June 25th, 2015 · Tags: Arts
It’s not “the best of times and the worst of times” like the author penned … but it may be the time when farmers work the hardest with the chance for greatest reward. Harvest. With the first combine that hits the fields, you can smell it. The combination of dust, wheat beards, a few green weeds in the mix. Even with all of the rain, when the time is right, the sun turns the land golden, outlined by the green of other plants outside the wheat field rows. You can hear it. The wind whips through and a million tiny wheat beards brush up against each other. You can also hear another sound, this time of year. The patriotic ritual … the popping of firecrackers in the distance. Farm boys know better, with the chance of wildfire. The wheat straw is eager to burn. There are the memories … greasing the dozens of pulleys and gears on the machinery … climbing inside the belly of the huge green beast to dig out the beards that clog around the edges of the sieves. The cloud of dust that surrounds the combine. The way a grain truck drives when it is fully loaded … sticking your hand into a truckload of grain to judge the moisture content … taking a handful of fresh wheat grains and chewing them into gum … An army of little black beetles are on the prowl, everywhere. Lizards dart in and out of the field, their color changing with the environment. Outsiders come to town — “wheaties” they’re called — to help capture the grain. Farmers spend their last waking moments checking the market price of the valuable gold in their field. The beautiful rains that nurtured the fields could end it all in the blink of an eye, if too much comes too late … too fast … or if there is hail. So many factors come into play for success. Harvest.
What did people “not hang” their clothes on in hotels, before the invention of the fire sprinkler in rooms?
Ponder that while I give the 3Q report … my findings from three La Quinta hotels in rapid succession. As you may have read, first the Dirty Gig took me to some coastal flooding hotspots near NASA, up Houston/Clear Lake way. Ha … we were already working in flood stricken areas before the Great Texas Memorial Day Flood of ’15.
As disaster relief tends to be, it was seven days a week, and long days for the first three weeks. Ironically, our first half-day off was Memorial Day. It flooded that morning, and a tornado hit the other side of Houston and then after a few hours of flooding, the sky simmered down and with a few hours off, PingWi-Fi headed for Kemah — The Texas Gulf Coast’s answer to Coney Island albeit much smaller … still fun.
So about the 3Qs … The first La Quinta in in Seabrook, Texas was nice enough … Nothing fancy, but close to NASA and near the flooded apartment complex where we were working. The Wi-Fi was more than adequate, allowing me to stream Game Of Thrones with my brand new HBONow set up. BTW, that is the greatest service from HBO since Musical Jukebox, the precursor of MTV.
But what really, really stood out at the LQ in Seabrook was a new friend — a young woman from Lithuania with a degree in hotel management. La Quinta, take note, you are wasting talent with the lady working the night shift. Don’t tell anyone, but one evening when I was tired after a 13-hour shift, and about to wash my laundry … she did the wash for me in the hotel laundry that is typically reserved for those paper-thin white bath towels. Yep … She said it would help her to pass the time … and she didn’t ruin any of my shirts. The downside … Ha … perhaps I become too familiar. A few nights later when my employer had more people on location than there were vacancies at the hotel, my Lithuanian friend asked if I would mind if some stranger with the same logo on their t-shirt slept in the extra bed in my double Q-size room. She was so nice … I considered it for a second. But, nyet. There were other hotels. Plus why would I knowingly expose anyone to the buzzsaw snoring phenomena that is me?
Just as I had started to bond and feel comfortable at Q1, it was off to Q2, a considerably older La Quinta northwest of Houston’s Uptown Area. The Dirty Gig took me out of the flooded apartment dwellings to the basement of a nice highrise business complex off Post Oak Lane. Nice real estate, and yes, I snatched up some free Wi-Fi from the building management group, though there was little time to chat, text, post or selfie. This time the Dirty Gig had me rescuing soggy document files from the flooded basement. Note to businesses … don’t store important records in basements.
Q2 had Wi-Fi, but the signal was weak in my room … as was the housekeeping. I get so tired of playing the “card game” with housekeeping. You know … that green card printed with a load of PR crap about saving the planet one dirty sheet at a time if you forego getting clean linens. Well until the melted ice caps are up around my neck, I will always exercise my right to clean sheets in a strange hotel. But regardless, I have to find the green card and leave it on my pillow — every night — or the maid ignores the room, smokes an extra cigarette with the spare time and helps save the planet in one swift motion. So they would have you believe. Ha … pretty sure the maid hides the card purposefully to avoid any extra effort and resulting cleanliness in my crib. What a fun little game of hide and seek.
But then why should the housekeeper care about cleanliness and my wellbeing? This LQ was nas-Tay. If you were wondering, yes, there are still smoking hotels left in this otherwise forward-thinking society, and me — the guy allergic to cancer-causing tobacco — was smack dab in the middle of one. Man the place reeked! I tried it for a few days, then finally called foul and requested a move for my health. The company moved me to another hotel. After a couple of days, I could breathe again.
This time, my Wi-Fi and sometimes clean sheets were provided by Courtyard Houston, in the Westchase section, on Westheimer. Much, much nicer … although it is only the Wi-Fi that matters to me. I streamed several episodes of Mad Men at Courtyard, and the Wi-Fi network never let me down. And … yet another encounter with a front desk professional who went above and beyond the call of duty — upgrading me to a bigger nicer room … ha … I forgot why. I am sure I had some good reason.
OH … the rudest thing happened at Courtyard. There is a security gate in the parking lot, one that requires incoming guests to swipe their hotel keycard to activate. No problem, but as I did that, I noticed some little red, rental-car-looking vehicle sneak in behind me. I didn’t think much of it, as I approached an empty parking spot and prepared to back in. Guess where the impatient little S%*t in the red car parked. Yes … he whipped into the spot I was backing into, even though there were several open ones nearby. Have I mentioned I was really tired after some four weeks of 7-day work and long hours? I backed up to his bumper, honked, hopped out and went and banged on the window. There is no reason to treat other people so discourteously … and I pointed that out to him in less poetic terms.
He jumped out, and I supposed realized I was serious, and he muttered a few things as he walked to the safety of the hotel. The gist of his not-so-well-thought-out defense — how could he know that I wanted the parking spot into which I was backing? I think the nicest thing I said, was that “If you slowed your dumb ass down, it would have been pretty obvious.” He huffed and fled. Oh well … some stressed out salesman, still on the road after 30-years of mediocre performance. I tip my cap to him, and I forgive. He was gone the next day. Off to spread more joy and goodwill, I am sure.
The stay at Courtyard was a nice visit, but short-lived. After a few days of packing soggy-docs into boxes and shipping them back to Fort Worth for restoration, I got a call on my way to work one morning. “Go back to the hotel, and check out. You’re going to Austin today.” Ha … I felt so honored to be given enough notice to avoid getting charged for the room. I loaded my rental car, hid the green card from the housekeeper and headed to The ATX … for more Texas Flood (thank you very much Stevie Ray).
In Austin, the team was taking on more water damage in yet another apartment complex. Nothing I hadn’t seen before. But get this. The Austin Dirty Gig was one mile from my favorite place in Austin, the North Lamar SquareRüt location. But actually, when I got my first relaxed evening, I headed to SquareRüt 1.0, the first kava bar in Texas on South Congress. And yes, the Wi-Fi at SRüt is impeccable and there is usually an open seat.
That reminds me … what is up with Starbucks and their war on people who like to hang out at their coffee shops? Remember all the grand PR messages and resulting articles about Starbucks being your “office away from the office?” More and more I am seeing Starbucks evolve into a drive through window business, with a few token chairs so they can still call themselves a shop.
In Austin, I toured one of the best retail areas I have seen in the 48 contiguous states — The Domain off Mopac and Burnett — and the wonderfully placed, convenient Starbucks there has about 10 lame and impressively uncomfortable seats. What a colossal fail! On twitter, I posed the rhetorical topic, to boycott or not to boycott. But wouldn’t staying out of the coffee shop to protest the lack of good seating give Starbucks exactly what they want. Nope … I will continue to take up space, and blog away from whatever crappy chairs they provide. I digress … In addition to excellent Wi-fi, the bux had the second fastest barista in the country, based on some Starbucks internal completion. You should see this guy sling some caffeine!
So … on to the third and final Q of this story — La Quinta on North Mopac in Austin, near the afore mentioned Starbucks and next door to Whole Foods Market — a place teeming with rainbow chard, fluoride-free toothpaste, a craft beer happy hour and yes, Wi-Fi. It is a toss up. Which attracts the more enthusiastic foodies, Whole Foods or Central Market? Ha … I like to time how long said foodies will park their basket, blocking the entire aisle to read ingredients on every container within their reach. But, I do enjoy the prepared meals. Don’t tell Austin legend Franklin’s BBQ that I bet the average person, blindfolded couldn’t distinguish Franklins’ from Whole Foods brisket, if heated to the same temperature … But … this is Austin, and like it or not, this has become the world headquarters of trend-followers hipsters … and you must do what you are told and like what is en vogue …. LOL. I digress …
So, this Q3 … La Quinta … what’s the old joke? You know La Quinta is español for “nextdoor to Denny’s right?” I think it is time to tweet about this and get the attention of corporate. The latest LQ is doing little to impress me in the bed linens category and today, they neglected to empty my trash … oh but they did leave a wet, dirty cloth on the counter where I eat … after it had cleaned who knows what? Lastly the Mopac La Quinta has a great example of a good idea being really outdated and therefore stupid. Some La Quinta decision maker restricted the volume on all of the televisions sets. Ha … It is kind of like driving a truck that has a governor on the accelerator allowing the driver to go 50 miles per hour in 70 m.p.h. zones. But I get it. It is an attempt to keep people like me from disturbing the empty room next to me. Sounds like a decent idea … except … The volume bar is set too low if you plug in a device to watch HBONow, for example. So, when I plugged my laptop into the TV to watch Game Of Thrones, I had to sit with my nose to the screen to hear the dragon roar. Someone didn’t think this through.
Oh … and back to kava. I took some new friends to SquareRüt … the outing made for great conversation because one of the friends has the most controversial job in America these days. Ha! He is the ballboy for a football team. He has the conference championship ring to show for his efforts … and I wager he probably knows as much about ball inflation as any college student you will ever meet. Imagine the thought provoking conversation of football inflation as we sipped our kava and our little group became increasingly conversational.
Know what I sayin?
A weekend trip to Austin took the PingWi-Fi guy off the grid and back to nature … at times. Perhaps the highlight — witnessing a pretty acrobatic birds-n-bees thing at Zilker Park. No. Not hippies nor hipsters. Not what you think. I was cruising through the park on the Triumph Thunderbird when I spied something naughty in the air in front of me. Two birds, checking each other out, mid air, right in front of me.
Ha … I let out a country boy “HHHyawwhhh,” (translation – “get a room”) to voice my disapproval with their lack of discretion. That must have startled them because they de-copulated so to speak. One bird flew off on its merry way, a gleam in its beady little eye. The other … perhaps the more satisfied of the two … came crashing down toward earth … and me. I had to reach out with a gloved hand (thank goodness … ewwww) to bat away the jilted lover … so that it didn’t hit me in the face. What a sad sound it made when it bounced off my windshield. I wasn’t going very fast, but I have to guess that was one rude awakening. Not the ending that had been imagined. I assume the bird lived to tweet another day … I can imagine Austin “smart cars” running over each other and other humans to rescue and adopt the feathery friend.
Seems things were falling from the skies all around me, this trip.
At the climax of one night ride, I was headed west on 290 toward Dripping Springs when I sighted a fiery white light just to my right, kind of over my shoulder, north of the highway. It was a “shooting star” or meteorite … or some extraterrestrial arriving to keep Austin Weird. I have seen quite a few shooting stars in my travels … but not like this one. It was more like a riding companion flanking me out to the side. I swear it must have been visible for a couple of seconds before it burned up in our atmosphere. It looked very close and very low … Anyone in Dripping Springs take a direct hit the other night? Whoever’s responsible for the light show — Thank You! It was very exciting.
Part of my traveling off the grid was the failure of the batteries in both of iPhones. They seemed to burn out faster than the various objects falling from the sky. Perhaps all the roaming, as I crisscrossed and doubled back on the Texas roads between Austin, Blanco, Spring Branch, San Antonio, Fredericksburg, Llano, Stonewall, Goldwaite, Hamilton, Comanche, etc., … and the huge monolithic Enchanted Rock. (I think the ride between Blanco and Stonewall on 1623 was the highlight, as the twisty road, teeming with wild flowers, followed closely along the winding Blanco River, Cottonwood Creek and Blasingame Creek. On a Monday morning, I pretty much had the road to myself … Don’t let the secret out …)
Note to self: If I had taken the backroad from Goldwaite to Hamilton, rather than going to Evant, I would have missed a horrible road construction delay … But, I must admit, I LOVE the old flagstone gymnasium on the side of the road in Evant and always look for it.
But the biggest attraction … Finally! I have heard so much about Enchanted Rock and have passed it by so many times. It is pretty fantastic although no match for my climbing skills … LOL. Enchanted Rock … so cool … an excellent diversion to complement all the Indian paintbrushes and other wild flowers that must have been at their peak this week in Texas.
Alas, no Wi-Fi on the big rock. I didn’t even check, because the rangers said “Hotspots? There are NO spots.” They also told me not to worry about a little rain, “It never rains here.” Well … something is feeding all those wildflowers. I have no doubt what the wildflowers feed … Hundreds of bright yellow splotches on my windshield as I zoomed around the curves and up and down the hills … Juicy! Ha … I felt a sting as one bug hit my shin … and the explosion splashed all the way up to my face. Nice mental picture, right? And you wonder why we love to ride … I digress.
In a slightly related note … I had a conversation with a gentleman farmer elsewhere in The Hill Country, and he told me that if his chickens eat the bugs that eat the yellow flowers … that the yokes will be incredibly much more yellow. So that is the story of the “Little Yellow Pigment Who Could.”
Anywho, the park rangers were right, at least during my time up and down – no precip. (Only got rained on a little as I first pulled into Fredericksburg, before the rock.)
High atop the rock, I might have felt a bit enchanted … or certainly conversational and despite my shy nature … actually engaged strangers. I met a nice couple from Lubbock. Enchanted Rock — yet one more place I have met Texas Tech fans who still talk about the insane decision to fire football coach Mike Leach … although the three of us agreed on our support for Coach Kliff Kingsbury … a Hill Country native, btw.
In Fredericksburg, I had a nice strudel and a cup of joe … and Wi-Fi at Java Cowboy. Quaint.
There was no Blue Bell ice cream to be found. Sadness. And I swear to you that I stopped at several backroads cafes … including the Exxon/pizza place where I enjoyed an old corndog in Goldwaite … and heard the locals all discussing the no-Blue Bell dilemma.
But the thing that first caught my eye among all the touristy places and vineyards and wineries around F-Burg was a bright red flag flying over one new, impressive Austin stone structure – The Texas Tech University at Fredericksburg. I had no idea Tech was so entrenched in The Hill Country, but it makes sense since Lubbock was early on the scene for Texas wines. I sampled the Wi-Fi, but not the vintage … and had a great visit with an instructor of enology (the study of winemaking and all things wine).
How cool is that?
Around Austin … I hung out several times at the newest SquareRüt Kava Bar … shunned guys in capes leaving the comic book festival … had late night fried ice cream at El Mercado on Lavaca across from my hotel … a nice, but slightly older, Hampton Inn … breezed through the Pecan Street Festival … left Austin on MLK and returned to town on Cesar Chavez avoiding several near misses as drivers seemed to take turns trying to collide with my bike … heard a guitar recital from musicians of varying skill sets at Strange Brew (under the tutelage of Austin treasure Van Wilks) and sampled the pies at Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza, off Fitzhugh out near Dripping Springs. The pies were built to please. The restaurant? Kind of reminded me of Salt Lick (best name ever), with pasta. Cool, cool outdoor bench seating under an open “haybarn-like” shelter. Nice use of technology at Farmhouse Pizza, despite the rustic setting. Rather than requiring me to carry a restaurant pager around, the staff simply texted me when my pie was ready. I am sure other restaurants do this. But, so why are some making me carry around a pager? … You know, the pager that makes me jump out of this skin when it goes off? I would think more restaurants would also do this for the “dark side” potential — Stanley can now text market to me 24/7 on my phone. Hope they exercise discretion there.
Friendly people at Farmhouse Pizza … but they fell just short of perfection. I instructed them to pull some strings and get me some Blue Bell for dessert when I finished my pie. I thought they had connections …
For the brief period the battery had juice, and my iPhone served as GPS … I couldn’t believe it. The voice on the GPS pronounced Manchaca (Austin street) “man-chak” the same way Austinites say it … which is totally whack as the rules of Latin-rooted pronunciations go. I mean … out of the hundreds of “Jones Streets” and roundabouts and all the other things my GPS cannot pronounce around the country … It gets the Manchaca local pronunciation correct. That is weird, Austin.
Know what I sayin?
Confession. I never got over the disappointment of the Dallas Mavericks allowing Steve Nash to slip through their fingers to free agency, reminiscent of how the mop-headed point guard eluded so many star-studded defenses during his all-star career. Arguably the best soccer player to ever quarterback an NBA team … Nash revolutionized the point guard position. And then he was gone.
But, before he left, he also helped to introduce a young European to America. When Nash came to Dallas, the Mavs had one legitimate star in Michael Finley. As Finley peaked, he and Nash helped to groom a future superstar — teaching him American culture, the language, the game and the positive side of the NFL lifestyle. The Mavs had discovered and signed a tall, skinny, foreigner with a big smile, a “Scooby Doo Shaggy” look with a German accent and the work ethic to match.
Together, those three came so close to basketball history for Dallas, but it was not to be.
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One of the first events I covered in a blog was a film festival. It had Wi-Fi, so I knew I was on to something. There have been a few since. Film festivals never disappoint. … So fun to shoot photographs of and interact with the experts who create the most poignant, artsy and entertaining works …
There was Sundance a few times … yes … that film festival is so Hollywood although it bills itself as Indy … Redford, Ben Bratt, Keanu, Snoop (when he was a dog and not a lion), Dillon & his entourage, Tilda Swinton, Wyclef Jean, Penn without Teller, even Jackie The Jokeman, etc., etc. Lots of star power, and you never know who you will see in the huge line at the only Starbucks in Park City.
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#PingForADay > Would I go back to wearing a watch if it had Wi-Fi? Don’t know, how much #Apple pay me? electroiq.com/chipworks_real… #WiFi #travel
It was my nice, kindly gentleman uncle, on my father’s side of the family, who first introduced me to Luby’s cafeteria on one of my first trips to the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex.
“Sorry sir. Thanks for lunch … but Luby’s just isn’t Furr’s,” (I thought to myself).
Ha … that was more than 30 years ago.
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Amazing, the way people drive between Fort Worth, Texas and Shreveport, La. I suppose if you are going to drive that far to lose money in a smoky casino, you better get there ASAP, right?:) As for me, I kept it pretty much within the legal limits, as I headed out to make money in Cajun Country … At least, on the third leg of my four trips between those two cities on the latest installment of The Dirty Gig.
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When I reviewed the 2014 Triumph Thunderbird a few months back on the ride from Fort Worth to Columbia, Mo., one of my criticism was about the bike’s stealth. It hardly makes any noise, and anyone can tell you “loud pipes save lives” for motorcyclists.
But the silence has grown on me. It’s golden. It is nice to be able to listen to music on the bike with tiny earbuds and no need for speakers that blast the neighborhood. But I doubt quiet bikes will be trending any time soon. It is so much fun to let your presence be known …
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Remember the scenes in old westerns in which the “Indians” refused to be photographed because they believed the camera might steal their souls? Well, me and my Nikon don’t subscribe to that theory … and yet …
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