Nonstop-Kino, Last Day of July 1983

Why do I still have a movie ticket stub after a third of century? Don’t ask. I don’t save all of them, or even very many. This one, yes. On July 31, 1983, I went to the Nonstop-Kino in Innsbruck, Austria.

Nonstop-Kino Innsbruck 1983Rich and I took in a screening of Manhattan that afternoon. All together only four people — including the two of us — were at the show. Even so, in an example of doing what the Romans do, or in this case the Austrians, we actually sat in Row 6, Seats 7 and 8.

I’ve seen movies in London (Return of the Jedi and Babette’s Feast and Duck Soup) and Rome (I forget what) and of course many in Japan and some in other Asian countries, but the cinemas in the German-speaking world are the only ones I’ve encountered that sold seats like a live theater.

Manhattan was dubbed in German. I’d seen movie before, so that didn’t matter, but I didn’t think the voice actor doing Woody Allen was a good fit. In the age of the Internet, it’s easy enough to find out that the voice actor who’s done Allen for years — the Synchronsprecher, love that word — is one Wolfgang Draeger (who also was Sir Robin in Monty Python und Die Ritter der Kokosnuß). Apparently Draeger’s highly esteemed, especially for doing Allen. Still, I didn’t care for the match. His voice wasn’t nebbish enough.

Four Cards From Afar

Might as well end the week with more about postcards. The following, from Ed, have been pinned to the wall of my office since I received them in the late 2000s. The text is his message on each card.

Bora Bora“Have circumnavigated the island in a tevaka, outrigger canoe. It is way prettier than I expected. Fed sting rays yesterday, watched a turtle swim toward the open ocean. Story itself is being difficult, but trip is great fun.”

Yap“I suppose it’s the cliche postcard from Yap, but then, for an extremely beautiful island, the postcards kind of suck. So far, I love it here. Topless women greet you at the airport, flowers are blooming everywhere, and outside the town, it is very, very quiet. Unlike the Tahiti story, which is like pulling teeth, this one is going to be extremely easy. And I haven’t even seen the manta rays or giant fruit bats yet. Marvelous.”

Uganda“Technically, haven’t been here yet, but going tomorrow. Today, saw ~50 elephants and dozen giraffe, countless zebras, antelopes and buffalo, 4 lions, 2 leopards. It really is like being inside a national geo special.”

Timbuktu“I’ve been here & you haven’t. Ha.”

To that last one, I think I answered by sending him a postcard of the Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids and saying exactly the same thing. He admitted it was true.

The Postcard Bequest

About a week after we returned from Texas, UPS delivered a box to me containing a few hundred postcards. Amanda Castleman, a friend of Ed Henderson’s, had arranged to send them to me. They represented his bequest to me. The last time I saw him, he told me I would get his collection of postcards after he died, and so I have.

The other day I took them out of the box and put them under the noonday sun.
The beads were a lagniappe. Yuriko recognized them at once as beads that a pilgrim would wear to do the 88 temples on Shikoku associated with Kōbō Daishi.

Ed's postcard bequestThat image wasn’t impressive enough, so I stacked them up, and added a ruler for perspective. About 8 inches of postcards. Ed's postcard bequestSome of the bequest cards are blank ones that Ed acquired during his many travels, with their numbers a kind of rough guide to how highly he esteemed a place. A fair number are thus of Alaska and Venice. But there are also cards from (noted here at random) the UK, Norway, Iceland, France, Germany, South Georgia, Hawaii, Yap, Canada, French Polynesia, the Caribbean, Mexico, the Balkans, Turkey, Mali, South Africa, and more. The dude got around.

Then there are the cards other people sent him. Many of them are from me. It’s odd looking at a bit of paper you focused on one, two, or five years ago and then put out of your mind. Or sent more recently. In the box is the last card I sent to him, obtained at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, which pictures Bockscar. On it I wrote, “We already dropped the big one to see what would happen.”

A bit cryptic, unless you know that I was answering an email Ed sent to me on May 1 of this year, which had this subject line: Hmm. The entirety of the message was: “Had a very odd dream last night, most of which is lost, but not you singing randy newman’s political science.” (Ed typically didn’t bother with capitalization in nonprofessional writing.)

Ed also collected hotel and motel postcards. Many of them are in the box, too — some of which I’d sent to him over the years, used or blank, that I’d picked up at resale shops. Increasingly that’s the only place to find hotel or motel cards, since hotels and motels rarely offer them any more, with the recent exception of the Munger Moss Motel in Missouri, which still has cards of itself for a small fee.

All of these add considerably to my agglomeration of postcards, “collection” not being the right word. The blank ones are in drawers and boxes, and those I’ve received over the years (many from Ed) are tucked away in files and other boxes, their value almost entirely sentimental.

How many all together? I don’t know. Might be better not to count.

Short Travels With Ed

Some years ago, Ed Henderson told me that we’d probably travel well together. That is, not get on each other’s nerves too much over the course of a multi-day trip. I took that as a compliment, but not anything we’d actually follow up on. And we never did.

Ed’s passing made me think about the scattering of places we did go, all day trips of one kind or another. In late ’91, for instance, two places on two separate occasions: Ishiyama-dera and Koyasan.

I wrote about Ishiyama-dera: “Warm and sunny day, flawless weather to visit the exquisite Ishiyama-dera. I went with Ed and Lynn, two former fellow teachers, and Americans as it happens, to the temple, which is in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture. It’s near the shores of unscenic Lake Biwa, the sludgepot that provides greater Osaka with its drinking water.

“No, that’s not the best way to begin to describe Ishiyama-dera, which is set in the forested hills not far from the lake. You forget about Biwa while visiting the fine old wooden structures, which manage to convey their great age through their smell, somehow, maybe redolent of centuries of incense. This time of year, the temple also has the aesthetic advantage of seasonal reds and yellow. It augments the aura of esoteric objects honoring esoteric gods on remote shores.”

As for Koyasan, I don’t ever seem to have written about it. That surprises me a little, since it was one of my favorite places in Japan, and I went there at least three times (maybe four). Whenever someone was visiting me from the States, I would take them there to marvel — as I always did, each time — at the enormous trees and the ancient shrines and the vast cemetery among the trees and the shrines. Just the way the afternoon sunbeams slipped through the towering tree canopy to touch the grass next to monuments, or dappled mossy statues, was worth the ride into the mountains to get there.

Koyasan, along with two neighboring sites, was put on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2004, and for good reason. “Set in the dense forests of the Kii Mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean, three sacred sites – Yoshino and Omine, Kumano Sanzan, Koyasan – linked by pilgrimage routes to the ancient capital cities of Nara and Kyoto, reflect the fusion of Shinto, rooted in the ancient tradition of nature worship in Japan, and Buddhism, which was introduced from China and the Korean Peninsula,” the organization says.

“The sites (495.3 ha) and their surrounding forest landscape reflect a persistent and extraordinarily well-documented tradition of sacred mountains over 1,200 years. The area, with its abundance of streams, rivers and waterfalls, is still part of the living culture of Japan and is much visited for ritual purposes and hiking, with up to 15 million visitors annually. Each of the three sites contains shrines, some of which were founded as early as the 9th century.”

My college friend Steve — whom I did travel with once upon a time, in Europe — was visiting Japan that fall, and he and I and Ed went to Koyasan one day. It was there that Ed told me about his medical condition, perhaps (but I can’t remember now) in a discussion of why he, someone not even 30, needed a cane that day.

Here’s a thought: I wonder what a world map would look like with pushpins to mark the all the places all three of us have been, since Steve is fond of travel as well. A porcupine of a map.

As I mentioned yesterday, in May 1997, Ed and Lynn and Yuriko and I went to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, about an hour east of Phoenix on 392 acres in the Sonoran Desert. It was a hot day, as you’d think, but we had an enjoyable walk on the grounds, taking a look at its large variety of desert plants. Not all of which were cacti. But many were.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum 1997Boyce Thompson Arboretum 1997Last August — only 11 months ago — while visiting Ed in Washington state, I suggested we go to Vancouver for a day. It was a city he knew well, but one that I’d bypassed in 1985 to go to Vancouver Island instead. He wanted to go, but had no energy for it. So I went by myself.

During that visit, however, we did go to Bellingham, a much shorter distance from his home, with me driving and him navigating. Among other things, we spent time at two bookstores in downtown Bellingham within walking distance of each other — the excellent and large Village Books and the excellent and small Eclipse Books. Like me, Ed owned and read a lot of books about a lot of different things, and thus spent a lot of time in bookstores.

We also ate gas station pizza. It was a favorite of Ed’s, bought at a Bellingham gas station, which actually had a fairly large shop attached to it. We got our slices to go and went to the Alaska ferry terminal, sitting on one of the benches facing the water to eat the pizza. Since no ship was due to arrive or depart that day, few other people were around. At that moment, he might have suspected he’d never return to Alaska, a place he liked so much; I wondered if I’d ever make it.

Actually, Ed did return, or will eventually. I understand that his ashes have been — or will be — scattered in the Stikine River, which empties into the Pacific just north of Wrangell, Alaska, where he lived for a time.

RIP, Ed Henderson

It’s been about a month since I learned that my old friend Ed Henderson died. In our hurry-up-post-it world, that might seem like a long time to wait to write about him, but the delay is apt. The long-term basis of our friendship was unusual for the late 20th century and especially the early 21st: letters that took days to reach their destinations. Paper letters and postcards, with a smaller component of email beginning only around 2000. Both of us liked to write, and liked receiving mail.

That meant that any correspondence we traded usually involved a delay. A letter detailing last month’s news. A postcard from a trip he took a while ago. Recollections of places I went some time back. Delay was part of the foundation of our friendship, maintained by an easy-going, when-you-get-around-to-it correspondence.

We did get around to it. Back in the 1990s, the pace was maybe a letter once a month for each of us. More recently, as middle age kicked in for me, and Ed’s health declined, we traded fewer letters, but always some. He sent me his last letter in March, and I sent him my last one without realizing it during the first week of June, when (as I found out later) he was very near the end. I don’t know if he ever saw it.

A number of times since I heard about his death, I’ve thought, that’s something I could put in a letter to Ed. Something remarkable seen on the road, some recollection about Japan, some example of mankind’s folly — all persistent themes in our letters, besides notes on what it’s like to be a professional writer, or recommendations about books to read, or music to enjoy, or destinations to consider. He had a lot of those for me; I had some for him. Then I catch myself and realize there will be no more letters to Ed. Such is the finality of death.

If I were half as observant or curious about the world as Ed, I’d be doing well. He’d say the same thing about me — he did so in article more than a decade ago — but he was being modest. He had an extraordinary gift for taking in his surroundings with an eye for detail and a deep appreciation of a place’s natural beauty, or the creatures that call it home, or how it fit into the tapestry of human history. His appetite for the world not only took him many, many places, it sustained him as illness ravaged him — and he continued to go many, many places.

Got a postcard from Ed today, I’d tell my family. Where is he now? Alaska. Germany. Italy. Bora-Bora. Yap. South Africa. Timbuktu.

Not only that, he had a facility with words. So he could translate his experiences into text, the better for the rest of us to glimpse what he saw. As such, he was a noted travel writer, under the professional name Edward Readicker-Henderson, a rare thing indeed, though his career unfolded slowly. He was a student, teacher, bookstore worker, and more before taking up writing full time. Early in his writing career, he and his wife at the time, Lynn, did travel guide books, including one that involved them riding a motorcycle all the way up the Alaska Highway. He never had much good to say about writing guide books, but that sounded like a corker of a trip to me.

Our actual time together was fairly limited over the years. We both had places to go and things to do. Having met because we worked at the same conversation school at the same time in Osaka, we hung out some in Japan in 1990 and ’91, and then he and Lynn left the country. He came back to visit Japan in ’92 and stayed with me a week or so while working on a book about Japanese pilgrimage sites (the concept of pilgrimage was of particular fascination for Ed; so were bears and bees and seeking the quietest place on Earth). Yuriko and I visited Ed and Lynn in ’97 in Phoenix, where they put us up for a few days. After that, I didn’t see Ed again until last August, at his home in the woods near Bellingham, Wash.

I don’t have many pictures of Ed. Here he is during our ’97 visit. The four of us had gone to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum outside Phoenix.

EdAriz97Here’s one of him doing what was clearly one of his favorite things to do: kayaking in Alaska, in this case in Glacier Bay NP, probably sometime in the 2000s.

EdAlaskaOne more, published years ago at BTST: Ed in Antarctica in 2007, being pecked at by a penguin.

me&pEd was a good-natured person, and his fate cruel. He was tinged with melancholy, and for good reason. Health is one of the main ways life can be unfair, and Ed was dealt a crappy hand, ultimately dying at 53 after years of misery. Had his health been normal, or at least somewhat better, he could have been with us another 20 or 30 years, wandering the Earth and distilling his experience into his characteristically thoughtful dispatches.

Years ago he told me that the overarching diagnosis was Crohn’s disease, but I never knew whether that was a doctor’s opinion early in his chronic illness later superseded by other diagnoses, or exactly how such a condition would progress. He never mentioned it again. All I knew was that he suffered a series of awful, debilitating conditions. Yet he soldiered on, as perhaps best explained by Ed himself at his TEDx talk in late 2014.

He was fully aware that his time was short. RIP, Ed.

Zap ’06

Ten years ago this month, we took an epic drive to the Canadian Rockies, seeing vistas the likes of which are hard to match. Also, we went to Zap.

Zap, North Dakota, that is.

DSCN0590A good confluence of obscure history and a fun name, if you asked me. I suspect Lilly, then eight, had no clear idea of why her father stopped at this place and wanted to take pictures. He’s just that way sometimes.

GTT 2016 This & That

“We’re going to see some bears,” I told a groggy Ann as we drove through Nashville on the Saturday morning we were there.

“I don’t want to go to a zoo.”

“Not those kinds of bears.”

These kinds of bears.
12th and Edgehill bears, Nashville July 2016Standing concrete bears, snowballs in hand, ready to toss them. To cut ’n’ paste from the now-defunct Nashville City Paper (March 15, 2004): “The polar bear statues have long been a symbol of the community of Edgehill. They were the creation of the late Gio Vacchino, who owned the Mattei Plaster Relief Ornamental Company around 1930. They were constructed as advertisements for the Polar Bear Frozen Custard shops on Gallatin Road and West End Avenue, which closed after World War II.

“Edgehill resident Zema Hill bought the bears and placed them in the neighborhood in the early 1940s. He placed two in front of a funeral home and two in front of his house where they eventually became a symbol and part of the culture of Edgehill. They stood at 1408 Edgehill Ave. for more than 60 years. The two funeral home bears were sold to a North Nashville resident in 1952.”

12th and Edgehill bears, Nashville July 201612th and Edgehill bears, Nashville July 2016The fate of the funeral home bears remains unknown. The two formerly at 1408 Edgehill – which I used to see frequently, since I lived on Edgehill a few blocks away for a year – are now fixed at the corner of Edgehill and 12th on public property.

In Memphis, we made a brief stop to look at some other animals. Living creatures this time, the Peabody Hotel ducks. The two on the right are easy to see, but there were a few others on the left of the fountain in the lobby.
Peabody Hotel ducks 2016I can’t remember when I first heard about the ducks. Maybe as far back as college. When I knew we’d be passing through Memphis, I checked to make sure they still residing in the hotel lobby fountain. So they are. We didn’t see the ducks march, but we did see the ducks.

“How did the tradition of the ducks in The Peabody fountain begin?” the hotel web site asks, and proceeds to answer with a story that’s a little vague, but never mind: “Back in the 1930’s Frank Schutt, General Manager of The Peabody, and a friend Chip Barwick, returned from a weekend hunting trip to Arkansas. The men had a little too much Tennessee sippin’ whiskey, and thought it would be funny to place some of their live duck decoys (it was legal then for hunters to use live decoys) in the beautiful Peabody fountain. Three small English call ducks were selected as ‘guinea pigs,’ and the reaction was nothing short of enthusiastic. Thus began a Peabody tradition which was to become internationally famous.®

“In 1940, Bellman Edward Pembroke, a former circus animal trainer, offered to help with delivering the ducks to the fountain each day and taught them the now-famous Peabody Duck March. Mr. Pembroke became the Peabody Duckmaster, serving in that capacity for 50 years until his retirement in 1991.”

The hotel, true to modern form, is also quick to point out that “raised by a local farmer and a friend of the hotel, each team of Peabody Ducks lives at the hotel for only three months before retiring from their duty and returning to the farm, where they are free to live as wild ducks… the hotel recognizes its resident waterfowl as wild animals and does not domesticate them or treat them like pets.” Good to know.

In Little Rock, we visited the state capitol just before we left town.

It’s somewhat austere, but I was really taken with the gold-leaf dome interior.
Arkansas State Capitol interior domeThe Cass Gilbert Society notes that “the Arkansas State Capitol, designed and constructed over the course of some eighteen years, was the product of one political investigation, two architects, and three governors…. As executed, the [capitol] is constructed of gray granite with a pedimented entrance section below the dome, flanked by colonnaded wings terminating in pedimented pavilions, each with a shallow dome over the legislative chamber within. The dome rises from a colonnaded drum and is surmounted by a lantern. The building has been characterized as having ‘the transverse stairhalls and the clear articulation in three blocks of Gilbert’s Capitol of Minnesota, but its simplicity is almost raw.’ ”

In Texarkana, a place I’d only ever passed through, I decided it was high time to drive down State Line Ave. and visit the Texarkana U.S. Post Office and Courthouse. Here’s a shot of the building I took despite the rain, taken while standing on the border, which is helpfully marked on the pavement. A sign also says the location is at LAT 33 25 29.8 N and LONG 94 02 35.2 W.
US Post Office & Federal Building Texarkana 2016I didn’t need to visit the courthouse, but went through a metal detector on the Texas side and then through a door on the Arkansas side to enter the post office, a wonderful ’30s-style federal facility, complete with brass-plated mail boxes and cages for the tellers. The tellers are on the Arkansas side, the mail slot on the Texas side. I mailed a postcard. Sure, it’s an imaginary line, but I had some fun with it.

One strategy when evaluating online reviews is to toss out the very high and very low ratings, something like in competitive gymnastics. Gushing praise may well be a plant, and shrill invective might be from people who would complain about the seat cushions on a lifeboat. Then read other reviews with some skepticism, but not too much. Pretty much like you’d read anything else.

In this way I decided that the Austin Motel in Austin and the Havana Hotel in San Antonio would be reasonably good places to stay for a few days each. Turned out I was right.

The Austin Motel started off as a tourist court in 1938, and while updated (AC, wifi, that kind of thing), it retains some of the old charm, while not costing the moon despite its popular location in SoCo. Everything was basic, but without some of the petty annoyances motels dish up sometimes, such as a squeaking, rattling, noisy air conditioner. It also had some nice touches: a real key on a brass key ring, for instance, but no bottle opener fixed to one of the room surfaces — it needed that.

The motel also features a rusting shell of a car next to its parking lot, vintage late ’30s, now the centerpiece of what looks to be a xeriscape.
Austin Motel rusty carThe Havana Hotel has a nice location in downtown San Antonio, near the Riverwalk and the Tobin Center. The property started as a company hotel in 1914 and while modernized (you know, AC, wifi) retains many of the charms of the original design, such as high ceilings and dark woods. Though a little more expensive than the Austin Motel, you got a little more, such as a hip Italian SMEG refrigerator in the room.

Hotel Havana, San Antonio 2016One more thing: the Greetings From Austin mural off funky 1st St. “On the southern exterior wall of Roadhouse Relics, this mural first adorned the neighborhood business in 1998,” writes Cris Mueller in Austinot. “Artist and owner Todd Sanders and his friend Rory Skagen recreated this iconic Austin postcard on the side of the building to add light to a neighborhood that, at the time, was taking a turn for the worst.”

It was renovated in 2013 and looks pretty fresh. Roadhouse Relics, incidentally, sells neon signs. How very Austin.
Welcome to Austin mural 2016I could have waited until the people had cleared away, but what good would that be? People make the shot more interesting.

Road Food, Summer ’16

Here’s a strategy for eating while on the road — longer trips especially, and one that I’ve employed on more than one occasion, including our most recent drive to Tennessee and Texas and back. Rise in the mid-morning if possible, eat breakfast at 10 or 11, then don’t eat again until at least 6.

Two meals are often enough. Less trouble, less expense. Three meals are a function of Protestant work ethic workdays, and might work reasonably well in that context, but you don’t need three squares all the time on the road.

Another variation: eat a small breakfast early, a larger lunch at 2 or 3, and then eat grocery story food in your room in the evening. Also less trouble, less expense.

In Nashville, Stephanie introduced us to Peg Leg Porker BBQ, a fairly new joint in a part of town called the Gulch, which isn’t a new part of town, but a fringe neighborhood of downtown that’s making — mostly made — the transition from industrial district to  mixed-use hipster magnet. The Station Inn is in the Gluch, has been for years, and during all the times I heard bluegrass there from ca. 1981 to ’87, I don’t ever remember the area being called that.

Never mind, Peg Leg Porker, open since 2011, is everything it needs to be, with its cinderblock walls and crowded long tables and neon-signs behind the bar and the meaty barbecue smell that greets you at the door. The line to order is long — it should be — but fast-moving. I had a pulled pork sandwich with sauce and slaw, and tried some of Ann’s dry-rub wings. Pure delight. Steph said the fried pies were a delight too, but we didn’t feel like waiting in line again, this time on a stomach full of meat rather than empty, so we passed on it.

Another Nashville stop: the Elliston Place Soda Shop.
Elliston Place Soda Shop, Nashville neon signWe went for the exceptional shakes, best had sitting at the counter. So we sat at the counter, the better to admire the chrome and the steel mixing machines and ads for Purity Dairy products, but not the non-working tableside jukeboxes, which are best seen from the booths. I understand Elliston Place almost joined the ranks of defunct Nashville favorites a few years ago, but did not. I’m glad it didn’t go the way of Mack’s Country Cooking, Candyland, Sylvan Park, or even the Fishery, where I used to eat oysters and drink kamikazes in the fantastic plastic summer of ’82.

We got rained on in Memphis. So we ducked into the Kooky Canuck on 2nd St., because it was close, and because how could you pass up a Canadian-themed place in Memphis? Besides the name, you know it’s Canadian because the kooky mascot looks like a demented Mountie, and the place looks like a hunting lodge, complete with stuffed heads mounted on the walls. All Canada pretty much looks like a hunting lodge, after all.

Had a regular burger with blue cheese. Tasty, not too expensive. I read on the menu about the restaurant’s Kookamonga burger. It’s one of those deals in which you get it on the house if you can eat it in a certain time, in this case less than an hour. I wasn’t tempted. The Kookamonga, as the Kooky Canuck says, is “4 lbs of fresh ground-chuck, two pounds of our custom made hamburger bun, and one and a half pounds of lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, and cheese…SEVEN AND A HALF POUNDS TOTAL…but the fries are optional.”

There are also two-person and four-person versions of the big burger (two- and four-man, should say, since it’s men who tend to be meshuga in this way). As we were finishing up our meals, there was a stir a few tables away. Four young men were determined to eat the 12 lb. Humonga Kookamongaa and not pay $99.99 for it.
Kooky Canuck, Memphis 2016For a moment, half the restaurant was taking pictures of them. It was a case of a hamburger having its own paparazzi. I don’t know if they succeeded. The restaurant’s web site doesn’t list anyone as ever having finished the Humonga Kookamongaa, but maybe the information hasn’t been updated.

On the wall near the entrance, there are photos of people who’s eaten the one-man Kookamonga, and one fellow called Matt “Megatoad” Stonie caught our attention for doing so in 4 minutes, 45 seconds in 2013. Some time later, as we idly watched TV at the Austin Motel, we noticed that the diminutive Stonie was a competitor in the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, as televised on ESPN. He came in second this year, after winning last year.

The Austin Convention Center is a failure when it comes to providing reasonably priced food to attendees. Near the facility are a number of expense-account restaurants, which have their place; and inside the center are a few high-priced snack bars, which are just damned annoying. That was it, as far as I could tell. A row of food trucks near the center would have been just the thing. There could have been a variety of them, from hip and high-priced to basic and low-priced. This is Austin, after all, an early adopter in the food truck world. But no.

Otherwise, Austin’s a good place for good eats. One morning for a 10-11 a.m. breakfast, we went to La Mexicana Bakery on 1st St. I saw its neon the night before driving by, and knew I wanted to go. We enjoyed unpretentious, good-tasting breakfast tacos and then bakery items afterward. The place also includes a number of other businesses in small rooms besides the restaurant and bakery, such as a jeweler and money-wiring service. Pay attention, Millennials. Looking for an authentic Mexican joint? This is one.

Shady Grove on Barton Springs Road, recommended by Tom, is an enormous place, indoors and even outdoors (aptly under groves of trees), that has a fine basic menu of  sandwiches and Tex-Mex and plate specials. I had the Truckstop Meatloaf, an excellent meal that inspired a nonsensical discussion at our table about seeking out the best truck stop meatloaf in each of the states, later modified to only the lower 48.

Another winning inexpensive restaurant in Austin is the Magnolia Cafe on South Congress, a few blocks south of the Austin Motel, a small place that promises to be open 24 hours a day, 8 days a week. Even on a weekday during lunchtime — the day after July 4, a Tuesday — the joint was packed. For me, pancakes were the thing. It was a good choice.

Pancakes were also a good choice at the Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls, Texas, as we headed north some days later. The place is apparently known for its pies, and we saw waitresses bringing out many slices of pies as we had breakfasts as lunch that day. But pie doesn’t follow a large breakfast very well, so we didn’t order any (surprising our waitress a little, I think). One of these days, I might return to Marble Falls, which isn’t far from Austin and clearly does well by Austinites in town for the day, and try the pie. But that day (July 8) we had other pie-oriented plans.

Namely, to stop in Hico, Texas, which is much closer to Dallas than Austin, and eat pie at the Koffee Kup. Why there? Word is that’s what my pie-loving uncle Ken and aunt Sue did when passing through Hico over the decades. So we ate pie in their honor. The black forest pie was exquisite, though at $5 a slice, a bit overpriced. I seem to remember paying about that much for pie in a Manhattan diner a few years ago, and Hico shouldn’t have Manhattan prices. Ah, well.

One more: Etown Donuts, Elizabethtown, Ky. I got there the first morning of the trip, just before they ran out of doughnuts. Glad I did.

RTX 2016

Morbid curiosity inspired me to turn on the TV early yesterday afternoon to see a little live coverage from Cleveland. By complete chance I saw all of Scott Baio’s little speech. Later, I explained to Lilly who that was: “You know the concept of A-list celebrities, right? He’s a D-list celebrity.” Guess the Fonz isn’t in the Trump camp. He never did suffer bullies gladly.

I’m not the person to describe RTX 2016 in any coherent way. That’s because of my willful ignorance, something I disapprove of in many situations, but not when it comes to pop culture. The only sane reaction to pop culture is willful ignorance: pay attention to whatever interests you, roundly ignore the rest, which is most everything.

RTX stands for Rooster Teeth Expo. According to Rooster Teeth itself, “Rooster Teeth Productions is recognized as one of the world’s leading innovators in the field of entertainment production. Over the past 11 years, we have built a global community of highly engaged and dedicated viewers. From podcasts and gameplay videos to one of the fastest growing consumer shows in the U.S., Rooster Teeth continues to become a main hub for community, gaming & entertainment.”

Fine. Good for them. I’d still be wholly ignorant of them except that Ann is a viewer — how “engaged and dedicated,” I couldn’t say, but enough to tell me earlier this year that she wanted to go to RTX, which was in Austin (the company’s hometown) July 1-3. I probably surprised her when I told her attending the show could be part of a longer trip to Texas, and we’d time things to be in Austin on one of those days.

So on July 2, we found ourselves at the Austin Convention Center, site of RTX. I saw crowd scenes.

RTX 2016RTX 2016The exhibit hall was remarkably like that of any other convention I’ve been to — rows and rows of booths featuring companies promoting themselves and their products. The difference being that almost all the products, including media productions and games and whatnot, were completely unfamiliar to me, and none of the attendees were wearing ties. But Ann knew a lot about the products, including many of the characters. All of these, for instance.

RTX 2016RTX 2016RTX 2016She told me who the girl in bird feathers was supposed to be, but I’ve forgotten. I will give the various cosplayers I saw points for effort. Some of the costumes looked like a lot of work.

Toward mid-day, we watched a panel discussion featuring the top guy at Rooster Teeth and some of his top creatives. They filled a ballroom with a few thousand people. At the beginning, they screened a brand-new episode, if that’s the right word, of an online show called “A Million Dollars, But…” The conceit of the show is that you can have a million dollars, but you have to put up with some onerous, and frankly magical, condition (and not, say, paying high taxes on it).

Let’s call it juvenile entertainment. A few of the bits in the episode were funny, but hearing about how it’s put together strained my patience. I’m not the intended audience anyway. But I have to note that not all of the audience were kids — not in the chronological sense. I’d put most of the attendees in their early to mid-20s.

We also attended a performance by a couple of singers, a man and a woman. They were reasonably talented and did songs from various shows, mostly Internet-based (I think). Ann seemed to know most of the tunes. I knew none of them. Time flies, new things happen. Toward the end, the man said, “We always close with a song I’m sure virtually all of you know.”

Then they launched into a song I didn’t know. Turned out to be the theme from Pokemon. Of course I’ve heard of that cartoon. It would take more than willful ignorance to keep from hearing of it, even before Pokemon Go became the goldfish swallowing of the summer of ’16. But the theme? Somehow I never bothered with hearing it, certainly not enough to know it. Ann expressed some astonishment at this.

The last event we attended was a cosplay costume contest. Participants strolled from the back to the front of one of the meeting rooms, showing themselves off as they went up the center aisle. The moderators announced who they were, and who their costumes represented. I actually had heard of a few of them, such as one of the iterations of Batman and Luigi, the brother of Mario, though as far as I’m concerned, Mario Bros. is just an arcade game I never played much.

I was struck by the fact that the participants mostly weren’t interested in playing characters from Star Trek or Star Wars or other such longstanding and well-worn tales. They wanted newer characters. That’s probably a good thing.

If I remember right, this fellow was best in show. I don’t know who he’s supposed to be, but it’s an impressive outfit all the same. Mostly Styrofoam, from the looks of it.

RTX 2016Purity of Essence t-shirtI wore my Gen. Jack D. Ripper PURITY OF ESSENCE t-shirt to the event. I figured he, too, is a fictional character of some import, even if only to earlier generations. As I suspected, I got no reaction to it, not even many quizzical looks, until just before we left the event. We were walking down the main corridor of the convention center, when suddenly a young man walking the other way said, Wow! right at me.

I was startled, but he quickly explained: “Where did you get that shirt? I spent the last two years of high school quoting Dr. Strangelove all the time.” Good to know that that movie isn’t completely lost on youth. I told him I didn’t remember the exact name of the web site where I bought it, but that the shirt should be easy enough to Google. As indeed it is.

Finally, there was this performer, BE INCREDIBLE.
SoCo street busker July 2, 2016Actually, he had nothing to do with RTX. We took a bus to and from the event, and when we returned, the bus let us off on South Congress a few blocks north of the Austin Motel — and there he was, busking.
SoCo street busker July 2, 2016Maybe not incredible, but he had some good moves. I put a dollar coin in his bucket.

Austin Color by Night & Day

If it hasn’t been published already, a sharp photographer needs to do a coffee table book about Austin’s neon signs. There are many. Some are striking. Neon’s underrated anyway.

The Austin Motel on South Congress, where we stayed during the first days of July, has a distinctive one.
Austin Motel neon signThe hipster coffee shop attached to the Austin Motel has a sign with that mid-century neon vibe. It might even be a rehabbed version of a period sign. Neon was disdained then as commercial light pollution, if I’ve interpreted the likes of “The Sound of Silence” correctly.
Austin Motel Snack Bar SignThe following are more examples of SoCo neon, the only neon zone I took pictures in during this visit. But we saw plenty more elsewhere in Austin.

SoCo neon sign Austin 2016SoCo neon sign Austin 2016SoCo neon sign Austin 2016On the morning of July 4, before the heat cranked up, we went to see the graffiti’d walls on Baylor St. just of Lamar Blvd. in Austin, formally called the Hope Outdoor Gallery. It’s a series of walls and other surfaces on a hillside that have been painted and repainted over the last five years.

Hope Outdoor Gallery, Austin July 4, 2016Hope Outdoor Gallery, Austin July 4, 2016 Hope Outdoor Gallery, Austin, July 4, 2016The place is an accident of the recession, since the raw space was provided by a failed condo development. A lot of condos failed after 2008, though not so many left behind half-completed walls.

Atlas Obscura tells us that “the failed condo walls were at first a magnet for both street artists and vandals. However, around 2011 Andi Scull Cheatham, with the support of the two primary owners at the time, Vic Ayad of Castle Hill Partners and architect Dick Clark, cleaned the space up and turned it into a semi-official outdoor gallery space.

“Scull Cheatham then enlisted world-famous street artist Shepard Fairey, who posted a number of large pieces on one of the biggest exposed walls for the initial launch. Since then artists from all over the city, and world, continue to cover every inch of exposed concrete…”

Such as this fellow, at work on one of the walls when we were there.

Hope Outdoor Gallery, Austin, July 4, 2016“Currently HOG is organized by the HOPE Campaign, SprATX and, the now sole owner, Vic Ayad,” continues Atlas Obscura. “The art changes quickly and you’ll often get a chance to see artists in action so multiple visits are recommended. Mr. Ayad continues to support HOG, but its long-term future is uncertain so see it while you can.”

The place attracts a lot of photographers, too.
Hope Outdoor Gallery, Austin, July 4, 2016And climbers on the higher walls.
Hope Outdoor Gallery, Austin, July 4, 2016Hope Outdoor Gallery, Austin, July 4, 2016The place has remarkable visual texture, whichever way you look.