Surrounded by Creativity


Downtown Austin seemed to experience a little burst of creativity over the recent holidays. This structure of recycled bottles was left at Auditorium Shores after the Austin’s New Year celebration on December 31. I haven’t been over that way during this cold, damp weather, but I suspect the display has been removed by now. Continue reading

Endeavor Flyover

Retiring space shuttle Endeavor flew over downtown Austin this morning. The shuttle spent last night in Houston and passed by Austin on its way to the Los Angeles Airport. Then in October, Endeavor will be transported along Los Angeles city streets to its final home at the California Science Center.

Several hundred gathered at the Texas State Capitol to watch the flyover, which was expected between 7:30 and 8:00 AM. Most of us waited on the south lawn down towards Congress Avenue. I saw some news crews over there and thought they probably knew this would be the best angle for photographs of the shuttle and the capitol dome. 

But it turns out that news crews don’t always know either. At 7:41 AM, we heard an engine roar behind us as Endeavor flew a few blocks south of the capitol grounds, almost above 10th Street. The flyover only last about 5 seconds but I did manage to get turned around and snap a picture. The crowd was impressed. It was pretty cool to see the shuttle flying over downtown.



 Dear USPS: 

I was heartbroken to receive your recent “Dear Postal Customer” letter. 

I had hoped that the rumors were untrue, but it looks like you really are selling the downtown post office. I realize that the postal business is not doing well these days and that this particular location sits on a full city block of prime downtown real estate. I guess charging for evening bar-hopper parking hasn’t helped to make ends meet?

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The Pathway

A new pathway recently opened near our apartment, connecting the Congress Avenue Bridge with the Hike-and-Bike Trail that circles Lady Bird Lake
Over the last several months, Bill and I have watched as workers dug out the hillside, set up molds, poured concrete, built impressive stone walls, installed fences, and laid sod. 
This path is already being put to good use by runners, walkers, dog-owners, cyclists, and homeless sleepers. Based on the length and grade, I suspect this is an ADA-compliant ramp. It connects nicely to the existing walkways. But cyclists had better slow down when they reach the sharp curve towards the bottom.

So now that the City of Austin has built this beautiful new path, will everyone stop taking the washed-out shortcut down the hillside? 
Probably not. 

Obama Was Back

President Obama was back in Austin today for two fundraisers. Bill and I had experienced a presidential visit once before, when Obama visited Austin in May 2011. Today’s visit was just as exciting and caused just as many traffic jams.

Late this afternoon Obama gave a speech at Austin Music Hall, which is just a few blocks away from our apartment. Then about 6:30 PM his motorcade went eight blocks to the Four Seasons Residences (condos) for a private dinner party. Air Force One and the President left the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport about two hours later. 
Today’s preparations began bright and early…and I mean early. When we woke up at 6:30 AM, city crews were already busy power-washing the pedestrian walkways along Cesar Chavez. (I added “power wash sidewalks” to my Preparing for Presidential Visits list.)

Throughout the day I watched the preparations from our apartment window, including tent raising, roof searching, security checking, helicopter hovering and bus maneuvering. (I added “movable blockades” to my Uses for University of Texas Campus Buses list.) 

I headed over towards Austin Music Hall about 3:45 PM. Based on last year’s experience, I was pretty sure of the motorcade’s route. So I stood at the end of Second Street and, sure enough, the procession drove right by. Obama even waved to us! But in my excitement, I mis-timed my photo and ended up with a partial view of one of the two presidential limos. (I added “learn about burst mode” to my Photography for Dummies list.)

I walked back to our apartment and watched a live feed of Obama’s speech and viewed my limo photo with dismay. When the speech ended, I went back downstairs and positioned myself along Cesar Chavez to watch the motorcade make the short trip over to the dinner party. Once again I saw Obama in the back seat, but he was not looking out the window. This time I was determined to get a better photo of the presidential limos. (But I am still leaving “learn about burst mode” on my Photography for Dummies list.)

Roller Derby

Roller derby is alive and well and flourishing in Austin, Texas.

We have not one but TWO roller derby leagues here. The flat-track league, Texas Rollergirls, has four teams which compete at the Austin Convention Center. The other league, Texas Roller Derby, has five teams playing on a banked-track at the Palmer Events Center. TXRD had their “season of fame” in 2006 when their all-star team, the Lonestar Rollergirls, was featured in the A&E reality TV series, Rollergirls.

Last weekend Bill and I watched a TXRD bout between the Rhinestone Cowgirls and the Cherry Bombs. The announcer explained the basic rules before the match began. Bouts are played in four eight-minute periods. Each team has five players on the track for a jam: four blockers and one jammer. After breaking past the initial pack of blockers, jammers earn points by passing opposing team players. Jams can last up to two minutes, although the lead jammer can end the jam earlier.

Neither of us had seen roller derby since watching it on TV many years ago. The action was less violent than we remembered, but perhaps we were naive back then or maybe the sport is purposely more family-friendly now. We saw pushing and shoving and elbowing of course, but nothing too wild, except for one wrestling match during a penalty and and one pile-up jam where three players were injured. Pushing skaters over the rails is no longer allowed.

Referees were stationed around the track to keep the action under control and assess penalties. When players were cited, the Penalty Mistress spun a wheel to determine the penalty game: Long Jump, Pillow Fight (the aforementioned wrestling match), Arm Wrestling, No Holds Barred, Two Lap Duel, Tug of War, Push Cart, or Relay Race. These games were fun to watch, but Bill noted that this was a big change from the old roller derby rules.

The skaters all have derby names. These two teams had such notables as Dusty Doublewide, Nicki Ticki Timebomb, Loretta Synn, Dawna Destruction and Kategory 5. Most skaters had little fan clubs seated near the track. I found myself rooting for a Cherry Bomb jammer, Rocky Casbah. She was tough, athletic and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself.

I met a couple who described themselves as the league’s Psychedelic Mascots. The guy called himself Masterblader and I’ve since read that he is a former referee. These two also acted as human zambonis during halftime and swept off the track.

After halftime, we wondered why a bunch of people immediately jumped up onto the track. Well, it was time for the Birthday Spank! I was slightly appalled as the skaters went down the line and spanked everyone who (supposedly) had a July birthday, but you had the option to turn around and get high-fives instead.

With all the distractions, it wasn’t easy to keep track of the score, especially since the scoreboard was dimly projected on a corner screen. I didn’t even notice it until halftime. Last week the Rhinestone Cowgirls beat the Cherry Bombs. There are several more regular season bouts before the playoffs and then the Cavello Cup final (named for derby queen Ann Cavello) in early October.

A Brand New Boat

A new riverboat, The Pride and Joy II, has arrived to replace the boat which caught fire on Christmas Day. Operated by Capital Cruises, this new boat offers lunch and dinner cruises on Lady Bird Lake. A separate company, Lone Star Riverboat Cruises, operates the other big riverboat, The Lone Star. Both companies also launch smaller boats for nightly bat-watching tours.

When I walked over to take some pictures of The Pride and Joy II last week, the crew invited me on board. They are generally pleased with the new vessel and especially like the larger windows which have real glass instead of plastic. The upper deck is bigger too. When the headlights are on at night, I think this new riverboat looks like a school bus floating downstream. 

I asked the captain about maneuvering the boat, since Lady Bird Lake can get quite crowded on weekends. He said that sometimes the people on water bikes and paddleboards come right up alongside the boat, which isn’t too smart since he can’t stop quickly. He also worries about rowers who are sitting backwards in their sculls and don’t always look around to see where they are headed. So he’s glad that the horn on The Pride and Joy II is louder than the one on their previous boat.

The crew asked me to include this bit of pirate talk in my blog entry, so here you go guys…


Hot Roddin’

Well, actually I don’t love hot rods. But apparently many people do.

This weekend is the Lonestar Rod & Kustom Roundup. Daytime activities are happening several miles east of Austin at the Travis County Expo Center. Thank goodness. Downtown traffic is already a mess due to street closures for Art City Austin.
But in the evenings, the Lonestar Roundup action moves to South Congress, a stretch of trendy stores, restaurants, and bars just south of downtown. Bill and I walked to SoCo to eat lunch today. Custom cars were already on display in many of the on-street parking spots. Others were just cruisin’ up and down the street so we could admire their wheels.
We wondered about the cars with rusted bodies…it turns out that these are called Rat Rods. I think the idea is to take an old clunker and make it road-worthy again. I fondly recalled the old International from my summers spent as a camp counselor in the ’70s. That camp truck was rusty even back then. It looked a lot like this one, but with green paint under the rust.
Car owners were sitting on their lawn chairs all along the street, keeping an eye on their vehicles. Today was a very windy day and, as we admired a pink convertible in mint condition, the owner’s cowboy hat blow off. The woman chased after her hat, yelling out to her husband, “Oh no! It’s going to touch the car!” She seemed quite relieved when her hat missed the car and kept blowing down the street.

Workin’ on the W

There’s lots of activity over at the W this week. Finally the temporary balcony panels are being replaced on the building. Workers are busy installing new railings and panels on the condo floors above the W hotel.

As you might remember, last June glass panels from the balconies started dropping off the building, forcing the W hotel to close for a few days. Surrounding streets and sidewalks were blocked while almost 1000 glass panels were replaced with wooden ones. That was nine months ago, but perhaps it takes that long to birth balcony systems? Hopefully the W will have no more balcony woes now.