Austin Dispatches
No. 145
Oct. 8, 2011

The drought is responsible for the state’s costliest conflagration – $250 million in losses, mostly in Bastrop County – and displaced thousands of people from their residences with nowhere to go.1 On the other hand, the Sep. 23 Business Journal carried an above-the-fold cover story about the post-fire real estate bargains to be had.2

Piqued, I investigated whether recent circumstances might allow me to live in the Austin metro area at a lower cost, even if I had to do it on the ashes of other people’s dreams,3 by buying discounted Bastrop property – an estimated 60 percent drop in prices, according to the expert quoted in the Business Journal – and using the difference to pay for a custom-built house.4 After all, it's not every day a county goes up in flames, and I'm looking for opportunities in personal finance.5  I need more space for my stuff.6  And Bastrop County’s already a bedroom suburb of Austin, only with fewer pretentious pinko yuppies to run everything into the ground. However, such prices aren’t reflected in the listings; and after consulting with my real estate brain trust, I concluded the numbers didn’t justify further inquiry.7  

Investigators think tree branches too close to a power line sparked the fires. Despite this, Austin Energy plans to spend less money on trimming trees. Austin logic.8 Sadly, those Austin pinko yuppies who’ve supported policies that’ve priced them out of Travis County are probably eyeing Bastrop properties right now.9 Those pinkos, less concerned with cost than me, will displace the existing population and repeat the same mistakes they made in Travis County.

Still, out in the country, they’ll fit in among the killer bees,10  crazy Rasberry ants,11 and blood-sucking, Chagas disease-spreading triatomine bugs.12  

Austin Death Watch

GQ’s Web site has ranked Austin the 18th worst-dressed city in America; better than Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago or Las Vegas, but worse than Dallas, Houston, Portland, Ore.; Omaha, Neb.; or Buffalo, N.Y.13 The ranking bent a lot of local noses out of shape.14 Interestingly, in the huffy responses at The Daily Texan's Web site, the video of South Congress clothes stores reveals a lot of new, expensive clothes that look like the distressed apparel in thrift stores.15

However, weeks later, The Daily Texan proclaimed preppie fashion is back.16  For once, I can verify a media-proclaimed trend. The kids these days really are slightly less slobby than in the recent past. Of course, the economy the way it is, their latest apparel is about as close as they’ll get to the upper-middle class.17

Instead, they can join the more than 20 percent of people in Austin who are poor.18 In good news, the rising unemployment here tends to stem from ex-government employees having their snouts yanked out of the public trough. Unfortunately, this means they have too much time to sit around and plot.19 Or move to Bastrop.

The young certainly won’t attain upper-middle class status here. The schemers who mismanage the city will see to that. For example, after months of dithering, the Council predictably did the wrong thing and imposed nighttime parking fees downtown Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays beginning Sep. 6.20 City police issued more than 640 tickets that night.21

Also downtown, the Public Works Department went nuts and reconstructed Brazos Street between Cesar Chavez Street and the Capitol for three years and about $11.5 million of your money, to recreate the Brazos streetscape from 50 years ago, before urban planners redesigned that. Also, as even the Chronicle admits, the raised planters reduce:
... [U]seable sidewalk space, making it difficult to open car doors or unload Cap Metro passengers. The planters’ limestone is softer than Austin’s trademark tough granite, and some already chipped from everyday use. During June’s heavy rain, many drained poorly, leaving roots waterlogged while overflowing water poured over the embedded tight fittings.22
Moreover, the Council voted Sep. 12 to jack up property taxes and utility fees in a futile attempt to cover its bloated budget.23 Even the Statesman’s editorial board couldn’t be snookered.24 The City bureaucrats are pushing a new master plan, concocted by ponytailed possessors of urban planning degrees, which replaces the previous master plan that reality thwarted, down our throats.25

The Statesman reports the local police union has been exploiting a City benefit “into a money-making venture for itself at taxpayers’ expense.”26 An ex-stripper and her boyfriend face a second trial for the murder and robbery of a strip club patron.27 A Travis County jailer has been charged with homosexually assaulting an inmate.28 Sign him up for the U.S. military.29 A district judge handed a 20-year sentence to the getaway driver of a 2010 robbery-turned-car chase-turned fatal crash for the passengers.30 Perversely, the driver was the first in years to be able to drive that fast in town. A new study ranks Austin’s traffic third-worst in America.31

A few weeks ago, while Texas was facing rolling power outages, and Texans facing the usual sanctimonious warnings about the need to conserve, the Statesman ran a glowing piece on a new downtown dance club with a 50,000-watt sound system.32 The Austin Water Utility is paying residents to let their lawns die if they consist of St. Augustine grass.33 The state’s 22-year-old Moreton Building, in one of the nicest neighborhoods in Austin, is already falling apart.34 The last time I saw it, I thought it had been built in the ‘50s or ‘60s. Now I know it’s been prematurely aging. 

On the Town

Aug. 26: After many delays and missed opportunities, I finally saw the Buena Vista Social Club at the new Austin City Limits Live at The Moody Theater on West Second Street – excuse me, Willie Nelson Boulevard.35 The theater has the ambience of a boxing arena and its balcony rivals the Paramount Theatre for Matterhorn gradient. The band line-up was vastly different from that of the first album and documentary film that made the musicians famous, thanks to deaths and solo tours.36 It reminded me of the clichéd past-its-prime rock group where the one or two original band members obscure the sidemen the manager hired to keep them on the oldies circuit. Although such comparison is incredibly unfair to Buena Vista, which had the audience in the aisles – heading for the exits.37 No, I’m kidding. Instead, ACL required the audience to file out of the theater conga-style, row by row.

On the way out, a salsera acquaintance greeted me warmly. Then she and her companions returned to complaining about another woman’s décolletage.

Aug. 27: Go Dance studio celebrated its 15th anniversary with a free party, which brought out the throngs. The superb air conditioning didn’t hurt, either.38

Aug. 30: Salsa night at the new Señorita’s Cantina, in a new strip mall off Anderson Mill Road, featured a jazzy sextet with a turntablist who doubled as a DJ during the band’s breaks. As a DJ, the DJ had an interesting mix, albeit unconducive to dancing. This roused the audience’s ire. “Hey, if you want to be an artist, go to a museum,” a salsero next to me cracked.

The evening may have contributed to end of salsa performances at Señorita’s two weeks later, but it was fun while it lasted.

Sep. 2: A quartet of old soul singers, including Archie Bell, packaged as “Wild Men of Rock,” performed at The Continental Club. I couldn’t decide whether these performers were cool or complete cheese balls. OK, Roy Head was a complete cheese ball.39  

Sep. 8: I received the shock of my life. The clinic lab results ... arrived before the bill.

“The results must’ve been good,” said “Melanie Ordones Welker” during a jazzy montuno at Dallas Nite Club.40  “You look really relaxed.”

“It’s just the lighting in here,” I said.

Welker herself was so relaxed she invited me to a private salsa party in the neighborhood on the 24th. It was OK, though the participants spent more time eating than dancing, and I bailed around 10:30 when it was tilting into a sausage fest, and not the culinary kind.41 I’d avoided social and dancing faux pas and thought I’d quit while I was ahead, which included surprising Welker by leaving so early. Now that I’ve lost interest in her, I think she might only now suspect that I’m interested in her.

Sep. 17: The women at Esquina de Tango emitted a frosty vibe when I showed up, probably for standard reasons they’d hotly deny if I called them on it. I cased the crowd for the first few tunes until I locked eyes with a tall blonde whose body language indicated eagerness to dance. While in closed-position clinch, I surreptitiously glanced at the women on the sidelines. Suddenly, they were envious of my partner, and they wanted what this gringa had. Then they were willing to dance.

I’ve read about this women’s attitude, but I never imagined such a transparent ploy would work so well to my advantage. Miss KT used to grumble about other women covetously observing us while we were together, but I was too enamored of her to notice. Not that telling her that convinced her or assuaged her fears of losing me to someone else.  

Neighborhood News

e145fig2  I was prepared for this year’s sales tax-holiday weekend, because I’d priced everything online the night before.42  At a department store at The Domain, a salesgirl approached me with cologne samples of “Penguin.” “Will this make me into an arch villain?” I asked. 43

The fat bitch who accosted me moved out of the apartment complex.  It confirms what I’ve suspected for a while: Since time accelerates with age, even the people who annoy you don’t stick around as long as they used to. Another tenant who should move away, some hipster-looking type in large plastic eyewear frames and a V-neck T-shirt revealing a tattoo along his collarbone, stumbled on the steps and nearly broke his neck while walking his dog. I disliked this guy on first sight, so his stumble was funny instead of potentially tragic. Hipster sarcasm won’t save you from physics, boy. 44

The Domain hosted the Casa Superhero Run on Sep. 25.45 As expected, The Flash won.46

The Statesman reviewed Andiamo Ristorante favorably while snidely putting down the neighborhood.47

The Texas Advanced Computing Center at the J.J. Pickle Research Center, received a $50 million science grant to build and host a new supercomputer with 10 petaflops of processing power, 272 terabytes of memory and 14 petabytes of disk storage by 2013.48

Two men died in an Aug. 21 auto collision MoPac Boulevard and Steck Avenue that backed up traffic to Braker Lane.49 On Aug. 13 I witnessed an Austin police cruiser make an illegal left turn on a red light at the intersection of Duval and Burnet roads.

Ownership of KEYE-TV is changing hands in a $200 million deal.50 Community Impact Newspaper reports the commercial real estate occupancy rate is on the rise.51 BuildASign.com has purchased an Ohio counterpart. A used car lot has expanded on United Drive, and another used car lot has set up on United.52 Joe’s Italian Cuisine has opened and Benihana has closed in the Crossroads shopping plaza.53 A brewery has opened on Industrial Terrace.54 A Halloween costume store and a haunted house have opened.55 An athletic apparel shop has opened in The Domain.56

Cultural Canapés

The sequel to “Slacker,” “Slacker 2011,” premiered Aug. 31 at the Paramount Theatre.57 When I was involved in an attempt at a local TV comedy-variety show, a “Slacker” sequel was one of the ideas in the writers’ meetings.  It’s like you can’t be funny – you’ll tell a joke and someone thinks it’s a good idea for real.

Banana Republic – the clothing chain, not the Obama-led polity – has come out with a line of “Mad Men”-inspired apparel. What took ‘em so long? The clothes are early ‘60s, but the series has already progressed to the consistently crappy styles later in that decade.58  

Business Roundup

A new study concludes that personal Web surfing at work actually improves workplace productivity. I would’ve forwarded this information to my supervisor, but my client also has a strict policy against personal e-mails.59

I was at Wal-Mart the other day and saw a display of Utz-brand Halloween cheese balls. The label prominently proclaimed them gluten free. As though anyone eating cheese balls is concerned about health.60

Media Indigest

For the Chronicle’s 30th anniversary story, Louis Black recounts the time the staff held a party at a house in Lakeway and some people there stole a golf cart and drove it into the swimming pool. With the passage of years, he has to explain it to people who weren’t there. Black blathers on about it for more paragraphs, but as usual he misses the point of it all. The incident neatly encapsulates the Chronicle worldview, applied: wrecking other people’s possessions and disdaining bourgeois propriety. Usually the staff just advocates for other members of the local power elite to do that for them.61

Nonagenarian Andy Rooney retired from complaining about things on “60 Minutes.” I’ve seldom heard anybody praise him, but at the peak of his fame, some 30 years ago, he was laugh-out-loud funny. To read his collections of columns in sequence is to notice him becoming crabbier.62  


Lyon, Cody. “Fires to Fluster Housing Market.” ABJ 16 Sep. 2011: A1+; Ward, Mike. “Fires Costliest in State History.” AAS 13 Sep. 2011, final ed.: A1+; Whittaker, Richard. “Drought, Heat, Fires … Repeat.” AC 16 Sep. 2011: 24-25.
2 Lyon. “Bastrop’s Land Values Decimated.” ABJ 23 Sep. 2011: A1+.
3 Gándara, Ricardo. “In Post-Fire Recovery, ‘Scrappers’ Turn Profit on Hauling Off Metal.” AAS 1 Oct. 2011: A1+.
4 Gándara. “Rebuild or Leave? Touch Choice for Fire Victims.” AAS 8 Oct. 2011, final ed.: A1+.
5 Casey, Douglas R. Crisis Investing for the Rest of the ‘90s, rev. ed. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Publishing Group, 1995.
6 Carlin, George. “A Place for My Stuff.” A Place for My Stuff! Atlantic SD19326, 1981; Eisler, Dan.”Re: Did the Earth Move for You?” E-mail to Dennis Lucey, 30 Aug. 2011.
7 Eisler. "Distressed Properties, Bastrop." E-mail to Jody Lockshin, 26 Sep. 2011; Eisler. "Re: Distressed Properties, Bastrop." E-mail to Lockshin, 27 Sep. 2011.
8 Coppola, Sarah. “Austin Cuts Back on Tree Trimming.” AAS 27 Sep. 2011, final ed.: A1+.
9 Smith, Amy. “Imagine Affordability.” AC 7 Oct. 2011: 13-14.
10 AD No. 98n11 (June 11, 2007).
11 McConnaughey, Janet. AP. “Hairy, Crazy Ants Invade U.S. From the Caribbean.” The Virginian Pilot 2 Oct. 2011: A4.
12 Roser, Mary Ann. “Blood-Sucking Bug Could Be Giving More Texans Harmful Chagas Disease.” AAS 7 Oct. 2011, final ed.: A1+.
13 Fennessey, Sean et al. “The 40 Worst-Dressed Cities in America.” GQ < http://www.gq.com/style/fashion/201107/worst-dressed-cities-america#slide=1>.
14 Ford, Lauren Smith. “Editor’s Letter.” Tribeza Sep. 2011: 14.
15 The Daily Texan 19 Jul. 2011 < http://www.dailytexanonline.com/video/2011/07/19/austin-worst-dressed-video>.
16 Breland, Ali. “Hipster Fashion Left in 2007, Prep Clothes Make Comeback.” DT 31 Aug. 2011: 15-16.
17 Malhotra, Heide B. “US Business Competitiveness Floundering.” The Epoch Times 23 Sep. 2011: A1+.
18 Castillo, Juan. “More Than 1 in 5 People in Austin Live in Poverty.” AAS 22 Sep. 2011, final ed.: A1+.
19 Copelin, Laylan, and Jason Embry. “State’s Jobless Rate Rises.” AAS 20 Aug. 2011, final ed.: A1+.
20 Bliss, Jillian. “Downtown Parking Meter Hours Set to Expand Into Nights, Weekends.” DT 24 Aug. 2011: 1A+.
21 Wear, Ben. “Hundreds Ticketed on First Night of Extended Parking Meter Hours.” AAS 8 Oct. 2011: B2.
22 Whittaker. “Arms on Brazos.” 5 Aug. 2011: 22-24.
23 Coppola. “Bills to Rise; Some Cuts Averted.” AAS 13 Sep. 2011: B1.
24 “No Such Thing as ‘Minimal’ Tax Hike.” AAS 9 Sep. 2011: A12.
25 Toohey, Marty. “Blunt, Bold Proposal Imagines Austin’s Growth Over 30 Years.” AAS 29 Sep. 2011: A1+.
26 Plohetski, Tony. “Police Union Cashes in on City’s Leave Policy.” AAS 7 Aug. 2011, final ed.: A1+.
27 Mashhood, Farzad. “Couple Reindicted in Slaying.” AAS 13 Aug. 2011: B1.
28 Vail, Isadora. “Jailer Charged With Assaulting Inmate.” AAS 10 Aug. 2011: B5.
29 AD No. 140n57 (May 4, 2011).
30 Kreytak, Steven. “Driver Gets 20 Years in 100-mph, Fatal Chase.” AAS 9 Aug. 2011: B1.
31 Wear. “Traffic Is 3rd-Worst in Nation, Study Says.” AAS 27 Sep. 2011: B1.
32 Copelin. “Would EPA Air Plan Cut Power?” AAS 23 Sep. 2011: A1; Dinges, Gary. “New Downtown Dance Club Puts 50,000 Watts Behind Its Music.” AAS 25 Aug. 2011: T12.
33 Mashood, and Coppola. “Let Grass Die; Earn Some Green.” AAS 19 Sep. 2011: B1; Whittaker. “Trading Grass for Cash.” AC 23 Sep. 2011: 22.
34 Plohetski. “Repairs to Cost State Millions.” AAS 26 Sep. 2011, final ed.: A1+.
35 Swiatecki, Chad. “Tim Neece & Freddy Fletcher: The Men of Austin City Limits.” ATX Man Fall 2011: 29.
36 Buena Vista Social Club. Elektra/World Circuit 79478, 1997; Buena Vista Social Club. Road Movies Filmproduktion/Kintop Pictures/Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industrias Cinematográficos (ICAIC)/Arte/Channel Four Films, 1999.
37 Hart, Stan, and Mort Drucker. “Mad’s Academy Awards Show.” Mad Jun. 1982: 8.
38 “Anniversary.” CIN Aug. 2011: 5.
39 Corcoran, Michael. All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music. Austin, Texas: U of Texas P, 2005: 27-29, 176; “Music Listings.” Ed. Raoul Hernandez. AC 2 Sep. 2011: 74.
40 Orovio, Helio. Cuban Music From A to Z. Durham, N.C.: Duke UP, 2004: 141.
41 AD No. 68n3 (June 21, 2004).
42 Dinges. “School Supplies? Check. 8 Percent Savings?” AAS 20 Aug. 2011: B5.
43 Fleisher, Michael L., and Janet E. Lincoln. The Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes, Vol. I: Batman. New York City: Macmillan, 1976: 300-306.
44 Leland, John. Hip: The History, rev. ed. New York City: HarperPerennial, 2005: Ch. 15.
45 “Sports.” AC 23 Sep. 2011: 61.
46 Dougall, Alistair et al. The Marvel Comics Encyclopedia: A Complete Guide to the Characters of the Marvel Universe, rev. ed. New York City: DK Publishing, 2009: 124-127.
47 Odam, Matthew. “Protein and Pasta Without the Starched Collar.” AAS 1 Sep. 2011: T4.
48 Gallaga, Omar     L. “$50 Million to Help UT Build Stampede.” AAS 23 Sep. 2011: B7.
49 “2 Men Die in MoPac Wreck.” AAS 22 Aug. 2011: B2.
50 Dinges. “KEYE Sold in 7-Station Deal Worth $200 Million.” AAS 9 Sep. 2011: B7.
51 Deis, Amy. “Northwest Austin Commercial Real Estate Occupancy Rate on Rise.” CIN 26 Aug. 2011: 1+.
52 “Expansions.” CIN Aug. 2011: 5.
53 “Closings,” op cit.; “Now Open,” op. cit., 4.
54 “Now Open.” CIN Sep. 2011: 4.
55 Ibid.
56 Ibid.
57 Savlov, Marc. “Moving Pictures.” AC 26 Aug. 2011: 40-42.
58 Smith, Ben. “Banana Republic Debuts ‘Mad Men’ Style.” DT 25 Aug. 2011: 15-16.
59 Silverman, Rachel Emma. “Web Surfing Helps at Work, Study Says.” WSJ 22 Aug. 2011: B8.
60 “Chip Makers Celebrate Milestone Anniversaries.” Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery May 2011: 80.
61 AD No. 30n3 (Sep. 11, 2001); Black, Louis. “Delusion and Grandeur.” AC 2 Sep. 2011: 6+.
62 “Andy Rooney Stepping Down.” The Onion 6 Oct. 2011, Austin ed.: 4; Levin, Gary. “Andy Rooney to Sign Off Sunday.” USAT 28 Sep. 2011: 1D.