The road to hell is all torn up

While I was under the impression that the Austin city budget was hit harder by the recession than most cities, apparently I was wrong. Current city roadwork projects underway in the more-or-less central part of town include:

  • South First
  • North Lamar (this isn’t even expected to be completed until mid-2005)
  • Guadalupe & 45th Street
  • Koenig/Allandale
  • East Cesar Chavez

And that doesn’t include the eternal mess at I-35/Ben White, which is a TxDOT project.

I am genuinely curious: where has the city found the money to pay for all these projects? Did we pass a bond or something? And why are they hell-bent on taking on so many major projects in a relatively small, dense area all at once?

Museum of Ephemerata

Acting on a tip from Prentiss, Gwen and I saw the amazing and mysterious Museum of Ephemerata.

The Museum is only open to the public rarely, but is chock full of curiosities, many of which are (dare I say) entirely invented and false, such as the “yeti toy.” This itself has a long history dating back to P.T. Barnum’s Dime Museum, as they informed us on the tour. But it is presented with such panache that you enjoy going along for the ride. If the curators were more pretentious, I’d have to call what they’re doing “performance art.” But they aren’t, so I won’t.

Squeezing the golden eggs out of the goose

South Congress is becoming a victim of its own success: fun stores like Terra Toys (which has been down there as long as I can remember) and Lone Star Illusions are losing their leases, presumably to make way for tenants that can pay usuriously high rents.

South Congress has, of course, become a happening area, especially with First Thursday. The landlords, no dummies they, see the high foot traffic, see storefronts being rented to trendy, expensive boutiques, and decide to cash in.

This will backfire. Squeeze the goose that laid the golden egg and you will kill it. I’ve seen this happen before.

I grew up in Lincoln Park, Chicago. When I was born, it was not a great neighborhood–not even a good neighborhood. It supported three kinds of businesses: gyros palaces (which had mysterious fires with great regularity), resale shops, and prostitution. Gradually, thanks to people like my parents moving in, the neighborhood was rehabilitated. Rents on Clark Street (the main commercial street in the neighborhood) rose and rose. By the time that my parents opened a shop on Clark in the early 90s, much of Clark Street’s retail space was owned by a handful of landlords; my parents’ landlord, Marvin Winkler, was greedy to the point of madness. He would rather leave a storefront sit empty for a year than lower his rents. He may have been an extreme case, but ultimately, the greed of the landlords was self-defeating. The rate of business failure was very high. Stores that were useful to local residents, like copy shops and cobblers, got priced out of existence (not that the residents could afford to shop in their own neighborhood anymore, as housing prices had also skyrocketed to the point where people spent all their income on rent). A large number of new business openings were poorly conceived nicknack shops run by people with no business acumen and less chance for commercial success.

South Congress today is successful because of the shops that are there today. There’s no magic pixie dust in the air there that creates success, it’s a vibe that those shops create that will not last long beyond their absence. The landlords owning the storefronts on SoCo can raise their rents to the point where only national chains can rent from them, at which point SoCo becomes a strip mall. Or where nicknack shops with clueless operators spring up and vanish like mushrooms after a summer shower.

Visited the Ransom Center today

Visited the Ransom Center today and took in the current exhibit, “Make it New”: The Rise of Modernism.

Seeing the building itself was a big part of the reason for the visit. I hadn’t been since it underwent extensive renovations; Gwen had never been at all, and her company had been involved in the renovation. The place is quite different: the first two floors had previously been used mostly for exhibit space; now the exhibits are restricted to the first floor. While there had previously been a large standing exhibit of art (which benefited greatly from having James Michener lend some of the prizes from his personal art collection) and antiquities, along with a rotating exhibit, the permanent exhibit is now completely gone.

The current exhibit also seems to have been designed to accentuate the Ransom Center’s role as an archival repository rather than an art gallery: it featured a lot of different collateral from the period in question (roughly 1915-1930)–personal letters and notebooks, issues of obscure art magazines, even the official court decision in the Ulysses obscenity trial. The information cards accompanying almost every piece were quite extensive, and gave mini-histories to put everything in context.

The exhibit covered numerous artistic schools of thought that (apparently) fall under the general heading of modernism: vorticism, primitivism, dadaism, etc. I got the vague impression that some of these were formed to spite the founders of another movement, and I was strongly reminded of kids who start little clubs. Another aspect that struck me as interesting was the use of the word “modernism.” To me, the word has always connoted rationalism, order, optimism, and a positive attitude towards technology. In this exhibit, though, the word was used to describe schools of thought that tried to dig underneath rationalism to reach some kind of pre-conscious awareness, tried to subvert orderliness, and had ambivalent attitudes towards technology. The exhibit also (wrongly, in my opinion) cast Frank Lloyd Wright as a modernist.

There goes the Triangle

The Triangle under the backhoe

A fight that has dragged on since 1997 has ended. The Triangle, a fallow 22-acre chunk of land bounded by Lamar, Guadalupe, and 45th, and owned by the State Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, is now under development.

This was a highly politicized issue in my neighborhood, and for a long time, I was active in the fight against yet another strip mall, plunked down right in my part of town. Eventually, because of pressure by community activists (most significantly, Sabrina Burmeister, but many others as well) organized as the Neighbors of Triangle Park, the state agreed to a less-awful plan. Developers and architects signed on to the project, then abandoned it. I lost track of its progress, and what would eventually be built there.

I guess I’ll find out now.

Walter Richter, RIP

Walter Richter, a neighbor who lived one block north of me and onetime member of the State Senate, has died. I never knew him very well–we’d say hi when he’d be out walking his little dogs. His wifewidow Dorothy–known as the Mayor of Hyde Park–is quite a character, and I imagine that in his day, Walter was too.

Later I just received the following obituary. I’m afraid I don’t know the source for attribution.

Walter H. Richter, former Texas state senator, died September 8, 2003, at his Austin home. Walter Hoppe Richter was born September 17, 1916, in the Double Horn community southeast of Marble Falls, Texas. Four months before Richter’s birth, his father, Walter Herman Richter, died accidentally. Richter and his sister Esther Marie were raised by their mother, Bertha Lenore Hoppe Richter, and grandfather, George Hoppe, on the family homestead, which had been settled in the mid- 1800’s by their German immigrant ancestors. The family survived the Great Depression through subsistence farming, cotton picking, perseverance, and frugality. After graduating from Marble Falls High School in 1934, Richter attended Southwest Texas State Teacher’s College (now Texas State University). He became a member of the White Stars, a secret campus political organization (of which Lyndon Johnson was a founding member). Richter was elected editor of the school newspaper and student body president. He received a B. A. in 1938 and an M. A. in 1939. After graduation, Richter organized and ran the journalism department at his alma mater, receiving a B. J. degree from the University of Texas in 1942.

In 1938, Richter met first-year student Dorothy Jean Sample of Stockdale, Texas: “I was a smart alec graduate student at the time and my reaction was Wow!” They were married June 14, 1941.

During World War II, Richter served in the Navy as a supply officer in Ipitanga, Brazil. After the war, he purchased a small-town newspaper, The Stockdale Star, of which he was publisher and editor from 1948 to 1951. From 1950 to 1954, Richter worked for the Steck Publishing Company of Austin, traveling throughout West Texas helping high schools develop yearbooks. In 1954, Richter went to work for Gonzales Warm Springs Foundation, a physical rehabilitation center, serving as Executive Director until 1962.

Elected to the Texas State Senate in 1962, Richter served during the 1963 and 1965 legislative sessions. He sponsored legislation leading to the creation of the Texas Department on Aging.

After leaving the Senate, Richter was appointed by Governor John Connally to lead President Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty” in Texas as Director of the Texas Office of Economic Opportunity. One year later, Johnson appointed Richter to head the five-state Southwest Region of the OEO.

Subsequently, Richter lectured at the University of Texas School of Social Work on social policy, social change, and the legislative process, while heading the Community Council of Austin and Travis County. Later, Governor Preston Smith appointed Richter director of the newly created State Program on Drug Abuse.

In 1970-1971, Governor Smith appointed Richter chairman of the Texas delegation to the White House Conference on Children and Youth. President Jimmy Carter appointed Richter to serve on the U. S. Architectural and Transportation Compliance Board, which was charged with making all federal buildings accessible to the handicapped. Richter also served as co-chairman of the Texas Environmental Coalition, one of the earliest volunteer organizations to work towards protection of the state’s environment. He actively supported and served as statewide president of United Cerebral Palsy of Texas. He served for a decade as Chairman of the Government Relations Committee of the Texas Social Welfare Association, currently the United Way of Texas.

After years of government service, Richter served as Director of Government Relations (“lobbyist”) for the Association of Texas Electric Cooperatives until his “retirement” in 1985 at age 69. After retirement, Richter, recruited by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, served one year as Deputy Agriculture Commissioner. Richter also served as Chairman of the Travis County Democratic party and co-authored a book of political humor with Chuck Herring: Don’t Throw Feathers at Chickens.

Honors include the following: Distinguished Alumnus, Southwest Texas State University; naming at SWTSU The Walter H. Richter Institute of Social Work Research; Public Citizen of the Year, Austin Unit of the National Association of Social Workers; recipient of the first Walter Richter Humanitarian Award of the SWTSU Alumni Association; recipient, Marble Falls Centennial City Father Award; Lifetime Achievement Award, Marble Falls/Horseshoe Bay Chamber of Commerce; Citizen of the Year, Gonzales Chamber of Commerce.

Richter was a member of Lions International for over 60 years and numerous other organizations. As a lover of people he participated in and organized reunions and gatherings throughout his life. Being a journalist at heart, he continued to write columns and newsletters at every opportunity. His personal papers have been donated to the University of Texas History Center.

Family survivors include a wife, Dorothy Jean Richter of Austin; a daughter, Robyn Richter of Marble Falls; a son, Gary Richter, his wife, Susan Wukasch, and their daughter, Molly Richter, of Georgetown; a nephew, Carl Weaver of Fredericksburg. Private burial was at the Texas State Cemetery on September 12, 2003.

360 ride

Rode 360 today, my first serious ride in a while. 30 miles, and I’m not saying what my average speed was. I felt really out of shape.

Various observations:

  • There is now a bike path that allows cyclists to bypass a hairy section of Barton Springs Rd. If you are riding outbound, go straight across Stratford when you get to the end of the pedestrian bridge. This will run alongside Mopac and deposit you close to Rollingwood. I imagine it’s accessible if you are riding inbound (which would be good, because you could avoid that awful left turn later), but haven’t tried that yet. The city did a good job with this–kudos.
  • There is a shitload of new construction on 360, to my great dismay. I noticed a bunch of new apartments going up on the bluff over 360 northwest of the bridge. Not sure who is going to live there.
  • What had been Cycles 360 has been replaced by 360 Bikeworks (or something like that). Apparently Richard, the original owner, couldn’t run the place profitably, so the managers bought him out and re-opened the store. Glad to see it back.

Flightpath wins

At roughly 9:30 tonight, the Flightpath coffee shop was granted a variance on the city’s parking requirements. Four people rose to speak against; at least 20 people rose in favor, including a co-president of the Hyde Park neighborhood association and the chairman of the North Loop planning commission. Apart from those two, none of us actually had a chance to speak, but I think that our number, especially those of us who stuck around that late, made an impression.

I’ve written about this issue before, and I’m glad it is finally resolved in Flightpath’s favor.

I got down there at 6:30 or so, so I had plenty of time to study the public-input process. It was mostly dull as dirt, but occasional flashes of vendettas, duplicity, etc, made things more interesting.

Update 16 Jul 03: The window in the side door was smashed in by a rock this morning, quite possibly by one of the neighbors opposed. It might be some young punk, but the timing is suspicious.

Liveable City

Liveable City is a community-activism group trying to keep (make?) Austin, well, a liveable city. The board has some good people on it–the Spelmans and Catharine Echols are people I know with a track record for getting good things done.

Cops not in the business of regulating behavior

So the city council has passed the controversial smoking ban. Whichever side of that issue you stand on, you’ll probably find this quote, by Mike Sheffield, Austin Police Association President, very interesting:

We were going to stay out of it, because we didn’t know how it was going to go,” Sheffield says. “But our concern is whether what they left in place would materially impact what we do. Are we going to go in and tell little old ladies to put it out or go to jail? You just can’t legislate personal morality and responsibility and change behavior simply by passing laws. It doesn’t work.[Emphasis mine]

I wonder if the cops apply the same reasoning to other drugs.

Burning Flipside 2003

I’m back and halfway recovered from Burning Flipside, one of the “regional burns” associated with Burning Man. As I understand it, Flipside is the oldest (since 1998) and largest (900 tickets sold–quickly–in 2003) of the regional burns.

I had been delinquent about getting tickets when they went on sale, and missed out. Fortunately, a secondary market sprung up, as many people bought tickets for friends who later cancelled (this resulted in a frantic last-minute round-robin exchange of e-mail messages as ticket holders tried to hook up with ticket seekers). It was pretty late in the game that we got our tickets, and so we hadn’t done a lot of advance preparation. We did get supplies to make a shade structure out of PVC and old sheets, along with all the usual camping crap one would need, food (lots of food), beer, wine, fuel, etc. We both scrounged up weird odds and ends around our households to use as barter goods. Apart from a daily ice delivery, commerce is not allowed at Flipside. Technically, barter isn’t either–everything is on the gift economy–but as a practical matter, it would be a bad idea to show up without anything to trade.

We headed out Friday around noon, and got to the site quickly. Admission is a tedious process.

We first signed a multipage waiver absolving the site owner of any liability. Flipside takes place on a private campground called Recreation Plantation. RecPlan is a 40-acre site with limited modcons (a few flush toilets, a few showers), a few RV hookups, a pool, and a creek. Most of the property is rocky and covered with scrubby trees (which someone aptly referred to as “upstairs”); there’s a fairly short and sharp decline from this that leads onto a smooth, open, grassy field of about 10 acres. The field adjoins the creek, which has some trees along it. In past years, all the action at Flipside was on the field. That’s still where the biggest theme camps are, but as the event has grown, more camps are found upstairs.

After that, we drove a little ways in and arrived at the main check-in, where we were subjected to a somewhat condescending interview process. I suppose this is necessary to keep out troublemakers and people who don’t get it (or at least get some idea of how many of those people are arriving).

Finally we made it to the “greeter’s station,” where we were given a temporary permit to drive onto the field and unpack the car. The car was very full–I had packed an enormous beanbag chair that we wound up not using, and the materials for the shade structure, which also turned out to be unnecessary (there was no room for it). We were camping at the Circle of Fire with my fire-freak friends. We deployed our stuff fairly quickly, said Hi to quite a lot of friends, and went back roughly to where we came in, quite some distance away, to park. We walked back down and said Hi to more people, and took it all in.

After that, impressions of time become very fuzzy. Not many people wore watches. Some activities were supposed to happen at specific times, so knowing when to be where was somewhat problematic. But it’s probably just as well–otherwise I’d know exactly how much sleep I wasn’t getting.

The COF camp was on the field, which was extremely hot and bright (except when it was raining), and although we had an enormous dome that should have been a fine shade structure, it was in fact intolerably hot and close in there, so we spent most of the time under two much smaller canopies in back. Or at other camps: Jenny, for instance, was camped at the Toadstool Kingdom of Slack, which was positioned right on the slope between the upstairs and the field. This spot was about 15° cooler than any other place in the camp, so we spent plenty of time hanging out there.

Our camp was near another theme camp, the name of which I never learned, but which I came to call the “obnoxious techno music at 7:00 AM camp” for reasons that should be self-explanatory. This camp had a giant parachute-covered dome that played music all the time, but played it especially loud at hours that everybody else wanted to be asleep. At one point, Flipside’s most obnoxious participant, Xeno, of Flipside’s most obnoxious camp, Chupacabra Policia, came over with a bullhorn to chastise them “no one is listening to your music.”


The toadstool was an ambitious project that the builders had great trouble erecting. They had tried using a fairly elaborate gantry with block & tackle, which didn’t work at all. They eventually put a fulcrum above it and pulled it up with a Jeep. This was just one of many really amazing projects that got hauled out there. The Gateway fire-sculpture thing is like a giant double-barreled sheetmetal chimenea on rockers. The art-car that shoots flames out of four jets. The flame-shooting totem pole (you may sense a theme here). And the Man itself, which bore little resemblance to the original (or any man), but was basically a wooden derrick with arms sticking out.

Theme camps

Likewise, many of the camps were pretty amazing undertakings. One camp had a trampoline and moonwalk (which we enjoyed immensely). John Cougar Melon-camp, apart from creating an excellent visual pun, hosted a Bill Hicks revival hour at which spicy Bloody Marys flowed freely. Spin Camp had a QTVR rig that I never got around to posing for. The Groovepharm camp had the usual Groovepharm visual/auditory feast. Camp Baksheesh had some kind of puppet karaoke that I somehow never saw. And so on. Every night we would wander from camp to camp, taking in the experiences like we were going through a Whitman’s Sampler.

The bigger and crazier theme camps were all on the field. Next year, I think I’m camping upstairs, where it’ll be cooler and quieter.


Of course, the main attraction is the people. I had a lot of friends there scattered among seven or so camps. I met a fair number of new people. I’m sure that the environment helps, but pretty much everyone I met was a pleasure to be around.

At one point, a friend on X came by to give me the earnest “I love you, man” speech that is characteristic of that drug. I realized that Donald Rumsfeld desperately needs to take X. Apart from booze, I took no drugs the whole weekend, and in a way, drugs are redundant: the experience is already an exercise in sensory overload. There were a few people who were so far gone on drugs (or simply so far removed from reality even without them) that they couldn’t take care of themselves, but this was less of a problem than I expected (fortunately, there are Flipside Rangers to take care of them). And even going on indirect evidence, there was a bare minimum of assholes. People seemed to be there in a spirit of conviviality and community.

Costumes were probably more common than street clothes (I was an exception–even among freaks, I’m a freak)–of course, the line between the two can be a blurry one, especially in this crowd. Nudity was common, and I observed that nipple piercings are way more common than I ever imagined. Tattoos were conspicuous only by their absence.

The Big Burn

The high point of the whole event is the big burn, when the Man is burned. A lot of preparation goes into this, despite which there is still a lot of last-minute headless-chicken imitation. The burn ceremony (perhaps “rite” would be a better word) began with a procession of firedancers and stiltwalkers, who walked from the Circle of Fire to the main circle. They were organized by color (this year’s Flipside theme was “dreams of chromatic distraction” [don’t ask]), with about six firedancers, one torchbearer, and one stiltwalker in each of six color groups. Once around the Man, they all did their thing, and the last man burning, Bob, then lit the Man. Everybody was crowded around the perimeter (delineated by a huge circle of nifty LED pods that fired off different colors in different sequences), screaming and excited. After the Man burned for about 20 minutes, it collapsed in on itself and everybody rushed to get as close to the fire as they could, jumping and dancing around.

I observed this from a distance. I was one of the safety people for the big burn, and one of the few experienced firedancers to be working safety. I was one of the people in headless-chicken mode beforehand, trying to round up enough towels, buckets, extinguishers, and other safety people. As the burn drew near, Tiglet and I drilled unexperienced safety people on what to do (fortunately, there was only one minor incident during the burn). After the performers had cleared the field and the Man started burning, Stephen realized that our fuel depot was directly downwind of the Man, which was casting a lot of embers in its direction. He rounded up safeties to help make sure none of the embers landed there to start a fire, so I moved buckets and towels back there and tried to help. As I looked on the people around the fire, I was struck by the energy and intensely primal and pagan spirit pervading them.

I made up for not being part of the procession by having seven or eight really good burns later that night. Kudos to Juan of Camp Baksheesh for being an excellent DJ for COF.

A pretty serious rainstorm whipped through in the wee hours Monday, but most of our stuff came through OK (lucky thing we already had the rainfly on the tent). We got up at a reasonable hour that morning, cleaned up around the camp, packed up the car, and were on our way by 11:00 AM. On the country road leading out of RecPlan, we passed by a Hummer, paradigmatic symbol of American crapulence, and re-entered everyday reality.

I’m missing a million things. You had to be there. I took a few pictures (login as adamguest/adamguest — if there’s a picture of you that you want removed, please let me know), but these were all taken during the day, and much like bars, Flipside isn’t seen in its best light in the light. Scott took some too (same login). Bob got a bunch more. Kristin is maintaining a master list of Flipside 2003 photo albums.

There are any number of ways to define burn events: as temporary autonomous zones, as art festivals, as experiments in radical self-expression/self-reliance, etc. To me, they are about suspending the constraints of everyday life, creating a situation where people can either be more fully themselves or experiment with being other people, having extraordinary experiences, and living fully and in the moment.

Privatizing UT?

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, yes, but a story on KUT this morning discussed UT’s desire to have freedom in setting tuition in exchange for less state money.

The report made it sound as if UT will be unable to attract and retain good professors if it doesn’t have more money to offer them. This is ironic because money is exactly what UT uses, lavishly. The report has a quote from a UT official saying that private universities offer on average $22,000 more to their professors [than does UT, we assume he means]. That “on average” part is a key weasel-word here, since my hearsay understanding is that the school rolls out the red carpet for its star professors.

Anyhow, the university says it needs more money, and that higher tuition is the only way to get it; that sacrificing its mandate to provide a top-quality education at reasonable rates to the state’s residents is worth preserving a reputation for excellent academics.

Even if we allow that UT does need more money–which strikes me as hard to swallow–the report conspicuously failed to mention the Permanent University Fund. The PUF is an enormous endowment ($6.7 billion as of 2002) for the state university system, managed by the shadowy UTIMCO (don’t get me started) that is dedicated to construction. This has resulted in an absurd amount of new construction around UT over the past ten years or so–much of it dedicated to athletics. A new upper deck and skyboxes for Memorial Stadium. A new practice field for the football team (in addition to the practice field UT built when I was a student). A new track stadium. A new practice field for the marching band. The marching band! There’s been other construction, of course–the Jim-Bob business building. There’s a giant new administrative building where my department’s humble offices once stood. I can’t count the number of new multistory parking garages that have gone up.

Of course, UT would still be a massive state institution: it would still have its extensive land holdings; it would still be a law unto itself (it complies only voluntarily–and reluctantly–with the city fire code). But it would have more freedom to act like a private institution.

So, although changing the fundamental relationship between the University and the State, and changing the University’s basic mission is OK to put on the table, the idea of tapping the PUF for anything other than frivolous growth projects that proceed like a cancer is clearly unthinkable.

Get your warblog-coverage on

The Austin Chronicle has an article by Marc Savlov on warblogs.

Savlov had sent a request to the webmaster for for background info for the story. That e-mail addresses is an alias for several people, me being one. Although I’ve felt for years that Savlov is a prick, I responded in a helpful spirit, with some info and links.

Apart from sending no “thank you,” message, Savlov ignored or contradicted everything I sent him, which (I assume) conflicted with the story he wanted to write. This is not to say that I am right and he is wrong, but if a journalist asks someone assumed to have some knowledge of a specific field, and gets a response that doesn’t agree with what he expected or has been picking up from other sources, he might shoot back “That’s different from what I’ve been hearing. Why do you say that?”

He took the typical old-media condescending view of blogs in general.

And he spent about one-fifth of the story talking about a site that he acknowledges is not a blog but is “blog-like.” Whatever.

There’s smoke, and there’s smoke

The City of Austin is considering a pretty extensive public ban on smoking. As others have noted, this is a matter that gets people pretty riled. The proposed ordinance is pretty sever, in that it would ban outdoor smoking at most places where people might smoke.

Now, I hate cigarettes. I’ve never smoked a single one, and a discarded cigarette butt is only slightly less disgusting to me than is a turd. But this really does go too far. I can co-exist with smokers outdoors, for crying out loud. By over-reaching, this ordinance simply invites ridicule and non-compliance.

But if it passes, I may try to get the city to consider another ordinance that could do a world of good for public health: a ban on motor vehicles in the city. Cigarette smoke is a nuisance, but probably hasn’t significantly impaired my health. Motor vehicles have. And some of the trucks around her belch diesel exhaust that puts any smoker to shame. I don’t know how many deaths can be attributed to cigarettes per year in Austin, but I’m guessing there must be about 1,000 deaths attributable to motor vehicles every year here. That’s a lot–and the cause of death is simply beyond dispute, which is not the case with, say, lung cancer. Nobody says “well, the car running that guy over may have been a contributing factor in his death, but there were a number of genetic and lifestyle factors that may have accelerated his demise.” Nope. The car ran him over, he died.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. People need transportation. Despite their drawbacks, transportation plays a vital role in any economy, and we won’t be able to replace cars overnight. Ok, but, umm…think of the children!

Global Nomads

On Saturday night, a friend, Cinque, staged a sort of new-media art installation event thingum at Republic Square Park called We Are All Global Nomads. For the past month, people around the world have been uploading their pictures to the site, along with brief observations of “what’s outside my window.” At the event, these pictures and observations were projected on half a dozen or so improvised screens in the park, rotating at random.

To be honest, I was afraid this was going to be a total wankfest. Weather that threatened rain didn’t help. But the weather cooperated in the end, and it actually turned out to be a nice event. I’m sure that artists cringe at the thought of their work being considered “nice,” but it was, and there’s nothing wrong with that. No surprise that a disproportionate number of uploads were from people in Austin, but there was one by a woman in Tuvalu, another by a woman on an oil rig in the North Sea.

Full moon night

Last night was a full moon. Quite amazing to see as it hung low over the horizon. The air was positively pungent with the smell of chinaberry blossoms (thanks to Jenny for identifying it). Apparently the chinaberry is considered a pest tree, not native to these parts, but it smells fantastic–somewhere between jasmine and bluebonnet. Everywhere I went last night, I could smell it. Amazing.

It being a full-moon night, there was a drum circle in the tunnels. This is one of those hidden aspects of Austin that make the place what it is. Some of my fellow fire freaks decided to meet down there for a firenight. Despite some trouble finding the place by those living outside Austin, a good time was had by all. As I sat there watching a friend spinning frenetically to the miasmic throb of the drums, the chinaberry perfume drowning out even the stink of burning fuel, it occurred to me that we were experiencing a Baraka moment.

Gwen and I headed out around midnight–right when the second shift was arriving.

Art Car Parade

It seems incredible that a soul-sucking wasteland like Houston would have a fantastic art car parade, sponsored by the Orange Show, and that Austin would have none. Well, no longer. Yesterday was Austin’s first art car parade. Did I get pictures? No. Am I an idiot? Yes. There were some wonderful creations there–my favorite, if I had to choose one, would probably be the Aero Car, a brilliantly adapted BMW bubble-car. The add-ons and paint were flawless; the interior had an altimeter fitted to the dashboard; the propeller spins.

Other notables included the Roachster, twinkle twinkle, Student Driver, Iron Maiden, the bookmobile, and of course the Objet Dart. I wish I could scare up a link for the scorpion–it was amazing.

[update: Someone else got some pictures.]