Leaf Blower(s)

May 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Springtime 2012 is well on its way. In Texas, all two weeks of it.

There are so many great things about this time of year. Even in Austin it’s a little nicer in the morning, a little greener and the air is just plain more fresh. The large rains coming through even make it feel like I’m back in the Northwest, if just for a night or a couple hours.

Spring also brings the yearly big clean for everyone, the yard work and the house maintenance bring out both the casual weekend warriors and the large yard crews professionally clearing leaves and cleaning the gutters of the winter leaves.

Which brings me to the annual pain in the butt nuisance – leaf blowers.

For the life of me I cannot understand the point of them.  Sure, I have heard they can clean a silo out, or remove dirt from a concrete floor shed – but all everyone sees are small groups of tiny men with huge jetpacks strolling around outside blowing crap up into the air.  Where are the leaves, grass clippings, and small pebbles going?  Oh, just a few feet away, to then be further blown into a general direction (usually a public street which then gets cleaned by more machines who do more rustling than cleaning).

What a waste, a waste of gasoline, of quiet, or air quality, and time.  Every so often there are disgruntled citizens complaining about the abuse of lawn mowers, prompting many to stick electric cords to theirs and making them hum with the indirect use of energy, but lets do away with leaf blowers.  Next to people waving signs on the side of the street during tax season, this appears the most pointless and irritating “job”.  Brooms, there are brooms and rakes.  These tools actually let you control the noise and the debris that comes with moving vegetation.


A Texas Drought

September 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Proving the weather is more than the concern of farmers and a good place for conversational agreement, the 2011 Texas drought has quietly stayed under the radar as the rest of the nation gets the more wet kind of disaster.

It’s been since June of 2011 that central Texas has seen a drop of rain. I’ll round off and say it was June 11th at 3:00 a.m in the morning. Imagine that, three months of no rain?! Way back in the month of June the top movie was Super 8, not the motel chain, the top song was Rolling in the Deep by Adele, and the price of a gallon of milk was 3.69. Boy, were those the days!

Well, fast forward to September, and as I look out of my window in downtown Austin I see clouds far in the distance. They are tall, white, and chuck full of rain – rain this poor city will not see. The rest of the nation is under flood warnings, athletic events and car races are all being jeopardized by lightning and flooding, and all we in central texas are asking is – share the wealth!

It’s not only the lack of rain, it’s the weeks of 100 degree temperatures. We are on, to the date of this post, day 80 of over 100 degree highs. The previous record was a paltry 68, and the coming week is looking to bring us a cold break of high 90’s. This is apocalyptic and just no fun anymore. Maybe god is punishing us for Rick Perry, maybe the Chinese are using special un-rain makers on us because we are so amazing at job creation (not), or maybe it’s bigger – maybe it’s Obama!

The sooner the rain starts the sooner, I hope, will the taste of sand in the water go away, the sooner I’ll stop seeing birds with no feathers, the sooner I’ll not feel guilty about taking showers, and the sooner I can wash my car, and the sooner I’ll see the sweet return of blood sucking mosquitoes.

On second thought, it’s pretty great without mosquitoes.

Check out this animation of how Texas has “weathered” in this last month of drought, and the weather site’s tweets. It’s almost os if the state line was keeping the clouds out like an Arizona border agent.

Jones Center with an Arthouse

August 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

There are a million things to do at every moment, every place I live. I’ve always made the mental checklists of places and things I needed to see on a day or afternoon off, events and spectacles I need to take in in order for me to truly understand what it means to be in that place at that time with those experiences to be had.

And I am also pretty terrible at doing enough.

But like a bad recording of some random 80’s pop phenom I return to that strange push that gets me out once in a while, out to do some checking off of a list. It’s a strange burden of guilt that happens, to almost say yes to yourself.

Well, I’ve had the Arthouse at the Jones Center as an item on my list for many a month. Opened last October and designed by a great architecture firm out of New York the Arthouse is a striking juxtaposition of design along Congress Avenue. Bathed in all white with aqua punctured holes in the exterior the double story corner building almost wants you not to see it until you’re good and ready. Perfect for Texans.

I visited the museum done by Zaha in Cincinnati, and amongst the strongest design concerns I remember was she had the desire to bring the street into the museum – physically. Her method was to curve the sidewalk under the hanging panes of glass and curl it right into the walking stairway talking the person to the galleries. I loved it in Cincinnati, the gesture worked for me, it was a happy trick. Whether or not LTL had this in mind when they set out I have to say I missed it. The front teases this hopeful propensity but fails to satisfy it. First off, the letters of the Arthouse bleed into the glass overhead, stretching the eye to the beautiful centerpiece of the stair – but try and find an entrance and you’ll feel yourself like a mime in a bad National Lampoon movie. I did a triple take, eyes lusting after the stair, outside the glass wall of the street before finding the “around the corner” all glass door. Howver, after that, the building was a pretty great work of detail and simplicity.

The Arthouse, without any boring reading on it – (but, go ahead… it’s got a great back story…) – I guessed was probably a clothing store then some sort of theater, then a period of dormancy that led it’s way to the chic museum culture we currently embrace. I know this because the easy telling stylings on the dry and broken stucco that still cling to the brick walls of the exterior wall. The past life was definitely incorporated in that respect – making me think of the musings on preservation and historicism by Koolhaas – and in a way it doesn’t take away from the darkened space. But was it does do is make me want to see more – is this a history museum? or art museum? I wanted to keep peering around corners to see large mockups of native americans and the first oilmen of the Hill Country. This museum just oozes some of that old world museum in it, the labrynth dark, slightly scary spaces we made to hold the other vestiges of a not that distant past.

The large open space after the stairway was set in many layers. I’ll describe four of them. On the floor I imagined painstaking concrete pours and tests and perfect control joints. On the exterior wall I saw people filing smooth jagged bits of steel pipe and rebar that exposed themselves during the remodel. On the interior wall I saw an all white symbol of terrifying authority – all white and all imposing.. ready to smash anything of aggregate. And above head, just a barn dance, a county fair barn dance ceiling peered down at me – just waiting for the polka to start while the sound of heavy hogs being settled down to sleep.  The space just held nothing – but all these things. Maybe that was the museums biggest success.

Also, If you want to get to the roof, wait until Wednesdays – because other than on that day… the giant elevator will open itself to you, let you enter, close itself, but it will not take you anywhere.

Abandoned Drive-ins of Texas

April 10, 2011 § 1 Comment

During this last week I found an awesome drive-in movie blog that I wanted to share – I think whoever is working on this is a pure genius. What they’re doing is wandering around the state of Texas in search of old abandoned drive-ins. In Texas alone there are hundreds of drive-ins that once were, and several that still are holding on – mostly in the larger cities of Houston and Dallas. What this blog is trying to capture are the remnants of the many Texas drive-ins that can still be seen and to document what still exists of the dead and gone ones.

I have done another drive-in post for the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-in located in Austin, where I also work occasionally (book us for parties or check us out at austindrivein.com!), and this blog certainly inspires in my quest for understanding why drive-ins are so terrific. In the state of Texas alone there are reportedly the remains (in all states of condition including wiped off the map) of 404 abandonded drive-ins. Not to be totally doomsday about the drive-in, there are still roughly 17 still operating in the state. This site has a great catalogue of all the drive-in of Texas, and any state.

Ok, so the blog is really my pet project that I’ve been meaning to get started on since moving to Texas in August. The first drive-in I recorded was the Starlite Theater outside the town of Brenham. It was a fun trip and I’m looking forward to doing many others. The next drive-in venture will be at the Old 87 Drive-in located in Fredericksburg. So, if interested in what happens, check out my other blog. I won’t update it on a schedule, because I just cannot be that punctual with everything.

Blue Starlite Drive In

January 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

I have questions that at times take years and years to unravel. Before coming to a point where that question can be understood and possibly solved, I have normally continued to some other equally dire distraction. However, one I return to periodically is a beast I know as a drive-in movie theatre.

Yes, the type of drive-in Michael J. Fox runs his Delorean into on Back to the Future III, the place where anyone over 45 had their first heavy makeout session, and where anyone under 45 wishes they could have their first makeout session.

Why are they so terrific? Why are there none around anymore? When will they make an official comeback? Should they even make a comeback? Why do we need drive-ins?

Well, it’s more than one question I guess.

Drive-in theaters, also called ozoners, today are above all else the ultimate delivery nostalgia. They’re nostalgic because not many are around anymore and yet their mere existence is embedded in our past and contemporary culture. Somewhere in the late 80’s (I blame bucket seats and Reagan) the ozoner lost it’s audience of teenagers and families. The clunky huge, four screen, 1200 car drive-ins out in the countryside became ripe for the growing hunger of 90’s urban sprawl, namely housing divisions and super communities. Cars became bigger, we all got bigger televisions in our media rooms, and entertainment became a very private and isolated pastime. We lost the fun of making a “night of it”, getting all the blankets and chairs into the back of our pickup and sitting under the stars half watching the movie and half interacting with our friends, family, and perfect strangers a car next to us. It was just no fun I guess – or the idea of fun was misplaced.

Well don’t look now, but the drive-in experience is kind of making a viable comeback. In Austin Texas, the drive-in has found a home in the heart of the city – at the Blue Starlite Drive-in. This is not your granddad’s drive-in though. At the Blue Starlite Drive-in you can enjoy all the things that made the drive-in incredibly awesome, and you can throw in some new twists for free. The fresh air, the buzz of community, the enormous screen with Austin as it’s backdrop, the vintage speakers, the stars overhead, the popcorn, and the double feature. It’s enough to make anyone pine for the simpler times of 1950’s high school, classic cars, and that first kiss.

Of course, to live in nostalgia is super cheesy and the Cleavers are far from the family that I truly identify with, but I do think the drive-in offers a link seeded in a deep cultural psyche of many people. The drive-in was an extension of freedom and at the same time a fear/excitement of adulthood. Drive-ins are one of the few places where that universal process is central to the experience.

I’m sure the drive-in will never capture the landscape as it did 80 years ago, but here in Austin I think it can capture a small bit of the urban landscape. That’s right, to hell with noise ordinances and Hummers. Now with two locations, one on E.6th and the original on Cesar Chavez Blvd, the Blue Starlite is entering the fray of an American tradition. And it’s doing so by updating it, Richard Hollingshead is probably rolling in his perfectly angled grave at not patenting this idea.

The owner of the Blue Starlite, Josh, took it upon himself to hunt down outdoor speakers and paraphanelia from online, paint the side of a building white, buy a projector and trailer, and run an urban boutique drive-in. I love this on so many levels. The time is right, the place is right, and the drive-in is right. People are looking for genuine experiences, and they are finding drive-ins a perfect fit for an alternative and cheap way to get out and enjoy some freedom and adulthood making.

So I have a new question.

What’s better than watching Teen Wolf under the stars with a crackly old speaker hanging precariously inside your car ?


It’s an exciting time in Austin, the drive-in is coming back reincarnated after being gone for decades. Check out the website for all the details on showtimes, prices, and renting them out for a private event.

Blue Starlite Website

Nasher Sculpture Center is Dandy!

December 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

Went to the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas a few days ago. My primary reason was to watch the RedWings beat the Stars (which they did 7-3) and then to get some time at the center. I got exactly 30 minutes.

It’s ok though, the nice guy at the door charged me 3 bucks and I spent four of those minutes talking about how Michigan needed to get Miles or Harbaugh after they fire Rich Rod. I’m not saying I hope Michigan loses Saturday, I just can’t stand an offense that is so amazingly unpredictable fronting a defense that has been disregarded as important. But enough.

There are three things I want to mention about Nasher. The building, the James Turrell “Tending”  installation, and the landscaping.

So, of course, the building is gorgeous – kudos to Renzo Piano again. Love the guy so much. What he does well here, and why I like the Kimball so much, is he controls light and atmosphere with the building. Piano is amongst the masters of the architectural engineer. The details for his vaulted glass and steel roof assembly is so beautiful that it is their brochure! The great thing about the building itself is that it can be appreciated quickly, as I had to prove. It leaves a great deal of separation to itself and yet is tied together so nicely by material and craft.

The second thing that really blew me away was the landscape work of Peter Walker. I read that Piano had envisioned apple orchards but was talked out of it. Good idea, because I’m not so sure how well apples do here in the Texas spring and summer. Without going into great detail, the layout follows from the buildings five vaults and lines geographically well with reflecting pools, stands of bamboo, lined giant Oak, and sculptures that are the main focus. The two features I’d like to point to are at the back of the garden, the terraces and the pools. At the back of the garden Walker offers such a great layering views between the garden and the busy street. He does this by placing various yet measured planting of whimsical deciduous trees such as weeping willows in the forefront while terracing back into brushy coniferous trees at the back. In between there are small flowering plants and dark stone walls that look right out of a Irish  sheep wall. The views are just endless, and with the wind blowing it was like a walk in Tim Burton film. The two pools that ran horizontal to the entrance of the James Turrell exhibit also caught my eye. One relecting pool was bubbling and moving, adding that sound of water to bounce off the walls. Another pool between it and the entrance was calm. Now, either the circulation was busted or it was intentional. If it was intentional I’d like to say it was like taking two turns into the sanctuary at the Unity Temple…. and the Turrell installation was the sanctuary.

I will be honest, I’m not a big fan of the lighting schemes James Turrell is well known for. I thought his work at the Chinati Foundation was really dissapointing. Maybe it was a bad day. But his work at Nasher was spectacular – top notch. It’s unlikely I’ll ever get to see Roden Crater, so this was the closest thing to it I’ll see for a while. It is great, almost excellent. The entry had a dark right turn, with some lighting accents/hues for a threshold, and the blasted doors blocked the sounds of everything outside. The execution of the entire chamber was just – well – in a word – beautiful. The sky was blue as the ocean and after having rained all morning I couldn’t help but look at the drainage system he had designed. Everything had a slight slope and the water always found a one inch seam to fall through and be carried out. The noise of Dallas comes wafting in like a fresh pie, helicopters and all, and just bounces off the white walls and gray granite seats. I always wonder how open air works of art can last, but the Pantheon seems to be holding up.

In a very short period I gained an appreciation for what Dallas has to offer architecturally. There is always a lot to hate or be disgruntled in – but from the arts district I can see some good things.

I’d like to do another little piece of an old house I came across that was holding like a tin soldier to the mammoth towers that loomed over it. A rickety porch, an old Ford Ranger, and a bleached plastic Santa stood post as the big money grabbed it’s neighbors and waited for the moment to add to the Dallas skyline.

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