“This is Bonnie and Clyde,” said Will Whisennand, who oversees care of the mammals at the Austin Aquarium, as he walked into the otter exhibit. “They squeak when they’re happy. They squeak when they’re sad, when they’re excited, when they’re hungry. They’re always squeaking.”
I haven’t been able to hug friends and family for over a year now. When I finally get to hug them again, I’ll be making noises much like that otter is making in the video. There will probably be tears, too.
The power went off about 2am while I was having a soak in the tub before heading to bed. I grumbled and then rinsed and dried myself off in the dark and climbed up out of the tub to get dressed again so that I could go find the flashlights and the hurricane candles and make sure the house was set up for several hours of life without electricity in the middle of a nearly unprecedented winter storm.
This is the second time in a month that the power has gone off here at the house. It’s off at the school across the street too which has never happened before, and that bothers me. The school is on a seperate grid set aside for essential services. Most Texas schools were built to be shelters for harsh weather as well as their main purpose as schools, and they are largely self-sufficient architecture if properly maintained. The power being out there was a signal that this was not the ordinary squirrel chewing on transformer wires kind of problem.
The power stayed off until 4:38am. It came back on while I was washing dishes by candlelight. Weirdly that is the same thing I was doing the last time there was a power outage. The power stayed on for ten whole minutes and then it went back off again. I’m going to start a fire in the fireplace soon and start cleaning the shotgun in preparation for the zombie hordes that should be milling about by the time everything thaws in a week. I hope all of you have your zombie plans ready.
This is getting to be a too frequent problem. If I wanted to be on my own for power I would live out in the country. I don’t live in the country because I want services from the city to work when I need them too. I’d like to not have to buy solar cells, a battery backup and a generator just because I as a homeowner can’t rely on the city to keep the power on. This is why we pay taxes. We pay through the nose so that the services we need are there when we need them.
Yes, this is unprecedented weather, a never-before seen type of winter storm for this area. I get that. But this is the second time in a month, and that time the weather was normal and the power was still off all day. The city needs to start making sure that basic services stay on all the time, and just FYI that also includes the internet in this day and age. It’s time for a rethink, as the saying goes. Let’s start getting the city to pay attention to what is really important to us as citizens. What is that?
Shelter for everyone.
Clean water for everyone.
Food for everyone.
Electricity for everyone.
Healthcare for everyone.
Information services for everyone.
When it became clear to me that climate change was a thing some time around 2010, I started thinking that the municipalities and states needed to start making plans to deal with unexpected weather conditions in the future, because we really don’t know what will happen as the planet warms up. Winter storms stalling out in the Southern regions of the United States are perhaps a completely unlikely event to contemplate, but that is what the word unexpected means, and that is also why they changed the nomenclature from global warming to climate change, because the net effect may have been hotter temperatures worldwide, but the individual weather patterns will include things like what we are seeing right now. We need to be planning for this kind of event in the future, and we should have started these plans twenty years ago or even earlier.
We’ve waited too long and now it is time to play catch up, and we’d better start doing the planning in earnest or we’ll be seeing rolling blackouts all summer and winter in the years to come. People dying to unforeseen climate events is something that we should not just be accepting blythely like we are doing right now. How many homeless will freeze to death tonight? How many of them have died so far this year?
In a year marred by uncertainty and loss, homeless Austinites and advocates gathered Sunday morning to remember and read the names of the 256 homeless Austinites who died in 2020 – an increase of more than 70 deaths compared to last year.
Along Auditorium Shores, dog tags representing each life lost were nailed to a memorial live oak on the banks of Lady Bird Lake. The silver tags fluttered and jangled with each gust of wind on the blustery morning, while Austinites on the Roy and Ann Butler Hike and Bike Trail went about their Sunday exercises largely unphased.
Will it top 400 in 2021? 500? When will we say enough?
February 18, 2021 – I wrote the original portion of this article Sunday night, early Monday morning, by copying parts of text that I had written on Facebook and Nextdoor earlier in the day Sunday. I was using my phone as a hotspot while typing on my laptop and it was the only connection to the outside world that we had in the house at that time. Not too long after my 5 am post, the phone and then the laptop went dead, and I had no power to charge either of them (other than sitting out in the SUV we borrowed from a friend due to the terrorist squirrels attack on our car. I’ll be writing that article shortly, I’m sure. If the power stays on) until Wednesday afternoon when we were woken up from the pretty poor sleep we were getting without our cpap machines, woken up by the sound of the high temp alarm going off on the chest freezer that sits just the other side of the wall from our bedroom. So that makes just under four full days without power for us here in Austin.
Most of the food in the chest freezer will be of questionable safety and will have to be thrown out, and that goes double for the contents of the refrigerator. We moved most items that we needed to keep edible to the porch, which remains colder than the refrigerator even today, Thursday the 18th.
That is 59 hours without power thanks to the Texas electric grid manager’s (ERCOT) unwillingness to provide or find additional power to keep the electricity on for most Texans. The death toll from freezing will not be known for some time (90 days per the Statesman article quoted further down. -ed.) and the cost of life among the homeless population may never be known. Nor is this winter storm over. I noticed flakes of snow falling again today as I washed dishes in my freshly boiled tap water this morning.
Boiled tap water? The boil water notice was instituted yesterday as the assessments of the damage that the lack of electricity for four days has had on our local infrastructure revealed that the power had been turned off at Austin’s largest water treatment plant, and that water pressure remains under low pressure conditions. Low water pressure means that contaminants can be siphoned off of toilet tanks or leaks in cracked water lines, rendering the once potable water in the lines potentially life-threatening. The boil water notice will probably remain in effect here for several days.
I’m still no more confident the power will stay on than I was when it came back on the last time. It may be still on now, but how long will it be before ERCOT or the PUC once again screw up and Texas is subjected to blackouts because of it? This has happened several times, pretty much every time that the weather goes below freezing for long enough for the non weatherized portions of the electricity grid to freeze and then fail to provide power.
When I wrote about this issue on Nextdoor several people displayed a complete lack of knowledge about the subject of the electric power grid in Texas. People like this guy:
So you’d like Texas to invest hundreds of millions (or possibly billions?) of taxpayer dollars to expand capacity to meet the power needs created by a single day of once in a century weather?
The problem is not capacity that needs to be built into the system. The problem is weatherization. Weatherization that has been pointed out as being needed before, but that Texas’ electricity council has never done anything to address:
So this is a very frustrating narrative, and largely because it is true that some of the solar and wind farms were producing less than you might have expected because of the extreme cold, but a lot of them were actually overperforming expectations as well. Simultaneously, almost an order of magnitude or almost 10 times as much of the thermal system – so coal, gas and nuclear – actually shut down because of the extreme cold, due to things like instruments freezing, et cetera. So I think the overall point here is all of the fuels were really, really struggling. And as the governor mentions, renewables being about 10% of the grid, the other 90% of the grid was not available in the way that we expected to, either, and in a way that was very, very far outside of what we expected to see fail.
The weatherization issue is a known problem and it is an old problem. In 1989 Texas faced power outages due to freezing weather impairing the electrical grid. It happened once again in the 1990’s and in 2011. Now it is happening again because ERCOT and it’s member corporations have still not complied with suggestions made by the national electrical regulating body more than a decade ago.
As another commenter pointed out on that thread on Nextdoor, this is because ERCOT was set up specifically to allow Texas to avoid federal regulation. This is possible because all of ERCOT’s activities are inside Texas, which means its activities are not interstate commerce and thusly cannot be regulated by federal authorities. ERCOT passed on the recommendations from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to their participating electrical power generators, but few if any of them were followed:
Moreover, some of the same equipment, the report noted, had failed during previous cold snaps. One in December 1989 prompted the state’s grid operator to resort to system-wide rolling blackouts for the first time.
“Many generators failed to adequately apply and institutionalize knowledge and recommendations from previous severe winter weather events, especially as to winterization of generation and plant auxiliary equipment,” the 2011 report said.
The failures have already spurred a tangle of finger-pointing, with Texas Governor Greg Abbott calling on leaders of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator, to resign.
The wikipedia page I linked under the acronym ERCOT above appears to have been written from press releases and from ERCOT’s own website. It is pretty hard to find any information on this obscure agency that isn’t filtered through their own internal lens. A local news station has just recently published a story that claims that several board members don’t live in Texas and one board member purportedly lives in Canada:
A KXAN analysis of ERCOT’s board revealed a total of five members do not live in Texas. Along with Telberg and Cramton, board members Vanessa Anesetti-Parra, Terry Bulger and Raymond Hepper do not appear to live in the Lone Star State.
Anesetti-Parra’s professional social media account shows her location as Canada, Bulger’s ERCOT biography lists his home as Wheaton, Illinois and a University of Pennsylvania law school biography shows Hepper calls Maine home.
What is clear is that ERCOT has proven that it can’t manage Texas’s electrical generating grid with any reliability and needs to be scrapped and replaced with another organization that is mandated with ensuring that power stays on for the average Texan even when inclement weather is affecting the region.
This is not a big ask. This is not asking the government to invest billions of dollars providing excess capacity, although re-investing the millions of dollars of profit that these corporations have taken out of Texas in the future of Texas and in Texas’ ability to sustain the necessary systems for power generation and delivery would be a completely justifiable demand.
I’ll start simple. I’d like the state to stop denying that climate change is real. It’s all around us and affecting us more and more each day. Stop pretending that science is political. Science is real and climate change is real and we are just going to have to learn how to deal with this new reality that we have created. I would like a task force to be set up to spitball and then solve similar issues to this one we are living through now, and then they need to set up preparations to deal with similar crisis in the future.
There will be another crisis this summer from the heat and there will likely be one next winter from the cold. Once in a century storms seem to happen every other season these days. It is time to get off of our collective asses and go about setting up the systems we will need to survive this new and rapidly changing climate we find ourselves in. Austin should probably increase their investment in the South Texas Nuclear Generating Station, and possibly start backing current plans to expand that station to generate more power. That would be a good place to start. On the other end of the spectrum Austin and Texas should allow and/or encourage households and businesses to install battery backup systems for their solar power systems, so that households and businesses can draw on their own power during peak demand cycles. Completely the opposite direction from where Governor Abbott is currently agitating energy to go, demanding a reinvestment in oil and natural gas:
In the meantime we still don’t have running water. Luckily we started having drinking water delivered a few years ago because Austin tap water had started tasting weird and didn’t look to be improving anytime soon. At least I could still wash dishes and clothes in it, as well as cook with it, while it was running. I really miss water at the taps that we could drink as well as do all those other things we need water to do in the average human home. Looking forward to the time when we can once again take basic necessities for granted as being guaranteed by the governments we elect to make sure we have what we need to survive.
If you elect people who hate and fear government to run government, you get bad government.
Bad government has consequences. Bad government can’t handle a crisis, won’t help its citizens (not can’t help its citizens, won’t), and can only blame others for its endless failure.
And you don’t have to look any further than what’s happening in Texas right now to see it.
We made the Rachel Maddow Show and The Last Word on MSNBC Feb. 18th & 19th . A clip from Rachel’s show is the featured image. Here are some links to the screenshots (Instagram link 1 and link 2) I took from the Thursday Feb. 18, 2021 show.
The last commenter on the Nextdoor post I cribbed a portion of the text for this article from kept passively/aggressively implying that we had better shut up about wanting the power to stay on if we didn’t want to pay more for our electricity here in Texas. After about the fifth version of this reply being posted in the thread, I asked her to answer the question “is it a prosecutable crime to allow someone to freeze to death in their house by turning off the electricity? Yes or no?” She never responded to the question.
Austin remains largely under lockdown other than the parts of the economy that Greg Abbott has foolishly insisted on controlling at the state level. Austinites are starting to go out and party now. It is summer (or feels like it) and you really can’t keep people cooped up for months on end when the weather is beautiful. This is especially true when the President and the Governor tell you it is OK to go out and socialize.
The Wife was telling me about an impromptu party that sprang up next door to the worst violator of Texas drinking laws (not to mention fire codes) in our neighborhood. A building that was a Pizza Inn in a previous life but is now an Elk’s lodge, right on the highway that leads out of town to Houston. Every weekend they packed the building to the seams with drunken buffoons, and the drunken buffoons don’t know where else to go other than the neighboring parking lot to get drunk these days.
There is little that can be done to curb these yahoos without the threat of force and that threat of force has to come from the Federal or State governments, neither of which are willing to take a stand against the drive to let off the pressure that most people feel at being told to slowly starve to death in their homes while they simultaneously go broke. Most people in Texas live from paycheck to paycheck, a fact that is even more true in the big cities than it is in the country and towns.
We are locked in the no win scenario here in Texas and across the heartland of the United States. We are playing chicken with a train locomotive on an overpass. We could swerve and take the resulting personal damage on ourselves but Governor Abbott has the steering wheel, and he’s convinced the COVID train is going to swerve first. The resultant trainwreck will be amusing for the outside observer to witness. There isn’t going to be much to recommend living through it.
Editor’s note: July 4, 2020. Governor Abbott swerved to miss the oncoming train today. He has reinstated the statewide requirement for masks, with several very large exceptions. Too large, according to Mayor Adler. Weirdly, I never stopped wearing a mask outdoors even though I didn’t have to wear one and still don’t have to since I won’t go into a crowded public space so long as the pandemic rages. Hopefully I will get my ballots by mail as I requested. Hopefully there will be people present at the vote counting that will ensure that mail-in ballots are not simply thrown in the trash. There are some very thin shoe-strings of hope weaving the future of the country together. That is not a reassuring thought.
I resisted wearing face covering for as long as I could. I did this not just because I have a hard time reading faces and so want to make myself more easily read by people I might talk to, but also because I have a hard enough time breathing while out on a walk or doing any strenuous activity without having a barrier between me and the air I so desperately need. Austin made face covering mandatory, so I finally gave in and started wearing something to cover my mouth and nose.
I wear a bandanna tied in the classic bandit style to go along with my straw hat and tinted prescription glasses. I’m sure I strike a menacing appearance in this getup, or would if it wasn’t for the bright blue sweatpants and bright yellow walking shoes. The bandanna does seem to reduce the amount of pollen that I am exposed to, even if it doesn’t remove all of it, so I may have to keep wearing the damn thing on high allergy days even after all this coronavirus madness is nothing more than an almost forgotten nightmare.
I don’t care what Governor Abbott or his lunatic Lieutenant Governor, Dan Patrick, think about anything. They are taking marching orders from the madman in the White House, and so consequently what they might say or do is pretty much irrelevant if not downright harmful or possibly fatal in the long run. Don’t listen to the madman in the White House. That is the best advice I can offer to anyone. I have no idea why anyone does listen to him anymore.
I’ll continue wearing my bandit mask for as long as it suits me. If they make me go physically to the polls during the runoffs and then in November, I will go there wearing the thing as well. I will wear the mask and vote all of them out of office. This is proof positive that real criminals don’t wear bandannas and straw hats. Real criminals wear business suits and ties and they lie right to your face with not a hint of insincerity. “I have a great deal for you!” Sure you do.
I have been experiencing some deep depression lately. It came to me last night what this depression probably stems from. I don’t know what to write about in this time of coronavirus that isn’t somehow related to the coronavirus. All of my podcasts are going full-on coverage of the subject, and most of the news is also about it.
I’ve been deleting most news podcasts for weeks months. Over the last week I have finished two books on tape rather than listen to any of the podcasts that I usually spend time listening to. I have no use for more news about this disease. I know what I need to know to stay healthy, and most of what is being said is correction of the misinformation that the President has been spreading about the disease on a nightly basis, with the help of the media that can’t seem to stop spreading his lies for him. The WaPo ran a piece today title Trump has played the media like a puppet.Ya think? I’ve only been trying to say this for four years now. Nice that you’ve finally noticed that you are being used. Maybe you should fix that problem before it gets out of hand.
The Wife came to me today and said she had a revelation. “The blame game is about to start.” I tried to be patient with her, but this really isn’t a revelation to me. Donald Trump has been engaging in the blame game for four years now. He and his cronies are clearly gearing up to start blaming the Democrats for cracking down on the populations under their control, imposing restrictions that the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (Covid-19) did not require. They’ll say people aren’t dying at greater rates than previously. The cities and states will point to the elevated numbers of deaths. Trump will say those aren’t coronavirus deaths. The cities and states will say they were coronavirus deaths. Trump will say they weren’t because they weren’t tested for coronavirus. The cities and states will object and point out that there aren’t enough tests to test all the dead people. Trump will shrug and go back to golfing. Just like he has always done.
It’s important to remember that this guy complained bitterly about all the time that Barack Obama spent on the golf course. What he hates most about Barack Obama on the golf course (other than he is a black man on a golf course that isn’t a caddy) is that Obama is a better golfer than he is, and Barack Obama spent less time getting there than Caudito Trump has already spent on the golf course during his joke of a presidency.
Donald Trump wants to open the country back up so he can get back to golfing and get back to charging people to golf with him. It hasn’t got anything to do with the deaths and the suffering, or how much worse it will all be after we end social distancing. He just wants to keep doing what he has always done. Screw people and steal their money.
This is par for the course. This is how every single embarrassing event has been played since Trump blundered onto the political stage and demonstrated that he has no capacity to feel shame for his shameful behavior. There is a fly in this ointment though. There are records of his malfeasance.
For weeks, the PDB — as the report is known — traced the virus’s spread around the globe, made clear that China was suppressing information about the contagion’s transmissibility and lethal toll, and raised the prospect of dire political and economic consequences.
But the alarms appear to have failed to register with the president, who routinely skips reading the PDB and has at times shown little patience even for the oral summary he now takes two or three times per week, according to the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified material.
The advisories being relayed by U.S. spy agencies were part of a broader collection of worrisome signals that came during a period now regarded by many public health officials and other experts as a squandered opportunity to contain the outbreak.
Trump was ignoring the signs that COVID-19 was going to be a problem until he couldn’t ignore them anymore. Then he blamed the CDC, the WHO and the Chinese government for the things he had every right to have known months previously if he had only bothered to pay attention.
He tried to blame the Democrats for not giving him the funds that he needed to combat the disease until Nancy Pelosi handed him a check for two trillion dollars. A check that Caudito Trump then promptly put in his and his closest buddies pockets. That bit of malfeasance will be coming back to bite him right about the time elections roll around in November.
Texas may open back up on Friday or Monday. Austin won’t be following the governor’s direction. Neither will Houston, Dallas or any other city that understands what the real problem is here. The real problem is that these Republican morons think they can bluff a virus. That they can lie to mother nature and she won’t punish them for it.
I feel bad for those people who can’t afford to stay home any longer. Those people who have purposely been kept poor by the system they are part of in some ill-gotten belief that you have to keep people hungry, homeless or on the edge of homelessness, in order to get them to work. We have all be stolen from over the course of our lives by these people in suits and ties who think they are better than we are because they have money and we don’t. They don’t understand, any more than the poor do, that they are rich because the system allows them to be rich.
So instead of making sure that no one has to work that isn’t constitutionally set up for the kind of risky work that is required right now, instead of making sure that no Americans are homeless and have enough food to eat, we’ve given billionaires even more money to play around with. Now the poor feel compelled to return to work having burned through the $1200.00 pittance that was allowed to them.
People are going to die. Most likely a lot of people are going to die. I’m going to do my best to not be one of them. I’m not planning on going anywhere (other than to vote as I noted previously) until right about January the 20th of 2021. I might not even go out then other than to abandon this hellhole that we’ve made, heading for greener pastures if there are any of those left by then. We’ll just have to see whether the tide turns or not.
July 4, 2020. Governor Abbott swerved to miss the oncoming train today. He has reinstated the statewide requirement for masks, with several very large exceptions. Too large, according to Mayor Adler. Weirdly, I never stopped wearing a mask outdoors even though I didn’t have to wear one and still don’t have to since I won’t go into a crowded public space so long as the pandemic rages. Hopefully I will get my ballots by mail as I requested. Hopefully there will be people present at the vote counting that will ensure that mail-in ballots are not simply thrown in the trash. There are some very thin shoe-strings of hope weaving the future of the country together. That is not a reassuring thought.
October 29, 2020. I’m still wearing a mask outdoors to walk. I have made a total of three forays outside the house that were more than just taking a walk, all of those were to go to a doctor’s visit or to get my flu shot (Get your flu shots) I have worn a mask every time I have met anyone at a distance of less than six feet anywhere that I meet people who are not my immediate family. My ballot did show up early, and it was mailed back early. Fingers crossed that they clerk has it already and that it avoided being delayed by Donald Trump’s perversion of the Post Office. Just another impeachable act in a near-infinite list of impeachable acts committed by Donald Trump while in office.
Mayor Adler has become my own personal Mr. Rogers. I listen to him whenever I feel stressed and need to calm down. He is the spiritual opposite of the poisonous snake that currently inhabits 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Despite Mayor Adler’s best efforts, Austin has never gotten a low enough case count for life here to return to something akin to normal. This is the new normal. Hiding in our houses. Wearing masks when we go out. No bars or clubs (not that I went to those anymore anyway) Restaurants all but completely closed, takeout the normal way that you get food you don’t prepare yourself now.
Wearing a burqa seems sane now. Biometric identification seems necessary now. How can you trust a photo ID when you can’t see someone’s whole face? The backlash against even the minimal health requirements that have been put in place says to me that there will be blood spilled over the subject of complying with health standards soon. There will be blood spilled because we’re going to have to get serious to beat this bug and the other bugs that we have been ignoring at our own peril for decades. Don’t get me started on the subject of Antimicrobial resistance. Solving that medical problem is going to also take the kinds of controls that Americans in general will not be ready to embrace.
Turner and others did express concern about Abbott’s decision to include religious worship as an essential service, leaving open the possibility of large gatherings at churches. At the news conference, Abbott encouraged churches to conduct their services remotely but said that if they must meet in person, they should follow the federal social-distancing guidelines.
“I’m unaware of a church that would want its constituents, its parishioners, to be exposed to COVID-19, and I think there’s enough public information right now for them to be aware of the practices that are needed to make sure that their members don’t contract COVID-19,” Abbott said in the interview.
There has been controversy, particularly in the Houston area, over church closures in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Pastors are in court challenging a stay-at-home order that Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced a week ago that restricts churches to online-only services.
To that end, Abbott’s latest executive order overrides “any conflicting order issued by local officials,” including those related to religious services. At the news conference, Abbott said local officials “still have flexibility to impose standards that they consider to be more strict” — as long as they do not conflict with his latest executive order.
There are at least 3,266 coronavirus cases in Texas, including 41 deaths, according to the most recent figures from the Texas Department of State Health Services. The cases are spread across 122 of the state’s 254 counties.
There have been 42,992 tests done in Texas, according to the latest numbers.
Churches are essential services when schools are not? This conclusion says more about Texas than most thinking Texans are going to be comfortable admitting. It also says a lot about Gov. Abbott’s ability to be an effective leader; that he is more afraid of the religious right than he is of the plague that is sweeping across the country. He also continues down the path that he has set himself on, thinking his state government is more understanding of what Houston, Austin and Dallas citizens need than the governments we have put in place to govern our cities.
If Harris county leadership says the churches are closed, then the churches are closed in Harris county. Look to see that provision of the order reversed, along with a lot of the bullshit his Republican legislature has passed over the last year hamstringing local governments. It won’t happen soon enough to stop the landslide of coronavirus cases that will stem from letting people gather in churches because church services are essential.
The number of tests conducted in the state are pathetic. 42k? The number of asymptomatic carriers that will be at church spreading the disease to other parishioners will ensure that the wildfire of COVID-19 will continue to burn out of control in Texas until hopefully the summer months bring it to an end. If we are lucky.
…also? Women’s health is an essential service. This means that abortion services are essential services. Pretending that the procedures you don’t like are not essential and then banning its practice during this crisis is the essence of making something that shouldn’t be political, political. I want this on the record for the next time that Abbott and his Christianist cronies start tearing their hair and pretending that they want to avoid making this crisis political. Pot, meet kettle. Kettle, meet pot.
I ran across some click-baity article on Facebook in one of the groups I’m a member of. The click-bait worked, because I clicked on the article and learned more than I wanted to about the website and the oversized beer packaging that they said proved the new slogan Keep Austin Weird was right on par.
Wait a minute. New slogan? Clearly not written by an Austinite. Keep Austin Weird has been a saying in Austin for pretty much as long as I’ve been here. Longer ago than 2000, the date cited in this wikipedia page. That may be why the guy who claimed he invented the phrase “Keep Austin Weird” couldn’t win his lawsuit and why his competitor’s company was able to trademark the brand and sell merchandise. They could do that because the phrase was in common use before the initial claim was made. I’m not sure why everyone can’t use it. It shouldn’t be anyone’s trademark, much less someone who wants to make a few bucks selling t-shirts.
In any case, an oversized package of beer is a pretty pedestrian thing to salute as the paragon of Austin weirdness. Most Texans would go for that and it would make stocking the cooler for a barbecue easy-peasy. Just take a look at what passes for weird on the Wikipedia page and remember that those aren’t even the weirdest things in Austin, most of which can’t be captured on video to be shared in the first place since most of the weirdness happens in your head.
Other cities have now started trying to mimic Austin’s weirdness, too. The sincerest form of flattery. Here’s hoping they draw off the plague of Californians we are currently suffering under with their new advertising campaigns.
“Built in 1910 this is the last remaining residential home on Rainey St. A treasure in time ready to pass this Austin Gem over to the next steward to create their own legacy with a piece of Downtown Austin. These properties rarely go to market and awaiting your next concept, whether it be a Restaurant, Bar, Hotel or Music Venue, the options are endless with the CBD zoning.”
I remember exactly when I first noticed it: my first year in town, wandering around the heart of the city, unwittingly crossing through Red River and Sixth Street. It was an immediate shift. Property value sank, and the sidewalks were now populated entirely with black and brown faces. Casting my gaze back west and seeing all that pallid skin bumbling around in merry debauchery, participating in all those Austin promises, made me feel a little guilty. At that moment it was clear that Austin had some unfortunate secrets, because no matter how liberal or progressive your reputation might be, a history of segregation will always rear its ugly head.
A house fire destroyed a boarding house just before New Years here in Austin, leaving six people homeless in some of the harshest weather this area has seen in several years. If you look at the images of the house in this news article, it is clear that hoarding was more than a problem in the house before the fire. The structure itself violates several current building codes, or would have violated them if it had not been grandfathered in under the rules that were being enforced at the time of its construction and/or annexation into the city of Austin. A filled construction dumpster in the driveway is a clear sign of unresolved problems within the structure that a devastating fire probably only makes worse for the people involved.
Not satisfied with the fact that there will soon be new construction at this once poverty-stricken address in a nearby neighborhood, one of the recent purchasers of Austin real estate took exception to the state of the house as it currently sits smoldering. This is understandable to me. It is understandable because house prices in Austin are ridiculously inflated, and I’m sure this purchaser paid far too much for his property. There was no price correction in Austin after the real estate bubble burst in the rest of the U.S. There was the briefest of pauses in price inflation, and then the prices just continued to go up, rising to levels that frankly have me thinking seriously of renovating and flipping my home so that I can retire somewhere a little quieter. Somewhere with horses, so that the Wife will have something to do with her time since no one will pay her a wage to do work in Austin anymore.
The homeowner’s objections are also understandable because I have an issue with the rental house across the street from me. I’ve told a running joke about it over the decades that I’ve lived here, and the joke has only gotten darker over the years. Considering the downward spiral it has been in since starting as an owner-occupied dwelling in the early nineties, I suspect there will be cannibals living there soon. Cannibals, because there isn’t much lower for it to go on the occupant quality ladder. Cannibalism is bound to occur there at some point in the near future.
However, several of my neighbors on Nextdoor insist on calling the boarding house that burned to the ground a crack house. Repeatedly. I have to say, that’s just uncalled for. After all, it’s not the nineteen-eighties anymore. We’re well past Reagan and his cloaked racial references like crack houses. Perhaps these new property owners don’t know the history of East Austin, the history of Austin in general? As a long-time resident of the neighborhood, I’d like to offer a few pointers to these new Austin residents, in the spirit of the New Year.
Let’s start with a big picture, historically. Austin was officially racially segregated until 1963. There were specific redlined neighborhoods where people of color were allowed to buy property. Those neighborhoods are well South of the area of Austin that we live in, but if you add in the Great Wall that separates East Austin from West Austin, the distance South that the redlining occurs becomes almost inconsequential. East of Interstate 35 was long considered the dumping zone for housing projects and industrial uses, and any in-depth analysis of land use in Austin will reveal that East Austin carries the brunt of the load of poverty for the entire city to this day.
While you’re calculating, don’t forget to add in the depression on living standards that the Mueller airport noise levels inflicted on the surrounding areas until very recently. That is crucial to understanding the change that is occurring on the East side of Austin today. With the removal of the airport out to Bergstrom, and the removal all the airport’s associated industrial businesses, there was suddenly a wealth of under-utilized property right in central Austin. The re-purposing of this property continues even eighteen years later. The old boundaries of the airport are all but erased, but you can still see the blighting effects of landing and take-off zones near the airport if you look hard enough.
The historical racism that stifled central East Austin’s growth, now lifted, the industrial uses and noise pollution of a central airport, now lifted, the big picture of why the gentrification and the pushing out of old minority owners in East Austin should become obvious. The two cities that were Austin are being forced to become one city, and the new city of Austin doesn’t have room for people who don’t have more than a quarter million dollars to sink on a home. Especially not in central Austin neighborhoods that used to be beacons for the average American middle class lifestyle.
Just to the North of the old Mueller airport site sits some of what was the most overlooked, undervalued property in central Austin. It was overlooked and undervalued when I first started living in the area about thirty years ago but it has now been discovered and is probably overvalued. I look to see a market correction in the near future. Friends of mine in the construction industry bought into real estate at the peak of the last boom in the eighties. They lost half their investment in the subsequent S&L collapse. I expect there is another one of those nasty surprises just waiting around the corner for most of Texas somewhere in the future. We dodged that bullet in 2008, but the growth that Texas is experiencing can’t be maintained forever. Something has to give, eventually.
The house fire that started this article is in one of those quiet little neighborhoods that used to be havens from the bustling inner-city of Austin, protected by the vast bulk of Mueller from central East Austin’s old redlined districts. The closest of these neighborhoods to the Eastern edge of Mueller is Pecan Springs-Springdale. This is the neighborhood where the boarding house stood.
Pecan Springs-Springdale was two neighborhoods originally, ergo the name. There are pockets of very nice houses in this neighborhood, surrounded by marginal commercial ventures and apartment houses, especially along the main arterial boulevard of Manor Road that carries the bulk of the traffic North/South through the area, between the two neighborhoods of Windsor Park and Pecan Springs-Springdale. The intersection at Rogge and Manor, near where the fire occurred, has always been problematic. That intersection marks the boundaries between three distinct areas and uses, one corner of which is a vacant lot. That property is an investment opportunity, for anyone taking notes that still wants to live here.
We rented a house in Windsor Park for about seven years before buying our current home. We rented it for less than $500 a month if you can believe that. The houses in that neighborhood are generally smaller and sit on smaller lots than surrounding neighborhoods. They were built for and bought by people with even less money than the college professors that my current neighborhood catered to. Backed up to the original Austin shopping center, Capitol Plaza, and bordered originally on the South by the main runway of Mueller and Fifty-first Street, Windsor Park was a working-man’s neighborhood. It’s hard to see that now since most of the property there was snatched up and renovated first, before Mueller moved.
The wife and I realized that the time to buy a home was now or never as we watched the neighborhood change around us, so we gave up renting and purchased a home in University Hills, a smaller neighborhood further East, but not so close that you could see or smell the landfill still operated by the city further out highway 290. University Hills was built to appeal to the growing number of educational professionals that needed to live near the University of Texas and the price of its real estate has ballooned significantly since we moved here.
People looking for a real estate investment should be well acquainted with this fact, that housing prices are at an all-time high in Austin, since it would be part of proper due diligence to have looked at historical prices for the area before investing. Some of the original residents still live in our neighborhood, and I bought my house from one them twenty years ago. There aren’t too many left these days, but their investment of $40-60k when they bought their places back in the nineteen-sixties would not compare favorably with the investments people are laying down now to get in this neighborhood. Some of us still don’t have that kind of money and we are being forced out of our neighborhoods by a growing number of people who do.
Which brings us full circle back to the transplant complaining about a boarding house he has to drive by on his way to work that burned down having once been purportedly used for drug sales. The question I want to ask people like him is, how do you live with yourself? How do you ignore the underpasses in Austin littered with homeless people, even in freezing weather? Let me put it this way; I apologize to you for your neighbors, neighbors who were clearly having a hard time paying to remain in a neighborhood that has left them behind. Now that they are homeless, I’m sure the weather will get on with killing them faster so that their property can be better utilized by the next owner and not be a drag on your property in the future. That way you can flip that property you sank every penny you had into and make a profit. How does that sound?
Don’t mind us long-term residents, the people who just lived and worked here over the course of a lifetime. We certainly won’t notice when you are gone, any more than we noticed the last five people who owned that property before you. If you think I’m being too harsh, then I suggest you get out and help the homeless in your area, right now. Now is the time when homelessness hurts the most, when we lose the most people to exposure. If you have the quarter-million dollars to blow on an investment, then you certainly have enough scratch to make the difference in a homeless person’s life. Maybe you should re-prioritize your to-do list and see if you can make the world a better place for someone else. They’ll probably thank you for it and it might even be more rewarding than that profit you are lamenting you won’t make.
This recent (04/11/2018) episode of Code Switch deals with the subject that I was talking about in this article, namely redlining, what redlining was, and what redlining did. The after effects of redlining are still felt here in Austin.
It’s hard for people who have never been poor to understand what poverty does to you. It’s even harder to understand what not being able to pass for white does to you. The barriers that are placed in your way. The things that keep you from being able to succeed, the things they blame you for? Those things are external, barriers to entry that allow those who have what you want to point at you and say “see you don’t deserve what I have.”
I wanted to post a link to this episode because this was the first episode of Code Switch that I could link directly. The first episode that had a specific page that I could find and link to with the content that I heard on the air present on the page. It was a nice change that I hope they keep up with. It’s hard to share insights like you get from podcasts like this if there isn’t a location on the internet to send people to so that they can hear that specific thing you are talking about. In this case, redlining. Forcing people into poverty for the sake of having poor people to look down on, to take advantage of. This structural racism and economic stratification? This bullshit has to stop, and it should have stopped a hundred years ago.
State legislators in Texas make $600 per month, or $7,200 per year, plus a per diem of $190 for every day the Legislature is in session (also including any special sessions). That adds up to $33,800 a year for a regular session (140 days), with the total pay for a two-year term being $41,000.
When Liz said that donors owned the Texas legislature on Facebook today, most people probably thought she was exaggerating. She wasn’t. Donations to the Texas lege are the only way the legislature survives at all. They are paid almost nothing, and can only afford to keep their jobs by wooing donors with deals.
Low pay is the number one reason that Texas politics is as corrupt as it is.
We landed in O’Hare on the evening of Tuesday, July eleventh. It was a frustrating flight. The Son had lost his phone on the way to the airport and didn’t realize it until the gratuitous TSA screening, to which I always wear my easily removable shoes and pack everything I usually carry in my pockets into my carry-on. After an unproductive search of the entire Austin Bergstrom International Airport (the phone fell out of his pocket at home) we thanked the TSA agents for their free examination of our various bodily secrets and proceeded to the other end of the airport to board our American Airlines flight. Right out of the gate the pilot informed us it was going to be a bumpy ride, and it was. It was a two-Xanax flight, with Meclizine on top, and I still didn’t manage to sleep for more than 45 minutes of the three hour trip. At least I had decent music preloaded on my phone.
We embarked on this trip to review colleges for the Son and attend orientation. I was being dragged along because it was determined that I needed to get out and enjoy myself. Apparently one can get snippy when confined in isolation for too long. As enticement, relatives suggested that we stay at the Chicago Congress Hotel which they knew I would be unable to resist exploring. I have a known weakness for old buildings and especially old hotels.
When we got to the hotel, dusk was settling. Too late to do anything of merit, including eat much other than room service. We asked the front desk for the nearest pharmacy and ran two blocks to overspend for the necessaries that the TSA will not allow you to travel with anymore. Returning to our room and our well-earned rest, the Wife discovered that her latest movie project had imploded since she left Austin, and that she needed internet access to fix it This should have been a clue as to how our first few nights would be spent. I should have been paying attention. We couldn’t find a working plug to put her laptop next to, a plug that was also in range of the wifi which for some inexplicable reason only registered near the door to the room.
Failing to solve her internet problem, the Wife decided to soak in the tub, only to discover the tub drain was without a stopper. She discovered that the lavatory drain cap was loose in the bowl. All of these deficiencies were reported promptly to the front desk, and we improvised a solution to make the tub fill anyway so that she could at least try to soak the travel frustrations away.
We used to travel a lot back when we had money that wasn’t being spent on keeping the lights on. We’ve spent a lot of nights in truly questionable locations over the years of hotel bargain hunting. Some of these locations were little better than tents to keep out the rain and bugs. I do recall at least one location that failed to even do those essential things. A few minor bumps along the way towards winging our way back home were to be expected.
The next morning started much too early. Because of the lack of internet connectivity, the college-bound portion of our little expedition didn’t know where they were going. The attendant at the closest train terminal, probably a wayward New Yorker, put them on the wrong train. This misdirection on his part made them more than an hour late to orientation. So they were both pissed for the rest of the day. The Son refused to speak to me and hid in his room when he returned. This was probably a smart move on his part.
I, being the invalid that I am, was tasked with getting us better rooms while they attended to the business we were here for. After dodging overly-helpful maids and tamping down the urge to explore one more mysterious corridor, I arrived at the front desk to be informed that I couldn’t make changes to our rooms because I wasn’t listed as booking the stay. During the fruitless back and forth of conversing with the Wife on her six year old iPhone 4 with 45 minutes of battery life per day’s use, I managed to get in some more exploration.
The Wife insisted I was listed on the booking despite what the desk clerks had told me. In her opinion I should have been able to, and therefore should have changed our rooms. Nevermind that they informed me on my third visit to discuss this with them that yes, I could change our rooms now, having been advised by a manager who had the misfortune of arguing with the Wife on the phone that they had no choice but to get her the new rooms she sent me to request, however there were no rooms on the same floor that we had been assigned to, nor were there any rooms on the Son’s floor two floor below us. There were, in fact, no two rooms anywhere in the hotel that were on the same floor at this late time of the day. Try back tomorrow, was the parting advice I was given. I had failed at my one assigned task. It was going to be a rough night.
The Congress Hotel is a fascinating subject to explore, a nearly priceless historic heirloom. I could crawl through access panels and service corridors for a week in that place and never be bored. It is like an ancient beehive, ruled over by generation after generation of queens with conflicting goals to be met. Built and rebuilt and expanded and rebuilt again, it is an amateur archaeological dream come true. As a travel destination though, it kinda fails.
There was one bright note on that second day of our stay. Exploring the curious method that had been used to add this newfangled thing called electricity to the building, a method involving running a vaguely decorative square conduit along the tops of the foot high baseboards, I discovered one working plug set into the conduit for the room that put the laptop in range of a consistent wifi signal. I also figured out how to plug the bathtub with a washcloth, the helpful maids having thrown out the plasticware that we had plugged the drain with the night before. However the wifi signal even at the door to the room proved to be insufficient to make a spoiled high tech Austin resident happy, so I was not going to be getting out of the doghouse that easily.
It was at this point in the day that I started writing the above review. I was mad. I was being blamed for the first day being shit, tangentially catching hell for the Wife’s movie project disintegrating, catching anger for pretty much every bit of failing that had come along that day. So I latched on to the notion that I would write a scathing review of the hotel and post it everywhere, including on Yelp, just to prove that I was a customer that wasn’t going to take being treated like a stupid tourist. The Wife hated this idea and proceeded to insult my writing ability in the process. This was perhaps one of the worst arguments we’ve ever had. Right up there with the time I destroyed a cabinet by tearing it off the wall. The time she broke doors off the cabinets slamming them. The many times I have punched a hole through doors or sheetrock. Even worse than the time I bent the stovetop griddle into a U shape whacking it on the sink edge and then storming out of the house wearing only a bathrobe and flip flops and embarking on a two mile hike just to calm down. Yes, we both have some anger issues. Since we were not at home this time, I could not take my anger out on the architecture around me without destroying property that didn’t belong to me and probably breaking bones on hidden structure. Old buildings are quite solid compared to new construction. Consequent to our being in a hotel, liable for any damage we did to the room, some pretty nasty things were said by both of us before we mutually decided that we needed a time out.
I retreated to the lobby to brood for hours, my phone plugged into a convenient outlet near one of the comfy chairs, working and reworking the review I was determined to publish. I was going to publish it, if I could just make it not sound so childish. After all, I had nothing else to hang my meager existence on other than my writing skills since becoming disabled, and she had definitely told me my writing sucked. At least, that’s what I heard. She went for a walk. Around Chicago, a town we had only been to once before fifteen years earlier. She went for a walk. In the dark. By herself. Since she didn’t run into me while out walking she returned to the room for her now recharged phone and texted me, querulously asking if I was planning on ever coming back to the room, and where was I?
It was at this point that zefrank came to my mind. Who is zefrank? On a previous trip to visit the Daughter in college in New York our children had revealed the magic of True Facts to us, their parents. Zefrank is a Youtube phenomenon that had gone right by us old people who had long ago dismissed Youtube as a place to post old home movies or stolen video or music that hadn’t been licensed from the authors. We had no idea that completely new content was being published to that website, or that our children were both watching this stuff all the time. I don’t even think they knew they were both watching the same things. When they realized we’d never seen True Facts, they insisted we watch hours of them while we all sat on the beds in our hotel room. It is one of my most cherished memories of us as a family. Grandma in the next room drinking whiskey and honey for the persistent cough that we later found out was Pneumonia, and the four of us piled on the bed watching True Facts and laughing our asses off.
Those are good solid rules, all 900ish of them. It would have been nice if I had remembered them while arguing with the Wife, it might have been a much cleaner fight that way. What I did remember was Morgan Freeman. Not the actor Morgan Freeman, but the True Facts about Morgan Freeman and how we laughed at that video the last time we had been out traveling with the children, in completely different circumstances. Here we were traveling again, trying to help the last child escape the nest, and we were not laughing at all but were instead tearing our love apart. Being supremely stupid. So I reminded her of True Facts and the last time we had been out traveling. About how we were spending our last few days with the Son before he went off to college. Also, I told her the wifi was excellent downstairs in the lobby, and that there was a bar with decent alcohol down here. Working electrical plugs at the tables, even.
After a few stiff drinks in O’Hara’s corner bar, the Wife’s latest movie project was once again out of the ditch and possibly heading in the right direction. You never can tell with movies. Not until they are in the can and on their way to being screened are you sure that a film, any film, is a real thing. Up until that point they are all just dreams you hope to deliver with the help of hundreds and possibly thousands of people. Which means, they more frequently blow up and are never seen at all, than they ever get seen by anyone. That is simply the law of averages. The more complex the project, the more chances there are of its explosion and disappearance. She wasn’t ready to forgive me the failure of getting the room changed, even after a walk to the fountain and back, but she wasn’t quite ready to kill anyone at the moment. I call that a win.
We did go on to stay a few more nights at that hotel. We traveled around Chicago together with the family who had suggested the hotel and that we had agreed to meet there. We took in the sights, visited the Shed and the Navy Pier, wandered around the remains of the grounds for the Chicago World’s Fair. The next night we had dinner with friends I hadn’t seen in a decade, at least. People that I had known in my previous life as an architect. All of it was better than that first day and the argument. But I never did get that review finished. What is above is all I ever wrote on it. Perhaps I was being childish all along. It definitely wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time.
The Son didn’t go to Chicago State. He liked the idea of attending A&M better. Since the Wife graduated from UT, I expect that will lead to arguments sometime in the distant future. At least, I hope it does. I look forward to documenting those arguments, too.