Austin Dispatches
No. 78
Apr. 2, 2005

I’m still contracting at ERCOT. Three weeks ago, I moved into a new cube, the walls of which have a pattern resembling 1950s kitchen countertops. Different material, though. The entire move took perhaps 30 minutes, tops, to move into a different building at the Taylor Operations Center. ERCOT’s been moving around groups of people for months, since it opened its newest building. But everyone else has been treating the move like the first week of school. “Welcome to the neighborhood,” one cubemate told the others. It’s a wonder anybody gets any work done around here.

Speaking of not getting any work done, two weeks ago I tagged along with cubemates to Cele’s Store, a typical ramshackle barbecue joint of the sort Texas is known for, but which I completely forgot about,1  if I ever knew of it, and couldn’t have found otherwise, because it’s at the intersection of Cameron and Cele (pronounced “seal”) roads in the countryside between Pflugerville and Taylor. It was worth the trip.2 

Meanwhile, farther up the road in Taylor, some of America’s multiplex idols are filming against the backdrop of downtown.3 

Political Follies

My friend Wes Benedict is running for Austin City Council, Place 4. I encourage everyone within the city limits to vote for him on May 7.4

Further down the political food chain, U.S. House Democrats and media allies are trying to ensnare Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, on ethics violations.5  Keep in mind, this isn’t about anything like DeLay’s dereliction of duty by supporting unconstitutional military action overseas.  Rather, this is an insider’s game involving conflicts of interest.6 I used to like DeLay, if only because he irked the right people.7  But since 9/11, he’s chosen wrongly. What’s more, his re-gerrymandering of House districts inconvenienced my efforts to recruit candidates for the LP.  For that, he must pay.

Business Roundup

Whole Foods opened its new flagship store at Lamar Boulevard between Fifth and Sixth streets on Mar. 3.8  I was impressed – once I could get inside the store itself. If the store’s selection has a comparative disadvantage – and most supermarkets do9  – it’s in the prices of its deli meats, far higher than even the Whole Foods at the Gateway shopping center.10  Getting there’s another matter. The new store is drawing more traffic into those intersections. Usually, grocery shopping peaks between 4-7 p.m., which coincides with the evening rush hour, and also when people are hungry for dinner. Already the local radio stations have been reporting a higher number of collisions.e78fig1  

Then you’ve got to position yourself in the correct lanes just to turn into the street-level parking lot, which, being small, is bound to be full, or the underground garage, which rivals the Houston Galleria parking garage for always being crowded. At least you don’t have dodge stray shopping carts at the Galleria. On the other hand, Whole Foods has a staff in the underground levels, inhaling exhaust fumes as they direct drivers through the rat maze in search of a parking spot.11 
I’ll hold out for the new Whole Foods planned at MoPac Expressway and Braker Lane. Meanwhile, I’ll just patronize the same north side stores I have since I moved here.12 

Nonetheless, all of them share a characteristic that makes me wonder: Is it really such a good idea for grocery stores to play pop tunes on the sound system when about half of them deal with romantic regret? Somehow I can’t see Sinatra moping by the arugula.13

Simultaneously, Half-Price Books opened a new store near Lamar Boulevard and Koenig Lane, in what used to be a Randall’s grocery store.14  A line of customers snaked through the aisles to the checkout counter.

The Alamo Drafthouse opened a new location on South Lamar.15 There, on Mar. 12, I saw a free, but lame, Japanese-Filipino buddy-action-comedy, “The Guys From Paradise.”16  It was my token brush with this year’s South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Festival.17 

The Statesman espies a trend with this recent trio of debuts.18 

The Copper Tank has closed.19  I have fond memories of the place.20  Most notably, I attended a mixer in 1998. In one evening, I nearly got an impromptu date, and actually got a job interview within a week from someone who got my business card from someone I met there that same night. And this is back when I had nothing going right for me.

On my way to work on Mar. 24, KKMJ-FM interviewed a merchant promoting the businesses, including his own, centered around 38th Street, under the moniker “Midtown.” That’s the first time I’ve heard that area called that. Heretofore, I’ve just thought of it as the Shoal Creek or Hyde Park neighborhoods, depending on what side of Burnet Road I’m on.21 So this makes the North Austin neighborhood where I live … uptown!  And there’s another $100 a month tacked onto my rent.

I received an offer in the mail for a Disney Visa card. I can’t begin to list how many ways this is wrong.22

Media Indigest

Austin Daze has added a column, “The Worst of Austin,” to counteract the burg’s proclivity to being “a very self-congratulating town.”23

On the way out of the Drafthouse, I picked up complimentary copies of ReadyMade magazine, a new, professional, slick general-interest publication that combines Popular Mechanics, Entertainment Weekly, Better Homes & Gardens, and Consumer Reports for trustafarians24  who live in downtown lofts converted from old industrial buildings with recycled materials,25  and listen avidly to indie pop.26

Neighborhood News

On Mar. 22, Wells Fargo Bank opened a bank branch at 1601 W. Parmer Lane, near Scofield Farms Drive.

On Mar. 18, on the way to work, I witnessed the aftermath of a three-vehicle pileup in the inside southbound lane of Metric Boulevard, near the intersection with Braker Lane. Minutes later, a blonde in an SUV nearly shoved me out of my lane into the path of 18-wheeler on I-35 in Pflugerville.

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1 Smyrl, Vivian Elizabeth. “Cele, Texas.” The New Handbook of Texas. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1996: II, 10.
2 Eisler, Dan. Letter to Bertha A. Eisler, 19 Mar. 2005.
3 Bland, Bobby “Blue.” “Farther Up the Road.” I Pity the Fool: The Duke Recordings, Vol. I. MCA 10665, 1992; Garcia, Chris. “Inside Movies.” XL 3 Mar. 2005: 36; O’Connell, Joe. “Film News.” AC 11 Mar. 2005: 59.
4 King, Michael. “Beside the Point: City Council Notes.” AC 11 Mar. 2005: 28; Liao, Ruth, and Hallie Pratt. “City Council Endorsements In.” DT 22 Mar. 2005: 7A. Liao. “Council Races Set to Begin.” DT 8 Mar. 2005: 5A.
5 Lindell, Chuck. “Headlines Chip at DeLay’s Armor.” AAS 20 Mar. 2005: A1+.
6 Copelin, Laylin. “Earle May Find DeLay is Beyond His Grasp.” AAS 2 Apr. 2005: A1+.
7 Lawson, Guy. “ ‘I Look Mean.’ ” GQ Jun. 2001: 188-193+.
8 Crider, Kitty. “Whole Lotta Groceries.” AAS 2 Mar. 2005: E1+; Feit, Rachel. “Market Study.” AC 25 Mar. 2005: 45+; Horovitz, Bruce. “A Whole New Ballgame in Grocery Shopping.” USAT 8 Mar. 2005: 1B; Wood, Virginia B. “Opening Days.” AC 4 Mar. 2005: 51.
9 D. Eisler. “Re: Austin Dispatches No. 57” E-mail to Chris Loyd, 27 Oct. 2003.
10 AD No. 70n39 (Aug. 26, 2004).
11 Gallaga, Omar L. “ ‘American Idol’ Did It to Me Again.” XL 17 Mar. 2005: 4.
12 AD No. 17 (June 10, 2000).
13 Hamill, Pete. Why Sinatra Matters. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1998.
14 Salamon, Jeff. “Lifting the Cover on Bigger, Better Half Price Books.” AAS 3 Mar. 2005: C1.
15 Crider, Kitty; and Dale Rice. “Food Matters.” AAS 9 Mar. 2005: E3.
16 The Guys From Paradise (Tengoku Kara Kita Otoko-Tachi). Asahi National Broadcasting Co./Excellent Film/Hammers Inc./KSS Inc./Nikkatsu Corp., 2000.
17 Barnes, Michael. “South by Southwest by Everybody We Could Round Up.” XL 17 Mar. 2005: 4; Belis, Tito. “SXSW: It Takes All Kinds.” DT 11 Mar. 2005: 1A+; Claes, Sean. “The Great Onslaught.” INSM Mar. 2005: 22-25; “Maria Mesa’s Record Reviews.” Austin Daze Mar./Apr. 2005: 15.
18 Buchholz, Brad. “Not Your Hippie’s Austin.” AAS 15 Mar. 2005: E1+.
19 Pope, Colin. “Sixth Street’s Copper Tank Closes, Selling Brewing Equipment.” ABJ 4 Mar. 2005: 3.
20 AD No. 43n1 (Nov. 23, 2002).
21 AD No. 76; Sitton, Sarah; and Thad Sitton. Austin’s Hyde Park: The First Fifty Years, 1891-1941. Austin, Texas: Pecan Press Publications, 1991.
22 Schweizer, Peter; and Rochelle Schweizer. Disney: The Mouse Betrayed: Greed, Corruption, and Children at Risk. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Pub., 1998.
23 Mazza, Henri. “The Worst of Austin.” Austin Daze Mar./Apr. 2005: 21.
24 “Trustafarian.” alt.culture, 254.
25 Bernstein, Joshua M. “From Icehouse to Greenhouse.” ReadyMade Mar./Apr. 2005: 54-59.
26 “Indie-Rock.” alt.culture, 111.