Saturday, June 18, 2016

Burnet Rd, Gentrification, Buffalo Burgers, & The Alamo

I thoroughly expected to walk up to Burnet Road to tend my chores today. Because writing about my rituals yesterday helped me understand them more today, I took my time and relished rising, orange juice, and my videos this morning. Then I opened the shades, the day looked good, but I couldn't feel the swampy humidity in the air until I got out into it later on.

Around the house I wear gym shorts that are getting a little ragged, but out in the world I wear a pair of jeans with suspenders [what my British readers likely call braces] attached, and that's how I dressed for my mission to the UPS Store. I go there when I need to print a document. I have a printer at home, but I use it almost exclusively as a scanner, so I don't usually replace exhausted ink cartridges. I did buy one black cartridge to spare me from running errands like this one, but it dried up for lack of use. I think I printed two or three documents, maybe fifteen pages, before it stopped working. That discouragement put me back firmly into the private scanner but public printer camp. In the process, I have defeated the printer industry scam of selling printers cheap so that you'll buy their criminally overpriced ink cartridges. In this day and age, with all the technology that we have in our hands, and with the rain forest getting systematically chopped down for my paper habits, we should scan our past—digitize everything and keep it that way—and never print our future. I sent the file I needed printed to the UPS Store attached to a message: "Hello. I will be by your store around 3 pm to have you print the attached document for me. Thanks."

Just as I was getting everything together for my walk, my cousin texted: "Heading over." I responded, "OK. I have to go to UPS Store on Burnet Rd. Should I wait for you?" "Sure. Wanna ride?" "That would be great. I'll be here at house then. 😊" So she showed up a few minutes later, and off we went.

I was pleased that the UPS people, for the first time since I've been doing this, had already printed my document, and my five pages cost me only sixty cents. Sure, it's a bit of a hassle going to the UPS Store, but I'm convinced that this is cheaper than printing at home, especially when my ink cartridges dry up from lack of use. The only time I need to print is when papers require signatures, and even signatures get done electronically these days. Signatures are going the way of checks, traditional letters, and even cash. My papers—except for papers like birth certificates—don't get printed; they get scanned and shredded. So that stop took us five minutes, then we were off to try Twisted Root Hamburgers for lunch.

Twisted Root is a new burger place from the Dallas‑based chain imagined by chef Jason Bosoon. It's on Burnet Road, the ugliest street in the universe. Beef and lean and tasty ground buffalo are available all the time, but according to season you can substitute venison, elk, lamb, ostrich, boar, gator, rabbit, camel, duck, beaver, kangaroo, or emu. The burgers themselves feature a wide variety of bizarre names like The Kevin Bacon, Enough Said, The Spicy Goat, and In the Buff, which is what I had—a basic buffalo burger with grilled onions on whole wheat bun. There's a leaf of lettuce and a slice of sweet onion on the side. The full menu is here. I had a tangle of tasty fries that were cut to be not much bigger around than shoe strings.

My relationship of love and hate with Burnet Road goes a long way back. I've looked at maps dating from 1850 that show Burnet Road as the horse trail to Burnet, Texas, which isn't much of a town now and couldn't have been much of one back then. Burnet Road runs along a ridge, the high road, corresponding to Shoal Creek, which it parallels, and alongside which ran the low road. A century beyond travel by horse, I still use the phrases high road and low road without fully realizing what the terms mean: the high road keeps me high enough above the creek bottom that my horse isn't clunking through the mud, but it also keeps me not too far away from water, so that every couple of hours—hourly on the really hot days—I can head down the hillside to the creek and water my horse. During dry seasons I take the low road along the creek's banks. Topography and the high and low roads are the ancient parents of not just Burnet Road but nearly all the roads we follow today even though our cars hardly need to be watered at all anymore.

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Pedestrian's eye view of Burnet Road. ©2016 by author.
Before my parents bought this house that stands half a mile from the High Road, my mother would still shop at the Allandale H-E-B, the supermarket on Burnet Road. I would ride around in the kid's seat on the basket, and I think we both must have been amazed by the scale and scope of this abundance of food in the H-E-B. Little kids are easily impressed by anything of any scale at all, but my mother had known hunger in the depression and food rationing in the war, so this vast assemblage of food must have had an impact on her. The present-day H-E-B on that site occupies the space that, back then, held the old H-E-B and half a dozen other stores, a few of them just as big as the old grocery store. So what seemed so big to us then is swallowed up whole by the present-day store.

Burnet Road north of the H-E-B was two-lane blacktop. We moved here in February 1961. Kennedy was president. In shopping centers you could see traveling expositions of bomb shelters for your back yard. When the Cuban Missile Crisis hit in 1962, I was certain that my father had missed an opportunity to buy one but now we would, when the moment came, be fried to a crisp. The Beatles were unknown in the U.S. Patsy Cline was falling to pieces. Roy Orbison was "Cryin'" and "Running Scared." Del Shannon was in love with a little runaway. As a kind of foreshadowing of the Beatles trip to India, Lawrence Welk had a hit called Calcutta. Ray Charles was begging his chorus not to send him out on the road. Ricky Nelson declared himself a Travelin' Man.

The Shirelles dedicated their hit to "the One I love" and asked if he will love them tomorrow. ("Will You Love Me Tomorrow," by the way, was written by songwriting team Gerry Goffin and Carole King, who were married at the time. Encouraged by her protegé James Taylor in the 1970s to record her own songs, King included "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" on her Tapestry album.) The Negro Sound, as it was called back then, was sanitized for its white audience—in the market system of the music industry, a black audience did not even exist. The business still lived in Donna Reed's world. The adage that if God hadn't invented records it would be necessary to go down to the saloon and make your own music explains why black music, once it was let out of its ghetto, proved to be such an overwhelming force. English rockers like the seminal version of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and Led Zeppelin devoured every record by a black artist they could find, so the roots of rock are simultaneously influence and theft.

Popular music involved crossovers between genres. Many pop songs were performed by orchestras with the piercing soprano of violins. All kinds of music, not just country music, was often saturated Nashville sound of melodramatic retards huddling around and hooting into a microphone—the bass resonated a with such seriousness that to laugh would seem like laughing in church. In short, the music had died, and the only living music was sealed off in ghettos and repressed. Ghettos, as long as people in them weren't starving or being killed, have always been places of great creativity. This is why American music was reinvented in ghettos. This is why endless Talmudic study in the Jewish ghettos of Medieval Europe produced a powerful Jewish intellectual tradition. This is why Bohemians in their inner city garrets write the greatest stories and poetry. This is even why the Beatles, sequestered with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at Rishikesh, produced the two-disc White Album, which wasn't the first double album in rock—Bob Dylan did that two years earlier with Blonde on Blonde—but, like everything else the Beatles did, it set a precedent that compelled everyone else, by fashion if not by their record company, to follow.

When I was a kid listening to Beatle music, I had no car of course, so when I went somewhere I walked, and the only place close enough to walk to was Burnet Road. Around 1970 the street was widened to two lanes in each direction with a shared central lane for left turns. After all this time, I see the place with the added dimension of time—I see what is there, what was there, and I see the tsunami of the future rushing northward from 45th Street.

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Burnet Road by night, cabled together by power lines that drive the illumination and the blaring signs scream at motorists passing by at 50 mph. Ichiban, ahead on the right, is a splendid Korean Japanese restaurant. ©2016 by author.
Since the gentrification has been pulling the Brentwood area up by its bootstraps—more accurate to say, Since the developers have been tearing down the post-war GI-Bill tract houses and bungalos and putting three-story mansions up in their places—a lot of interesting places have cropped up along Burnet Road. Juiceland squeezes fruits, vegetables, and grasses alike, and it stands fast on the cutting edge of the healthy food faith. Just a few doors down in the same strip mall there's a head shop that, when this was a working class neighborhood, would have been stared right out of existence, but now they happily sell all sorts of smoking paraphernalia. There are many new and interesting restaurants too, but my favorite place in the area is the Alamo Drafthouse. This isn't a bar but a movie theater that serves food and drink. During a Miyazaki festival earlier this year I saw seven beautiful Studio Ghibli films in a month. The theater is in a shopping complex called The Village, where also live some good restaurants like Korea House, where began my mystic relationship with the peninsula that culminated in my living in Daejeon for two years; Madam Mam's Thai Restaurant; and an Asian hot pot place I'm eager to try because I crave some shabu shabu, and the center itself has great Feng Shui.

Inside the Alamo Drafthouse. ©2016 by author.
The Drafthouse widely spaces the seats leaving room for a long table that runs with the width of the seating, and there's even a walkway for the wait people beyond that. I can order food there by writing what I want on a slip of paper and sticking it in a metal strip that runs along the table so that the paper is a flag for the wait person's attention. The food is, of course, quite pricey, but it's tasty. It's also fun to conflate restaurant and theater into a single experience, so it's hard not to get something fun to eat while the movie's on. When I went to a regular theater last week to see Warcraft, I sorely missed the table as a place to put the few things I had to bring from the car, and most of my popcorn wound up on the floor. Spoiled by the comforts of the Alamo Drafthouse, I resolved not to go anywhere else—as it was, I only went elsewhere because I had to see Warcraft after having played it so avidly for a year of deep depression. Like one of the actors in the movie, I too used the game to keep moving when I didn't otherwise want to get out of bed.

In Austin, where the Drafthouse originated—sometimes keeping a city weird leads to some cool innovations—they have four theaters, but the Village is in walking distance, and the others are farflung and beyond the reach of public transportation. The Drafthouse often has special events—I really wanted to attend the special showing of Goodfellas during which they served a seven-course Italian meal replete with Chianti. They also have a lot of free screenings for members (i.e. users of their app). More often than not the special events I want to attend are at one of the other theaters outside my range and domain. I realize that my local Drafthouse is shackled by market forces and demographics beyond the company's control—but the Village theater seems to be the lost little brother among Drafthouses, starved for parental attention. Oh, I wrote to the Drafthouse, let the Village be the prodigal son, welcome him back to the fold, and slaughter the fatted calf! I know I'm just a voice crying in the wilderness, but I can see that tremendous wave of gentrification washing over the Brentwood and Crestview neighborhoods. A wave of upscale classy commercial development accompanies the gentrification up Burnet Road from 45th Street.

But when my cousin and I finished our hamburgers we went not to the movies but to H-E-B. Still, a good time was had by all.