20041024

I'm Tough and Stuff

In case you weren't aware, September was National Preparedness Month. People in Florida have this ironed out after Charley, Francis, Ivan, and Jeanne paid them visits this summer. But what does "preparedness" mean? We're Texans. We don't need no steenkeeng preparedness. We're tough and stuff... or so I thought until Allison decided to flood the Houston a couple of years ago. Plus, she did it last September. Everyone knows floods should occur early in the week so that we don't have to work and can still get paid.

Rather than discuss what we should do to be prepared for a terrorist attack or a category five hurricane, it is much more enjoyable to talk about things you should know prior to taking your late summer vacation to strange, foreign lands.

Let's do this in the "framework" laid out for us by the U.S. General Services Administration, which consists of three basic steps:

1. Make a Plan
2. Get a Kit
3. Be Informed

As is the case with many governmental processes, the steps are backward. How can you make a plan if you're not informed? We'll get to that in second.

Be Informed

My plan usually consists of not having a plan and free styling as things happen. Unfortunately, it is typically not very effective as my parents will tell you. Discovering what you don't know before you arrive comes into play.

Free styling a plan is cool until you're stuck in a hotel bar eating a crappy sandwich while watching WWE on mute with Celine Dion blasting in the background, which is what happens on business trips to Mississauga, Ontario de Canadia.

Picture a cool Euro-looking town complete with low pollution, funny money and interesting food. Now blend that vision with an image of Deer Park circa Urban Cowboy. Oh, and do not forget that your hotel is connected to your office, i.e. tu es sans voiture.

Had I only known these details prior to departing George Bush Intercontinental Airport, I could have executed Step 2 in the GSA Preparedness list: Get a Kit.

Get a Kit

No matter how Tough and Stuff you are, a good kit is a key ingredient to surviving outside of Texas or even some places in it. No matter how misinformed or ignorant you are a good kit (not a uniform for the Brits) can bail you out of any situation, just ask MacGyver.

According to the GSA web-site, our kit is supposed to consist of, among other items, all things battery powered, extra batteries, duct tape and plastic sheeting.

NOTE: you may want to include baby oil to get the duct tape adhesive off your skin. Don't ask. Let's just say I saw it on the Discovery Channel. Thank me later.

Since most Texans I know already have this stuff in their toiletries kit, I encourage you to develop your own Not in Texas Survival Kit (NTSK). Using the Mississauga situation as "basis for comparison" (buzzword), let's "drill down" (buzzword) to the core elements of a NTSK.

Hot Sauce of Choice
Canadian bacon is about as haute as cuisine gets at the Mississauga Novotel (the Motel 6 of Canada). My jerked chicken wrap was as big as an adolescent enchilada and tasted like it had been jerked from the side of the interstate. It needed some pep. I was jonesing for some Cholula in a bad way. You should definitely bring your own hot sauce.

Booze (or beverage of choice)
I'm not an alcoholic, but I played one on stage once. However, that said, I do enjoy kicking back with a cocktail after a long day at the office. So, I ordered a Jack on the rocks. What I got tasted more like a watery Jack snow cone. I could have easily averted the situation with a quick trip to the duty free shop. Coke drinkers should heed the bring your own advice as well. Canada (and other countries for that matter) have their own formula of Coke. Let's just say, "Not a big fan." Lesson #2: B.Y.O.B.

Music
If you were paying attention earlier, this entry needs no explanation. Celine Dion during dinner? Celine Dion during wrestling? Celine Dion during anything? I need to send the YouHaveBadTasteInMusic.com guy up there. I suggested that the barmaid use my iPod to save those us from Celine, but she was not digging Lyle Lovett, The Scabs, Bob Schneider, The El Orbits, Pat Green or any other Texas type musicians I suggested. Kit part #3: music
There you have the three key ingredients for survival outside of your natural habitat. You may also want to include something regional. For example, if you are from Alpine, you'll definitely to bring your own goatheads and prickly pears.

Make a Plan

We don't need no steenkeeng plan. We've got a kit.

Post Script: You may also want to add extra alarm clocks to the kit so you don't end up stranded in Lost Wages after oversleeping and missing your plane... like me.

--
This was originally posted on TheBackWord.com, a Texas-centric eZine that has gone the way of the jackalope.

20041010

12 Steps for Surviving Austin City Limits Music Festival 2005

Attending and surviving an everyday concert is as easy as a two-step algebra problem. Doing the same for a concert of the magnitude of Austin City Limits (ACL) Music Festival requires a few more. It's been said that there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. Bigger attendance at next year's ACL Fest can be added to that list as well. Here are 12 steps that will enable you to deal with the heat, humidity and humanity as effectively as possible. With a little luck, you'll survive next year's fest in one piece, or just a couple really big pieces.

1. Accept Reality
Repeat after me. I will be hot, sweaty and nasty within moments of departing my parking spot of choice. There will be thousands of people all over the place. Many of these people will trample me, my blankie and my friends to see their favorite band or get a beer. I should not attend if I'm going to be a colossal PITA (Pain In The A…) to my friends or other Festers. I'm OK with these hard facts and realize that I only have control of myself (and my leashed-up children or significant other).

2. Buy a Three Day Pass
Even if you may only be able to attend one day. Chances are better than average that you will end up going for all three days. When you do, you will be psyched that you paid $25 per day instead of the $40 per day alternative. Better still is scoring free VIP tickets from a buddy. Be forewarned, this may cause some of your other friends to be grumpy at you. Should you need to bail on two of the three days, you will have no problem unloading your three-day tickets at a nice profit. (Ticket brokers do it. Why can't we?) One more thing, you only have to remember to bring your ticket one time if you get a pass a.k.a. wristband. Oh, and another thing. You can escape to Barton Springs for a deodorizing dip during the slow parts of the Fest. No re-entry with a single day ticket.

3. Use Sun Protection
ACL Fest Saturday was officially the hottest day thus far in 2004. You don't want to end up as the barbequed knucklehead at the office on Monday do you? How about the hapless individual in the first aid tent with heat-scrambled brain between your ears? I didn't think so. Bring a hat, sunglasses and wear tons of sunscreen. The cocoa butter scent will cover up the stench you created whilst trekking to Zilker Park.

4. Ride Your Bike
You already know you're going to be sweaty so save on parking fees and walking by riding your bike. Ain't got one? Buy one from a pawn shop. You'll probably be able to find one that will cost you 30% less than a three-day rental. When you're finished just re-pawn it or park it in your buddy's apartment garage since you live in Houston. No guarantees that he won't give it away to the hottie Danish exchange student living down the hall. If you are using, "I don't live a bikeable distance from Zilker" as an excuse, don't sweat it. Get your dually driving buddy to deposit you and your sled some place close or just drive you own vehicle to a free parking lot and ride in from there. Find a way to ride a bike. You do not want to be stuck in the Saturday shuttle line.

5. Go With a Group
There are endless benefits to going with a group. Here are a few: you'll have partners in crime to aid you in protecting your area. Multiple people equates to more people to buy festival supplies like beer, snacks and sunscreen. Plus, a group is essential to implementing the "Two Blanket Strategy."

6. Two Blanket Strategy
Key to a successful Sunday. You need to have at least four to six in your group to pull this off. Skip ahead if you don't or if you don't care about being spitting distance from Ben Harper or your Artist Of Choice (AOC).

Blanket 1 - Base of Operations (BO): arrive early enough to stake out a primo spot in front of the AOC's stage. Pending a tight line-up, you should be in a good position to enjoy a great afternoon of music. Be certain to get enough space to accommodate the Roamers.

Blanket 2 - The Roamers: this will be your roaming base for checking out the side stages and other acts around the fest. Roamers should return to the BO sufficiently early for the AOC.

6a. Location, Location, Location
Choosing the right set-up location is important particularly if you are a single base of operation. That said, the best place to set-up is in between two venues with decent site lines for each. All you need to do is rotate your chair. For example, there was a really sweet spot in between the Cingular (only our phones will work) stage and the Bank of America stage. A simple rotation afforded our team views of Modest Mouse and then a primo view of My Morning Jacket.

7. Bring a Chair
Unless you are planning on noodle dancing or laying down, a foldable chair is worth a four dollar investment. Your back will thank you. Plus, you can use it and your buddy's chairs to stake off your BO. If that's not enough, chairs make great flagpole holders.

8. Bring a Banner
Thirty-five years of New Orleans Jazz Festers can't be wrong. Bring a "distinctive" banner or flag to mark you group. "Distinctive" infers that there will not be another one like it. If you insist on bringing an American flag or a Texas flag, be sure it's unique like my friend G.C.'s Texas Mardi Gras Flag, Texas flag in Mardi Gras colors. Having a banner helps your posse regroup and let's people know you mean business.

9. Drink a Lot
of water. Texas is hot. But, you knew that already. Alcohol has a dehydrating effect on your bodily tissue, i.e. it will cause your pea-sized brain to shrink resulting in a super-sized headache and potentially worse. Drinking water does not mean you're a wuss. It means you don't want your friends to have to carry your sorry ass to the first aid tent during The Pixies or another AOC. You've got no excuse. You can bring in two bottles of water per person; size does not matter in this case.

10. Eat Kettle Korn
My friends all laughed when I came back from an emergency snack run with a plastic bag full of popcorn. Neither the laughing nor the corn lasted long. Think of it as crack in a bag; everyone who tasted it was couldn't quit eating it. Sure it's a guilty pleasure that brings back memories of cabbage-smelling carnies peddling it. It also happens to be the best value for your money in the snack arena, and it's vegetarian friendly.

11. Figure out your rendezvous strategy beforehand
What happens when you put 70,000 people in a 15 acre park? 50,000 cell phone users show up and all want to call their friends at the same time. Your phone won't work no matter how you yell into it whilst I'm straining to hear Jack Johnson over your whining. Avoid the issue and set a time to meet them at the Tag-a-Kid. Your friends and I will thank you.

12. Check out the Texas Artists
You have doled out dough for primo tickets and all of the necessary accoutrements. You owe it to yourself to check out as many Texas artists as you can. Terry Allen. Bob Schneider. Joe Ely. The Gourds. Patti Griffin. David Garza. Etc. See you at the Fourth Annual ACL Fest next year. I'll be the cool dude on the purple ladies bike.

--
This was originally posted on TheBackWord.com, a Texas-centric eZine that has gone the way of the jackalope.

20040927

What Non-Texans Don't Know...

Don't Mess With Texas started out as an eco-preservation campaign

Some folks have written columns about Texas and bashed the "Don't Mess with Texas" slogan for being part of an anti-litter prevention campaign instead of something developed by Sam Houston or Colonel Travis. So we've got a cool slogan that started in the trash. Big deal. It still sounds cooler than...um...uh...say, what is your state slogan? Don't hate. It causes wrinkles.

Everyone does not wear cowboy outfits all of the time

I don't care what you thought you saw in Urban Cowboy. There are more than a few truths to be learned from that movie, three of which are:
  1. Debra Winger is not hot
  2. Deer Park is really scenic
  3. No one dresses like that anymore. Except at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, but then, I have already mentioned that before (see Houston: A Really Big Small Town).
Everyone does have a gun

Or has shot one at some point. Some friends of mine from the Mid West and I were telling stories of 410 shotgun gifts for 10 year-olds and grandma's squirrel spaghetti. Then, it dawned on me that those occurrences are not just par for the course in the majority of the population centers around the nation, particularly when three of the five people chorused, "You got a shotgun for Christmas in the 3rd grade?" Quit your belly aching. Guns don't kill people. Stupid people kill people.

Pick-up trucks are the official state vehicle, but they will not fit in all parking garages

Do you doubt it? There's got to be at least 20 "Texas Edition" models in production at one time. Once Toyota comes out with the Texas Tundra all bets are off. What's so great about driving a pick-up you ask? I'll defer to P.J. O'Rourke, who wrote: "A pickup truck is basically a back porch with an engine attached. Both a pickup and a back porch are good places to drink beer..." Don't worry, your neighbors will love your new dualie when you pull it up in the yard with a truck bed full of squirrels. Oh yeah, the Highway Patrol drives 'em too.

Tex-Mex and Mexican food are not the same thing

If you don't believe me, you should venture across the border to Presidio (just across the Rio Grande from Big Bend National Park) and order enchiladas or anything else you may have gotten at a Chi-Chi's in Hoboken, NJ or wherever you come from. It's not even close to the same. For that matter, the "Tex-Mex" you have been eating is suspect as well. It should have some pep. It should make Emeril's "Bam!" look like just a dab of salt on some freedom fries. Come to Houston; go to Irma's and you'll know what I'm talking about. But go to Presidio first.

Road Construction is a way of life

It has been said by many folks across the plains that the orange construction barrel is the State Bird. In fact, I believe I remember seeing O.C. Barrel on the ballot for State Senate the at polls last year. The prevalence of the barrels around the state is not without consequence. Short term equals bad traffic. Long term equals better roads and bad traffic. But the piece de resistance is the fact that road construction projects have no regard for other projects already in progress in your area. Loop 610 and Highway 59 under construction at the same time, there's no problem. Mix in a bunch of downtown construction and the easiest part of your drive may just be getting a ticket from that pickup truck driving cop.

Reality be damned, Big 12 is the toughest football conference

According to people in Texas. Sure Oklahoma is good most of the time, but the transitive property does not hold true here. It's a classic case of ranking inflation based on past prowess. Just look at Notre Dame or Penn State. They still get televised due to name recognition. Sure, they're famous. But that does not mean they are good. If you are moving here for a reason other than to attend Texas A&M or University of Texas, you will be forced to choose at some point. It's the lesser of two weevils: choose a team steeped in tradition but whose fans say, "Gig 'em" or a team whose coach can't make a choice between quarterbacks resulting in sub par performances from his team. Wake up and taste the Sugar Bowl. Go Tigers! (Spelling Go like Geaux is dumb too).

You will develop regional pride

I moved here a few years ago from the greatest football town on the planet. No, not New Orleans. Baton Rouge. I hated it, but I did not really know why. The reality was that I didn't hate it. I had just been programmed that way by folks who lived elsewhere and had an ex in Texas. Now don't think I'll be emulating my friends whose houses are decorated like a Texas Museum of History, complete with antique flags, Alamo remnants and vials of Sam Houston's blood on the mantel (actually it's in the sock drawer). You get the picture. Over the years, a reluctant sense of Texas pride has developed within me. Houston pride is well represented to, as much out of love as it is to spite Houston Haters ignorant bunch that they are. By the way, just because I like Texas does not mean I quit thinking Dallas sucks. Go Texans!

--
This was originally posted on TheBackWord.com, a Texas-centric eZine that has gone the way of the jackalope.

20040809

Houston: A Really Big Small Town

I want to change the way you think about Houston. Look past the strip malls and strip joints that line I-45, to see beyond the Enron scandal and to embrace the goodness that Houston has to offer. I want you to think of Houston as Small Town America, a really big small town in America. I travel quite a bit and have earned many accolades from various frequent traveler incentive plans. It was no surprise when my Avis "Please Keep Renting From Us" package arrived. I noticed that the fourth largest city in the nation was not listed in the guidebook.

Are you kidding me? The center of the NASA universe? Home to the most popular NFL expansion team of the 2000s? This is not a slight to be taken lightly. Anyone who knows me probably thinks I've flipped my lid. Over the years, a reluctant sense of Houston pride has developed within me. I'm not sure what turned me into a Texas fan. When I moved to Texas six years ago, it was a half-hearted effort at best spurned on by the promise of a good job. Maybe it was the weekly commute to Connecticut. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and so does the generally crappy attitude of the folks I experienced in the North East. After two frozen screwdrivers at Under the Volcano (Bissonnet St.) you could probably sell me on why the Compaq Center would make a great church.



The New Downtown

Downtown Houston is off the chain like a Rottweiler on steroids. It's now alive thanks to the economic boom of the late '90s which brought Minute Maid Park (home of the Houston Astros, formerly Enron Field), the new Light Rail, and the Toyota Center Sports Arena. New businesses, clubs and restaurants seem to thrive in the reinvigorated atmosphere. Now Houstonians can finally live in style, even on the weekends. In the next two to three years, the central business district will be poised to make a run at Dallas for best urban enclave in Texas.

Dive Bar Scene

People seem to be a bit more genuine when you catch them enjoying a Pearl Light in cutoffs instead of trying not to spill a $15 martini on themselves. As much as I like watching beautiful people prance around in their black, wrinkle-free outfits, I'd rather be at a bar. La Carafe and Warren's Inn are both part of the dive bar scene downtown. Warren's presents incredibly strong drinks for very little dinero. La Carafe features early 20th century charm courtesy of its antique location, which is one of the city's oldest buildings. Other highlights include the Texas-shaped table at Kay's Lounge (in Rice Village) and Long Island Iced Teas at Marquis II.

Memorial Park

Think inner Houston has no trees? We consolidated them all to one spot for viewing pleasure. Memorial Park, our Central Park, is situated just south of I-10 inside Loop 610. It features a 2.9-mile running trail, golf course, tennis courts, mountain bike trails and many other ways to work up a sweat and erase the transgressions of a night of partying. Plus, where else but Houston can you run three miles and then step into a burger joint adjacent to the fitness trail?

Raymond's Barbershop

If you have hair like mine (it can't decide if it wants to be a fro or straight), then you know how hard it is to find a decent haircut. Raymond's is the best barbershop in Houston hands down, scoring 11 on a ten-point scale. Metrosexuals be warned. You should not go there expecting a shampoo girl and frappucino. But, for only eight bucks Mr. Raymond or Carl will hook you up with a nice clean cut that is worth every bit of the up-to-an-hour wait. Feel free to use the $10 - $50+ you just saved to get your coffee at Treasures, Houston's largest gentleman's club.

Monday Night BINGO with The El Orbits

This weekly fest features cheap beer and martinis (well before people started buying martinis just to look cool) and prizes that you just can't live without. In just a few minutes I was totally absorbed by Fiona, the BINGO Temptress, and the intoxicating lounge fusion of The El Orbits. Fortunately, I was one of the lucky winners that night taking home a C-3PO toothbrush, Colgate Total and a PEZ dispenser and pocket watch.

The Menil Collection

Houston has plenty to offer in the way of performance art, live music and museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Natural Science and the Children's Museum. All garner thousands of visitors each year, as well they should. But, the crown jewel of Houston culture is The Menil Collection, which houses the private art collection of John and Dominique de Menil. Tucked away in the Montrose district of Houston, The Menil presents selected works from the 15,000+ item inventory on a rotational basis. The Menil Collection can transform even the most aloof patron into an art aficionado in just a few visits thanks to broad spectrum of tastes accommodated by the antiquities, tribal, medieval and 20th century art that adorn its galleries.

Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo

Look no further than the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. People watching is the blue ribbon event each Spring. Depravity takes shape every year as hundreds of area teenagers strut their stuff in outfits that bring to mind images of Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver dragging decadence by the cattle trailer. It's entertaining to see the majority of spectators all duded up in their best Wrangler's and ├╝berstarched, bulletproofed shirts that could probably stop an artillery round. Even I dust off my old Double H boots for the annual pilgrimage. Urban Cowboy lives on. May we all look as good as Travolta and Winger March 2005.

McGonigel's Mucky Duck

Faced with a choice between going to see Dave at The Woodlands or Bob Schneider at The Mucky Duck? We should all be so lucky. But, The Mucky Duck should win every time. Located just off Highway 59 inside Loop 610, McGonigel's Mucky Duck has presented the best live acoustic performances (both local and nationally renowned) that Houston has ever seen including Junior Brown, Todd Snider, Terry Allen, Reckless Kelly. Not only will sitting three feet away from Bob blow your date away, but also the snazzy, personalized place saver menu will likely impress him/her. Shows tend to sell out quickly, but Standing Room Only seats are typically available the day of the show.

Lupe Tortilla's

So you think the Tex-Mex joint around the corner from your place has the best fajitas ever? Think again. Lupe Tortilla's is the best fajita-ery in Houston, bar none. The sign may say "Ees preety good," but locals know that is a vast understatement. Perfect flank steak and a tangy, sublime marinade combine with a sizzling platter to craft a unique experience right down to the "wafer-thin" tortillas. Be forewarned, an off-the-menu item at this kid friendly restaurant is the long wait for a table. Don't worry, there is a newly expanded bar featuring beer and margaritas to get you through the doldrums.

Baseball at Minute Maid Park

Pundits like Peter Gammons still insist that baseball remains the national pastime. Minute Maid Park is helping to keep it that way. Minute Maid features a uniquely intimate baseball environment by combining some old- timey architecture with 21st century features like the Minute Maid Squeeze Play for kids and a bar in centerfield for adults. The Astrodome remains an icon in baseball history, but the retractable roof and downtown location make the park a great place to catch a ball game. Five dollar seats are typically available on game day, except when Clemens is pitching. So, the next time some replies to your, "I'm from Texas," with, "Ooooo, Austin or Dallas?" Let them know what's up. We have a faster Light Rail than Dallas (66 mph vs. 65 mph) and Austin's rush hour traffic rivals ours. And, yes, there is a strip joint in the strip mall just down the street if they need a party on demand.

--
This was originally posted on TheBackWord.com, a Texas-centric eZine that has gone the way of the jackalope.

20040719

A Cubs Fan in Houston

Last week, Houston became a hub for baseball as the game's big leaguers hit town for the Major League All-Star Game. Local sport fanatics transformed from Astros fans to fans of The Game, at least for the week's festivities. In fact, Houston baseball fans were so generous they refrained from boos even after Miguel Tejada beat Lance Berkman in the Home Run Derby.

So with that in mind, I can think of no better time to confess that I am a Chicago Cubs fan. Houston, calm down. I realize that it doesn't make sense, but allow me to explain.

It was the early 1980s and I was just discovering professional baseball. My best friend, Clay, was a fan of Nolan Ryan and thus an Houston Astros fan. I didn't know who Nolan Ryan was much less who he played for. All I knew was the Astros were in Texas along with the Dallas Cowboys, the regional rivals of my New Orleans Saints.

Those Astros were evil since they were based in the same state as the Cowboys. Only later would I realize that Dallas in general was the root of all evil, not the whole state of Texas. However, it would be too late to salvage that 'Stros fandom.

Shortly after explaining to Clay that the Astros were evil by mere association, cable television arrived in Baton Rouge--and I was saved! Not only did this latch key kid now have thirteen channels of broadcasts to explore, but I discovered 'da Cubs.

Let's flashback, Wayne's World style.

I convinced my mom to let me stay home instead of KinderCare imprisoned with the rest of those elementary school refugees. "Don't leave the house," and "Keep this door locked until I get home," my mom warned.

What was I supposed to do?

Watch the superstations: ChiPs on WTBS,then flip to the Cubs on WGN.

I watched the Braves on WTBS, but that didn't work for me. Everything on WTBS started at five after the hour. Ted Turner is such a genius. Although I'm uncertain whether the five after rule was a better idea than marrying Jane Fonda.

Besides that five minute debacle, the Cubs had the late, great Harry Caray on the mic. Those Braves never had a chance. Harry Caray and the Cubs of the mid-80s were easy to like. The banter between Caray and his partner, Steve Stone, was classic. Show me a person that didn't think Harry Caray's "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was entertaining. I'll show you someone that should visit McCarthy's Committee on Un-American Activities.

Those days were much better than today's carousel of no-talent yahoos cycling through the Press Box during the seventh inning stretch. Sure, Caray was very entertaining, but the Cubs of the early 80's weren't half bad either. They won the division in 1984. The line-up was formidable: Leon Durham, Ron Cey, Jody Davis, Andre Dawson, Shawon Dunston and Ryne Sandberg, the original #23 from Chicago.

That was back in the 80s. You were living in Louisiana and didn't know any better. Why aren't you an Astros fan now after having lived here for six years?

Great question. I'm not really sure.

Maybe it is because I like being a pain in the butt, which my mom will substantiate. I tried being an Astros fan during spring training. But, who can give up on twenty-two years of being a Cubs fan just like that?

I'd fight my fleeting allegiance to the Houston Astros by renewing my vows to Ernie Banks and the Cubs with a trip to Wrigley Field. I even bought a new Cubs hat.

When my roommate, Bartley, converted to the Astros in 1999, I told him that I liked the Astros. They're the home town team, and they're not half bad--if you don't count getting swept by the Cubs during their four game home stand.

The Astros are a star-laden (Biggio, Bagwell, Berkman, Clemens, Pettite, Beltran) franchise with potential to stay ahead of the Pittsburg Pirates. Even my Chicago friends agree that the Astros are a great team. My buddy, Mr. T (not the A-Team guy),who lives in a building behind Wrigley Field, said he cheers for the Astros whenever they weren't playing the Cubs. That's my stance too.

That is if it is not during Wild Card time.

I will be a Cubs fan forever or at least until I am the Mayor of Houston or I buy the Astros. Now if the Cubs or the Astros could just beat the St. Louis Cardinals all would be right in the world.

--
This was originally posted on TheBackWord.com, a Texas-centric eZine that has gone the way of the jackalope.

20040531

The Parallels Between Texas and Italy

Time stands still at Bologna’s Centrale Stazione at 2:17 am. I arrived at 1:42 am on a train from Milan. In the interim 30 minutes, I have been observing the motley crew of cab drivers, street vendors and weary travelers filling the spaces in and around the station. I would love nothing more to be in Houston right now. But, my flight to home via Amsterdam will not leave for at least five hours, which is fine with me since going back to Houston means going back to the grind. Back to the cube. Back in the 610 traffic. Back to the Tex-Mex, “so I got that going for me, which is nice.”

My two weeks in Italy were spent power lounging, savoring the cuisine, gawking at ancient relics and bouncing around the party scene. It was marvelous. So marvelous that I don’t mind spending my last waking hours at a train station at stupid o’clock.

Mass transit stations in any city, particularly in a strange land, are no place to be in the wee hours of the morning. I need a strategy for not getting mugged and not sleeping past my flight. Time to develop a combo strategy. Let’s call it “How Not to Get Mugged While Staying Awake After Virtually No Sleep.”

OK, my HNGMWSAAVNS strategy is finished. Step 1: find a McDonald’s. Step 2: order a Cafe Americano. Step 3: Nurse the coffee ‘til you can nurse it no longer, and the security guard asks you to leave. Step 4: repeat Step 2. So I head over to the adjacent McDonald’s for a break from the rainy grubbiness. I order my first four-ounce Cafe Americano and start putting together my next plan, “How to Move to Italy, Live for Free & Drink Wine All Day.”

There are two options for living in Italy - legal immigration and illegal immigration. The illegal route is really easy. Step 1: Vacation in Italy for two weeks. Step 2: don’t go home. I have no desire to show up on CNN or BBC 1, BBC 2 or BBC 3 as an international fugitive. Thus, I will try to develop a legal plan.

After careful consideration for at least two minutes, I have determined that everything seems to hinge on obtaining a permanent resident permit. I am not independently wealthy, so the celebrity visa is out of the question. I can’t find a corporate entity to sponsor me. So, it doesn’t seem as if the a red, white and green card is coming my way any time soon. The only option is to draw as many parallels between life in Texas and life in Italy as possible. That way, I can trick myself into believing that I am living in a society that doesn’t start before 9am, encourages wine imbibing and copious napping at lunch and provides 30+ days of vacation to everyone. So, here goes.

In the interest of simplicity, I have decided to focus on three keys areas: food, language and driving. You may agree that each of these areas can have a substantial effect on your comfort level while in both Texas and Italy.

Language

Everyone in Italy speaks a different language than my ignorant, uni-lingual self. No sweat, lots of folks in Houston speak Spanish all of the time. In fact, many of my Spanish speaking compadres that went to Italy with me say that Spanish and Italian are very similar. Great news! That means I can say, “I want to wear your ass like a hat!” in Italian as well. Verdict: tie ball game.

Food

I have been visiting Italy every Easter for five years now. These Easter breaks have ruined all of the Italian restaurants in Houston and most other American cities. The gnocci is devine, and the lasagna is deliciously saucey. Texas has its own little brand of specialty cuisine called Tex-Mex. Once you’ve had Tex-Mex in Texas, you will be ruined forever. Lucky for you that the best non-Texas-based fajitas are available at Le Texan in Monte Carlo; it’s close to Italy. Good luck finding Migas in the EU. Like the US, there is a McDonald’s on practically every corner in Italy. Fortunately for us unilingual ‘Mericans, Big Mac is a universal term. But, like Vince said in Pulp Fiction, it’s the little things that make Europe different. Like curry sauce for your nuggets. Or the raging hip-hop music that has snapped me back to reality. “Oops, there goes gravity.” Apparently, the Italian golden arches turn into a rave venue at 2:30 in the morning. Who knew? To sum up, fajitas and lasagna cancel each other out. The yummy McDonald’s curry sauce is off set by the techno-disco muzak. Verdict: Tie.

Driving

One would think that our mass transit crazy brothers and sisters would not have very much traffic since most folks are on buses or trains all of the time. Wrong. Rush hour traffic in Milano is at least as bad as Houston. Their version of the interstate, Autostrade, was bumper-to-bumper by 4:00 pm.

How many times have you been sitting in a traffic jam when all of a sudden a motorcycle nearly takes off your side mirror as it streaks between you and the car next door? Have you ever seen scooter cross? No? Don’t worry. Scooter cross is the next big extreme sport and you can bet your ass that Italians will win. For the uninitiated, scooter cross is what occurs on all roads, even the Autostrade, and at every red light in Italy. Allow me to paint the scene.

You are standing on the corner of a perpendicular intersection in Rome, near the Colosseum. The light turns red. Fiats, Citroens and Ferraris glide to a halt permitting pedestrian masses to cross the street. In the distance you hear the whine of a motor with a hair dryer like quality. The whine gets closer and closer. Suddenly, a Vespa streaks to the red light, slices through the cars and skids to a halt. The rider seems perturbed by the interruption. She is exasperated at the nerve of the cars and shifts her cigarette from side-to-side with her tongue. Princess Vespa (go watch Space Balls) is joined at the light by an Aprilla scooter, a Ducati cruiser, a Honda crotch rocket and a few other Vespas. These riders are talking on cell phones, sending text messages and smoking.

All of the two-wheeled machines’ engines howl as the light turns green. The riders blast themselves off into oblivion trying to win a race being run in their minds. Couple these endless races with bumper to bumper traffic comprised of drivers that treat lanes on the highway like a two year-old treats lines in a coloring book and you have the recipe for disaster.

Verdict

Houston.

I can not believe I am saying that. In short, I will be living in Houston, instead of Italy, until I am independently wealthy because the Houston traffic is more endurable than Italian driving. Clearly the wee hours, mounting exhaustion and four Cafe Americanos have taken a toll on my better judgment. Oh well. I still can’t wait to get back to Houston.

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This was originally posted on TheBackWord.com, a Texas-centric eZine that has gone the way of the jackalope.

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The BackWord.com

I will be contributing thoughts and ramblings to a new online zine called The BackWord. "Our goal is to focus on a variety of issues, occurrence in and around Texas. These could cover social, political, and cultural perspective. The BackWord recognizes that Texas does not solely revolve around the metropolitan areas of Austin, Dallas, and Houston. There are a lot more interesting places and people in the Lone Star state than in these vicinities. The BackWord seeks to review places, people, and events in and around the state."

For more on the aim of the site, check out what the editors have to say.