Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I'm a Warrior

On a whim, I signed up to participate in the Warrior Dash. The Warrior Dash is a running competition with insane obstacles held in various cities all over the country. When I signed up it was 9:00am when my co-worker, Carly, asked me to join her for the Central Texas race. I was persuaded with the promise of free beer at the end of the race. It seemed like a good idea at the time and free beer (not including the $50 registration fee) was right up my alley. Later, I realized I was having LASIK two weeks earlier and doing an obstacle courses with possible mud and dirt run flying in my eyes seemed like less of a good idea.

Pre race War-Eeyores 
Not wanting to bail on my friend I purchased stylish motorcycle goggles to protect my eyes, decorated matching shirts with Carly, and made sure my other friends were too busy to watch me so as to limit me from any real embarrassment.

Originally the event was set to take place in Austin, but due to the popularity of the event it was moved out to Cedar Creek, which actually 30 minutes East of Austin. Never having participated in a Warrior Dash we really didn't know what to expect. Lets just say it was like a 5K meets boot camp meets the Renaissance festival.

We lined up and ran 3.2 miles with 10 obstacles; which quite obviously from the pictures included running through mud. We jumped over cars, ran through tires, climbed over haystacks and rope courses, leaped over fire, crawled through mud, among many other creative tests of strength and agility. Thirty or so minutes after we began we were fully drenched in mud and sweat. We were hosed down, given a fuzzy viking helmets and most importantly... a beer. We stuck around for a few more rounds and long enough to listen to some music and to climb the mountain of muddy tennis shoes!

The event lasted 2 days and races started every 30 minutes with hundreds of people in each heat. People were really quite creative with their attire; as the Warrior Dash is clearly not about winning but rather just to have a good time. The Warrior Dash takes place all over the US with ten locations in 2010 (two of which were in Texas because we obviously have numerous Warriors in Texas). Next year there are over 16 races, including one in Australia. I would do the Warrior Dash again, but it doesn't look like it will be near Austin in 2011. I'm not too worried though, other pointless and fun events coming through Austin all the time! :-)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Go E.A.S.T.

My mother would be so proud. I have found that I live in the artistic epicenter of Austin.  Always the one to encourage any "cultural" activities, growing up, she insisted our family frequent museums and theaters as often as possible. While it was fun to take a 45 minute trip from the suburbs into Houston it sure is nice that I don't have to drive into town to get my fill of culture anymore; culture is literally in my backyard.

Pump Project Studios 
No. I am not exaggerating. The East Austin Studio Tour, aka E.A.S.T.,is hosted by Big Medium Studios on Bolm Road and approximately 0.50 miles from my front door. E.A.S.T. is a 9 day event where hundreds of artists throughout the area know as East Austin open their studios and front doors to the public. Visitors of the tour get a chance to meet artists, watch demonstrations of their work, and purchase art. Art includes sculptures, paintings, jewelry, drawings, music, clay works, interactive art, glass blowing, metal works, photography, print making, book binding, modern, classical, eccentric, and much much more. There are types of art I have never heard of on display. Encaustic? My spell check doesn't even register that as a word.

And of course...there are parties. Pre-parties, after parties and throughout the tour many of the artists are smart and offer wine and beer at their studio. They know you are more likely to spend hundreds of dollars on artwork if you are drunk. Free culture and alcohol? Yes please! Every year I have lived in Austin I have visited studios all over my 'hood and every year it gets bigger and better. I conveniently (and oh so very greenly) ride my bike around the East Side with friends to check out the art, attend parties and even meet new neighbors. In fact, my friend Jessica and I pretty much mark the anniversary of our friendship solidifying during our first E.A.S.T. experience in 2007. I have nothing but positive experiences on the tour.

Just imagine what's inside...
When most people think of East Austin they think of the "ghetto" or the "bad part of town." Well that is just silly for more reasons than I can begin to list. As it turns out Artists like the East Side, and everyone knows artists are lovers, not hooligans. The East Side in Austin is considered  the area East of I-35, which stands as a physical socioeconomic dividing line. Where Christmas lights never come down, there are fast food joints on every corner, a pawn shop next to every Pay-Day Advance, a run down house next to a eco-friendly home, and artists and minorities live in perfect harmony.  As it turns out, starving artists need an affordable place to live and with them they naturally bring their art! Art People = Trendy People. Trendy People + East Side = Trendy East Side.

I could write forever about the unique art I have seen, the intriguing people I have met, and how much fun it is to ride around town on bikes with friends 10 deep in our newly formed bicycle gang. I have a Huffy from circa 1989, purple splatter paint. Don't be jealous. Be jealous of E.A.S.T. and get down here a dose of art and culture for yourself. Anyway isn't art in the eye of the beholder? So what good is it for me to tell you what I saw if you don't see it yourself.

November 13-21, 2010 
November 19-27, 2011

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Austin Film Festival

If you know me well you know that I would never be considered a film expert or even someone who watches movies often. I grew up in a home where watching anything besides the news was almost illegal. My brother and I would sneak in some quality Jerry Springer before our parents came home and then we were only allowed 1 hour of television which generally consisted of The Simpsons and Home Improvement. When our Dad was out of town I remember going to the video store with my Mom and "sneaking" movie time. Clearly Movies are related more as a guilty pleasure rather than a lifestyle. 

Not surprisingly, I have a dearth of knowledge on anything to do with the film industry. I know when I like a movie, but I probably couldn't tell you all the actors much less who the producer or the writers were. I do however, have y friend, Trever, who knows a lot more that I could ever care to know about films. I only enjoy about 10% of the movies Trever presents me, but that's not surprising since we have two totally different lifestyles. 

The only photo I took... I was watching movies!
When my brother Harlan was offered two producer badges to the Austin Film Festival for Parkside's involvment in the Film and Food Gala he naturally asked his wonderful sister and her movie fanantic friend Trever if they wanted the badges. Little did Harlan know these badges were worth about $700 a piece, because surely he would have tried to sell them. The Producer badge granted priority access to the week of movies, the conference, and of course parties. 

While I didn't partake in the conference nor did I take the week off of from work to spend to go to movies, I did see quite a few unique films and rub shoulders with famous writers and producers at various free parties around Austin. To be honest, I didn't quite know who I was rubbing shoulders seeing that I don't know who famous screenwriters and producers are, much less what they look like. I'm not complaining, because I still go my free drinks and shwag. :-)

The word on the street is the Austin Film Festival is unique because it focuses on the writers. It is also unique because it is in Austin. Luckily, Austin has the wonderful Alamo Drafthouses, an IMAX, the historic Paramount, and numerous other movie watching venues to host dozens of movies throughout the city. While the Austin Film Festival is less glitzy and well known as other film festivals such as Sundance or Cannes it is close to home and suitable to the Austin culture. And for me, it was an affordable fun new experience. I love the fact that I was able to    take part in some of the arts and culture Austin has to offer for free! 

The films I saw: I Love You Philip Morris (feature film), Dog Sweat (documentary), Treme (HBO series premier), Burned: Life in and Out of Texas Youth Prisons (documentary), Paradise Recovered (feature film), Weakness (feature film), and Black Swan (feature film, and my fave!).  

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Austin City Limits Music Festival

Austin City Limits. ACL. 3 days of awesomeness. It's all the same. Just don't get it confused with the ligament in your knee or the PBS show Austin City Limits. While the TV show is what inspired the music festival, and many of the featured artists have performed at the festival it is, in fact, not the same. Many people are often confused as the TV show has been around for 35 years while the Austin City Limits Festival only began in 2001. With the awesomeness of ACL one would think that it has been around for years, however, past weekend was just the 9th year of the festival's existence. 

While I am by no means a music, concert, or music festival expert I am certainly lucky to enjoy Austin City Limits in my city every year. I have been to Austin City Limits 3 of the 4 years that I have lived in Austin and this year was another exceptional experience. With over 65,000 people in attendance EACH of the three days I don't think I am alone in loving this festival.

One of the best stages... natural acoustics with the rock wall!
Essentially there are +130 bands, 8 stages, and 3 full days of music. The music ranges from country to rap with a lot of rock and alternative in between. My favorite shows were Mayer Hawthorne, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Matt and Kim (the literally climbed on top of the stage and danced ON TOP of the crowd). I put a few samples of music that I saw on the side bar so you can pretend like you were there with me! 

Besides the excellent selection of music my favorite things about ACL this year were the things that made this music festival unique to Austin. Taking place at Zilker Park; a park inside the city along the banks of Town Lake with beautiful  weather and the Austin skyline as the backdrop for the stages. Sunny skies, light breeze and low humidity kept everyone mostly comfortable throughout the weekend. Being within the city allowed people to transport themselves easily to Zilker park via foot, bus, bike, or convenient drop off and parking locations with shuttles around town. I was able to exercise all but the bus portion of forms of transportation used to arrive and depart from the festival all weekend. Lucky for me my friend Emily lives downtown and we were able to bike from her place with ease!

With the sun shining drinking water for festival goers was a priority; and since I personally drink my recommended 8-10 glasses of water daily, I especially appreciated the FREE water refill stations inside the park. Friendly volunteers filled water constantly throughout the weekend. Not only does this limit dehydration and emergencies, but also saves ACL guests money and thousands of plastic water bottles. Yeah Austin for being so ECO Friendly! Beyond the free water*, the food available for purchase is 100% Austin. From Aquarelle's French fare to Freebird's burritos all of the food is brought in from local restaurants for a price point of $5-$8  an item. This is a pretty good deal as many of the vendors don't normally have a meal under $20 on their regular menu. This weekend I got to eat at the Salt Lick, Aquarelle, and Hudson's on the Bend for about 20 bucks in one weekend! 
ACL at night

Beyond my basic needs of food, water, music, and great weather, Austin City Limits also provided numerous other amenities that make ACL easy to attend. Tons of beer and freebie tents, fashionable concert t-shirts from American Apparel (yeah hipster), artisans selling their local goods, and of course... police that are really there just for show who enforce next to nothing. What else could I ask for? Oh wait... yeah... almost all of my Austin friends attend ACL! That is the very best part! I know I can buy a ticket and not worry about finding someone to rock out with because everyone is there and having a great time. I highly recommend Austin City Limits and entire package it comes with because I LOVE it. :-) 

*yes I realize nothing, including water isn't really free when you pay $185 for a 3 day pass... but I paid for that months ago so it feels like it is free. 
Courtesy of Hill Country Conservancy FB page... View of Zilker from above 

Monday, October 4, 2010

The TEXAS State Fair

Is it fair to say that I love Austin because it is in Texas and therefore I can enjoy things in ALL of Texas? That might be a stretch, but my friends tell me that I Love Austin because it is in Central Texas and close to places I might need to visit. Most of the places in Texas (besides Austin) are kinda like family. You want them close enough to be able to visit with ease, but far enough away that it doesn't happen every weekend. No offense to any family in particular but most people need a little space to grow up and become an individual, just like Austin :-). That's just my personal opinion.

Big Tex
This past weekend my friends Jessica, Emily, Casi and I made the trip up to the Dallas Fort Worth area to experience the Texas State Fair. While there is a natural Austin vs. Dallas vs. Houston rivalry and writing about Dallas is essentially heresy I am justifying it because it is the TEXAS State Fair and it is only 3 hours away. Close enough to Austin to visit but by no means do I want to be there every weekend.

It is no surprise that the Texas State fair is the largest state fair in the United States (every thing is bigger and better in Texas). With over 3 million visitors over a three week period and permanent fair grounds it is difficult to compare. I checked, and there is lots of history on the Texas State Fair but I am more interested in all the fried delicacies offered at the fair than the history. In short, the Texas State Fair has been running since 1886, Big Tex is a large statue that has welcomed fair goers since 1952, and activities include: a livestock show, an auto show, museums, live music stages, carnival rides and games, a giant ferris wheel, a garden show, pig and dog races, creative arts, and other attractions. The most important of attractions include food. In 2005 the Fair began the Big Tex Choice Awards and competitions arose for the most creative and best tasting fried foods.

This being my maiden adventure I am glad I had an expert on hand to lead the way. Casi, being from the DFW area was the only one of the four that has ever been to the fair. The whole ordeal was overwhelming. However, she and her family (who we also joined there with my brother Harlan) directed us to convenient parking, short lines and the must do's of the Fair.
Where is his body?

I learned several things.  There will be lines, but they move fast. Fletcher's is the only place to get Corn Dogs. If there is a long line there is a shorter line for the same thing just a few minutes away. You must have an appetite for fried food. And ride the ferris wheel.

My winner... fried snickers
Inevitably, the large group split up but thankfully, we were well prepared with the tips from the locals. In accordance with our new found knowledge Jessica, Emily and I each had our own Fletcher's corn dog. It was delicious. The rest of the day we shared several different fried foods while touring the fair grounds. In order of my personal favorite to least favorite of the foods we tried: Fried Snickers, Fried Oreo, Fried Guacamole, Fried Frito Pie, Fried Ice Cream, Fried Peanut Butter Macaroon, Fried Beer. I know, I'm surprised Fried Beer was gross too, but it was basically beer in a dough pouch with no real flavor. Other delicacies we did not have a chance to try but would have if our stomachs were up for it... Fried Margarita, Fried Butter, Chicken Fried Bacon, Fried Lemonade, Fried Peanut Butter and Jelly, Fried Cheesecake, a Green Goblin (fried chili stuffed with chicken, guacamole, and cheese), pizza on a stick, and of course other typical fair food such as Caramel Apples, Funnel Cakes, sausage-on-a-stick, and much much more. I'm shocked there wasn't a booth to purchase fried Tums. Maybe next year I'll bring it.

Jessica was adamant about wanting to ride the carnival rides, so Emily and I both agreed to join her for one a piece. I chose my ride early on the food journey purposefully, I have a nickname from my brother and it didn't come from having a strong stomach. Looking back,  it might have served me well to get rid of all that fried goodness at the end of the day, but bulimia is pretty uncool.

After a day of beautiful weather and an overall fantastic experience at the Texas State Fair we took the journey back to Austin. While this adventure took place outside of Austin I love that I can go and indulge on fried food on a quick trip but I don't have to be tempted but once a year.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Foul Bingo

You've heard of Bingo, but have you heard of Chicken SH** Bingo? Allow me to enlighten you to one of the more redneck activities Austinites enjoy on any given Sunday. This past Sunday I introduced, my friends Jessica and Eric and my out-of-town guest Steve, to the wonders of Chicken Sh** Bingo.

The setting for Chicken Sh** bingo takes place inside a true dive bar on the North side of town called Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon. Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon is a tiny white and Texas orange building with a steeple flanked by a futon store and car inspection site amidst a series of strip malls. The one room setting is just large enough to contain a bar, a band, a few tightly packed tables, and a pool table. Decorations include a Nascar billiard light, beer signs, Kodaks of customers from what appear to be the 80's, a sign that reads general dentistry, two tiny TVs, and of course, a set of longhorns. It is unclear how long this place has been around as there is no working website for the bar. Furthermore, collaborating historical information on dive bars in the Austin area is sparse. Google Fail. Using context clues I will presume that Ginny's has been around for at least 20-30 years, if not longer.

The bar's namesake, Ginny, is an actual person. She appears to be in her 70-80s with a a grown daughter and granddaughter reportedly also named Ginny*. Ginny still serves up beers and regulates the proceedings of Chicken Sh** Bingo weekly.

On Sunday's the pool table is covered with plywood board with a chicken wire cage placed atop numbers 1-50. The bar begins to fill up around 3pm and overflows into a tailgate in the parking lot until the proceedings begin around 5pm. Tickets are sold to the quickest customers to queue around the table for $2 a pop. Ginny then fills the cage with feed and places her chicken in there for the masses to await her excrement to fall on their chosen number. When it falls the pot of around $100 in "donations" is awarded to the lucky ticket holder.
Possibly winning tickets

While you await the chicken to sh**, Ginny provides the humans with $2 Lonestar Bottles and free chili dogs served out of Ginny's crock pot. The famous Dale Watson Band performs and a few customers attempt to two step in the tiny space provided. The staff are wonderful, they treat you like you are a guest in their own home trying to make you feel as welcome as possible.
Chicken not Sh**ing

I have attended Chicken Sh** Bingo on various occasions, but have never won. They generally run 3 rounds, however, on this most recent visit, the first round took over an hour and a half for the chicken to do her business and we had to leave before we could win. I suppose there is no way to regulate the speed of digestion, but it would have been nice to see the Sh** we came for.

Be forewarned this event isn't for everyone and they only take cash.Nonetheless, I will continue to attend and one day I will go and the Chicken will Sh** on my number. I just know it.

*not verified, just found in my nearly fruitless google search.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Rough and Tumble

This past weekend guests were in town and not wanting to dissapoint expectations of "Keeping Austin Weird" it was necessary to find something beyond bars to entertain us on a Saturday evening.  It was decided we would check out the TX Lonestar Rollergirls for the championship game between the Hellcats and the Cherry Bombs at the Austin Convention Center. If you have never seen a roller derby or the Drew Barrymore movie, Whip It (inspired by the TX Lonestar Rollergirls), then you probably have no idea what to expect from such an event. The TX Lonestar Rollergirls are a unique breed of sexy, self assured, athletic, and fierce women that take their job as part entertainer part athlete seriously. I say part entertainer because there is more than just speed and toughness on skates that these women require to make the TX roller derby a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

In simple terms the roller derby is played on a banked track with five members of  two teams attempting to have one skater (aka the "jammer") from each team pass members of the other team as many times as they can until the lead jammer calls it off. With eight minute quarters one would expect the game to go quickly, however this is where the entertainment portion of the evening comes to play. To begin with, the women are scantily clad in "uniforms" that display the uniqueness of their personality and plenty of their skin. I can only assume it is required of all roller girls to wear some form of ripped fishnets, short skirts (or apparently just underwear is suitable), and decorative items to accentuate their distinctive names. Of the names my favorites include: Honey Homicide, Miso Vicious, Pain N. Simple, and Kat Von Speed. I am not exactly sure but I think it might be like stripper names, but for the roller derby. 
Cherry Bombs

Competitive instincts and and assertive personalties result in hard earned penalties. Although all the teams practice together and they are all presumably friends off the rink, on the rink the 'bows are thrown and attitudes raised. Minor penalties such as trips are retributed by the spin of a wheel that delegates creative challenges like pillow fights, tug-of-war, and my personal favorite... the dance-off. Major penalties include unsportsladylike conduct or unnecessary roughness which send the offender to the penalty box (after the fight runs its course). We literally saw one woman stand behind another woman and smack her to the floor in one fell swoop. This gave new meaning to the term "bitch slap". I imagine these women watching WWE while they get their tattoos touched up. To help guide spectators, the entire event is emceed with hilarious commentary by several individuals who must have just missed the tryouts for last comic standing. Finally, placing the Austin stamp of approval on this event live music and alcohol are inevitably present. 

It is apparent that everyone involved is incredibly passionate about the sport and the entire roller derby community. The league is skater owned and operated and has been attributed to the resurgence of roller derby around the country. I wouldn't hold your breath for me to be cutting up my fishnets and pulling out my underwear to get beat up by a bunch of women on a roller rink anytime soon. Let's be honest, I can't even roller skate! I'll leave the tearing up of the rink and clothes to the professionals and take you out with me to watch next season.  

Saturday Evenings January-August - various locations - Tickets $10-$15.