Friday, May 21, 2010

Thankfulness

One year ago my ankle blew out. It was just a few day before our trip to Spain. I was a wreck -- in severe pain and  pounding down opium-based painkillers. But we went anyway. I hoped I'd get better. I didn't. It was grim.


The doctor told me it would take a year to fully recover from ankle fusion surgery. 


He was right. I walk with a pronounced limp now, and it won't get any better: it's the way the bones are fused. But I have good mobility and little pain; it's a lot better than what I was dealing with before the operation. 


Thank you, Dr. Askew. 

Back In Bend

So I was just down at Newport Market for their excellent Friday afternoon wine tastings, and apropos of a mention about beer I commented to the assembled crowd that I had just gotten back from Austin where the beer fanciers like their bocks and hefes.

A few nodded wisely. One commented that your Texans like their yeasty beers.

"How was the weather?" A fellow nosing his way about a 2008 Broadley Vinyards pinot noir (excellent, by the way) asked.

Hot, I said. About 90 degrees, and 95 percent humidity.

He looked at me. "I bet you're glad to be back where it's cool and dry."

I am. A man that can get through an Austin summer day without fully-saturated underdrawers is a better man than I.

Mrs Elliott, however, claims that it is freezing here. She is not happy. "I hate this sucky weather," she stated.

I think she has been reading Blackdog's blog. The dark side of The Force.

But she's tired after the PBS conference, the packing up, the flight back from Texas; and so I've built a roaring fire in the living room fireplace for her, where she is catching up on her shows which were recorded in our absence.

I'm looking out the kitchen window, all the way to Bessie Butte, eight miles south-southeast of our location. The sky is filled with ever-changing clouds and light, the trees outside the window are bending before the wind, and the new Italian plum tree we planted in the backyard two weeks ago is in bloom.

I look forward to our summer. We have skies here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Trip to Austin, Texas. Pt. 5

This is our last day in Austin. It's been a nice vacation for me.

Mrs Elliott conference was over yesterday at 5:50 pm, and she got most of her booth packed before I showed up to help, not that she said she needed me to help. But I showed up in time to help with the final bits and help move the boxes the two blocks from the Hilton to our room at the Marriott. I was bearing a red rose for her when I arrived at her booth.

"Oh, that's so sweet! You brought me a red rose. It's so pretty! Why did you buy me a rose?"

I explained that I bought her the flower because I love her.

"But honey, roses fade so fast. You didn't have to do that!"

Yeah, I did. She had told me that I didn't even need to show up at the booth to help her pack up. She was going to let me lounge about while she worked. That deserves a rose. Plus, the guy selling the roses was missing his left leg.

After humping the boxes over to the Marriott, we wandered out for dinner, to an area of restaurants and shops at 4th and Colorado, a few blocks away from the 6th Street drink-and-purge establishments near the hotels. 

In San Luis Obispo is a narrow alleyway, the walls of which are encrusted with blobs of dried chewing gum. It's the recommended place to discard one's gum. It's famous.

Along 6th in Austin one finds an amazing amount of dried gum barnacled into the pavement. Mix in  splashes of dried vomit and the sidewalks resemble nothing so much as a fucking Jackson Pollock painting.

I found the Ginger Man Pub after dinner last night. They have an awe-inspiring 70+ beers, ales, and lambics on tap. It was one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen. But in truth, I wasn't very interested in getting buzzed, so I just had a pint -- a real 16 oz pint, I want to point out -- of a very nice Scottish bitter.

While the PNW is totally into hoppy ales and IPAs, Bocks and Hefeweisens are popular here. They are too sweet or yeasty for me. Lagers are also popular here, maybe because of the heat. Of course I'm always looking for dry stouts, but all of the stouts at The Ginger Man were of the chocolate/molasses sweet variety which disappointed me. Bend Brewing Company is the only US micro or craft brewery I've found so far that has made a genuinely dry stout.

So that's my report on the local beers. A paltry thing, I admit. Lack of inspiration and of really intriguing beers held me back.

Mrs Elliott is very acquisitive. As usual, her luggage is packed with every bit of complimentary schwag she lays her hands on, as well as trinkets and t-shirts and snowglobes from the local souvenier shops. She's never seen a bit of treen, knick-knack, tchotke, or trinket that didn't intrigue her. It's just crap, but she loves gathering lots of little gifts she can later give away, in gift baskets or as stocking-stuffers.

(Later)

We're in Seattle now, with a 3-hour layover. A box of supplies Mrs Elliott took to the show had been packed carefully in Bend so as not to exceed the 50-lb limit. When we loaded that box on the scale at Austin airport, it came in 57 lbs.

Mrs Elliott seemed surprised. "It was 49 pounds when we weighed it! How did it get so much heavier?"

"You packed in eight pounds of crap."

She paid the $35 overweight fee. But she was none to happy about it.


Austin International Airport security: slow but officious.

I was seated next to a fellow a few years older than I. He does not like flying one bit, but was flying to Juneau, Alaska. He takes that trip every summer because after retiring he applied for a job as summer general manager for the only hotel in Hanes, north of Juneau. Works there for four months out of the year. His wife joins him for six weeks of those four months. Gets them out of the Texas summer heat, he explained.

Guy's a ham radio operator. Ships his rig ahead of him. From Hanes he has talked to Antarctica on the 20 meter band. 

Living the life, if you ask me.

This is the end of my report about our exciting trip to Austin, Texas. "Keep Austin Weird" is the city's unofficial motto. By west coast standards, Austin is probably not very weird. By Texas standards, they probably are. That's gotta count for something.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Trip to Austin, Texas. Pt. 4

I see a lot of Muslims in downtown Austin. I think that if I was an Arab I might not be too happy with the idea of moving to Texas. Austin might be okay, though. Or these folk might be Muslims from India or Pakistan. I have not wanted to intrude to ask.

Across the street from where I am seated is a bronze statue of a woman caught in action firing what looks like a field cannon, a small-bore artillery piece. She has pioneer-woman's hair. She appears to be about to shove what looks like nothing so much as a lit cigar into the cannon's touchhole. The artist gave her a sturdy body, her heavy breasts as large as basketballs, her hips wide as axe-handles are long. This is a woman who has given birth, several times if I'm any judge of pioneer women. 

So... look, to get you where I'm planning to go with this, I guess you need some background. So here it is.

When Mom and Dad took my brothers and me to visit our grandparents in Fairland, Okla., I hooked up with a bunch of town kids my age who were out of school for the summer, and were, as is common among boys on the cusp of puberty, up to no good.

 We tossed a lit M-80 into the muzzle of the city park's memorial cannon. An M-80 is a very large firecracker, and when that thing went off it made the loudest sound I'd ever heard in my life. Smoke and flame shot at least 20 feet from the cannon's mouth. Right at Mrs. Baumgartner's house across the street.

Of course, I didn't know that it was Mrs. Baumgartner's house but immediately after the blast, an angry woman with iron-colored hair banged open the screen door and stepped out onto the front porch and glared at us, her fists on her hips.
they

"Oh shit, it's Mrs. Baumgartner." The oldest kid blurted. The respected and feared Mrs. Baumgartner is what the tone of his voice said.

A brief standoff. The stunned kids looking across the street at the startled and upset woman. Then every one of us quickly reached the realization that any kid too slow or unlucky enough to get caught would be fingered by the others not only as the ringleader who proposed and carried out the idea, but, more-damningly, as the boy who brought the M-80. A charge impossible to disprove.

Every man of us cravenly abandoned the others to their own fates. We broke, and scattered.

I didn't get caught. But word about the incident got around town and my grandmother interrogated me about the illegal fireworks, the charge of disturbing the peace, the vandalism of city property, and even more ominously, an additional charge of vandalism to a war memorial.

I denied everything.

The bronze statue of an angry woman stabbing fire into the touchhole of the cannon with her stogie looks like Shrek's wife, Princess Fiona...a very, very angry Fiona. She also reminds me a little of Mrs. Baumgartner.

I guess that's the story. It doesn't seem right that it took me so many words to tell it. I'm sure a better writer could write a more interesting article about the lady with the cannon than this, and in fewer words.

My brother wrote to ask how I'm enjoying Austin. He's no fool, he doesn't read my blog. Here's what I wrote to him.
Actually I've been having a lovely time! I have a lovely window seat facing the main downtown thoroughfare. There are trees and a great volume and diversity of people and metro buses and cars. I am comfortable in this coffee house. I have good books to read, the espresso and food are inexpensive and excellent, the music loud and cheerful and young. There are no waiters to prod customers along keep moving, nothing to see here.
So all and all, it's turned out to be one of the most relaxing vacations I've had. I've just been blogging and posting messages and enjoying writing as a pastime for a pleasant day.
It's a fun hobby, blogging. But my readers, man, they pay the price. They pay the price.

A Trip to Austin, Texas. Pt. 3

Yawn. Two hours isn't much of a time difference, but being two hours closer to the Prime Meridian means that when Mrs Elliott got up at 7am this morning so she could get over to the Hilton in time for the freebie breakfast, it was 5am by our bio-clocks.

I know there's no reason why I need to get up when she does, but it just seems piggish to slumber when she can't. Early mornings are not easy for her, not so bad for me. So I arise out of sympathy.

Fortunately, the nice funky little coffeehouse I found yesterday is open early and makes fine espresso, so I got out of the dreary little hotel room with little delay.

They must soften the water hereabouts. Soap doesn't rinse off my skin, it stays slippery. I reckon I was about 13 when Mom and Dad drove my two brothers and me across the desert from Santa Barbara to visit Grandma and Grandpa in Fairland, Oklahoma. That was my first experience with soft water and its effect on soap. I guess it makes sense that Austin would have the same situation vis a vis water. It was also my first experience with the misery of a long, hot drive across the desert crammed between two brothers in the back of a car without air-conditioning. I hated it.

When my kids were old enough I made sure to take them on long mid-summer drives across the desert with no air-conditioning, too. What's the fun of having kids if you can't plant memories like that in their heads?

My reader may be thinking at this point, "Is he going anywhere with this story?" The answer is no. No, I am not. It's still early, okay? I'm still waking up, the part of my mighty brain responsible for the compelling narratives I've recorded on these pages seems to be concerning itself mainly with this hangnail I've got right here (holds finger up to the screen) -- see?

Last night, Mrs Elliott and I took the 1M bus across the river to South Congress street. What river? Lemme open up Google Earth and find out . . . well, I'll be hornswoggled: it's not a river at all, but Lady Bird Lake. Longest, skinniest damn lake I've ever seen! Named after President Johnson's wife. I believe that Mrs. Johnson led an effort to take down billboards and thereby beautify America. I don't think that Clear Channel let that idea stand in the courts. She wasn't counting on commerce being so much more powerful than beauty. Billboards are still the eyesores they were she and her husband's big ol' droopy ears were in the White House.

Anyway, as I was saying, we went across the lake to S. Congress because we were told there was a greater variety of restaurants than downtown. Downtown's fare is limited to Tex-Mex, pizza by the slice, and pub fare. When I say "limited" I mean that Mrs Elliott, who seeks healthful food, finds little to commend itself downtown.

S. Congress is a different scene. It reminds me of SoCal beach towns, the touristy parts. Here we found outdoor patio dining, fish taco stands, Italian restaurants, antique stores, and, of course, tex-mex and pub fare. It's dustier but cheerier overall than downtown. Fewer splashes of dried vomit on the sidewalk. There is a beer garden (I suppose you could call it, as long as you broaden the concept to mean a tree-shaded patio with a small booth selling tacos and Corona beer, and if your definition of beer garden is sufficiently open-minded to include music provided by three pre- and peripubescent boys playing cheesy mid-'60's music on guitar, drums, and a Farfisa organ); across the street there is an open lot peppered with little tents where one can sample fish tacos, Corona beers, and get a tattoo if one has a hankering. A number of small Airstream trailers replete with clotheslines clustering on one corner gives the place a nice middle-class trailer-park touch.

After a perfectly-acceptable meal (salmon for Mrs Elliott, portabella tacos for me) I was towed back to the Hilton for the evening's entertainment. Several production companies responsible for providing musical shows for television had rented hospitality suites and trucked in their respective artists to put on shows for the gathered broadcast representatives there

This wasn't my music.

We were given performances by fresh-faced -- adorable! -- young boys from Ireland ("Celtic Thunder," their CD has only one traditional song that might have Irish origin, the rest being karaoke fare of the corniest sort including "Bad Bad Leroy Brown," a song I have despised since my days of playing clubs). They sang with great enthusiasm.

There was a quartet of three men and a woman -- troops from Afghan or Iraq -- who sang patriotic songs with great enthusiasm. I'm told they are very popular, so I know from nothing, I am a curmudgeon, a traitor.

Anyway, in another room was another four man singing group (singers are big, musicians not so big with this crowd) doing, uh, let me see that CD . . . "Songs of Delight," it says. Right. Some Canadian Tenors might have been roped in to give a show, too. Just in case there weren't enough fresh-faced singing groups.

And performing on piano was a mere lad, a child prodigy of seven -- adorable! -- and possibly singing, too, I didn't see the boy. I expect he performed with great enthusiasm and was just as cute as cute can be.

Which is more cute than Jack can take. Such sweetness, I felt cavities developing in my teeth just watching these enthusiastic kids.

Mrs Elliott tolerated my eye-rolling and grousing as long as she could, then removed us back to our hotel. I don't know why she doesn't smother me in my sleep, I honestly don't.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Trip to Austin, Texas. Pt. 2

The Semiotic Codes. From Congress Street, just a few blocks below the state capital of Texas, it's easy to spot the government drones, mandarins, and pols out in the streets. While the general populace are dressed casually, befitting the heat and humidity, the folk who make their living doing or influencing state business walk about in full regalia: dark blue suits, unwrinkled cotton shirts, and conservative ties (men); straight skirts and heels for the women.

In contrast with the slightly dishevelled look of the average Joe downtown, the Capital people have smooth hair. Very smooth. I have not seen so many taper cuts in a long time. This town must burn through a lot of hairspray.

The street people here are very forward about asking for money. They have an easy way of striking up a conversation with anyone who makes eye contact or hesitates in their space long enough to give them an opening. Their gambits have that overly-familiar quality of carnies who sense loose bills in the hip pockets of the inexperienced: You and I are just buddies, their vocal patterns say, we're in on the same joke.

These men understand that if someone is going to hand over some spare change they are going to do it in the next five seconds or not at all. So by various rhetorical means -- pleas, humor, warmth -- they attempt to force bonding quickly beyond the scope of what is normal in a relationship like this. And by "a relationship like this" I mean one that isn't going to happen, anyway.

Bend's panhandlers seem to come in two flavors: Aqualung, or Punk Kid experimenting with life on the road. Neither group seems to have the casual directness and slightly sleazy quality of Austin's street people. Here, they are all skinny and seem to possess a lot of energy.

Lots of tourist groups on the streets around the capital building. The leader can be recognized by her clipboard. Some find the capitals of states interesting. I don't. I've never had an urge to see D.C., for example. I'm assured it's something worth doing, but I am not intrigued. That's just the way I am, I guess.

A Trip to Austin, Texas. Pt. 1

Mrs Elliott has a conference to attend here in Austin, the PBS 2010 Annual Meeting, and I tagged along. 

I don't know why. I'm not a big fan of the South for various reasons, and didn't go to last month's conference in Atlanta, Geo., but I once spent a week in a workshop in Big Sur with a bunch of therapists from Austin and they said it was pretty cool. An island of hipness in Texas. And I've seen"Austin City Limits" on TV so I gathered that the music scene is good.

So after departing from RDM at 6-fucking-ay-em for a 2-hour layover at SEATAC, we arrived at Austin in the late afternoon. The sky was hazy with that orange/yellow cast that illuminates buildings and pavement I've only seen in Bend when there's a forest fire or controlled burn nearby. It's the normal color of sunlight in Los Angeles and much of SoCal, a color I associate with pollution and heat and glare.

We took a cab from the airport to the Hilton, where the convention is being held, and Mrs Elliott quickly set up her booth. The hotel we're staying in, a Marriott Courtyard generic hotel is only two easy walking blocks from the Hilton so we walked there and checked in. Generic double-queen hotel room. Could be anywhere in the USA in that place.

After freshening up, we wandered around downtown. It was easily 90 degrees F, and very humid. Not my favorite weather. I miss the high desert already.

Here's what I know so far about Austin:

The downtown seems to be bars. Pretty much that's it. Bars. I like bars and taverns as much as the next bar fly, but these bars have that Western bar gloominess and grunginess which requires lots of drunk people partying to enliven it. There are not lots of drunk people partying on weekday nights to overcome the Western bar gloominess and grunginess. So they are just gloomy and grungy.

The two bar bands that were playing on Monday night did a mixture of blues, Hendrix, and James Brown-era funk. The lead guitar and drums in one of the band were dead-steady and in the pocket. They drove the band like a steam locomotive. At the same time, the band had the first Africa-American bass player I've ever heard who was totally unfunky. That's gotta hurt.
Cultural Side Note: There's an early '70s influence downtown in the recorded music playing in most of the bars, and in the bar artwork. Maybe Austin had a heyday in the '70s? 
For my beer-lover fans, most of the beer in the downtown bars is very usual uninteresting stuff. But there are two pubs here that enjoy some fame in that department -- the Ginger Man, and Lovejoy's Taproom -- so later this afternoon I might have a glass. I will report on that later.

So while Mrs Elliott populates her booth, I'm on my own. Pretty much all day and early evening.

I have found a nice funky coffee house downtown on Congress Street, The Hideout Theatre, which is where I am right now. They make a pretty good cup of espresso, and with a little coaching managed a right good cortado. The barrista told me that if one were to walk down Congress and across the river, there are some nice little shops and restaurants there.

Like many downtowns, hardware stores are evident. The flapper on the wheel of fortune that Mrs Elliott uses at her booth to attract clients has a couple wrong-sized nuts on it so it doesn't stay put.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

We're Number 35!

Oregon, that is. In The Daily Beast's list of Most Corrupt States, that is.

The Daily Beast used the following flavors of corruption to create the ranking:
  • Public Corruption: 51  
  • Racketeering & Extortion: 28  
  • Fraud Rank: 38  
  • Forgery & Counterfeiting: 2  
  • Embezzlement: 36
#2 in Forgery and Counterfeiting. Wow. But #51 (they counted D.C. as a state) in Public Corruption.

The link to the complete list is near the bottom of their article. And for those, like me, who are disinclined to poke through their list state-by-state, here's the direct link to Oregon's page.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Was This Photo Taken at Bend Airport?

According to Air & Space magazine, this amazing head-on shot of a sweet DC-3 plane doing a "2g 40-degree pullup" right above the airstrip at Bend was taken in January 2007 by aviation photographer Mike Shore, who was being flown at 1,500 feet above the plane in a helicopter piloted by Sharon Vickers. The plane banked at 1,000 feet so as not to plunge everyone into a screaming, fiery death of twisted metal and burning fuel.

I'm not an aviation buff -- this didn't happen at RDM? This is the kind of stuff that pilots get to do at Bend Municipal Airport? If so, it gets added to my personal list of Bend Bragging Points, along with Pregnant Man, Balloon-Lawnchair Dude, Laundry Line Lady, OLCC's Mystery Man, The Shire, and of course, The Amazing UGB: it grows out of control and can't be killed!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gray Day + GI Disorder = Feh

So far, this day has shaped up to be about as charming as a gastrointestinal disorder -- which I apparently have. Moody, gray and wet, with occasional gusts of wind. And the weather isn't very good, either.

Bada-BOOM.

Thank you -- I'll be here all week. Be sure to tip your waitress.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Props to the Local Dogs

I'm not much of a dog person. In SoCal the dogs are batshit. They lunge at one from behind fences, barking insanely as one ride one's bicycle down the street. To the SoCal cyclist, the sight of an unleashed dog is cause for alarm as the beast is 95% guaranteed to take immediate chase, maddened by the sight of a cyclist and going for blood. My heart has nearly stopped more times than I can count because I had the temerity to walk between parked cars in a parking lot, not knowing that one contained a dog until the animal hurled itself against the inside of the partially-closed windows, snarling and barking, fangs flashing.

Assholes.

So what's up with the dogs here? They seem to find cyclists totally unremarkable, I've passed numerous dogs on trails and rather than giving chase, the dogs seem to "get" what a cyclist is all about and stay out of the way (with the exception of smaller, yappy dogs that are, let's face it, really too stupid to be alive as a breed were it not for humans taking care of them). The dogs tied up outside shops seem pretty content to just watch the foot and wheeled traffic go by until their human comes out; and the dogs in cars and truck beds are totally mellow with someone passing nearby.

A few minutes ago I was walking from the bank to my car when I discovered, with alarm, that I was passing within inches of a sedan with two large brown dogs in it. I expected them to explode in rage and try to throw themselves through the rolled-up window at me.

They didn't. They radiated doggy "Hi there!" instead.

There are a lot fewer asshole dogs here, that's for sure. I'm getting over my aversion to them.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Pooting around Shevlin Park

Mrs Elliott and I took a nice little old-people bicycle ride up Shevlin Park's creek trail today. We saw where the mighty windstorm of '08 knocked down some trees, saw where the electrifying lightning storm of '09 burned out a chunk. There are now baby trees planted in that area.

In SoCal, a park like this so close to an urban area would be a mess, with huge firepits, heaps of trash, and groups of white or Mexican men glowering from the picnic areas. Here, some "vandals" decided to stack rocks into small towers in the creekbed -- ooh, scary! It's refreshing to live in a place where folk aren't driven to wreck stuff.

There are signs of spring in Bend's UGB: the deciduous trees in Drake Park are leafing, as are various trees and shrubs in our yard. But Shevlin Park's flora are hanging back. A cautious bunch.
 
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