Summer came early

20 Jun

Schlitterbahn dragon
The dreaded Schlitterbahn Submerged Sidewalk Dragon,
who was not a fan of the last season of Game of Thrones

For a lot of years, especially since I moved to New Braunfels in 2004, summer has felt like I wave I’m trying to catch. The place I live has a lot of rivers and trails and one gargantuan water park, plus I’m short-driving-distance away from even more summer fun in Austin, Corpus Christi and lots of other place.

By the end of the summer, I’d always be regretful that I didn’t do more, that I allowed myself to be stuck in air-conditioned offices and commuting to work instead of taking more vacation or burning a mental-health sick day or two just to go swimming or get some sun. By September, I would always have this low-grade bummer feeling (“depression” would be too strong a word for it) that summer was gone and I let it get away.

Last summer was very different. A bunch of things in my life changed very quickly in the span of a couple of months from around June through September and summer became something really different, a way for me to cope with what was happening, and for me to remind myself that the sun, the water, the beach, that these things weren’t going to go away just because this time of transition was so scary and new.

I traveled a lot last summer, I got season passes for the water park, I tubed and went to South Padre Island, I tried not to get sunburned under the blazing Texas sun and mostly succeeded. When I didn’t, aloe vera.

This summer, one year after all of that, I’m trying to continue that appreciation with more visits to the water park, some yard work, several vacations that are booked. I had some financial stress the end of last year where I got really anxious about how I was going to make it through the holidays and this year, but it turns out the IRS doesn’t want all of my freelance money and that I am able to afford to not be afraid to do any real vacationing.

I still have no proper job (I still get confused on forms where “Unemployed” is an option, but “Self-employed” is not), but things have been busy with lots of freelance writing, ongoing radio stuff, and some really weird things that have fallen into my laptop’s lap that I would classify as “Miscellaneous income.” I helped a website do some online instruction for its users. I ghost-wrote a band’s biography. Someone I admire asked me to help them put together an application for an award program. All of these were not completely in my wheelhouse, but I enjoyed doing them and it was supplemental to some bigger-picture stuff I’m working on as well as continuing to contribute when I can to the Statesman and Austin360.

Lots of changes, but summer still feels the same to me as it did when I was a kid: big and inviting, with days that stretch out like yellow-orange taffy, but then gone too quickly, just a lingering taste on the tongue when it’s gone.

Prince Solms Park, May 19, 2019

The other day I was on a tube ride with the girls at Schlitterbahn and it was the same day that word went out that the water park is being sold after 50 years of family ownership.

Whataburger is being sold, too, and it’s a little weird, but not unexpected or unusual, that these iconic Texas brands are going through these changes.

Schlitterbahn is in the town I call home and Whataburger is probably the fast-food restaurants I’ve eaten most in my life (I worked there in high school, so that throws the curve a little).

I know people who are freaking out because they love these brands and feel ownership of them as longtime customers, and I’m wary of change too. I also have friends who’ve made snide comments about them, dismissing their value, or implying that they did something wrong to deserve succumbing to market forces.

Not to tie myself to these corporate events too much, but I still get asked sometimes why I left the Statesman last year, how I could walk away from a dream gig at a place that appreciated my work, why I would basically succumb to market force to sell out my own voice at a big outlet to stay home and write articles for smaller outlets and do things like write bios for musicians and not be part of the media scene in the way that I had been doing for a really long time.

Apart from all the personal considerations that I won’t get into and a very pragmatic look at the situation, a big part of it was simply feeling that it was time for a change, a big one, and that staying in the gear that I’d been in was no longer good for me. It just felt like it was enough of that and time now for something else. Maybe I would have been laid off a few months later, maybe I would have stayed another 20+ years, but I stopped wanting that job to define my whole life, and wanted to know if it wasn’t too late to be something else besides a newspaper writer dabbling in a bunch of other things.

What if the dabbling is the thing?

Which is to say that even though there was some very cynical, ledger-based decision making for those companies and their family owners, I also get the immense relief that comes with walking away, with starting fresh, with not being in charge of the thing that you’ve been in charge of and mindful for and tied to whether it soars or sinks. It is nice, I’m finding, to make your own fortune and luck for a while. It’s nice to reset.

That’s what summer feels like to me now, too.

Like a good time for change.

By The Way

A while back, this would have been February, I got approached by The Washington Post about a travel project they were working, something really ambitious that involved local city guides from 50 different cities.

I agreed to work on a guide to Austin and spent the a big chunk of March and April revisiting old haunts, checking out some new ones and putting together a guide of old and new Austin restaurants, hotels, entertainment destinations and more for what ended up being called “By The Way” and which launched on June 18. The guide seemed like an easy enough assignment at first, but once I got started realized it was going to take a lot of legwork, double-checking, and, unbeknownst to me at the time, tons of design, editing and photography talent.

The Austin guide is up and I’m so impressed with how it turned out and feeling good about what I got to include. Photographer Ilana Panich-Linsman did such an amazing job, and I got to work with my former co-worker Ponch Garcia, who did some copy editing on the Austin guide. By The Way has a really great Instagram account and I’ve been enjoying learning about all these other cities that were covered around the world. The postcards, Instagram stories and logos created for these guides are so wonderful. They also have a weekly newsletter for By The Way worth subscribing to.

It’s my first Washington Post byline, which has me bursting with joy. I’m so glad I can finally talk about it — keeping it a secret these last couple of months was really, really tough.

I got paid AND I got a badge!

ATX TV Festival

Great screening of my favorite new show, HBO’s Los Espookys.

A lot of the writing I’ve been doing lately has been focused on entertainment, including some book, TV and movie reviews.

For the last couple of years, I’ve had to miss the great ATX Television Festival due to travel and other obligations. This year, I had a chance to attend three of the four days and do some coverage for Austin360 of the fest. I wrote about a panel on inclusion and access, the new Comedy Central series Alternatino with Arturo Castro (which is great, watch it!), an upcoming animated Amazon series called Undone with animation from Austin, and a script reading of Wannabes, which is in production.

For the site Primetimer, which has taken the place of the much-beloved, I got to write up Los Espookys, which is a fantastic new HBO Spanish-language comedy you should seek out. The first episode is free online.

The Alternatino with Arturo Castro screening at ATX TV Fest.

Other writing

For my former bosses the Statesman and Austin360, I wrote a few things including a family column about how my daughter and I have been using TikTok. For the business section, I did a Sunday centerpiece on weighing your options with cord cutting now that we’re in the age of dozens of streaming pay TV services.

Over on Book & Film Globe, I reviewed Howard Stern’s new book of interviews, Howard Stern Comes Again. (I liked it, but it took me a full month to get through it. It’s a LOT of words.)

Amazon’s Good Omens which is… good?

I also reviewed Amazon’s Good Omens, and to prep for that, I ended up reading the whole book by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Not sure how I missed that one in the ’90s, but the book was a delight and the TV show is a very good adaptation that only feels a little bit dated. In the windup to the show’s release, I also did a roundup of all the major (and some minor) characters on the show for Primetimer.

I’m all about streaming TV, so I also took a look at the brilliant second season of Amazon’s Fleabag (maybe you’ve heard of it from all the online hype?) and Netflix’s I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, which is essential, silly viewing for sketch-comedy nerds. For Primetimer, I also did a ranking of the 10 best sketches from that show.

I also helped say goodbye to the last episode of HBO’s Veep with a list of all of crimes, great and small, by Selina Meyers just from that last season.

Mister Miracle is the best graphic novel I’ve read since Tom King’s last mindblower, The Vision.

On the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, I sang the praises of the Eisner-winning comic book series Mister Miracle and posted a dad’s theory that I believe may solve the book’s major mystery.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough, it’s the best thing I’ve read all year.

Texas Standard and two great podcasts

I’ve got your tech topics from Texas Standard! It’s been a busy couple of weeks with some actual tech news; summer is usually pretty slow in the tech industry, but there’s been no shortage of interesting things to talk about. Since the last time I posted, we’ve covered:

I’m also working on a new batch of scripts and recordings for Tech Minute, you can find 150(!) episodes I’ve done on the website.

On the same day this week, I also appeared on two great podcasts hosted by some of my favorite people.

On the TV podcast “Extra Hot Great,” which is hosted by the original creators of Television Without Pity and, we talked on Episode 256 about Los Espookys, Alternatino, Atlanta and lots of other shows. Seriously, if you’re a heavy TV fan/watcher, you really should subscribe to this podcast. It’s a great listen every single week.

Sarah D. Bunting, who is a co-host on EHG, also has a podcast called “The Blotter Presents” and even though I know fuck-all about true crime, she was still kind enough to invite me on the show to talk about two films based on New Yorker writer David Grann’s articles, Robert Redford’s acting swan song The Old Man and the Gun (which was really good!) and Incendiary, a really infuriating documentary about the famous Texas Cameron Todd Willingham arson case. I loved being on the show and you should subscribe to this podcast and its sister newsletter, Best Evidence, as well!

Other life

mitski in concert

Like I said, it’s summer here and I’ve been trying to spend a lot of it in and on water.

I saw Mitski in concert again (but missed her Austin City Limits taping), celebrated Mother’s Day with lots of meats, mourned Grumpy Cat, made a fox friend, saw the Latino Comedy Project pull off an amazing Cinco de Mayo / May the 4th crossover show, saw a shitload of Marvel movies including Avengers: Endgame (three times!) and played a lot of Overwatch. Yes, I still play that.

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