Peanut Butter, Honey & Banana

Around lunchtime today, I had a hankering for a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich. It had been good while. All of the ingredients were on hand, so voila!

I don’t take nearly enough pictures of the food I’m about to eat, so here it is. (I don’t think it’ll end up on Facebook, though.)

peanut butter, honey and bananaTom’s Tabooley in Austin used to serve a dandy pbh&b sandwich for a very modest price. At least it did in the summer of 1981, when I would eat there occasionally. I checked today and discovered that Tom’s Tabooley has closed. That didn’t surprise me — that’s the way it is in the restaurant trade — but what did surprise me was that it closed in 2016.

As I enjoyed my homemade pbh&b creation, it occurred to me that Elvis was fond of them, too. Or at least I thought I’d read that some years ago in Amazing But True Elvis Facts by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo (1995), which I picked up on a remainder table sometime in the late ’90s. I know that because the price tag on the back of the book says, “Originally $6.95 SALE PRICE $.97,” a bargain for sure.

So I checked. I wasn’t quite right. Memory is an unreliable narrator. P. 59: “At home, [Elvis] loved to munch a sandwich of peanut butter, sliced bananas, and crisp bacon.”

In the same book, p. 143, you can also discover that, “Elvis’s favorite film was Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It featured one of the King’s favorite actors, Peter Sellers, in three different roles. Elvis watched the 1964 British-made film at least fifty times in his life.”

Remarkable, considering he only lived to be 42. Apocryphal or not, that “amazing true Elvis fact” makes me smile.

Recent Wind Incidents

During most of the day yesterday, and especially late into the evening, brisk winds blew around here. I fell asleep listening to the strong wind, and while that can be a soothing sound, it’s much better if you’re in rental property.

In the morning, when calm air had returned, there was no visible damage. Some items outside on the deck had been moved around, and a few small branches had fallen. It all made me wonder: if the rotation of the Earth ultimately moves the atmosphere, how is it that the wind isn’t always like that? Or worse, like it is on the gas giants, with their perma-storms? What makes a calm day on any part of the Earth?

When returning from Texas Sunday before last, the wind was up as the plane came in for its landing at Midway, making one of the bumpier approaches I’ve experienced lately. About two minutes before touchdown, when even the flight attendants had buckled down, suddenly one of them got up, wetted a towel, and dashed past me — I was on row six or seven — and helped clean up a few rows back, where a woman had thrown up. Then the flight attendant, navigating her way as the plane bumped around, made it back to her seat for the landing. Expert moves, clearly.

On Sunday, February 19, a few days before we arrived in the city, a handful of tornados hit San Antonio. According to the Express-News on the 21st: “The National Weather Service confirmed late Monday morning an EF-1 strength tornado with 105 mph and a path length of 4.5 miles touched down on Linda Drive near the Quarry shopping center.”
That’s a few blocks from my mother’s house.

Fortunately, an EF-1 is a weak tornado, or I’d be writing a very different post. As it was, she lost power for a while, and it looked like a neighbor’s fence had been damaged, though it’s possible the fence had already partly fallen through neglect. Otherwise my mother’s house wasn’t damaged.

A few days after the hit, we noticed some damage to a small shopping center a few blocks north of her house — bits of missing signage, broken tree limbs and roof problems, mostly. Also, some workmen were taking down a damaged ornamental brick wall at a nearby apartment complex. Better to have no tornadoes, but if you have to have one, a weak one is what you want.

Snaps of Early ’76

In late 1975, the Witte Museum in San Antonio opened an exhibition of Fabergé eggs that extended some time into ’76. I went to see the eggs with my family. That must have been early in the year, before Jay went back to law school for the spring semester, since he took this picture.

Witte Museum Faberge Exhibit 1976

We’re hard to see, but that’s my mother (holding a white purse), brother Jim and me standing next to the museum’s front entrance. Above the double eagle the banner says, FABERGE, and I believe Фабержe across the eagle.

According to Fabergé Eggs: A Retrospective Encyclopedia, as accessed by Google, the exhibit displayed the Danish Palaces Egg (1890), the Caucasus Egg (1893), and the Napoleonic Egg (1912), beginning on December 14, 1975. The Witte exhibit was over before September 12, 1976, when the same eggs opened at the Huntsville Museum of Art in Alabama.

I have to say I don’t remember much about seeing the eggs, but it has been more than 40 years. I was probably as impressed as a 14-year-old boy could be.

At some point in early 1976, we also went to Inner Space Cavern, which is just north of Austin.

Inner Space Cavern, Texas, 1976That’s about as good an image as I was going to get with my Instamatic 104. The exact same formation is pictured here.

Among Texas show caves, Inner Space was fairly new then, since it was discovered only in 1963 during construction of I-35, and open to the public three years later.

“Inner Space is situated in Edwards Limestone (Mesozoic Era) and is estimated to be sixty to 100 million years old,” says the Handbook of Texas Online. “Geologists attribute formation of the cave to the action of underwater currents when the Permian Sea covered the area. Ninety-five percent of the highly decorated and complex cave is still active.” Inner Space billboards call to passersby on I-35, as I sometimes am, but I haven’t been back since.

One more snap from early ’76: David Bommer.

David Bommer 1976

We were goofing around in my back yard and, as you can see, I caught him my surprise with the camera. David, a friend of mine since elementary school, has been gone now nearly 10 years.

Phil-Tex Debris

I did my little part in the 58th quadrennial presidential election this morning — the 10th in which I’ve voted — at about 10:30, figuring that the morning rush would be over. Only one person was ahead of me when I arrived, but about a half-dozen were waiting when I left, so I guess there was ebb and flow throughout the day.

In Illinois, for the record, only four candidates were on the ballot for president: Democratic, Republican, Libertarian and Green. Left out: the Reform Party (remember them?); the Constitution Party, who seem to wuv the Constitution, except that pesky establishment clause; America’s Party, a splinter of the Constitution Party, because there are always splinters; the American Solidarity Party, an amalgam of social conservatism and economic redistributism; the Socialist Workers Party; the Communist Party USA; or any number of independents or micro-parties.

Besides Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, I managed to see three other burial grounds during my recent trip, two others in Philly, one in Lampasas, Texas, none of them by design. They all happened to be near places I was going anyway.

Across the street from the U.S. Mint is Christ Church Burial Ground, home to about 1,400 markers on two acres, many dating from Colonial or Revolutionary times. With its irregular stones, worn inscriptions and modern buildings just outside the walls, the place reminded me of King’s Chapel and the Granary Burial Ground in downtown Boston.

Christ Church’s most famed permanent resident is Benjamin Franklin, whose stone was covered with pennies. I overheard a guide say that the cemetery earns a couple of thousand dollars a year picking up the coins left for Dr. Franklin. I like to think he’d be amused by that. A penny saved might be a penny earned, but better for people to give you pennies because they want to.

Another resident I recognized was Benjamin Rush, patriot and man of medicine, in as much as that was possible at the time. His attitude toward bleeding was, alas, about the same as Theodoric of York. Still, he did what he could, especially during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793.

The burial ground is a few blocks away from Christ Church itself, which presumably needed the expansion space. The church has a smaller cemetery on its grounds, as well as burials inside. It’s a lovely, light-filled Wren sort of church.

Besides its importance as a place of worship for numerous leaders of the Revolution and early Republic, Christ Church was also pivotal in the organization of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. The Most Reverend William White, first presiding bishop of that church, is buried in the church’s chancel. (His house on Walnut St. is part of Independence National Historical Park these days.)

The churchyard is as much garden these days as cemetery.
Christ Church Philadelphia 2016Christ Church Philadelphia 2016Lampasas, Texas, is west of Killeen and Temple, and a burg of about 6,600. While driving along US 190 (Plum St.), a main road through town, I spotted Cook Cemetery, established as a pioneer graveyard in the mid-1850s, with its last known burial only in 1873.

In our time, it’s a slice of lightly wooded land between the road and a large parking lot. There are a number of stones, as well as broken stones and fragments, and a few burial sites enclosed by short walls.

Cook Cemetery, Lampasas, Texas

Cook Cemetery, Lampasas, TexasA couple of stones include later markers denoting citizens of the Republic of Texas. For instance, this stone’s a little hard to decipher, but one of the dates seems to be November 8, 1855, or 161 years ago exactly. Could be the stone was erected that day, since Rebeca seems to have been born in 1801 and died in ’54.
Cook Cemetery, Lampasas, TexasEnough about cemeteries. Here’s something else I spotted in Philadelphia, at Market and 5th. Another Megabus.
Megabus PhiladelphiaIn Dallas, I finally got a decent image of my brother Jay’s dogs, in one of their common poses.

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.

GTT 2016

On June 23, Ann and I left the Chicago area and headed south, returning earlier today. I’m calling the trip GTT 2016, as in Gone to Texas, but also Gone to Tennessee, another destination. Our route took us south to through Indiana and Kentucky and then to Nasvhille; west through West Tennessee and Arkansas and on to Dallas; and south again to Austin and San Antonio. The return was via Dallas and through Oklahoma and Missouri. All together, from backing out of my driveway to coming back to it, I put exactly 3,005 miles on my car, mostly on Interstates and US routes, but also a fair amount on the streets of Nashville, Austin and San Antonio.

None of the routes or places were new to me, except maybe Texarkana, where I’d never stopped before, and it’s been a long time since I’d traveled US 281 north of Johnson City, Texas, or on US 67 on to Dallas. But no matter how familiar the place or the route, you can always find new things.

In central Kentucky, near Elizabethtown, we visited Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park, which features a granite and marble monumental building with a not-really-Lincoln’s log cabin inside. Near Mammoth Cave NP, we walked through Diamond Caverns, an unrelated show cave.

By the time we got to Nashville, the heat was on — in the 90s at least every day, which made stomping around outside less pleasant, especially for Ann, but I did manage to take her to the Nashville Parthenon, which she didn’t remember seeing in 2008. The more important thing we did in Nashville was spend time with old friends Stephanie and Wendall, and pay a visit to Mike Johnson’s widow, Betra.

In Memphis, we saw the Peabody Hotel ducks and the National Civil Rights Museum. In Texarkana, we drove down State Line Road and stopped at the only post office in the nation in two states. In Little Rock, I visited Mt. Holly Cemetery in the morning just before the heat of the day and then the Clinton Library (in full, the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park) and, just before we left town, the Arkansas State Capitol.

Dallas was mostly given over to visiting my brother Jay and working. Jay joined us for our few days in Austin, including the Fourth of July, and for a few more days in San Antonio. In Austin on July 2, Ann went to RTX 2016 at the Austin Convention Center, a sizable event held by the media company called Rooster Teeth; I was her chaperon. We visited my old friend Tom Jones the next day, and on Independence Day, saw both the Baylor Street Art Wall and municipal fireworks over Lady Bird Lake. San Antonio was mostly about visiting my mother and brother Jim, and (for me) holing up in a cool place with Wifi and doing more work.

Naturally, the trip involved long stretches of driving. I want to do that while I still want to do that. Because of my obstinance in not getting Sirius or the like, terrestrial radio helps fill the yawning spaces between destinations. The trip was bookended by two news events whose coverage was limitless, even when there was no new information beyond speculation: Brexit near the beginning, and the murder of Dallas policemen toward the end. I also listened to more religious radio more than usually, mostly only minutes at a time, except for the erudite Alistair Begg, whom I will listen to until his show’s over or the signal fades.

The selection of music was mostly what you’d expect, drawn from the rigid genres created by the radio business, though there were a few oddities, such as the Mesquite Independent School District radio station (KEOM) in metro Dallas that played teacher and student shows, besides a selection of completely conventional ’70s music. On I-40 between Nashville and Memphis — the Music Highway, according to official signs along the way — I picked up an oldies station whose playlist was a little older and odder than usual. I heard it play “Waterloo” (Stonewall Jackson), “Ahab the Arab,” “and “Running Bear and Little White Dove,” the last two I haven’t heard in years.

We stayed in a nondescript chain motel in Elizabethtown; in Stephanie and Wendall’s fine guest rooms in Nashville; in another, less nondescript motel in Little Rock; with Jay in Dallas; in the Austin Motel on South Congress in Austin, an updated version of a tourist court that’s been there since 1938; and in an updated former company hotel (vintage 1914) in San Antonio, the Havana Hotel, since there were too many of us to be comfortable at my mother’s house.

During the return home, we stayed at the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon, Mo., last night, because of course we did.

Munger Moss Motel 2016It’s the same as it was in 2009 and two years ago. Except (maybe) a couple of signs like this were added to the grounds.

Munger Moss Motel 2016Motel co-owner Ramona Lehman was selling Gasconade River Bridge postcards, sales of which help support the restoration of the bridge, a structure about 15 miles east of Munger Moss on the former US 66. I bought one. I didn’t stop to look at the bridge — this time — but it’s visible from I-44 if you know when to look, and I did.

Five + Half Century = 55

One of the presents I got on my fifth birthday, just more than 50 years ago now, was a red toy helicopter. I’d probably remember that, even without the help of a photo. I was fond of that helicopter.

In fact it’s the only thing I really remember about that birthday, celebrated in Denton, Texas, except that a chocolate cake with blue trim was also part of it. Or I might remember that because there’s a different picture of me from that day, holding the cake in our front yard. The helicopter picture was taken along the side of the house, on the driveway that led back to some detached garages.

This year, I got a wallet. My old one is wearing out. Had key lime pie instead of a cake.