Our derby group had its first fundraiser tonight (Friday night) and a pretty good group turned out to watch musical chairs and roller gear competitions as well as two live bands, one very loud and very angry (my ears are still ringing). I have some rather trashed old skates so I didn't get out for the musical chairs bit, but I did do the gear off. Didn't even come close to winning! What was most exciting is we all got our team shirts. Hurrah! My next goal is to buy new skates, ones with decent wheels that aren't older than I am.
I'm really not a morning person, but a reporter's schedule has to be very flexible. It's even harder to get up early on the weekend, but since we all rotate the weekend shift, I had no choice last Saturday but to rise at 7:30 a.m. so I could head out into the wilderness with photographer Andy Cripe for an assignment (he took the photo here). We were out near the local watershed, watching a helicopter lift Douglas firs from the national forest and drop them into a local creek to create fish habitat. We had a spectacular viewpoint, and a small crowd of folks gathered to watch with us. It was a long drive, and an early morning, but the photographs and the story, which runs tomorrow, should pay off. It also enabled me to ensure that we had a front page package ready for tomorrow, as I'm filling in as city editor today so it's my responsibility to plan ahead for tomorrow's edition. By doing a little extra work and getting the story done several days ahead, it's less of a headache today, when I have a lot of other things to think about.
Finally home, but our bags decided they wanted a little longer vacation, so apparently they snuck off the plane in San Diego and headed for the beach. I imagine they had a couple of fruity drinks and argued with each other over whether they'd head down to Tijuana for the day. I'm pretty sure Joseph's bag wanted to go, but mine wanted to go home. They have finally been relocated by the airline, and are being shipped to us. Oh well, easy access to my hair dryer and deodorant are totally overrated anyway. I'm still on vacation, who cares how I look or smell over the next couple of days. The animals are of course glad we're home, although I suspect they were so happy with the housesitter that they didn't exactly notice our absence. But now that we're back, they seem happy with that development as well. Time to raid the refrigerator for anything not rotten.
Yesterday was our last full day in Austin and we took advantage of the slightly cooler weather and the hope that we were soon headed home, and spent the day enjoying some local delights. First we started out with lunch at Katz's Deli, a fabulous downtown establishment that serves the best reubens on the planet, along with tons of yummy pickles. The waitresses were all dressed in black with lots of gothy, sparkly jewelry which I enjoyed, even if I didn't get the connection. Then we wandered down to Book People, considered one of the best bookstores in the nation, right up there with Powells. We of course ended up spending more than we wanted, but stocked up on some cool things, and we found Joseph's book for sale in the Latin American section, which was awesome. Then it was on to spend more money at Waterloo, a very famous record shop that uses the London Underground tube station symbol as its logo. The place was packed to the gills, and had a ton of vinyl for sale alongside new and used CDs. It's places like this that make me hopeful that the days of great record stores are not completely over, despite digital music. The heat started to get to us at that point, which made a stop at Amy's Ice Cream mandatory. I had a pineapple ice, Joseph had a Shiner (beer) malt that was fantastic. We could have stayed there all day, sampling the dairy goodness. We headed for UT Austin after that, wandering through campus and stopping at the Cesar Chavez statue. As the subject of Joseph's book, it seemed apt, although I agree with Joseph that the statue was oddly proportioned and made the great labor leader and nonviolence activist look strangely floppy, with huge shoes. After that, we wandered along "The Strip" on Guadalupe, the main shopping drag along campus. We stopped for a snack at Veggie Heaven, and ended up with a huge meal for cheap, and barely made it back to our car without exploding. Saturday night, after discovering our flight had been cancelled, we spent a total of four hours on hold with our airline, continuously getting disconnected, trying to reschedule our flight. Finally at 1:30 a.m. we gave up and went to sleep. This morning, we decided to go straight to the airport and deal with actual humans. This was the right plan, because we were immediately booked on a flight with a different airline, and are now in San Diego, only hours from Portland and our car, and soon after that, home. After noting several times the generosity of the people we saw in Austin, I have to interject a sad note of reality in regards to some of the refugees we shared space with this week. As we left our motel this morning, a man stood at the counter, waiting for the police to arrive. His van had been broken into in the night, the windows smashed, and some of the many belongings they'd packed into their vehicle to save from destruction from Ike, had been stolen. As we pulled out of the motel, we saw his wife standing rather forlornly next to the van, on a pile of window glass, tugging at the side of a cardboard box. It was a sad end to a trip that has been full of many, many ups and downs. But it reminded me yet again that despite everything, we're lucky for many reasons, and luckier still to be almost home.
Nothing but overcast skies and a slight breeze in Austin, the only thing Ike did to us weather-wise was lower the temperature a little. We've spent the morning watching the Houston news station and the Austin affiliate. Last night, we escaped the rather noisy confines of the Ho-Jo and headed downtown to a jazz club called The Elephant Room. We sat in the back sipping pints and listening to a very good quintet. No one seemed particularly concerned with the upcoming storm, I suspect most were either Austinites or tourists who didn't have much invested in those homes along the Gulf that are now in shreds. We're still not sure about the status of our flight tomorrow, the airport isn't open yet as they sort out electricity issues and I'm guessing, wait for staff to return from wherever they've been evacuated. We're in a wait and see pattern right now, so I think the only answer is to find pancakes and wait it out.
We're safe, and lucky. Somehow we managed to land one of the last motel rooms in Austin, so we're hanging at the Ho-Jo, along with about 10,000 refugees from Houston and the coast. There are kids running up and down the hallways, dogs and cats in almost every room, and a frazzled but happy staff. The Houston airport is shut down, so we'll see what Sunday brings... there may be a day or two of sleeping in the terminal at this point! But we're still luckier than most, we aren't sure how we'll get home, but we know we'll have a home when we get there. The folks here in Austin have been incredibly welcoming to the refugees. There are signs up everywhere letting people know they have their support, and volunteers are starting to line up to help at the temporary shelters round town. So far, other than a little rain, we haven't see much in the way of weather here, and they think other than some night showers and some stiff winds in the wee hours we won't see much here, but that remains to be seen. It's the biggest storm they've seen in more than 100 years. I'll check in with y'all tomorrow morning.
College Station, Texas, home of Texas A & M, may only be a 2 hour drive from Austin, but it feels like a whole other world, politically, socially and even physically. This is more what I pictured when I thought of coming to Texas; big trucks, big attitudes, football and everyone saying "Howdy" in a completely un-ironic way. I think 24 hours is exactly enough time to spend here. But even if we hadn't planned on leaving after Joseph gave his lecture, there's a little something called a hurricane getting ready to blow us back to Austin. Right now, the people of central Texas are beginning to open their doors to a steady stream of refugees from the coast. The university has shut down for the day, and campus is emptying. We're staying in the student center's small hotel, and the center itself is now desolate... no chance to head to the book store and get us an Aggie sweatshirt. The hurricane is causing us some problems as well. Not only did it pre-empt our trip to New Orleans, but despite the fact that airports around the Gulf are shutting down and flights are being cancelled, our airline refused to allow us to change our departure city from N.O, as originally scheduled, to Austin. The fact that a hurricane was literally preventing us from getting to N.O. made absolutely no difference to the airline staff. "The computer won't let us change your ticket," they kept telling me. Is HAL running the airlines now? Apparently so. I had two options, according to "the computer," either get to New Orleans by teletransporting myself, or buy a brand new, very expensive one-way ticket from Austin to Portland for each of us. And by the way, Houston airport is closing at noon Friday so forgetting flying out til Sunday. So, now more broke than we'd expected, we at least have a way of getting home, as long as things are up and running by Sunday. At this point, we're thinking of crashing at a friend's house in Austin for the next few days, catching some live music and waiting out the storm, just another pair of refugees but with a lot less to worry or complain about than most. We have the support of a lot of old friends and new ones here. And as our friend and host at Texas A&M Gregorio told us, in his native Puerto Rico, the correct response to an incoming hurricane is to find the biggest party you can, and ride out the storm with your friends. Good idea, it seems.
Last time I was in Austin we had about four hours to eat, visit and sight-see during a crazy trip that was crammed into a long layover in Houston. The one thing I remember about that visit was the excellent breakfast food at Kerby Lane. That meant we had to make a pilgrimage back there this trip, to get what Joseph calls the best pancakes in the world. Wednesday morning, I gorged myself on a short stack of peach praline pancakes. Although a determined eater, I could not finish the two enormous cakes on my plate, nor could Joseph make his way through his buttermilk short stack. For about three hours afterward we walked around groaning with fullness. Instead of a lot of shopping and sight-seeing, we spent the day with friends and loved ones. Lilia took us to Mozarts, a fantastic cafe along Lake Austin, where we spent hours drinking mango smoothies, watching turtles float by, and mocking a particular boat passenger who appeared to be doing kick boxing on the deck of a passing steam boat. My dinner focus was on finding good Texas barbecue, so Lilia and Carol took us to Rudy's, a huge barn-like restaurant attached to a gas station on the edge of town. The sign proclaimed it was Texas' worst barbecue, but the bevy of customers seemed to disagree, and so did we after chowing down on incredible briscuit, ribs and a lot of potato salad. Calories on vacation don't count.
Just to update friends who were concerned, we cancelled our plans to drive to New Orleans Friday due to the extreme weather concerns, and have opted to spend the weekend exploring San Antonio instead, which is a slightly saner destination point during hurricane season, and also a more reasonable drive. The photo on the left is the central panel of a triptych painting in a local Austin shop called Mi Casa. The piece is really powerful and depicts the devestation of Katrina and New Orleans rise from destruction.
Nothing like sleeping in and then waking up to a new city, and a new world of breakfast foods just waiting outside the door. There's a great Mexican restaurant next to our hotel called El Sol Y La Luna, great paintings of Oaxaca, big Frida Kahlo portraits and some fantastic food. We met our good friend Lilia there, and chowed down on tortillas, tamales and other excellent food, and buckets of bitter coffee. That fueled Joseph and I for several hours of browsing in some of the well-known South Congress shops, absorbing the incredible variety, scoffing at the prices of thrift store dresses, and sipping lemonade in one of the endless hipster coffee places. We stopped in the Austin classic establishment Allen's Boots to try on $400 cowboy boots and admire their expensive embroidered Western shirts. Way out of our price range but still gorgeous to look at. We also stopped in "Monkey See, Monkey Do," which ended up being a great place for hilarious post cards and some saucy magnets for souvenirs. Tonight was Joseph's book reading at the independent activist bookstore Resistencia Books, founded by the late great Chicano organizer and activist Raul Salinas. It was a strong turnout thanks to publicity in Austin's alternative newspaper, The Chronicle and on a local independent radio station as well. Let's hear it for grassroots media! There were about 25 people total, and they sold 10 of Joseph's books, exciting stuff. We ended the evening at another Mexican restaurant, Polvos, where we had everything from shrimp fajitas to tacos al pastor. I had a michelada, which includes beer, lots of lime, and lots and lots of chile. Spicy goodness. Now we're sitting back with some cookies and empanadas from a local panaderia, a good way to end a long and very rewarding day.
It was just after 11 p.m. and from a block down South Congress, the strains of a honkey-tonk band were still drifting out the door of the Continental Club. I entered the code to the Austin Motel pool gate and we sauntered in, looking to cool off our feet before heading up to our funky room for a jet-lagged night of sleep. A head popped out of the pool, urgently demanding to know the time. It was Joan from St. Louis, a playwright and, it turns out, political blogger who, upon realizing she'd been stumbled upon by a journalist and a political philosopher, was eager to tell us about her experiences at the DNC just two weeks ago. Austin, I'm beginning to realize, is as much about the people drawn to this Bizarro-version of Texas as it is about the food, music, and on South Congress, the neon signs that light your way home. Within a few minutes, that is before being extremely politely ejected from the pool because it was closing time, we had exchanged blog addresses and may have a new visitor to Joseph's book signing tonight. We're staying in the ultra-famous, ultra fabulous Austin Motel. After despairing of our choices along the freeway, we wandered around, getting tired and grumpy, until we drove down South Congress, Joseph's old neighborhood, and he mentioned rather sadly as we passed the famous phallic red motel sign, "I wish we could stay there." "Why can't we?" I said, turning around to catch a glimpse through the car window. "It's probably too expensive. This place is very swanky now," he said, but he flipped the car around and we headed back toward the motel, just in case. I popped out and ran into the lobby, where a very large black and white Tom cat named Toby lay sprawled on a couch. I immediately reeeeally wanted to stay there. Luckily, since it wasn't the weekend, they had a room available for $110 a night, a real bargain compared to the monolith of ick along the freeway that wanted to charge us $130. Soon we were ensconced in our upstairs room, which I might add has one wall papered in a giant forest scene like you'd see at your dentist in the early 1980s. Plus there's an art deco maple wardrobe and matching vanity, wicker chairs and two incredibly comfortable beds, you know, for variety. More on the motel in another post, because I have to get to the food quickly. When we first arrived, Joseph took us straight to Austin Java, where I ate a black and blue burger (mmm gorgonzola) while looking over at the Capitol building downtown and watching all the tattooed college students check email on their iBooks. For dinner, after a long, long nap, we walked down Congress to the ever-open Magnolia cafe, where I washed down a spicy plate of Migas (eggs, cheese, peppers, tortilla strips, salsa and black beans) with a Dos Equis, and watched more tattooed patrons pouring slowly in. We're in a fabulous area for shopping, eating and bar hopping. Now it's morning and our room is illuminated orange with light through the curtains. Big day ahead, so Ill post more tonight.
Monday, I'll be headed on a much-needed vacation to Austin Texas with my partner and fellow blogger, Joseph, who will be promoting his new book on Cesar Chavez as part of Hispanic Heritage Month. He used to live in Austin, so we'll be looking up old friends and I'll be getting a taste of the tattooed, rockabilly wonderfulness that is Austin. I'll also be checking out the roller derby scene if possible, as I'm starting to work toward joining a group forming here. We'll also be headed to College Station and Texas A&M, and then, barring mischief from Hurricane Ike, we'll be driving across Texas and Louisana to see New Orleans, the first time I've been to the city Post-Katrina, and the first time ever for Joseph. I'm pretty sure that we'll be meeting some great people and seeing some amazing sites along the way, so if technology allows, I'll be trying to do a bit of a mini-journalism travelogue along the way. I'm usually taking loads of photos so that I can write travel pieces for my paper when I return (I never really stop working), so this blog will be another place I can post some of my favorites (that's me waving from our hotel room on the Zocalo in Mexico City last year, by the way). If storms, malfunctions or operator error prevent me from updating on my trip, I'll be back to blogging in two weeks. Wish me luck!
I'm a native Oregonian who, up until recently, has been reporting on local issues in Portland, Forest Grove and currently Corvallis. I am now an editor of an internal publication at a local university, making the transition from the newsroom to world of academia. I continue to write, photograph and explore the world of podcasting in my work, and am eager to explore my new opportunities.