92 Things About Austin

Don't forget ACL Festival!

Don’t forget ACL Festival!

For your weekend consideration — a few Austin-related lists:

10 Things you Must Know BEFORE Moving to Austin — several aspects of our life here you might want to know about beforehand, like the heat, the traffic, allergies…

10 Things Everyone Should Do in Austin — from bat-watching to wildflowers to swimming holes, we’ve got a lot of great stuff to do here. I must admit: there’s still a couple of items on this list I have not done despite decades in this town!

Top 25 Best Things to Do in Austin — And folks will tell you 10 “must-do” things simply isn’t enough! There’s way more other great things to do, like brewery tours, museums and the Alamo Drafhouse movie theater.

10 Best Places to Get Tacos in Austin — well, we don’t quite have a taco truck on every corner yet, but we’re trying! And yes, a lot of them are really great!

12 Amazing Mom & Pop Cafes in Austin — places to still chow down on some good, old-fashioned, down-home cooking — whether that means Cajun, Turkish, Vietnamese, Korean, Caribbean…

15 Central Texas Beers — you know you’re going to get thirsty in all this heat, so, here’s a Texas dozen (3 extras for your enjoyment) of our local brews .

10 Surprising Things You’ll Miss After Moving Away From Austin — folks who leave Austin often find themselves a bit spoiled on a few things, from food trailers to music to, yes, the weather (except maybe summer).

Austin, Texas: it’s all this and more — including my hometown!


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The Noise Around You

Sometimes, I have written songs. Not many and not recently. Here’s one from a while back. Maybe if I get brave enough someday, I’ll sing it for you.
Don’t hold your breath.

image by -Reno

image by -Reno

Never take the word of a mute:
Even the deaf know the silence lies.
There’s music everywhere tonight
And lovelight deep in your eyes.

Even when the silence beckons,
There’s a song still filling the heavens.
Like a tale told ‘round a fire
By the voices of a hidden choir.

Don’t listen to the noise around you
Without listening for the song.
Melodies abound and surround you —
You hear them your whole life long.

I listen to your sleepy breathing
Like a symphony in the night.
There’s rhythm in random noises
And a roar behind all that’s quiet.

It’s the almost silent hums, it’s the ticking time,
It’s the barking of the dogs outside.
It’s those late train whistles and screeching tires —
There’s no silence even when you try.

But don’t listen to the noise around you
Without listening for the song.
Melodies abound and surround you —
You hear them your whole life long.

So never take the word of a deaf man:
Beethoven plays in his mind.
His silence is louder than your music,
Like the slow passing of the time.

I listen to your sleepy breathing:
There’s music in your waking sighs.
Silently singing a love song —
Even the deaf know the silence lies.

Don’t listen to the noise around you
Without listening for the song.
Melodies abound and surround you —
You hear them your whole life long.

If you listen, you can hear them your whole life long.
Listen — you’ll hear them your whole life long.
Hear them your whole life long.

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One Flew Over a Great Notion

Ken Kesey & Further

Ken Kesey & the bus Further

or, Sometimes a Cuckoo Nest…

Today would have been Ken Kesey’s birthday, so my twisted title pays tribute to his best known works, his debut novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the second novel, Sometimes A Great Notion.

Lots of people know the book One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Even more people think they know it, basing that assumption on having watched the movie — which Kesey disowned. Without going into great detail, suffice it to say the shift of point-of-view changes the story entirely. And while Jack Nicholson admirably portrays a compelling movie character, that is not the Randle McMurphy — burly red-headed brawler — of Kesey’s novel.

Personally, I preferred Sometimes a Great Notion as a sweeping epic of intensely personal stories intersecting and weaving an incredible tapestry of human life with our strengths and foibles. This one, too, was made into a movie (starring Paul Newman) — perhaps not so glaring in its departure from story setting or plot lines. It’s still strikes me, however, as a prime example of how the genius involved in a book, with its various internal monologues, fanciful calls to the imagination, and editorial asides, cannot ever be “faithfully” translated to the visual medium of the movies.

Kesey sought to push his creativity beyond the constraints of books, though, launching the Merry Pranksters and a series of events of spontaneous performance and audience involvement fueled by LSD and called the “Acid Tests,” seminal events in the psychedelic evolution of the 1960’s San Francisco scene, helping to birth the Grateful Dead as a kind of “house band.” Reading of these antics as a teenager in Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test not only whetted my appetite for more of Kesey’s creative craziness, it introduced me to Kesey’s fellow writing student at Stanford, Larry McMurtry.

Kesey’s open flouting of convention and societal norms caused him some serious grief, though, starting in 1965 when he was arrested for marijuana possession. Rather than face charges, he faked a suicide (badly — no one really believed he was dead) and fled to Mexico, living on the lam for 8 months. Upon returning stateside, he served out 5 months in a low-security “honor camp” prison near Redwood City, California.

Despite the ban on writing materials in prison, Kesey managed to keep a jail journal, using smuggled art pens and paper and sending bits and pieces out via visitors. The resulting multi-colored hand-crafted pages tell of life inside the prison and of the people there, both inmates and guards. “This is crazier here than the nuthouse ever was,” Kesey noted.

Kesey's Jail JournalUnfortunately, the beautiful detail of his drawings — assembled into collages  on boards measuring 18″ x 23″ — defied the printing limitations his publisher had and Kesey decided to put off publishing it.

Until later.

Much later, as it turned out, as he kept working on it  and completed it in the last years of his life. Kesey’s Jail Journal finally got published in 2003 — nearly 40 years after its inception — and provides a glimpse into this particular chapter in Kesey’s life.

Though known primarily for those first 2 novels, Kesey continued to produce more work, albeit at a slower publishing pace. Of the other books he wrote, my favorite is Demon Box, a collection of short stories, many centered around his life on a Oregon farm. Of those stories, there are 2 in particular that resonate with me, both tales about hearing of the death of a friend.

In “The Day After Superman Died,” Kesey’s character (Deboree) learns from some people passing through (and abusing his hospitality) of the death of his compatriot, Neal Cassady, original inspiration for Keruoac’s On the Road character of Dean Moriarty and later inspiration for Cowboy Neal in Grateful Dead lyrics. The story ends with a devastated Devoree clandestinely overhearing this news from the passing intruders, then listing and lamenting the names of so many people come and gone in a never-ebbing tide.

“…come back all of you.
Now go away and leave me.
Now come back.”

In “Now We Know How Many Holes It Takes to Fill the Albert Hall,” Kesey juxtaposes 2 contrasting scenes. In the first, the Merry Pranksters, along with some Hell’s Angels buddies, have been invited to London to meet the Beatles. At first, there’s some rough mingling with the local folks and rising tensions finally resulting in a thrown punch, a decked Brit, and an impending brawl — before John Lennon pops in, wearing a Santa suit and a fake beard, emanating peace, and says, “That’s enough.”

“And it was. The rumble didn’t erupt. He stopped it, just like that.”

Cut to years later, out on the farm, where Kesey has reluctantly allowed a drifter dubbed John the Groupie to come in from the cold — for one night only. Keeping his distance as best he can in the house, Kesey is sitting across the living room from his “guest” that evening, when suddenly, Howard Cossell interrupted the football broadcast to announce that John Lennon had been shot & killed.

“I turned to see if John the Groupie had heard the news. He had. He was twisted towards me in his seat, his mouth open, the last duck carcass stopped midway between tooth and table. We looked into each other’s eyes across the room, and our roles fell away. No more the scowling landowner and the ingratiating tramp, simply old allies, united in sudden hurt by the news of a mutual hero’s death.

We could have held each other and wept.”

To capture the raw emotional power of that moment that so many of us shared worldwide when we heard that news years ago takes a powerful magician of a writer. Simply re-typing the passage just now, I again felt that acute sense of personal loss though, like most people, I only knew John Lennon from afar.

Ken Kesey could do that, as the tears welling up as I typed that passage can attest.

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Twas the Day Before the Doodle Playground…

And I am busily trying to both prepare for leading this Creative Mornings Field Trip and procrastinate the particular tasks I should address to get ready. It has been awhile since I led a workshop, much less something more free-form like taking 20 people into a pop-up doodle playground I’ll be hosting tomorrow morning.

So for now, I’ll just turn over the blog to our resident Doodle Dude, Unk (who bears a not-quite-uncanny resemblance to yours truly)…Unk Sez: "You don't have to be able to draw to doodle!"

I’ll get back to you folks after “recess.”

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A Few Stray Dog Tales

A Boy & his Dog

A Boy & his Dog

Not that the dog was stray — no, these are just some left-over tales of my dog, Brutus.

I’ve already written how he became my dog (accidentally) and how I killed him (on purpose —okay, I “put him to sleep” to use the comfortable euphemism). I’ve told you about our travels to Big Bend, California and the Texas Renaissance Festival, as well as his close brushes with death by rattlesnake and VW.

Along the way, Brutus generated plenty more stories, legends, and myths that I haven’t shared with you yet, so here’s a few stray tales of my dog.

“Your dog’s dripping blood.”

After Brutus and I went out to California (where he met the Pacific Ocean), we got back to Austin in time to catch a ride with some friends headed up to Denver. They accommodated us surprise traveling companions quite well, and the friends in Denver likewise had plenty enough room for the 3 of us humans and Brutus.

A day or two later as we were hanging out in our friends’ back yard, our host suddenly says, “Your dog’s dripping blood.” Startled, I looked over to see a trail of well-spaced bright red drips of blood on the patio and across the yard. I ran over to check him, and at first, I could not see where the blood was coming from. There were no obvious cuts.

And then I saw a bit of blood at the end of his foreskin and realized, cringing, he was dripping blood from his penis. Our friends directed us to a vet nearby and we were in the clinic within a half-hour, still mopping up blood drops while Brutus wondered why he was getting all this attention.

When the vet came in to examine him, she pulled on latex gloves before peeling back his foreskin gently but knowingly (I could swear I saw Brutus smile).”Uh-hunh,” she confirmed, “He’s nicked his prick somehow — see?” She pointed to a small spot oozing tiny droplets of blood, then released it, petting his head. “Does he like to drag his belly across the ground?” I nodded. “A lot of dogs too — chances are he did that somewhere like a parking lot where there are little bits of glass and…”

“That’s enough,” I interrupted. “I get the picture. What do we do?”

“Nothing,” she said, still petting his head (thus quickly becoming his second favorite person in the world). “The mucus membrane of his penis seals and heals remarkably quickly. He should be fine in about 20-30 minutes.”

“Your dog ate my chicken.”

We had moved back to the city after our country interlude out at Creedmoor. Once again, Jeff needed a roommate and I needed a place to stay. Jeff’s dog, Ace, was delighted to be reunited with Brutus, who easily resumed his role as dog of the house.

At the same time I moved in, so did a young co-worker of Jeff’s, Ray. When I’d only been there about a month, I got super-excited when I saw an ad for the Grateful Dead coming to town — no road trip required this time! I shouted out the news excitedly, knowing Jeff was a Deadhead as well.

Then Ray came in the back door looked totally deflated. “You dog ate my chicken.”


“Your dog just ate the chicken I was starting to grill,” he said again, sounding more startled and morose than annoyed.

“Where was it?” I asked curiously.

“I lit a fire in the hibachi on the porch and put the chicken on there and came inside for just a second…”

“Wait — you put a raw chicken on a hibachi? On the ground? On the patio?”” I asked incredulously. He nodded. “Ray, you might as well have given the chicken directly to the dog. I mean, You left that chicken at dog eye level and came inside? No wonder he ate your chicken!”

“Your cooler’s running away.”

As I’ve written before, Brutus loved to follow me anywhere and everywhere. After we’d travelled a bit, he got to the point of sticking very close to me and listening carefully — most of the time.

One time, we wondered down the hill to one of the many free concerts on Auditorium Shores, meeting up with some friends. Brutus generally love these outings, which allowed him a great chance to get out, make the rounds, see and be seen, or more importantly, sniff and be sniffed.

I’d brought down a little cooler full of beer for the afternoon and after I found my friends and settled in, I dug in for one. Watching Brutus relax and lie down, I decided to tie the leash to the handle of the cooler to keep hi close by while I stretched out to listen to the music.

A minute or two later, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Your cooler’s running away.”

I looked around to see Brutus running away through the crowd, chasing something — more likely, some dog — cooler bouncing wildly behind him, causing people to duck and shield themselves as it smacked into folks as he ran.


Ah, as the t-shirt said: “Life is always intense with a bad dog.”

Except Brutus never really was a bad dog. Oh, he was feisty and scrappy and broke the rules and all of that. But that was just one side of him. When we were alone at home sometimes, he’d show me his sweet, sensitive side. I’d start playing the piano a bit and Brutus would begin to howl along, quietly at first, then louder.

At first, I thought maybe the sound was hurting his ears. But then I noticed he never tried to leave the room and in fact, often wondered into the room to harmonize with me. Mind you, he was a shy performer, and generally would not sing whenever strangers were around. But if we were alone, or with just a familiar roommate or friend around, he would start off quietly as usual, just under his breath, but slowly become quite loud — sometimes to the point of drowning out the piano.

I miss my musical partner.
I miss my dog, Brutus.


Posted in anecdotes, Buller, Dogs, Pets | Tagged | 1 Comment

50 Years on a 5-Year Mission

The future came calling 50 years ago today when Star Trek premiered.

I was hooked from the start even though I missed a lot of the episodes when they originally aired. See, the weekly show time regularly conflicted with our Scout troop meeting (was this perhaps the beginning of the end of my interest in Scouts? hmmm…).

Anyway, the voyages of the Starship Enterprise offered us fans a glimpse into possibilities. Sure, there were other science fiction shows — The Time Tunnel, Journey to the Bottom of the Sea — but only Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Captain Kirk, along with Spock, Bones, and Uhura, took us unflinchingly into a future full of promise on their 5-year mission “to explore new worlds…” etc. etc. You know the bit.

Alas, it was not to be. Two seasons in, the network cancelled the show. A third season came about strictly through the force of fan will power and a letter-writing campaign, but that seemed to be the final call for our explorations of the final frontier.

The future ended in 1969.

Relegated to syndicated re-runs, Star Trek’s future quickly became part of our cultural past. I can remember watching some of those original episodes on my roommate’s 10′ black & white TV as a freshman in my dorm room in 1972-73. Since I, like many other fans, had missed multiple episodes during the initial run, some of the re-runs were new to me. In fact, for awhile, some people started to believe they were secretly shooting new episodes and sneaking them into rotation.

Rumors of a revived series or a movie bounced around for years, but it took the success of Star Wars to convince the studio to fund a big-budget big-screen return to the future. Finally, the Enterprise and its crew would be back. I remember driving about a half-dozen people from the Texas Renaissance Festival grounds to go see Star Trek: The Motion Picture at a theater in a Houston shopping mall — talk about trans-dimensional travel!

Well, okay, that first movie was, um, well, underwhelming. Sure, the special effects were whiz-bang and all that, but as someone finally grumbled on our drive back out to the festival grounds in the woods, “That wasn’t even as good as some of the old episodes.”

“It was one of the old episodes — the one with Nomad, the imperfection-killing robot, remember?” grunts and nods all around as Coop continued, “It wasn’t even as good as the original version of that episode, though.”

Thank goodness, the second movie restored our faith in the franchise. We came to accept the bad with the good as they delivered a series of movies with the original cast/crew. I loved all of the movies, some more than others.

But it was the return to television with Star Trek: The Next Generation that sent me over the moon, out of this world, and back to the future. The update and shift in emphasis fit the contemporary times just right, with a more urbane Captain Picard well-versed in diplomacy as well as the arts of interstellar warfare. Once again, we could “boldly go” on a weekly basis.

Confession: I never really got into either Deep Space Nine or Voyager. Not sure why but just neither of them ever really struck the right chord.

On the other hand, we thoroughly enjoyed Enterprise, despite the intense dislike so many other Trekkies voiced about that series. In particular, I loved the way they sought to fill in back story for the entire Federation history — hated to see that series end.

Along the way, we enjoyed the TNG-era movies as they came along, from Generations to First Contact to Nemesis. And we love the newest “re-boots” as well — well, not so much that second one, but Star Trek: Beyond brought back that old Enterprise-crew energy.

And now they say there’s another Star Trek TV show on the way.

The future ain’t what it used to be — it’s better!

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Odd Jobs I Have worked

In honor of Labor Day, here’s a listing of some of the stranger jobs I have worked at along the way. It’s not entirely complete and I’ve left out the more recent and “legitimate” jobs. No, this is just a listing of those odd jobs I’ve taken to make ends meet along the way.

Nothing Strikes Back sign

High above the Drag in the 70s

Jerk — soda jerk, that is, at Nothing Strikes Back, the world’s only black-light ice cream parlor. Actually it was the second incarnation of said “Ice Cream and Euphoria Parlor,” the first being Nothing is Real, opened in 1968 but shut down shortly thereafter. When Cooper opened the second version it truly was ‘Nothing’ strikes back! If you wandered into this wonderland for ice cream anytime in the mid-70s, chances are pretty good I was your jerk.

Doodlebugger — seismic survey crew worker, as mentioned before, laying down (or picking up) 70-pound cables through whatever landscape the survey line crosses: pastures, roads, cornfields, woods, creeks, swamps, ponds, and, yes, quicksand.

Seismic survey blast

“Fire in the hole!”

Shooter — on one seismic crew, I set and blew the dynamite charges used to make seismic waves to measure sub-surface structures. This was a “detail” seismic survey using newer measuring equipment, so we were using much smaller charges, less than a pound per hole — but each hole was only 20 feet deep, and some had collapsed to less than 10 feet deep. Yeah, that made each shot loud and large — definitely one of the more fun jobs I’ve had, but it did not last, with the crew disbanded and detail survey abandoned after less than 3 months due to equipment issues.

Diving for Turtles — my friend Ace was helping get his family’s estate ready for sale, which included cleaning gutters and the pool. While he had promised to pay me for ‘diving for turtles” (there were indeed turtles living in the pool), he actually needed me clear the gutters on the massive house. So, kinda stretching it a bit but hey! it’s my list of odd jobs, I’ll make ’em sound as odd as I want!

Hawker — my first stint at the Texas Renaissance Festival in the early 80s, standing between 2 craft booths (they split my wages) and calling out to people walking by, seeking to entice them to come closer, come into the shop and take a look. Less lucrative than sales but more suitable for silly and outrageous behavior.

King’s Carpenter’s Helper — round 2 at the Texas Renaissance Festival wherein I once again worked for my former boss at Nothing Strikes Back, Cooper, working after the festival as the King’s Carpenter to build new booths and improvements around the grounds. This did not last, as the King banished me back to the 20th Century, much to my disappointment & dismay.

Granny Tilly

Granny Tilly

Granny-sitter — Granny moved in with my folks after me & my brother had moved out to go to college. This allowed the folks to help Granny more directly, as her health became more problematic. They would, upon occasion, pay me to stay with Granny over a weekend so they could have a break and go somewhere. This was really their way to slip me money without just giving it to me, and it did give them a respite from the daily care. For Granny, it meant a break as well, from my well-meaning parents who could be a little too controlling for her independent spirit, insisting she eat properly at every meal, for instance. Once, when they had taken off and we were left alone together, she turned to me and said, “I’m gonna have cheese & crackers for dinner tonight and I don’t want to hear one damned word about it from you.”
Okay, Granny, fine…

Journalist — yes, I’ve been a professional journalist: twice, for a total income of $12. While traveling, I wrote a couple of political analysis pieces for the Daily Californian in Berkeley. But they insisted on having me write 2 pieces gratis first, before taking any paying assignments — which they never assigned to me after the two freebies. On my return to Texas, I wrote a couple of theater reviews for the Austin Sun, where I received $12 for those pieces (paid by column inch). Unfortunately, my third review was refused because once again, I had actually liked the play.
“You can’t like everything,” I was told.
“But I did like this one,” I explained.
“Can’t use it…”
That was the end of my brief days as a theater reviewer. Guess I’m more a fan than a critic — and I’m all right with that.

Dishwasher — well, who hasn’t worked as a dishwasher? Before I got promoted to jerk, I was a dishwasher at Nothing Strikes Back. It can be quite challenging washing transparent glasses under black light). My summer in Aspen, I washed dishes 6 nights a wee, splitting those between the Motherlode, a large Italian restaurant, and the Parlor Car, a small, fine dining establishment — in a railroad car. After the King banished me from the Reni Faire, I returned to Austin and took the first job I got offered — as  dishwasher at a tiny place called the Juice Factory.

Along the way, there were also some almost jobs that would have been odd, indeed — job opportunities that I either passed on, or they passed on me:

Door-to-door encyclopedia sales — every bit as bad as it sounds. I went out one sweltering summer evening with a fellow (former famous UT football placekicker) already working at it. In 3 hours of knocking on doors in a neighborhood, we got into exactly one house where the guy listened to the first 2 minutes of the pitch before interrupting to say, “I don’t want to buy any encyclopedias. But I used to do this kind of work and you guys definitely looked like you needed to step inside a house for a minute or two.”
Yeah — passed on that particular job opportunity.

Pornographer — responded to an ad for writers once in the Bay Area only to find they were searching for people to write porn books. But the informational meeting I went to weirded me out even more than the work. For one thing, to make any real money you’d have to complete at least 2-3 150 page “novels” every week. The guy recruiting explained, “Just write a lot of pages. Lots of sex scenes. Lots of variations. Lots and lots of pages every day — you should try to complete a book every 2-3 days. No need for quality, you don’t have time for it. You’ll get the hang of it.”
The other thing about that meeting: no one there (5 of us and the “veteran”) seemed remotely desirable in a sexual sense — yeah, not even me, really. Somehow, I had thought pornography would be, well, sexier, but this wasn’t even seedy so much as just dull & uninteresting — the antithesis of arousal.
No, I passed on my chance to become a porn king.

SaferWay—before Whole Foods Market

before there was Whole Foods Market…

Accountant at SaferWay (later known as Whole Foods Market, yeah, that Whole Foods Market) — to be fair, I had no business applying for an accountant position since I had no accounting background, knowledge, or experience. But I knew they needed someone, and friends knew the guy hiring and got me an introduction and an interview. Within 5 minutes, of course, he knew I had no qualifications other than interest. I mean, I’m good with numbers — but, no, I am not good with money.
This time, they passed on me.

Wonder what my next odd job might be?


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