314 Meador Ave.

Although not approved, it looks like it will be replace with 4-1st floor residential, and 4-upper floor residential apartments with parking and is being done under existing MU zoning.

Fairwell 603!

[Picture of Las Manos Magicas courtesey of elenatari on Flickr]

Lucky omen

watermelon truckSeeing the first watermelon truck of the season brings good fortune all day. This one was spotted today just before the southeast intersection of Manchaca and Redd (right side of the street, headed north), where everything’s nicely shaded. The huckster said he’s been there a couple of weeks already and that he’ll be there Thursdays and Fridays through the season.

In addition to fresh-picked watermelons (both with seeds and seedless), cantaloupes, and jalapenos up from the Valley, he was retailing items obtained from distributors, among them fresh coconuts, pineapples, and more, including good limes at the good current price of seven for a dollar. We were mightily impressed by his excellence in mental arithmetic.

As we were leaving, a taco truck pulled up. Perhaps each business’s proprietor was about to become the customer of the other.

Local Photographer: William Hundley

I just ran across local photographer William Hundley via Scott Beale’s post about his “Chihuahua On Cheeseburgers” photo. He’s got some great stuff. Go check it out.

Chihuahua on Cheeseburgers by William Hundley 

Shoes and Cars

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who wears shoes 2-sizes too big, they flop around, you can’t control them, they trip you up, and overall are not a comfortable experience.

So, why is it people drive cars that are 2-sizes too big?

One of the joys of living in Bouldin Creek or on a road adjacent to South Congress, or to one of the popular restaurants off South 1st, is having people around all the time. Mostly people = cars.

There is nothing funnier than watching someone who really can’t park take two or three goes at parallel parking, get out their car, look at the gap behind them, get back in the car either delighted with their effort or thoroughly angry and they screech off, only to come walking by 10-minutes later having found a better “space”.

Of course that’s really not the issue. The issue is why people drive vehicles they clearly can’t control adequately. Both the cars at my next door neighbors have been damaged when parked on the street, at least 30-cars a day drive fully up onto most of the driveways, as drivers can’t turn them around in the street.

Maybe once gas hits $8 a gallon cars will change, until then here’s hoping people will change. Next time you can’t park in that space, instead of blaming the space, the neighborhood, why not think, with the hassle of parking, the time it takes to walk from the “free” space you found – I’ll take a cab!

Tagged with humor

Neighborhood watch eye becomes element in graffitoThis simple free-form work in the spray-paint medium makes ingenious use of the existing element of the eye in the neighborhood watch sign. We have here the violation of a City ordinance committed in the very presence of a sign intended as a form of deterrence. I think I saw this at the southwest corner of an intersection with South Congress, but I was coming from the dentist and I barely know my own name after one of those visits.

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