tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:/posts Bottlecaps 2018-10-06T13:51:51Z Dave tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1302688 2018-07-13T04:09:56Z 2018-07-13T15:49:10Z 9 things I learned at the 2018 Willie Fourth of July Picnic

I attended my 20th Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic this year — my fourth year in a row at the Austin360 Amphitheater at the Circuit of the Americas race track. That’s nothin’ though. I did four years in a row in Fort Worth. And five years in a row in Luckenbach.

This time, it was different. I took my 11-year-old son (nicknamed Buddy for literary and social media purposes) … and we hadn’t spent 15 minutes inside the gate before he managed to do something I hadn’t done in 23 years of Picnicking. We were evacuated due to bad weather. We went and sat in the car for 2 hours.

The show eventually went on. Here’s 9 things I learned at the 2018 Willie Picnic …

1. Was it a real Picnic? Well, without the ever-shrinking cast of Picnic regulars, without the heat and the sore feet, without the almost-religious satisfaction in seeing the sun dip below the horizon … no, not really. What we got was the Austin date of the Outlaw Music Fest.

David Allan Coe (for what he’s worth these days) didn’t show. Ray Wylie Hubbard, Billy Joe Shaver, Johnny Bush and Asleep at the Wheel were canceled by rain.

Can it be a Picnic without singing “Redneck Mother?” Without Johnny Bush carrying the torch for classic country? Without Billy Joe doing Billy Joe thangs? I guess it can for someone else. But not for me.

(Coworker Peter Blackstock reviewed the show and noted later that it might be the first Picnic without a three-named performer. I’m almost curious enough to track that down. Certainly, if you leave out the pseudo-Picnics in 2007 and 2009 — which did not have traditional lineups — then I know you get back to ‘95 for sure, because Ray Wylie has played every Picnic I’ve attended until this month. There’s a good bet that you’d get all the way back to ‘75.)

2. What about the rain?  Was it the coolest Picnic? No, 1985 was way cooler. And not just because Johnny Cash was playing Southpark Meadows that year. With afternoon temps in the mid-70s, this year’s Picnic did spend a chunk of time below the high of 79 degrees in 1985. However, in 1985, 79 was as hot as it got all day. This year it was in the 90s before the rain came in.

3. Paying $25 for VIP parking? Shit yes. I am never not doing that again. Best $25 I’ve spent in years. (My other concession to bringing my boy — having seats instead of standing all day — wasn’t as clear cut. I’ve never been to a Picnic where at the end of the day my ass hurt more than my feet. And there were plenty of moments where I’d much rather have been standing in front of the stage. But I couldn’t have the boy standing around all day. Even in cool weather.)

4. Worst move of the day? In an abbreviated Picnic, there wasn’t time to screw up much. But we missed some of Margo Price’s set while the boy ate his pizza at a continental drift type of pace. If I could have held him off a bit longer, missing part of Edie Brickell’s set instead would have been a win-win.

5. Time for a stump speech? Our review of the show made much of Beto O’Rourke’s appearance. The Democratic Senate candidate made a short but passionate speech before the fireworks show, with Ray Benson at his side, and later came out and played guitar with Willie.

Right away, I’m gonna tell you that I don’t just tolerate artists writing and performing protest songs, I think it’s absolutely imperative. If we don’t have artists urging us to be better, we’re gonna go downhill (more downhill) pretty goddamn fast.

But I don’t know if the Picnic is the right place for a political speech by a candidate. Certainly there were a few guys in the audience behaving with the kind of classlessness I have come to expect in such situations. 

I remember the bemusement that greeted Dennis Kucinich when Willie brought him out in 2003. And I remember the boos that Kris Kristofferson’s anti-war songs got in 2004. This is a different time entirely. As much as I’d like to see Beto take down Cruz, I’d like to see the political talk at the Picnic limited to verse and chorus.

6. Great songwriting, who needs it? Sturgill Simpson introduced his band and then said “We play music.” And then went straight away trying to test the shit out of that. I remember Sturgill three years ago, in button-up denim shirt, complaining about allergies and showing off his bad-ass songwriting with Kris Kristofferson watching from the side of the stage for the whole damn set. That was freshman-year Sturgill. This was senior-year Sturgill, brushing aside those lyrics to jam. OK, I get jamming, but Sturgill and band were pushing it to the level of industrial noise.

In one of my early phone interviews with Robert Earl Keen, he instructed me about need for an artist to evolve. And I get it. Sturgill and I had a moment together a few years ago. But he’s moved on.

7. Ryan Bingham? Damn, he was badass. Set of the night. I said years ago at Fort Worth he was a natural fit for the Picnic and should be one of the new Picnic regulars — it’s an honor I don’t bestow lightly. I still hope he takes me up on it for whatever the Picnic has left.

8. So what about the boy? Did he make it to see Willie? Well, of course. He’s my boy after all, and he got a gut full of everyone in the family telling him he’d never make it to the end of the Picnic. So he did. Then again, that determination didn’t last long into Willie’s set. We left a handful of songs in. But we did it. We saw Willie do “Whiskey River.” Finally, a little Picnic traditionalism.

I’m not gonna say we had a great show together. But we had a helluva time. He’ll remember sitting in the car for two hours waiting for the rain to die down. He’ll remember wet seats, Lukas' guitar and Margo Price’s pants.

Years from now, when he’s going through my stuff, he’s gonna pull out a Picnic poster or thirty and think, “yeah, I was there for one of those.” And that’s why we did it.

And yes, the boy loved those fireworks.

9. Suggestions for the future? On the way out, an angry woman who had an ear full of Sturgill, listened to Willie playing in the distance and remarked to her friend, “Finally! They’re playing some damn country music!” I wasn't as fooled as she apparently was, but I know what she meant. 

I don’t know if the Picnic will return, but if it does, I’d like to see a classic country-focused Picnic. It doesn’t have to be all country — the Picnic never was — but it would be nice to see a focus on it. We missed the hell out of Ray Price and Merle Haggard last week. And seeing Gene Watson and Johnny Bush get rained out didn’t help a damn bit. C’mon, Willie. Bring out a traditional country headliner! Loretta Lynn! This needs to happen.

And a Waylon hologram. 

I’m not giving up on that idea.

Waylon. Hologram.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1278742 2018-04-30T15:53:56Z 2018-04-30T15:53:56Z Texas book review: In a Narrow Grave, by Larry McMurtry

Having bogged down halfway (I hope) through “Indian Depredations in Texas” and slogged through Perry’s “The Story of Texas A&M,” I was in the mood for something light and quick. I figured a thin collection of essays from the eminently readable Larry McMurtry would do the trick.

But though I got what I was looking for — I finished it in just a few mornings of coffee-time reading — “In a Narrow Grave,” doesn’t hold true to McMurtry’s dominance as a novelist.

To begin and end the book, he pounds through one statement: The cowboy and the cowboy life is finished and he watched the last of them — old and failing — drive off into the west.

But there’s little magic to the first chapters about the filming of “Hud,” based on his novel “Horseman, Pass By” and, next, the state of the Western movie in general. (This book of essays was compiled in 1968, when Westerns were still vital, though very much changed from the beginning of that decade.)

The most useful chapter, “Southwestern Literature?”, along with the bibliography, intends to tear down the pedestals placed under Dobie, Webb and Bedichek, but at least offers a master’s take on recommended reading for neophyte Texas history students like myself. I added a dozen books to my reading list, and should I finish them, will likely raid this list for another dozen.

One recommended book, Dobie’s “The Ben Lilly Legend,” is my next read, and I’m already far enough along to be both suspicious and appreciative of how McMurtry borrowed this real-life man, fleshed out into legend by Dobie, and sprinkled him into the “Lonesome Dove” series of books.

McMurtry departs the theme for “Eros in Archer County” (useless filler), a chapter on driving around Texas (a string of cafes and reveries and one brief poignant moment with an old cowboy and old friend) and a hit job on the Astrodome (a fitting example of one of those LBJ-era pieces where Texas writers kick the shit out of their own state lest they be seen by their contemporaries as … what? Texan? I don’t know. It must’ve been hell to be a proud Texan back then, I guess.)

The other departure is “The Old Soldier’s Joy,” where he can barely stand to attend a fiddling contest in Athens long enough to mock it. Though a few moments shine through, particularly his description of a poverty-stricken boy longing for a vendor’s trinket, it is quickly tiresome.

This essay was included in another, much finer, collection called “Growing Old at Willie’s Picnic And Other Sketches of Life in the Southwest.”

That book, though I have not read it completely, is marvelous. I bought it just to read the magnificent title essay, though it is Larry L. King’s “The Old Man” that sticks with me. (I have long wanted to take a similar road trip with my father and son, though it now appears that I have wanted it too long and that window has closed.)

Read “Growing Old …” also for N. Scott Momaday’s otherworldly writing in “The Way to Rainy Mountain” and Leon Ralls vs. the bull in Al Reinert’s “The End of the Trail.”

McMurtry closes “In a Narrow Grave” with an extended remembrance of his family and the book comes alive with the closing tale of Uncle Johnny, a man who never forgot or really recovered from his youth as a cowboy on the range. A man whose seemingly supernatural talent for breaking bones was only matched by his stoic indifference.

We last see Uncle Johnny leaving a family reunion, folding his broken, elderly body into a Cadillac for a drive West. It’s a scene that will stick with you, no less than many of the fine ones in McMurtry’s novels.

Overall rating: 6 out of 10.

Author’s language skills: 7 out of 10 (in this book)

What I learned that will most likely stick with me: This book’s legacy will, I’m sure, be the other books that it has recommended to me.

Will it make the bookshelf? Yes.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1274988 2018-04-20T13:59:55Z 2018-04-20T13:59:55Z Texas book review: Pearl: A History of San Antonio's Iconic Beer

Maybe a decade ago, when I was a copy editor and worked with a team of fine folks, someone gave me a small book. One of those advance-copy type of things that gets handed from newsroom employee to newsroom employee.

This one was about … something. Zombies? I don’t recall. What I do recall is that I kept it on my desk for years. Not because I enjoyed it. Shit no. It was because every time I felt low, I just had to look at that book and remember that somebody got paid for writing something so goddamn terrible.

It was terrible. It was a hundred-some-odd pages of un-funny humor. This guy was an author? I could be, too.

I saw “Pearl: A History of San Antonio’s Iconic Beer”on eBay and promptly bought it a month in advance of its release date. I was excited. I have a lot left to learn on the mother beer of Texas, particularly when it comes to its decline and the reason it continues to limp along.

I was disappointed.

Jeremy Banas is a craft beer expert, I’m sure, but as a history writer, he’s given us uneven lumps of awkward prose. He stumbles along, jumping over bigger and bigger swaths of history until he reaches his comfort zone: “The New Pearl” -- which is not Pearl at all, just some new businesses on the old grounds.

Banas easily and confidently writes about the new craft brewer on the old brewery site, giving them several times as much text as he devoted to the last two decades of the beer named on the cover.

I could have written this book.

No, I could have done better.

Then again, shit.

Banas has written two books. Even the zombie book guy has written at least one.

I’ve written zero.

Overall rating: 4 out of 10.

Author’s language skills: 3 out of 10

What I learned that will most likely stick with me: These days, there is apparently no particular standard for what makes a history book.

Will it make the bookshelf? Yes, sigh. Until a better Pearl Beer book comes along. Which may be never.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1255196 2018-03-02T14:44:40Z 2018-03-02T14:44:40Z Texas book review: Hold Autumn in Your Hand by George Sessions Perry

When looking for something to write about, I check the Texas State Historical Association’s daily history page for ideas. The Dec. 13 entry described the death of George Sessions Perry.

Who? An author? From Rockdale? He walked into a river in Connecticut in December?

Rockdale is in Central Texas. I am into Texas literature right now. And I’ve had success (if not page views) writing about anniversaries of deaths of unusual Texans.

So I learned about him. And I wrote about him. And I wondered why I hadn’t heard about this guy or his most famous novel, “Hold Autumn In Your Hand.”

I hadn’t finished writing my story before I had ordered the book on Amazon.

It’s beautiful.

Perry’s writing is compelling and effortless to read — even the slowest reader can hardly stop himself from zipping through this book to find out what happens next.

It’s not as epic as, say, “Lonesome Dove,” but in its small scope, it is every bit as Texan. Perry illuminates the life of a poor tenant farmer, letting us peer into 1940s rural Texas and see a way of living that your grandfather might have known.

As Sam Tucker, our protagonist, struggles to feed his family on a daily basis, I felt guilt about the aging cans of food in our pantry.

When one of the characters fell ill to what I recognized must have been pellagra, I wondered why the author didn’t name the illness. As it turns out, it was because our characters didn’t yet know what it was. Identifying it, and learning how to prevent it, drives the finale of the book.

I’m not going to go on and on about it. (And I don’t have any confessions to share in this review, sorry.) But I’m gonna say it should be in your Texas library.

I bought mine through a Tennessee retailer on Amazon for less than $10. And when it arrived, it was marked “Austin Public Library.” I didn’t just buy a book. I brought it home.

Overall rating: 9 out of 10.

Author’s language skills: 9 out of 10

What I learned that will most likely stick with me: The hard times behind a romanticized way of life — and the courage and determination that elevate a man.

Will it make the bookshelf? Absolutely.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1254255 2018-02-28T15:27:23Z 2018-02-28T15:27:26Z Texas book review: Armadillo World Headquarters (bonus material)

I need to get this book off my desk and into my display case. Here are 12 quotes and things I learned from Eddie Wilson's book, including the possible connection between the last night of the AWHQ and closing time at the Dixie Chicken ...

On Billy Joe Shaver ...

"Billy Joe was a gnarly piece of work with the wrinkled face of a shar-pei dog.  ...  I hadn't known him for more than twenty-four hours when I realized he had more soul than the next fifty or so songwriters put together."

On Kinky Friedman ...

I interviewed Kinky on the fly at Willie's 1996 Picnic. He told me about his first visit to Luckenbach where he and the Texas Jewboys were afraid to face a crowd of rural German immigrants (referring to himself in the third person). But Wilson confirms it was all true and it was him who threatened Kinky onto the stage.

On Austin City Limits ...

There's a lot to get into, but Wilson points out that it was the Armadillo that pioneered the idea of putting Austin music on television with the Armadillo Country Music Review, which aired more than a year before the Austin City Limits pilot. It would be nice, Wilson argues, for AWHQ to get a little credit for inspiring the eventual juggernaut.

On Lone Star beer ...

Wilson tried to explain this to me during our interview, but I didn't really get that a subset of AWHQ folks were responsible for the Lone Star Beer advertising campaigns that are near and dear to my heart. I figured Lone Star had simply borrowed Jim Franklin to do the posters, but he was deep involved, even coining the phrase "Long Live Longnecks." (FYI, the Armadillo didn't serve longnecks because of the dangers of the glass bottle. It was pitchers and plastic cups only.)

On Ray Benson ...

The Asleep at the Wheel frontman is an Austin icon, but it was Eddie Wilson who urged him to move here, offering the Wheel a chance to be the house band at the Armadillo. "Ray Benson was a six-foot-seven-inch tall, red-haired Jewish boy from Philadelphia," Wilson writes. "He looked like a baby giraffe with a cowboy hat."

On Bruce Springsteen and Kenneth Threadgill ...

Wilson writes of Springsteen pacing back and forth before his first AWHQ gig as Alvin Crow opened the show. Apparently the venerable Kenneth Threadgill was on hand, because Wilson says the old man said Springsteen was as jittery as a "cocker spaniel trying to pass a peach pit."

On the Texas Opry House ...

The venue on Academy Drive, backed by Willie Nelson's people was, briefly, stiff competition for the Armadillo. Then it was quickly done in by troubles with rent, taxes and corruption. "The Opry House's decline was like a fat man tripping on a ski jump and rolling in the snow."

On "The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock" ...

"I'm a big admirer of Jan Reid as a person and as a writer, but at the time, his take on the scne made me think of a loud party for Johnnies-come-lately at the day-old bread counter."

On the weirdest billing in AWHQ history ...

Ray Charles (legend, icon, etc.) opened for David Allan Coe one night in the mid-1970s. They had been booked at the Opry House, which had since closed, so the AWHQ took the show, only to see Coe's fans treat the legendary Charles like shit. "Coe didn't even have that many fans, but the few who were there acted like a mob ... I should have tried to quiet them down, but I was so mad I just wanted to go out and slap them all with a shovel. And so the great R&B singer cut his set short and said good night. The assholes booed him for that, too." 

(I hope that years later, Charles was watching from above with satisfaction, as Charley Pride followed a flaccid Coe at Willie's Picnic and absolutely crushed him.)

On Clifford Antone and his now-legendary venue ...

"Here came this kid from Port Arthur with big plans to showcase blues seven nights a week. I gave him six months, tops." (Wilson's admiration for Antone is later made clear.)

More on Lone Star beer ...

Taking the stand that armadillo racing was cruel and inhumane, Wilson and the AWHQ urged Lone Star beer to call off the practice. After a huge event at the Hemisfair in San Antonio in 1976, the AWHQ pulled out all of their Lone Star taps and kegs and boycotted the beer. (Something I will keep in mind when time travel is invented.)

One the final night at the AWHQ ...

The last song performed on the last night of the Armadillo World Headquarters was "Goodnight Irene." Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel performed the Leadbelly standard as a farewell to the AWHQ and to an era. Aggies, of course, know that "Goodnight Irene" marks closing time at the Dixie Chicken and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Don Ganter (a noted fan of "progressive" country music who would have been familiar with the Austin venue) was inspired to start that tradition by the end of the Armadillo. (I contacted the Chicken and asked, but Don is long gone and they couldn't tell me.)

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1245023 2018-02-09T14:54:11Z 2018-10-06T01:11:27Z Texas book review: Armadillo World Headquarters by Eddie Wilson

Jan Reid’s book, “The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock” was my introduction to the 1970s Austin music scene — it was ground zero for something I previously knew nothing about.

Joe Nick Patoski’s book “Willie Nelson: An Epic Life” was a capstone in 15 years of learning and reading about Austin music’s king — it confirmed and clarified things I knew a lot about.

“Armadillo World Headquarters” by Eddie Wilson with Jesse Sublett fits somewhere in between, filling in the gaps of tales I love on one page then telling a story I’ve never heard on the next.

I didn’t know there was a Holy Trinity of Austin Books for Dave Thomas, but Wilson’s memoir now fits comfortably among the great three in my library.

And what would I have given to have been able to read this book in 1995? So much Austin history, all of it so effortlessly explained. From the Vulcan Gas Company to the Raw Deal and the AWHQ in between, pieces of an Austin puzzle I had scattered about in my head are now assembled — not with the (sometimes hazy) surety of someone who lived it, of course, but with a historian’s confidence.


Because I know that nobody reads these book reviews, we’re going to pause here for a confession. Back in 2013, just before the 40th anniversary of the first Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic, I went to Eddie Wilson’s house to interview him.

Eddie had been instrumental in making the first Picnic a success, before he and the AWHQ ultimately had a falling-out with Willie. He was a gracious host and I talked to him at length. After the story came out he contacted me to let me know how pleased he was that I had every detail right — one of the prouder moments of my career.

In the story (https://atxne.ws/2Eg8LmH), I had described Eddie’s house as the sort of place a Texas memorabilia collector would go when he died (it was awesome, you couldn’t look in any direction without seeing something you’d kill someone to have). So I was clearly interested a couple years later when I found out he was having a huge auction of his stuff at Burley Auction House in New Braunfels.

I went, correctly guessing that almost everything would be out of my league (I did come away with a small light-up Pearl Beer sign). And while I was there, I ran into him for a moment. I stuck out my hand and said … “Hi! Mr. Threadgill …”

The enormity of my slip about crushed me as soon as it was out of my mouth. I had been planning on asking him if the sign I had purchased had been on display at the original Threadgill’s restaurant. I stammered as he smiled wearily with the resignation of someone who gets mis-named a lot. He said, “No, I’m Eddie Wilson … “ and he moved along with the good-natured tolerance some folks have for idiots.

I didn’t expect him to remember me, of course. But what I did expect was for me to not fuck up. I knew who Eddie Wilson was. I knew who Kenneth Threadgill was. I HAD WRITTEN ABOUT BOTH OF THEM.

I guess it was just one of those things. But if there’s a more embarrassing moment in my career, I must’ve blocked it out. Shit. Back to the review …


Perhaps the only thing weird or uncomfortable about the book is the preface in which Wilson lets Ann Richards, Dave Richards and Cecile Richards brag about him and the AWHQ. I think one Richards would clearly have been enough.

Early on, Wilson sets the scene, explaining South Austin as “the domain of people who needed cheap rent and enterprises that needed to be a respectable distance from courthouses, churches, and schools.” He details the history of the AWHQ building as a skating palace, National Guard armory and “Sportcenter” — which hosted wrestling matches, fights and the occasional music act, including Elvis Presley as part of a touring Louisiana Hayride show.

The birth of the Armadillo World Headquarters (it would have been the Armadillo National Headquarters if not for the intervention of Bud Shrake, who urged Wilson to think bigger) is spectacularly documented. Certainly there were struggles in the early years. In a bit of karma for the decade of Geezinslaws performances I had to suffer through at Willie’s Picnics, Wilson mentions the only check the Armadillo ever bounced was $150 to Sammy Allred.

One of the better stories was how Dallas Cowboy quarterback Don Meredith, lounging backstage during a Freddie King show, saved the Armadillo from a TABC bust, signing autographs for the agents and giving a new sheen of respectability to the hippies who were running the joint and rolling the joints.

The Armadillo Art Squad — including my favorite, Jim Franklin — is introduced and their work is celebrated throughout, including a display of scores of posters at the end of the book.

One of the most celebrated nights in AWHQ history is detailed: Willie Nelson’s first performance in August 1972. In case you were wondering if attributing a convergence of the longhairs and the rednecks to that show is something that was a symbolic gesture settled on later, Wilson takes pains to share immediate reviews of the show that point out the cultural shift as it was happening.

It’s not all praise, though. Wilson takes aim at Jerry Jeff Walker (“Eventually, even the most foul-smelling fart leaves the room) and shares no love for Rod Kennedy, founder of the Kerrville Folk Festival. He also wouldn’t much care for how I opened this review … he did not like “The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock.”


I’ve got another dozen places earmarked in the book, but no interest in making this the longest review ever. Wilson details the Armadillo through his departure and up until its inevitable closure at the end of 1980 with a journalist’s clarity and not a touch of poetry here and there. He goes on to describe his mini-restaurant The Raw Deal and then his bigger challenge: reopening Threadgill’s.

It’s a fantastic read and perhaps one of the best possible entry points for learning about the history of Austin music. I was genuinely sad to come to the end. Like the others in my Austin Music Holy Trinity, I will read it again.

Overall rating: 9 out of 10.

Author’s language skills: 7 out of 10

What I learned that will most likely stick with me: A ton of Austin music history. This book is awesome.

Will it make the bookshelf? It will make the display shelf.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1225156 2018-01-02T14:57:50Z 2018-01-02T15:03:49Z Texas book review: Homegrown — Austin Music Posters 1967 to 1982

I never understood what it was, exactly, that drew me so strongly to concert posters.

Sure, as a newspaper designer, I had an appreciation for how they were created. And as I dove deeper into the history of the Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic, I appreciated the older posters as tangible connections to that history.

But there really had to be more to it. For awhile, it was a sort of madness.

My last read of 2017 and first review of 2018 — Homegrown: Austin Music Posters 1967 to 1982 — doesn’t pose the question of why these posters speak so strongly to certain people. But it does provide some clues, nonetheless.

Joe Nick Patoski’s opening essay makes a strong case for the importance of concert posters as advertising medium in an era where your favorite band could play across town and you might not ever know about it because you’re 40 years away from following them on Twitter.

Opening with 1820s broadsides posted around New Orleans seeking colonists for Texas, Patoski narrows in on Austin’s printing history and ultimately the marriage of art and information in the mid-1960s that resulted in the music posters you see in books such as this.

The major Austin poster artists get their due, but Patoski starts with Jim Franklin — my favorite artist. (And I don’t just mean poster artist. I wouldn’t walk across the street to piss on Picasso if he were ablaze.)

There is also a mini-history of important venues, starting not with the usual suspect, but the Vulcan Gas Company, the importance of which can be overlooked as it rests in the shadow of the Armadillo.

(Thank goodness I read this book recently and not during the height of my poster-collecting craze. God knows what kind of debt I would’ve racked up if I were driven to touch a larger scope of history rather than just Willie’s Picnic. Say … that Vulcan Gas poster is kinda cool though …)

The second essay, by artist Nels Jacobson, takes a more personal look at the artists and a more technical look at their art, introducing phrases like “split-fountain ink printing” and “Multilith 1350 offset press.”

The meat of the book, however, is 122 posters, divided across five chapters. The pioneering Vulcan Gas Company gets its own chapter, featuring a dozen-and-a-half posters and handbills ranging from the sort of hippie-trippy images you’d expect from San Francisco to Jim Franklin oddities.

If you’re expecting the Armadillo World Headquarters to get its own chapter, well, so was I. But those works are split across the next three chapters: Blues Portraits (including Danny Garrett’s work for Antone’s), Reimagining Texas (opening with a herd of Jim Franklin armadillos) and Traveling Bands (no, the Savoy Brown poster you’re thinking isn’t here).

The last chapter explores the rise of Punk and New Wave posters and handbills that popped up in the early ‘80s as lush professional artistry gave way to a different aesthetic entirely. Many of these posters are interesting, but only a few can stand alongside their predecessors.

Overall rating: 8 out of 10.

Author’s language skills: N/A

What I learned that will most likely stick with me: I’m not weird for loving old posters.

Will it make the bookshelf? Yes.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1224399 2017-12-31T15:28:41Z 2017-12-31T16:46:14Z Willie Nelson in downtown Austin on a Saturday night

When an acquaintance calls you up and says something about free tickets to see Willie Nelson, you listen.

When you know that guy is a professional ticket broker and the kind of fellow who wouldn't blink at buying a $5,000 poster because he thought it was cool, you listen extra hard, because these seats ain't gonna be the "in-the-balcony-next-to-the-bar" kind you usually get.

That's how Shannon and I ended up on the fourth row at ACL Moody Theater on Saturday night, sipping $8 beers and thinking about ways to describe how close we were.

("I could have hit Lukas Nelson with a marshmallow" is the winner. A jumbo marshmallow, though our host did try to move us up to the front row during intermission when two in his 4-person party didn't show — but someone ratted us out and a ticket stub check hastened us back to our just-as-good seats.)

Let's get right to it: Willie, at 84 years old, sounded great. He didn't sound 1970s great. Or even 1990s great. But he sounded as great as as a grateful fan could reasonably expect. No, his set isn't much changed. The same half-dozen songs to open the show, the same gospel medley to close it. And the usual suspects in between. 

I soaked it all in—at this stage, every time is the last time — but it was also fun to watch the show through the eyes of Shannon, who hasn't seen this set annually for the past 20 years. The last time, in fact, was at the 2004 Picnic in Fort Worth, a day of heat and crowds that prompted Shannon to tell me on the Fifth of July "I love you, but I am never doing that shit again."

Shannon is not an outdoor festival person. I am, I guess. I've listened to Willie play this close before. But that was standing on sore feet, sweaty, stinking and sunburned after 12 hours at a Picnic, wedged into a crowd in the same condition as me, except drunker.

The ACL Moody Theater is a different scene entirely. Quite comfortable and easy to navigate — although the tightly packed floor seats meant you couldn't get up without disturbing your neighbors. It's probably best (for my wallet at least) that I didn't feel like I could buy more beer during Micah Nelson's set, but my enjoyment of Lukas Nelson would've been bolstered if I could've gone to pee during at least one of those 10-minute guitar solos.

Yes, Willie's boys opened the show. I've seen Micah in at least four different bands over the last decade as he has tried to find a sound for himself. Though not my taste, exactly, his musical chops seem fine to me, but it seems that it was Lukas who inherited most of the charisma. Half an hour of Particle Kid was generous. Lukas made the most of his hourlong set, opening and closing with "Breakdown" and "American Girl" in honor of Tom Petty. 

"Forget about Georgia" was the Lukas highlight to me. His voice slips in and out of eerie Willie likeness enough that I'll probably go see him at some point in my 60s when I get to thinking about how I miss the old man.

The old man was still there last night. At some points looking all of his years and then some, then at others he'd flash that Willie grin or that left-eye half-wink thing he does and he'd be the same guy I saw when I was 21 and looking for a musical hero. Every time is the last time. I cheered the Texas flag dropping down (he doesn't do that at the Picnics, so I haven't seen it in a long time). I yelled "Willie!" at least a half-dozen times. I watched Bobbie and Willie play together. I cheered a Mickey Raphael harmonica solo. I sang along with "Good Hearted Woman" and "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys" and "I Saw The Light."

Shannon and I don't get out much. We're indebted to our host (who probably just wants this eBay junkie to think of him next time I see something cool I can't afford). And we're indebted to Grandma and Grandpa Williams who came up to babysit on short notice. (You can't just get anyone to watch Ghostman.) Sure, there were crowds and lines and traffic and a lot of stairs for a woman who had four foot surgeries this year. But it was awesome. A fine, fine way to end 2017 on a rare high note.

And yes, that was our New Year's Eve. We ain't doing shit tonight.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1223601 2017-12-29T14:43:33Z 2017-12-29T14:43:33Z Texas book review: The Great Chili Confrontation

Granny’s house was full of books like this. Great rows of octavo books with colorful, urgent dust jackets — usually showing signs of repeated readings — from the 1950s and 1960s. Many of these were filled with wry "comic" observations that were reduced to dry wheezes when boredom and curiosity had me sifting through them in the 1980s.

H. Allen Smith’s “The Great Chili Confrontation” would not have been out of place.

(I’m not dissing Granny’s library entirely. Among the books was “Johnny Got His Gun.” As a Metallica fan during these 1980s years that I’m referencing, this impressed me.)

Smith has been a background name for me since I learned about the Terlingua Chili Cookoff(s) in the mid-1990s, but I learned a bit more last year when I created a video about the history of the event.

I had already read Smith's self-indulgent magazine article that preceded the cookoff, but somehow, I was hoping that his book would offer a little more history and quite a bit less narcissistic blathering.


This book could have been like having a know-it-all blowhard uncle who talks nonstop about everything and is usually a little much, but, hey, you have a few drinks and he takes it down a notch and you step it up a notch and all of the sudden you’re having fun together.

Instead, it’s that know-it-all uncle with a drinking problem and a Facebook account. And he is absolutely sure that he is the funniest person who ever lived and he wants you to know it at EVERY GODDAMN MOMENT.

Smith knows how to use the language, I’ll give him that. But — in the same way that you can start a chapter in a Kinky Friedman book laughing and end that chapter a few pages later ready to punch him in the face — Smith isn’t so much caressing the words as he is molesting them.

It gets worse. It’s not just the masturbatory prose, but his favorite subject that is hard to stomach: H. Allen Smith, himself.

Ah, the Yankee humorist in the mid-20th century. Do you have a way with words? Good, then be a dick nonstop to everyone and write tirelessly about your dickishness, either explicitly or by mocking everyone around you.

Not willing to commit the effort to writing a whole book about the Terlingua cookoff (though, that’s what the title suggests we’re getting), Smith meanders through half a book’s worth of “digressions,” none so painful as the tale of his Cantonese friend Sou Chan.

Sou Chan, as you might be guessing, tells people to “go fry a kite.” He has witnessed a “terrible exprosion.” His home has a “utirrity room.” There’s no context for any of this, of course. Smith just lists these “facile phrases” to … you know … wheeze.

And nothing gets me going quite like the Yankee writer who writes wide swaths of gibberish in the aim of sharing the Texan dialect. Seriously, fuck that guy. You can pepper in a word here and there to get the point across, but I don’t need your condescending bullshit.

The parts about the cookoff? There's nothing of value between the self-aggrandizing and the Texan-trashing. You could get more history from a poster.

“The Great Chili Confrontation” made quick and breezy Christmas-distracted reading. I’m glad I didn’t spend any serious garage time on it.

Upon completion, I felt the need to cleanse myself, so I went to the display bookshelf and found “A Bowl of Red,” by Smith’s rival Frank X. Tolbert. Tolbert was a newspaper columnist and his writing is as good as his subject matter. Sometimes it's an awesome character study. Sometimes the staccato chapters read like he was aiming to beat a deadline or greet a happy hour. But the book offers history and accuracy ... and it makes me happy.

Overall rating: 3 out of 10.

Author’s language skills: 6 out of 10.

What I learned that will most likely stick with me: I didn’t learn a damn thing, except to trust my gut when it comes to Yankee humorists.

Will it make the bookshelf? This'll get me a quarter at Half Price Books. I'll be glad to make the exchange.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1221950 2017-12-26T03:54:50Z 2017-12-26T04:01:04Z The censored Kerrville Folk Festival story emerges after 17 years

Editor's note: After attending the Kerrville Folk Festival in 2000 for the first time, I returned to San Angelo to write a story about it. It immediately became the only story I ever wrote to be rejected for publication. I set about trying to tone it down. Cutting out a few of the juicier bits. The features editor just laughed when I brought it back.

So this story has never seen the light of day. Unfortunately, the original version is lost to time. All that remains is the abridged version. Gone, for example, is the anecdote about the shamanistic woman who strode purposefully through the remnants of a midnight wedding to approach me, standing in my T-shirt and boxer shorts. She rubbed my belly in a Budai-like fashion and in short order I threw up in the bushes.

Anyway, this is my Christmas gift to you. It appears as I typed it 17 years ago. Mostly. Enjoy.


KERRVILLE FOLK FESTIVAL — Four in the morning is my best guess as to the time, my watch being a late afternoon casualty of an all-day Lone Star Light appreciation fest.

Cameron is on the other side of the tent, snoring. I listen with envy: I can't sleep. The ground is hard as truth, I keep sliding downhill (more on that later) and the racket outside is astounding.

Somewhere, at a campfire to the east, a hippie woman is singing a "save-our-planet" song. How do I know she's a hippie? Her voice carries an urgency — and a volume — that no non-hippie could muster at 4 a.m.

"We have to learn / to take care of our mother

We have to learn / take care of each other"

Suddenly it strikes me that this is something I should see. Something I should witness. But my body, though refusing to sleep, won't allow me to get up, either.

I have to learn, the hippie woman would no doubt sing for me, to take care of my liver.


Cameron and I were 'Kerrvirgins' when we finally caught a glimpse of the Quiet Valley Ranch (a misnomer) at 7 p.m. on Friday. It wasn't what we expected.

No wide-open spaces of pasture interrupted by communes of tents. This was all mud and rock and tents crammed up against each other to the point that it was hard to make sense of it all.

It was hard to find a campsite at all.

We finally settled — out of desperation — to set up camp on a hill behind the Threadgill Memorial Theater. Not too far from the store/showers/bathrooms, though not nearly close enough to the bathrooms in the middle of the night.

Actually, we had a little space around us — a concept that apparently the hippies in the flatlands had no use for. And also because nobody else was dumb enough to set up a tent where the occupants would perpetually slide downhill.

Cameron wasn't optimistic about the weather, either. The storms that had hit San Angelo earlier that day were just now catching up with us. By midnight we would have a river running through the tent. Thankfully, the tent was big enough that we could sleep on either bank of the Rio Kerrville.


Third beer: Lone Star Light or Lone Star? These decisions are not easy at 8:45 a.m. Time is, especially at the Kerrville Folk Festival, an arbitrary concept. I've declared Kerrvile to be another time zone this Saturday morning and Cameron has embraced the idea.

Perched on lawn chairs on the side of the hill, we survey our kingdom below. By 9:30, only the trashbag (tied to the tent to keep it from sliding downhill) has kept track of our progress. A wedding procession walks down from the Threadgill theater to Chapel Hill (directly across from us). 

We toast the bride and groom.

At noon, we kings of the hill rise for a little lunch only to find that some scoundrel has stolen our Cool Ranch Doritos. 


Ham and cheese sandwiches do not ease our pain. Or sober us up. We decide a good, long nap would put us back in condition to see the music that evening.

We actually make it to the music festival that evening. But Cameron returns from a beer run to find me ill at ease with how things have developed. The first three acts have been entertaining and Micky Newbury is coming up next.

But I've overdone it. The hour 'nap' in the slanted sweatbox was several hours short of what I needed. I return to the tent and pass out.

Cameron — ask not for whom the beer tolls — celebrates having outlasted me by having another beer ... and falling asleep in the lawn chair.


This time, having succeeded in a four-hour nap, I rise from the tent in the darkness of Saturday night. What hour is it? I'm not sure. No watch — it has disappeared. 

I finish a bottle of Gatorade and return to my lawn chair. Cameron rises and presses a beer into my hand. I'm in no condition to turn down a bad idea.

We wander down the hill in search of a party and our momentum carries us up Chapel Hill, where we find the second wedding of the day.

A whole Kerrville orchestra and a legion of Kerrverts (the moniker of choice for our fellow festival-goers) serenade the newlyweds. I feel slightly out-of-place, but that's probably because I'm not wearing any pants.

Ah, but it's dark.

Wedding concluded, we make our way down to the hippie flatlands and explore the campfires. Someone wants to know "where in the hell is everyone going at 2 a.m.?"

"It's 2 a.m.?" I ask, answering his question at the same time.

After awhile —the best measurement I can come up with — I return to the tent and listen to the campfire songs from my semi-dry sleeping bag.

In one cosmic moment, two dueling singers from campfires probably 30 yards apart launch into their own choruses at the same time.

Two voices at once come together in an extended "oooooooooooooooo" before splitting into different words. Different worlds, probably.


We had given up. There was one real good reason to stay another 24 hours in Kerrville — Ray Wylie Hubbard was going to play that night.

There were a million reasons to pack up and go home that morning.

Reasons like: We were almost out of beer. And we didn't enjoy pain. We had not paced ourselves well. Or at all, for that matter.

With dawn's decision to leave came The Kerrvert With No Name.

Sunday morning, I was mustering the strength to actually get up when a pair of bloodshot eyes peered into the tent from under a cowboy hat and behind a massive moustache.

"Howdy," I said.

"Howdy," the moustache said back.

The Kerrvert with No Name wasted no time. He abandoned our small talk to walk around the tent and discover our ice chest.

He opened it.

"Oooh! Oooh! Ah! Ooh! Ooooah!"

I was about to tell him to stop having sex with the ice chest when he made clear that he was excited about our Lone Star beer. 

He seized one and asked us — politely — if he could have it.

Now who could refuse a man a beer at 7 a.m.?

He opened it, took a drink, and literally howled with enthusiasm. Well, maybe it was more of a bark. Either way, I've never heard a man appreciate a beer so fully.

Cameron — the gracious host — got up to have a beer with him.

After getting dressed, this time, I left the tent to get a good look at our guest. He was wearing a felt hat, blue rodeo T-shirt, some jeans of considerable age and a gient pair of boots. He was no hippie.

But somwhere, this man had obviously blown a fuse.

A bird sang in the distance.

He cocked his head at an improbable angle and told us it was an angry mockingbird.

When the mockingbird — as if on cue — flew to the nearest tree, he walked over and started cussing it.

"You want a piece of me?" he hollered.

The mockingbird didn't.

He wandered back over. Another bird sang.

"Redbird!" he snarled and staggered west, toward another camp.

We were just thinking we were rid of him when the marshmallow went flying by.

"INCOMING!" he yelled.

He had found another campsite's stash of marshmallows and was hiding behind a tent, throwing them at us.

In the face of such weirdness, Cameron and I opened another beer.

The man came back and we exchanged pleasantries. Yes, it was Sunday. Yes, we've been having a good time. We were about to offer him one of the last few beers when he cocked his head at a weird angle again.

A dog was barkin in the distance.

"That's my dog. I must walk this way." And he did.

The Kerrvert With No Name was gone.

Our Kerrville experience was done.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1217060 2017-12-15T05:35:15Z 2017-12-15T05:35:16Z Texas book review: Indianola, The Mother of Western Texas

I knew two things about Indianola. I found it on the map when I lived in Victoria and thought it sounded cool. And Charlie Robison had a song about it that I liked pretty well.

What I don’t know is how a book about Indianola popped up on my computer screen. I don’t even remember what I was searching … eBay, Amazon, Google, whatever. But when I did stumble across it, the title was all it took: “Indianola: The Mother of Western Texas.”

For $10 on eBay, it was on the way.

It is not my policy to buy mystery 1977 history texts without checking out several pages first to see if the author can actually string words together in a pleasant fashion. But I took a chance.

As it turns out, it wasn’t all that bad.

It’s astonishing to think that a German prince (Carl zu Solms-Braunfels) could pick out a spot on the Texas coast, have three boatloads of German immigrants show up in December 1844 to an empty beach and within three decades there is a thriving port to rival Galveston, known across the globe and boasting every type of business one could want.

Then in 1875 an enormous hurricane nearly obliterated it. In 1886, another came to finish the job. And Indianola was gone.

Our author, Brownson Malsch (who wrote two other books, both about Captain Manuel T. "Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas of the Texas Rangers) does an excellent job at the beginning of the book, detailing the German genesis of Indianola (then Indian Point) and finishes strong with the outrageous devastation of the 1875 Hurricane.

In between it certainly drags in some points. You can tell where he found a great bit of source material and where he is piecing together a chapter with financial records. Worst is the jockeying over various railroads and would-be railroads. I just couldn’t keep track, so to speak, of the SA&MG, the GWT&P, the ISA&EP … it got tiresome after a bit.

And that title? Indianola was 'mother' of western Texas partly because she was the port through which many immigrants arrived, but mainly because the supplies that kept those settlers going — and the military personnel stationed in western Texas — came through Indianola.

In a bit of literary cruelty, Malsch saves the best descriptions of Indianola at the height of its power for the chapter immediately preceding the chapter on the 1875 hurricane. There are saloons and seamstresses and surgeons and custom tailors. A few pages later, he is telling us how these buildings were swept wholesale into the sea.

After detailing the 1875 hurricane, Malsch loses steam. The final eleven years before the next great hurricane is covered flaccidly in the final chapter, much of it dealing, again, with railroads. The postscript is a weak look at Galveston’s hubris in ignoring the lessons of Indianola. It didn’t work out well for them.

Overall rating: 6 out of 10.

Author’s language skills: 5 out of 10.

What I learned that will most likely stick with me: German immigration, coastal geography, how goddamn fast a town can rise and fall

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1203858 2017-11-07T15:51:30Z 2017-11-08T21:36:16Z Talking about guns — again — and American values

The Sandy Hook massacre was one of the worst things to happen in my life. What it lacks now in numbers, it makes up for in horror.

And I felt it deep in my bones when I read the comment last month (after some other mass shooting, does it matter which?) from some tragic realist: "If Newtown didn't change anything, how can we expect it to change now?"

I know that the beginnings of gun control won't prevent the next shooting. The guns are already in the hands of the next murderer. And the one after that and the dozens after that. And I know there are some on the anti-gun side who are too far to the left of reality — with the Pollyanna hope that some magic gun control bill will bring an end to this horror. And that's unfortunate.

But the pro-gun response is just plain sorry. 

First step is to call cries for gun control "politicizing" the event, even as renegades from the far right spread lies: "Sandy Hook was a hoax!" "The Sutherland Springs shooter was on the DNC payroll!"

The next step is to argue semantics and false equivalencies online — "It's not an assault rifle!" "Cars kill people, too!" — as if you didn't know exactly what the fuck we mean.

Then come the fake hysterics designed to stir the stupid: "The left wants to take away your guns!" "The media is attacking the Second Amendment!"

Then we blame mental illness. But we refuse to do anything about that. Because it's hard.

Ultimately comes the most basic response: "There's nothing we can do."

And that's the kicker. It's about the most un-American thing you can say.

You remember that Facebook post that went around early this fall? The one about the heroic working-class fellow who took his bass boat into the post-Hurricane Harvey waters and went around saving people while the liberals sat at home wringing their hands? The guy with the guns and the NRA sticker on his big truck and is supposed to be the answer to the left's preaching about decency and values?

Yeah, that guy reads about men with guns murdering his fellow Americans in cold blood and says "fuck it, there's nothing we can do."

Is that harsh? Don't like it? Then do something. If you believe in responsible gun ownership, then support legislation that will hold people accountable to your values.

Integrity, right? There's been so little of that, it's hard not to give up on that idea, too.

If Newtown didn't change anything, how can we expect it to change now?

There's something I can do.

I can hope that my friends and family aren't the next victims. 

I can write. And I can vote.

There is no light at the end of my tunnel, train or otherwise. It's hard to see now that my voice will be heard or that my vote will help.

But Americans don't quit.
tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1195955 2017-10-04T13:55:31Z 2018-10-06T13:51:51Z 2002-2017: Woodrow, who didn't like you, is in cat heaven. Maybe.

Woodrow the cat died Monday after stubbornly refusing to do so during a long illness. At the end he drank a lot and often, staggered as he prowled the garage, pissed indiscriminately and complained loudly and often about the numerous things that upset him.

“That’s the way I want to go,” said owner Dave Thomas.

Woodrow was an asshole. Most of the time. He did not care for strangers. He didn’t care much about friends. He liked to pass his time looking sullen, but every once in awhile would be social. A little. For a short time.

“If you’re feeling uncomfortable about making that ‘pets resemble their owners joke’ about my dead cat, consider it made,” said Thomas.

Woodrow was born a poor feral kitty in the spring of 2002. An American-Statesman employee found him and emailed a picture to Thomas. The picture showed a cute, bright-eyed, black-and-white kitten gazing adoringly at the camera.

“Yeah, I bet the next photo is of him biting the shit out of your hand,” Thomas replied.

The coworker sent Thomas the next photo, showing the furball wrapped around her hand with his teeth sunk deep into a finger.

“I’ll take him,” Thomas said.

Thomas was hunting for a rental house at the time and while thinking about what to name that cat, he saw a bus stop sign that mentioned Woodrow Avenue. The cat was technically named after a bus stop, but it was clearly “Lonesome Dove” that gave the name resonance with Thomas.

After staying at the apartment just long enough to bite a gazillion tiny holes in the bottom of all the vertical blinds and cost Thomas his deposit, Woodrow moved into the rental house on Brentwood (just a block down from Woodrow Ave.) with Thomas, newly-engaged Shannon Williams and her elderly dog Annie.

Being a cat and having no clue about karma, Woodrow ruthlessly terrorized toothless Annie, relying heavily on a Foreman-esque punch (technically, it WAS a bitch slap) that could … “WHAP!” … be heard across the house.

“You’ve seen those old Tom and Jerry cartoons where the cat goes down to hell?” Thomas said. “That’s where Woodrow was clearly headed. Kitty Hell. He was a total jerk.”

The old house had a window-unit air conditioner and Woodrow soon learned that it would make a particular sound before the coolant kicked on. During the summer, he’d run up to the unit after he heard that noise and stick his head up there and bogart all the cold air.

He played tough, but all it took was a junkie burglar or a hyperactive little girl to reveal him for the coward that he was. After each episode, he hid under the bed in the spare bedroom for days.

After the family moved to their own house in Far South Austin, Annie passed on and Woodrow gained a new companion when the family inherited Meow Cows — who was older and having none of Woodrow’s shit. Ever. Apparently immortal, Meow Cows had already seen it all.

Woodrow inhabited a succession of rooms, getting kicked out of each by a new child, whom he learned quickly and terribly that he was not to fuck with either.

These were dark days for Woodrow. Though strangers came less often, extended family came more often. The kids kept multiplying. That other old cat was a real bitch.

Then came the little girl. And Woodrow softened. He had learned his lesson. And so she didn’t learn the lesson of tiny sharp teeth like her brothers had.

She followed him around. She talked to him. She put hats on him. And he stoically endured it. He wouldn’t have admitted it, but he probably liked the attention. Just a little. Even if he didn’t, his look of resigned disgust was lost on the wee child.

And each time the little girl accidentally smacked him on the head in the course of pretending a plastic saucer was a fancy hat — and he patiently waited it out — a sin was absolved.

Karma came calling about a year-and-a-half ago when a new puppy named Lucy joined the family.

By this time, Woodrow was living out his last days in the garage. He had already had a mini-stroke and was weak in his hindquarters. But that didn’t stop him from coming inside every time he got the chance to drink from the toilet, which apparently had an appeal that his water bowl could not match.

Lucy was the unknowing agent of Annie. It took her little time to discover the joy of herding Woodrow around the house, the old cat too weak to jump to safety. And yet, every time Lucy stuck her cold nose where his balls would have been, Woodrow’s black soul came away a little lighter. A debt was being repaid, one awkward snuffle at a time.

When the end came, Woodrow was rail-thin and in pain. Thomas paid for his passage.

Woodrow died a little after 10 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 2.

He leaves behind Lucy, who might miss him, and Meow Cows, who, unmoved, has seen the last gasp of countless souls as she has journeyed through the ages.

He leaves behind a 7-year-old boy who might not notice he is gone, and Shannon, who didn’t dislike him enough to want to see him in pain.

He leaves behind a 5-year-old girl who doesn’t quite understand, and a 10-year-old boy who is taking this hard.

And he leaves behind Thomas, who held him on his lap in the old recliner one last time. Just a cup of coffee and SportsCenter short of the good old days. The man was relieved when he could tell Woodrow was no longer feeling any pain.

Thomas dug the grave. He told the kids. He went to work.

But he’ll miss that cat.

Just a little.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1176777 2017-07-25T04:34:38Z 2017-07-25T04:34:39Z Heading west on U.S. 290: A private conversation

There you were on that front porch in Stonewall. One of those 22-ounce bottles of Lone Star Ice in your hand. An empty one at your feet. Lunch on the way to Luckenbach never happened and so you just drank away the afternoon on an empty stomach before heading this way while you still could.

You say that like it’s something strange. What I recall was that the mayor of Luckenbach showed up with a pizza. It was divine intervention. Jesus looks after drunks and fools.

And you were doubly protected. But Jesus had nothing to do with it. The mayor of Luckenbach lived there. And that pizza was probably for her.

And twenty-something years later, I’m still grateful. Hey, there’s that Chevron where I bought the Lone Star Ice. What’s that next to it?

“Stonewall Wine” something-or-other ...

Man, this whole place has gone to hell.

You’re the only guy I know who thinks scraping between gettin’ by and gettin’ high is a step up from a little bit of comfort and class.

Well, it was authentic.

You use that word like a velvet rope. Nobody wants in your private history club.

I ain’t talking about motels with new paint jobs and convenience stores with new names. Lookit this road: Fucking wineries and lavender fields, one after another. What the hell was wrong with peaches and beer joints?

Like you ever bought a peach.

Somebody had to keep the beer joints open. Speaking of … we’re early. Let’s turn here.

You’re not going to stop are you?

I don’t think they’ll sell me a drink at 8:45 a.m.

I don’t think you’d turn one down. All you have to do is think about poli…

Stop it. Not today.


Damn it, here we are. Here where everybody’s somebody.

And that’s why you don’t come here anymore? You used to be a little more somebody than the next feller. Now you ain’t.

Yeah, well … what the fuck is that?

Looks like a new outhouse.

Outhouse, hell, that’s a new building. I guess the old outhouse was too rustic for the lavender-and-winery crowd.

And yet, I don’t think Luckenbach is ruined.

Hell, I remember when I first saw an Internet address scrawled on the outhouse wall back in the late ‘90s. Funny how we had no idea that instant global communication and easy access to the wisdom of the ages would somehow fuck everything up.

That’s the only wise thing you’ve said today.

Screw you.

Seriously, there’s no real need for you to tilt at timepieces here. Sure, you’ve got a memory for every twist of road out here, but a little progress ain’t going to erase them.

No, that’s alcohol’s job.

So … why fight the future?

It’s instinctive. Like Peckinpah. Like Abbey.

Don’t flatter yourself. A pint-sized Peckinpah, perhaps. A Cactus Ed with all of the grizz and none of the guts. If you were as good as you thought ….

Yeah, I got it. Look who’s being mean-spirited now.

Seriously, don’t worry about the wineries. Better than refineries. At least they don’t spoil the land. And who knows, you might grow up some day …

All right, all right. I guess it’s OK. Whatever the hell keeps the bachelorette parties giggly and the land from sprouting up in condos.

There’s the spirit … hey, why are we turning here?

This is the destination. Fredericksburg Trade Days.

Sigh. After this little talk, you’re still gonna go in there looking for pieces of the past?

Got to.

I know.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1153325 2017-05-11T19:27:57Z 2017-05-11T19:27:57Z The Ballad of Joseph Browning

I said I would write a song about a guy I heard about while living in San Angelo in the mid-'90s. So I did. This ain't how his story went. And his name wasn't Joseph Browning. And, hell, I guess without music it's just a poem. Still, here's one for Joesph and his short, but epic life.


Fightin’ and fucking are fine, I guess, for ordinary men

But I got my uncle’s .250 and I’m adjusting for the wind

To tell the truth I’d be with Sue if she wasn’t born again

So it’s me and you, at the zoo, we’re going hunting friend

I shot the monkey, I blew away the bear,

I even shot the zebra, man I just didn’t care

I don’t know why, guess there isn’t much to do,

I’d have shot the sheriff, if he’d a been there too,

Yeah, I shot the hell out of the Pecos Zoo

The sheriff dragged me out of bed, and look, they got you, too

I hear it didn’t take much poking around before he found a clue

We left the shells, what the hell, man that’s something I would do

.250’s a rare gun, but I got one … damn we shoulda taken the .22

I shot the monkey, I blew away the bear,

I even shot the zebra, man I just didn’t care

I don’t know why, guess there isn’t much to do,

I’d have shot the sheriff, if he’d a been there too,

Yeah, I shot the hell out of the Pecos Zoo

Hey, remember we had that wreck — we both got thrown clear?

I guess we got that lucky with the judge, it’s been a helluva year

Christ almighty son, you can’t have a gun and not a sniff of beer

But I don’t drink and you know what I think? Monkey season’s here

I shot the monkey, I blew away the bear,

I even shot the zebra, man I just didn’t care

I don’t know why, guess there isn’t much to do,

I’d have shot the sheriff, if he’d a been there too,

The Judge asked me why’d you do it son, was it trouble at home or bullies at school?

I didn’t know why, shootin’ just makes me high, and I shot the hell out of the Pecos Zoo

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1144757 2017-04-07T14:01:28Z 2017-04-07T14:01:28Z The letter series: No. 3 ... Jim Mattis

I wrote this earlier in the week, when Secretary Mattis wasn't quite so involved in foreign affairs. Nonetheless, it's on the way, and even if he doesn't see it, it's as much for you as it is for him.

As always, I'm urging you to get involved. 

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis

Department of Defense

1400 Defense Pentagon

Washington, DC 20301-1400

Dear Secretary Mattis,

Of all President Trump’s Cabinet members (including a few whose views are antithetical to the posts they hold), you are perhaps the only one to meet President Trump’s boast of “most qualified.” Certainly, it is telling about the administration that its most rational leader is a man whose nickname is “Mad Dog.”

To have a military man whose decades of service to his country are testament to honor and integrity keep watch over our nation from such a high post — well worth the waiver that placed you there — is comforting in these times.

And yet to know that you are a well-read man with a passion for military history is equal parts comforting and confusing. I stumbled across a Facebook list of 30 books that you recommend. Among them “Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, The Joint Chiefs of Staff and The Lies That Led to Vietnam,” “Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela, “The Lessons of History” and “Diplomacy” by Henry Kissinger.

And even as I am thankful that you are a student of history, I wonder why you hold your silence as President Trump’s practices — particularly his attempted suppression of the media — place us at the beginning of familiar pathways.

I’ll leave the accusations of Russian ties to sort itself out, but what about the administration’s clumsy and destructive efforts (or lack of effort) at diplomacy? Your voice and leadership are sorely needed there.

And how does such a well-read man who prizes knowledge serve such a semi-literate president? As you contemplate the meditations of Marcus Aurelius, are you not troubled that your boss is contemplating the ravings of Alex Jones?

Perhaps your patriotism runs deeper than I am giving you credit for. Perhaps you have taken this role, willingly at the expense of your reputation, so that you can keep President Trump from doing something insane at the most crucial time. A mole of sensibility on a ship of fools. If so, let’s not raise any red flags — let this letter pass without response.

Secretary Mattis, whatever your reasons, I am glad you hold your post. Please continue to provide our nation with the leadership and the educated judgment that it so sorely needs.

Most respectfully,

Dave Thomas

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1142533 2017-03-30T12:45:16Z 2017-03-30T12:45:17Z The letter series: No. 2 ... Ted Cruz

If you had told me a year ago, I'd be reaching out to find common ground with Ted Cruz, well, I'd have been doubtful.

But here we are. This entry in my letter series spells out why I think it's up to Republicans to step forward and rein in Donald Trump.

The letter series: One letter a week to the person of my choice. I'm including the address so you can write your own letter. And certainly you are welcome to use any or all of my letter. Copy the whole thing if you wish. Just get involved ...

The Honorable Ted Cruz

404 Russell Senate Office Building

United States Senate

Washington DC 20510

Dear Sen. Cruz,

In July, you refused to back Republican nominee Donald Trump, saying “I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father.” A few months earlier you called candidate Trump a “serial philanderer” and said of him “this man is a pathological liar, he doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies.”

You had it right. But where is your voice today? Or earlier this month when you had dinner at the White House? You have your career to consider, of course. But … family honor, Christian morals, truth, integrity. Those are some serious values to turn your back on. One hardly has to be a Christian to understand the wisdom of Matthew 16:26.

I am an independent voter on new, liberal ground after the political landscape has shifted under me hard to the right. You and I have significant disagreements on the issues. But you are my senator, and I want to believe you have a commitment to the basic values of decency and honesty.

The GOP badly needs a dynamic voice to come forward. I have tried and tried to tell my hardcore Republican friends that to demand that President Trump represent their values is not to abandon their party — it is to save it. They are well within their rights to say “I’m glad we won, I’m glad Hillary lost, but … enough is enough. We need to rein this man in.”

It is not only possible that Republicans speak out as Republicans, it is crucial. Crucial because, during the rest of Trump’s term, at least, only Republican voices will spur Republican change. I think we both understand that in today’s climate, Democratic complaints  — no matter how valid or wise — are only heard as so much noise by Trump supporters.

Sen. Cruz, in the White House we have a man who is indecent. Who is dishonest. Who seeks to operate without public oversight. A man who represents neither my values nor — I hope — yours. Can I count on you to step forward? To speak up? To be the leader you once saw yourself as?

It is never too late to do the right thing.

Most respectfully,

Dave Thomas

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1141251 2017-03-24T13:32:11Z 2017-03-24T13:35:52Z The Letter series: No. 1 ... Donald Trump

When I said I would stop being political on Facebook and start writing letters, I was faced right away with the realization that spending 5 minutes on a quick rant was a lot easier than sitting down to write a letter. But, months later, I got the ball rolling. I intend to continue this series for the rest of the year. One letter a week to the person of my choice. I'm including the address so you can write your own letter. And certainly you are welcome to use any or all of my letter. Copy the whole thing if you wish. Just get involved.

To President Trump, I wanted a bipartisan letter that did not attack his objectives, Republican or otherwise. I just wanted to demand honesty. The truth should be the first thing we expect from the president. We are not getting it. Here's a little professional background, in case you want a better read.

If you believe in truth, you should send your own letter demanding it. If you are a Republican, you do not have to sacrifice your identity to demand the president represent your values. In fact, it is crucial that you don't. A strong Republican backlash is what is necessary to make America honest again.

No further delay ...

President Trump

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

Your electoral victory in November was unprecedented in placing a man with neither political nor military experience at the helm of the greatest nation on Earth. That victory came with many expectations that the United States of America would soon be governed in an entirely different fashion.

It has indeed. But the most telling change to come out of Washington has not been “running the country like a business” or “draining the swamp,” but the personal behavior of the president.

Mr. President, I am among many Americans appalled by your reckless disregard for the truth. Surely, I am also upset by your attempts to place yourself and your administration beyond the oversight of the American people. And your administration’s failure to uphold even a veneer of diplomacy is among other very troubling issues.

But your failure to tell the truth is the most vicious assault on American values. It is a basic expectation that the President of the United States should be a person of honesty and integrity — and you have displayed neither. The “wiretapping” saga is the most glaring example, but there are countless others.

Mr. President, you cannot lie to the American people. We will not tolerate it.

By all measures, your victory in November allows, even compels, you to pursue Republican goals and values. It even gives you license to pursue the border wall and the immigration ban. But your victory does not hand you the keys to the kingdom. The American people are your boss, not your subjects.

Certainly, Mr. President, you recall the response to your recent address to Congress. You spoke with less bombast, more gravitas. You did not insult and pander, but rather focused on your task ahead and provided details, as well as evidence of planning and preparation. “Presidential,” the media called you. The praise was quick and came from nearly every corner.

Mr. President, the bar is set pretty low. You can still be an honored president. You can still be a great president in the eyes of your supporters. All you have to do is play by the rules and tell the truth. I do believe even you would be shocked by the change in how you are treated by the media.

Mr. President, please stop lying to us.

Most respectfully,

Dave Thomas]]>
tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1106795 2016-11-09T14:28:36Z 2017-10-07T15:16:07Z The 2016 election: A loser's examination of what just happened

I lost.

It ain’t a new feeling. I wake up in filthy house I can’t keep clean. Wretched carpet and stained furniture I can’t afford to fix or replace. I’ve been losing my mind over the shame that I’ve worked for nearly a quarter-century and have to live like this.

Afford? I’m selling posters on eBay to pay bills. Sometimes grocery bills. Living paycheck-to-paycheck? I lost that some time ago. Autism therapy bills are expensive. I’ve been appealing what Aetna won’t pay. I’ve been losing.

And work? I've realized that if I was as good as I thought I was, I’d have already succeeded. My victories are history, my losses right the fuck now.

But this is worse. I didn’t just lose. Hatred won. Racism won. Misogyny won. This was a victory for people who wear their religion on their sleeve but don’t hold it in their hearts. This was a victory for people who don't care about truth. This was ... it's hard to understand. Every time Donald J. Trump appeared on screen, you could judge him on what he said. On how he said it. But so many, many people decided that was what they wanted.

This was — and I’m not going to sugarcoat it — a victory for people too stupid to understand or care about the difference between real news and fake news sites and Facebook hate groups. People who scream bias while gobbling up sweet-tasting bullshit ladled out for them. I wonder how many people voted for Trump who never watched a debate, never read a story about him, never seriously considered if we should trust a man whose businesses keep failing — who won't release his taxes — to run our country.

I lost. Now I have to look at Rudolph Giuliani sneer about the Clintons’ sex lives while ignoring his own sleazy history and realize a guy like that won. I have to listen to Dan Patrick pursue his policies of misogyny and crazy and realize he won. Mike Pence? A man who has pursued a policy of dark-ages prosecution against homosexuals? He won.

The guy who trolled my Facebook account, suggesting journalists should be lynched? He won. Ted Nugent and his virulent hatred won. Mike Huckabee and his fear-mongering lies won. That redneck who makes racist jokes about Obama? He won. 

Now I have to think about Donald Trump and realize that my next president — he won — is a man who would mock my disabled son. A man who would dishonor my daughter. A man who has disrespected my veteran friends and father — even if they were blind to it.

Education lost. Science lost. Decency lost.

I’m not going to whine about rigged elections. Unlike our next president, I’ve never wavered from Democracy. I’m not going to move to Canada. I’m an American. I’m not going to flee to California. I’m a Texan.

I’m not going to say I hope he fails, God forbid. I'm not as low-class as that gasbag Rush Limbaugh. My expectations are low, my fears are high. But I hope to hell Trump does better than I expect and not as bad as I fear.

I listened to him try to be gracious on TV last night. He started by saying the right things, but he's surrounded himself with the wrong people. I fear that civility will soon be a victim of power. All of you who were so naive as to say you'd vote for someone who says bad things instead of does bad things (as if sexual assault isn't a bad enough thing) — you just wait to see what he'll do when he has what must seem to be unlimited power.

I don't get it. I'm no Democrat, by the way. I'm as independent as the day is long. It's just that the rise of the tea party has made moderate pretty damn liberal. I know there are good Republicans out there. People who believe in conservative policy rather than a hate-based social issue agenda. I hope they rise up — tomorrow isn't soon enough — and say "enough of this shit."

I don’t know if this will be just a bumpy four years or if this is a start of some horrible new era. I don't know how many hateful and uneducated people out there. A lot. Many more than I thought. But there are many, many more who will tolerate those people. Who will look away.

I can't do that. I'm going to fight. I have to.

I'm going to have to be a better man. To protect my oldest son from those who would prey on his gentle nature. To protect my youngest son from those who would throw his future away ("It's too expensive! Jesus made him that way!") To protect my daughter from those who think it's their right to use her as they see fit. 

I'm tired of losing. 
tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1063755 2016-06-15T17:44:35Z 2016-06-15T23:44:16Z Dave shares 10 things you should know

The Sandy Hook Elementary shooting was the worst thing I ever witnessed — I wasn't there, of course, but watching it unfold on 24-hour media and social media was close enough. My perspective on this was as a father, with several children who were elementary-school age, or close. I was affected in a way I could not express. I did not speak to another adult the rest of the day — fortunately my job doesn't require me to, most times.

(Two thoughts: Several years removed from this, there are people who claim that this tragedy was invented to promote gun control. Like a tiny version of Holocaust-denial. These people who promote this idea are world-class scum. And I wonder if enough has been done for the first responders to this tragedy. If they have to pay for therapy — if they even have to be bothered to fill out paperwork — we have failed them terribly.)

Now in the aftermath of another national tragedy — the worst thing ever witnessed for many — I've been silent again. Fact is, I've been mostly too disgusted to speak.

But I know you guys are missing my thoughts on this. Here are 10 things you should know.

1. In the plainest words I have: If you hide behind the shield of the Lord so you can stab with the devil's pitchfork, you are a terrible Christian. Given to strong drink and profane words, I am a terrible Christian, but then I do not post both Bible quotes and hatred on my Facebook page. If you see yourself as a better than me, maybe you should act like it.

2. In fact, if you use the Bible to justify your hatred, then you better live every page of that Bible. If you are going to use the Bible to justify hatred of homosexuals, then when one smacks you upside the head, you better turn the other cheek. If you quote the Bible, but don't go to church, don't follow the 10 Commandments, don't refrain from drunkenness and poor behavior, don't practice forgiveness and humility — then you are not a Christian, you are a hypocrite.

(On the other hand, if you are gentle and compassionate person who lives the word of God to the best of your ability, with concern for your neighbor instead of malice, then I will absolutely leave you to your business, even if I think some of your business is not good for modern society.)

3. If you share or comment positively on racist things on Facebook, then you are acting like a racist. This might not bother you, but it bothers me. Perception is reality for the perceiver.

4. Banning the sale of what common parlance refers to as assault-style weapons (don't annoy me with your spiel on classifications, I will not be distracted) absolutely will not end gun violence in America. A determined man with a dove-hunting shotgun can wreak horrific damage on a crowd of people. But banning the sale of the AR-15 is a good idea, if only to show the world that we are willing to do SOMETHING about gun violence. 

(AR-15s already out there will be available on the black market. And you cannot confiscate the guns already sold, of course. This is America. Anybody who honestly believes that Obama or a Democratic successor is actually going to TAKE your guns is stupid. And playing directly into the hands of people who are interested in playing you for a fool so they can protect their wealth.)

5. Look, I own one shotgun, two rifles and a handgun. I will have more guns, but they will all be passed down from my father. I enjoy having them and enjoy shooting them. (They are stored in a full-scale gun safe, of course.) None of them are semi-automatic, I guess save for the double-barrel shotgun, which will fire twice with two pulls of the trigger. I have fired an AR-15 and it was fun, but I have neither the land nor the money to own one. And I have no reason to own one. Should a hard-working rancher be allowed to blow off some steam or more effectively kill varmints by shooting an AR-15? Absolutely, if he already has one. Should the next home-grown terrorist be allowed to legally buy one tomorrow? No.

6. I do not discount the Call of Testosterone. I still would like to fire an M-60, the stuff of my childhood Rambo dreams. But I'm old enough now to realize that if I ever wanted to do that, I should have joined the military. To many men, having a big truck and a big gun makes them feel like a big man. We all have our delusions of grandeur — always I start these essays thinking they will have more of an impact than costing me a handful of Facebook friends. But honestly, these bros who think that owning a badass-looking gun makes them men are the people I trust the least. Personally, I believe I should have all the guns I want — which is not many. But I have serious doubts about most of you.

7. God, guns and guts DID make America great. But things change. This is no longer the agrarian, patriarchal society of our forefathers. We are a different nation. Now old men misuse God to push their godless agenda. And young bros play with guns with little understanding of their safe and discriminating use. And those with the guts to practice the independent thought that was once deemed essential to the American character are condemned by those with little such character or courage.

8. The most important thing to remember is this is not a black-and-white discussion. The answer is not zero guns or more guns. The answer is not Democrat or Republican. The answer is not Christian or Muslim. It is somewhere in between. That is the nature of America, after all. (If you say anyone different from you is wrong and should be persecuted/deported/executed, I would ask you why you hate America.) There will be no answers to any of our most pressing questions until the left and the right are willing to discuss issues rather than shout sound bites and are willing to make compromises rather than ultimatums.

(Easiest compromise of all: Sure, let the Texas GOP require IDs to vote. But let the Texas Democrats set up a program for citizens to gain easy and cheap access to IDs.)

9. Sadly, the Internet and social media are making us stupider rather than more well-informed. When news stories are only judged by clicks rather than content, then certainly the most bombastic and inane politicians are going to get the most attention. When people are easily and anonymously able to voice their most hateful opinions (comments, Twitter), they are going to do so ever more vociferously. When people are able to easily find other people who validate their own hateful and heretofore socially unacceptable beliefs (Facebook), those beliefs will be amplified. The Internet was supposed to make us smarter. Instead it's a bullhorn for idiocy (says the guy posting this essay on Facebook).

(Just because someone does not understand the mechanics and classification of a firearm does not mean that their argument lacks merit. For the same reason that someone's argument is not negated by their failure to use proper grammar and spelling or their ridiculous punctuation — although when I see someone bashing muslin's and promoting gun's ... well, it doesn't help.)

10. If I have offended you, yet you have read this far, I applaud your tolerance and willingness to examine things you do not agree with. You and I could have a reasonable discussion, I'm thinking. There will be things you are correct about — things I have not looked at in the right way. There might be things I could convince you to change your opinion on. That's the magic of reasonable discussion. However, if you gave up after looking at the picture and reading the first few words, then, yes, I was probably talking about you.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/916938 2015-10-20T23:09:56Z 2015-10-21T14:20:32Z My Zombie Apocalypse Team

A Facebook friend recently shared a video of a guy displaying an impressive skill with a samurai sword. That was pretty interesting. But then he said that the sword guy was now on his Zombie Apocalypse Team. And I thought "holy shit, I do NOT have a Zombie Apocalypse Team!" I'm going to fix that oversight right now.

Two ground rules: We're going to max out your team at 11 members (including you). And you can't have Jesus or Superman or some Harry Potter magic shit. If you don't have to fight the zombies, what's the damn point?

Without further delay, here's my Zombie Apocalypse Team ...


You might think I'm foolish not to talk the Hulk here, but the green guy's fighting style is basically to be swarmed by his enemy and then emerge in an even bigger rage and smash the shit out of everyone and everything. That doesn't work with zombies ... he'd be bitten right away. And a Zombie Hulk? Man, we'd be screwed. Conan is keen with a sword, fast, tireless and immensely strong.


This guy from Larry McMurtry's "Streets of Laredo" is so damn good that he can track bugs. He tends to wander off, but always returns at the right moment, doesn't eat much and doesn't require much investment. I admit he's not much of a fighter, but c'mon, the Native American tracker in "Predator" spends the whole damn movie looking like he's fixin' to cry. Plus Famous Shoes sounds a lot like Wes Studi, so that's pretty awesome.


Mac is a good soldier. Keeps his eyes open. Takes orders well. And at some point the only thing that will stand between us and zombie doom is about 6000 rounds per minute.* We're definitely taking Mac over Rambo, just because Rambo is not exactly emotionally stable. Mac tends to talk quietly to himself, but we'll live with that.


There's a difference between Red from "The Shawshank Redemption" warning us against hope and Spock telling us in clinical terms that we have no chance of living out the week. And Jedi mind tricks will be no use on zombies. Sorry about that, Obi-Wan. Besides, Red is used to hard living and is a guy who knows how to get things. We are definitely going to need a guy who knows how to get things in the Zombie Apocalypse.


I'm not sure how dependent Tony Stark is on his computers or other fancy gadgets. Still, for as long as his suit holds out, having a flying, blasting, wise-cracking character who can fix damn near anything will be very handy. I do understand the benefits of having a cyborg during the Zombie Apocalypse, but we're taking Iron Man over The Terminator because Iron Man is a better drinking partner.


Look, I love Groot as much as anybody who has only 2 hours worth of history with him. But Chewbacca? Man, look at the new Star Wars trailer ... that wookie is still right there, sticking firmly by the side of gray-haired Han. Chewie would definitely have my back. I wouldn't know what he's saying, but that's probably a good thing. 


Sorry, Bruce Lee fans. He might be a finer philosopher and better at hand-to-hand combat, but I'm taking the good-looking gal who is handy with a gun and can fight off a swarm of Japanese gangsters with a sword and a smile. Plus you know Conan would be smitten with her and it's always good to keep the big guy focused.


Look, it is my damn Zombie Apocalypse Team and I am NOT going to be the first one to die. Yes, I realize that I'm a shave and couple six-packs from looking just like him, but I'm pretty sure if worst comes to worst I can still outrun Butterbean. Besides, he will look really good waddling into the horde of zombies in slow-motion just knocking heads everywheres as he valiantly sacrifices himself for the team.


The Zombie Apocalypse will be an amoral hellscape. Bad things will have to happen. Certain "negotiations" will have to take place with people who have things we need. I'm not a bad guy. So I'm going to need a bad guy. Khan is super smart, deceptively strong and chillingly evil without being a total drag. Plus, unlike Darth Vader, he doesn't have any noisy respiratory problems.


Well ... it IS the (highly fictional and purely hypothetical, hi Shannon!) Zombie Apocalypse. There's a possibility that if things go bad I might be the last man on Earth.  

* I know I have disappointed many of you by going on record saying that I don't think you need automatic weapons or that most of you should even be trusted with as much as a pop gun. But in the event of the Zombie Apocalypse, I'm going to reverse course and favor guns for everyone — the bigger the better.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/884164 2015-07-23T18:25:34Z 2015-07-24T04:41:32Z How I saved Mother Hubbard from a vicious aquatic varmint

This story begins about noon in early July, 2000, with me sitting in the Luckenbach bar, listening to bartender/musician Jimmy Lee Jones charm the tourists and thinking about drinking.

A lady walks up to the bar, "Excuse me ..."

Jimmy Lee interrupts with a look of practiced shock: "Why? Did you fart?"

Sometimes this doesn't work well with the tour bus blue hairs, but soon there's smiles all around and beers sweating on the bar.

VelAnne walks in and catches me daydreaming, "Hey! you wanna go to a pool party at Ray Wylie Hubbard's house?"

This is the best question anyone has ever asked me, but ... "nah, I gotta go to Austin. Gotta meet up with some folks for 'Happy Minutes' at the Showdown. Hell, I oughta be moving."

"Come on, when you gonna get another invite like this? Hey, you can follow me down to Wimberley on the way to Austin! We'll even stop at the Devil's Backbone Tavern."

VelAnne's got me now. She knows I'm a sucker for evocative combinations of words. I was smitten by the phrase "Snake Farm" long before Hubbard set it to that addictive groove.

Well, we soon depart and we don't stop at the Devil's Backbone, which wasn't on the way, and we don't arrive at a jammin' party, full of guitars and groove and poetry and people.

Instead there is just Judy Hubbard, who tells us that Ray has taken young son Lucas to a birthday party. 

... and let's pause for a minute to consider Ray Wylie Hubbard at a child's birthday party:

"Hi, I'm Jimmy's dad. I work down at the First National Bank. What do you do?"

"Oh, I just write these old songs about reptiles and outlaws and dangerous places and talking to the devil."

"Oh ... that's very ... uh ... hey, I think it's time for cake!"

Anyway, it begins to dawn on me that VelAnne, my favorite ADD person in the world, has misunderstood the invite: Ray went to the party, and VelAnne was invited to hang out at the pool. There was almost certainly nothing at all about a 30-year-old journalist in this scenario.

However, Judy is gracious and invites me in and says I can swim, too. 

And I think, I should just politely decline, admit to the misunderstanding and head for cold beer and friends in Austin.

Well ... it's hot. And, man, Ray Wylie Hubbard's pool. Who the hell needs the Fountain of Youth when you've got the Pool of Cool? The Lagoon of Groove? The Basin of Badass?

OK. Just for a few minutes. And not more than a dozen have passed when I spot something amiss. I'm leaning, up against the wall, you could say, trying to look inconspicuous and watching Judy and VelAnne visit, when I notice something wriggling in the far corner of the pool, behind the ladies.

It's not too close to them and too far for me to tell what it is. I glance around and notice the pool net on the fence. With that knowledge in mind, I start easing toward the suspicious wriggling, ready to climb out and arm myself at a moment's notice.

If I play this right, I can solve the whole problem before the ladies ...


VelAnne sees and shouts at the precise moment I've figured out it is not a snake, but a harmless mouse who has wandered in from the surrounding woods and fallen in.

(Why then, the serpentine motion? It's a reptile mouse? No, it's just the tail wriggling ...)

Now I'm an educated man, you might be surprised to learn, even if I learned all my physics by playing billiards while I shoulda been in class. I know that what I'm about to say isn't physically possible, but I'm going to stand by it:

Judy leaped on top of the water, Looney Tunes-style, and skedaddled past me with a whoosh for the far edge of the patio. 

It's true, I tell you.

By then, I've got the net in hand. "Don't kill it," she tells me from the moral high ground of 20 feet away. I'm not sure she would've been so particular if they were still swimming partners.

It's easy to scoop up. A little harder to shake out gracefully back into the woods.

That's the end of the story. I don't know if the ladies returned to the pool, but there was no sense in me doing so. It was very little valor, but still a fitting coda to my visit. I drive on to Austin to tell my tale to deaf ears. 

Heathens, all.

But it's OK. One of these days, Ray Wylie is gonna write "Dave and The Aquatic Varmint Blues."

I'm feeling it. Any day now.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/882770 2015-07-18T05:06:35Z 2015-07-18T19:19:42Z PatriotMingle.com -- for all you Jade Helm lonelyhearts

I know you're keeping the country safe by keeping watch over the American heroes ... uh, sorry, I mean "Obama shock troops" ... that are training in, uh, "invading" Texas right now as part of Jade Helm 15.

But aren't you lonely? Couldn't you use another patriot in your life? No, not like Uncle Zeke. We mean a companion for romance and, maybe a little canoodling under the tinfoil.

(Don't look at us like that. We didn't know about you and Uncle Zeke. Really.)

This is why we are introducing PatriotMingle.com -- the perfect place to meet someone who won't look at you funny when go on a 3-hour rant about the CIA Fluoride Poison Cabal.

In order to better help you meet the freedom fighter of your dreams, we're asking you to answer just a few questions.

Here we go!

1. If you could steal any item from a military surplus store and get away with it, what would it be?

2. How much wood would Chuck Norris chuck if Chuck Norris could chuck wood?

3. If you didn't answer either "All of it" or "Chuck Norris can chuck whatever the fuck he wants" to Question No. 2, please tell us when you started hating America and why.

4. Someone commits a horrible act of violence with a semiautomatic weapon. Do you ... A) Bury your guns next to the mason jars in the yard and wait for Obama to come find them? B) Get in a fist-fight with Jeb over the last box of .22 ammo at Cabela's? C) Take out a second mortgage on your trailer and send all the money to the NRA? D) Immediately start posting insensitive comments on local lame-stream news stories?

5. If you could have anyone's beard on Duck Dynasty, whose would it be? What's stopping you, pussy? 

6. A hockey puck of mass 0.16 kg is slapped so that its velocity is 50 m/sec. It slides 40 meters across the ice before coming to rest. How much work is done by friction on the puck?

7. If you met a woman buying Soldier of Fortune magazine, an "Ain't Skeered" T-Shirt and a Budweiser tallboy while maneuvering her scooter through the express lane at Wal-Mart, what camo pattern would your wedding tux be?

8. There's more than one way to skin a cat. Please name 3 and the type of knife you would use for each. 

9. If Ted Nugent fell off a deer stand and, say, impaled himself with a dozen rusty hunting arrows, how long would you fly the Confederate flag at half-staff?

10. If you love guns and America and think you're tough enough to "supervise" the Army's Special Operations Forces, why didn't you join the military? No need to answer this one. 

Thank you, and we'll get back to you with your top matches!

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/873372 2015-06-25T14:43:16Z 2015-07-09T03:13:33Z Wanted: One vintage grandfather, rough edges OK

There was an old man, long since leather and gray. There was an old pickup, ashtray spilling over and girlie magazines stuffed behind the seats. There was that South Texas clammy sweat, the kind you had when outside was only a different kind of hot than inside. The very air smelled of oil and smoke and dirt. You can keep your digital filters, hell, I can close my eyes and I'm right back there in 1970s Wharton, Texas.

Grandpa asked me if I wanted to go turtle hunting. To a 4-year-old raised on Little Golden Books and Saturday morning cartoons, this didn't sound like fun and I said so. And that was it. Next time I heard of Grandpa, I was in the dim light of the den listening to dad talk on the phone about funeral arrangements and travel plans.

My maternal grandfather had died before I was born, so that left me bereft of old men in my young life. It was a significant loss — but I didn't realize the impact that it had until recently. Turns out, I've been adopting grandfathers ever since.

Two years later when "Star Wars" came out, little boys everywhere were the next Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. But this 6-year-old's favorite character was Obi-Wan Kenobi. And why not? Wise, patient, kind and bad-ass in a bar fight — I had the metal lunch box and the school folder and every line of dialogue memorized.

Twelve years after that came Uncle Woody (don't sweat the details, you'd need a flow chart to figure how we were related). A giant of a 78-year-old, Woody told me he'd worked and smoked cigars "every goddamn day" since he was 13. Think of a meaner, bigger Woodrow Call stuffed into an XL pair of coveralls and you're getting a real good idea who he was, less a run of cussing that you ain't never heard and I ain't heard since.

Woody resented the hell outta being forced to hire me to work on a ranch not far from Normangee, owned by another "uncle" whose connection is a little easier to reckon (my aunt's ex-brother-in-law). He'd a worked me stupid if he'd been a decade younger or I any less stubborn. 

But I listened, I asked the right questions, I didn't ask the wrong ones. And by the end of the summer ... no, he didn't shed a tear or cease to swear, but he shook my hand and asked me to stay ... or maybe, sometime, come back and do a little goddamn work.

In between Obi-Wan and Uncle Woody came Tuke, who taught me everything I never wanted to know about horses and a whole lot about not underestimating little old ladies. You might think she'd be missing a key part of being a stand-in grandfather, but she could carry on about old tools and trucks and carry a bale of hay under each arm and a ton of philosophy under her hat.

Even my musical tastes ran quickly away from long-haired metal bands of my teen years and toward the gray-haired pickers I've long since followed. Greatest and chief among them is Willie Nelson. Everybody's grandfather now, he's the teller of deep truths and dirty jokes. A little funny smoke can't obscure the wisdom I'm still seeking.

I have to admit I've always fetishized wisdom, to the point where I convinced my younger self I was prematurely wise. I now know I'll sooner be prematurely bald. Not much I can do about my run as a philosophy major or my cringe-worthy pronouncements than try to look to the future and hope nobody was paying attention in the past. I should've paid attention to Socrates, who said that his wisdom was only that he knew he knew nothing.

In this digital era, do kids still seek the wisdom of age? Can a grandfather compete with Google? I watch my oldest boy with his grandfathers and realize analog isn't obsolete yet, but how long will that last? What wisdom will I be able to share? My future tales of a life before the Web -- when unplugged meant not just wireless, but unentangled altogether -- will certainly generate wonder, but very little of the type of awe inspired by the old men of my youth. 

Of course, the Greatest Generation was easy to admire. Jalapeño Sam Lewis was a tail gunner during World War II, but never spoke of it to me and I didn't ask. It seems like a monumental oversight on my part now, but it was hard then to connect the ugly business of war to this bundle of positive energy for whom the word "spry" might have been invented.

I wandered into his office one afternoon in San Angelo and he adopted me on the spot. Soon I was learning the finer points of armadillos and chili cookoffs. Days off would find me in a van hurtling toward Terlingua. Or in the Luckenbach dancehall watching him dance all night with every girl. He lived on coffee and celebrated with root beer. He gave because he enjoyed the giving. Sam was a saint to balance out the old devils and demons I've known.

After many years of making friends with weathered barflies straight out of a Guy Clark song and listening to advice from old barbers and bartenders, Sam was probably the closest I got to what I missed. We grew close, had time to wander apart and grow close again. I grew up and moved to the big city, but managed to visit just before the end.

Sam will be teaching me lessons on kindness and giving for years to come. But that ain't to say I'm gonna be much like him — I've long since been aiming at the grumpy old man with the secret (don't tell nobody!) heart of gold. 

Somewhere between that weathered old man in Wharton and that spry old guy in San Angelo.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/737266 2014-09-06T03:30:55Z 2015-04-27T23:47:01Z 43 years and 10 books

 Twenty years after my first effort, I’m re-reading Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” It’s terribly interesting to note which bits of wisdom earned an asterisk from my early-20s self.

(Note: The fact that the asterisks are in a copy editor’s blue pen is a bit poignant. Perhaps when I re-read again in another 20 years, the idea of copy editors will be as far gone as the days of newspaper paste-up is now.)

Next on my list of short books for re-reading Rainier Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet.”

When I was nominated on Facebook to share the 10 books that most affected me, I was tempted to list these, as well as some tomes of political philosophy, classics of literature and maybe an impenetrable Russian novel, too. I couldn’t. Sun Tzu has been useful. Rilke is worth a deeper look. But I am not moved. Not yet.

But here’s where the real truth must be told: I’m not terribly well-versed in the classics. You’d be shocked by what I haven’t read (“On the Road” is a preposterous omission. You can add Vonnegut and Updike and others too numerous to list here). And most of what I have read, I don’t recall all that well.

This is not some boast — “Whooooo! I drank a lot in my 20s!” — but a lament. I’ve read “Walden” and Whitman, how can there not be civil disobedience or a barbaric yawp stamped in my consciousness? I’ve read Shakespeare and Chaucer and Melville and … yeah. I don’t remember. It’s a bit embarrassing.

It’d be easier to list the 10 movies that affected me. “Yes. These are them. Fuck you and your arthouse. I like stuff that bleeds and blows up.” But books tug at what pretense I have left. I am an educated man. I should have better taste. I should tell the world that my life was changed by Plato’s “Republic” (never could get into that one).

 I could have used my youth better. When I was in high school and teachers were dismissing Edgar Allen Poe as tasteless pulp, I was diving in. When I was in college and my colleagues were devouring classics of political thought, I was ass-deep in philosophy essays. When I was in my early 20s … well, reading was on the list behind work, beer and music. It wasn’t close.

(There’s been a couple of poetry victories: I recited the Poe poem “The Conqueror Worm” before a group of very stoned folks playing bongos around a campfire somewheres between Sisterdale and Luckenbach and just blew everyone away. And I chose “Ozymandias” as my classic poem to recite in high school, which totally gave me a leg up on that “Breaking Bad” episode.)

I have read a lot. If I can’t recall it all, surely it is somewhere within me. Transcendental education. Sometimes things bubble up at the right time.

But not today. Here is my list, shaped to fit my own rules.

Five books that shaped me:

 1. “Desert Solitaire,” Edward Abbey. My most constant literary companion.

2. “The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock,” Jan Reid. The book that introduced me to the 1970s music scene that now exists only in my garage.

3. “Blood Meridian,” Cormac McCarthy. I’ve read it twice. I bought a study guide to accompany my next journey. I want to know how and why and what. Never has such a hard road been so joyfully suffered.

4. “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Douglas Adams. The book that changed my understanding of language and writing in high school. You can break all the rules and still be smart and funny.

5. “Blue Highways,” William Least Heat Moon. Killeen High School’s gift to me. My first taste of the road and solitary adventure. Picked this over “Travels with Charley” because fuck a poodle.

Two music books that are really cool:

6. “Willie Nelson: An Epic Life,” Joe Nick Patoski. I think I may have levitated through the chapters detailing the 1970s. Certainly I was enthralled enough to forget about gravity.

7. “Cash: A Life,” Robert Hilburn. There’s a whole discussion to be had about flawed men and whether age and suffering merits forgiveness.

Three books I haven’t thought about for a long time:

8. “Uncle Shelby’s ABZ’s,” Shel Silverstein. Could have gone with any of his children’s books (kind of partial to “Lafcadio” rather than the obvious “The Giving Tree”). But I love going with the moment that I found out Shel had a wicked, wicked sense of humor.

9. “Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line,” Ben Hamper. Ignore the foreword from Michael Moore, this is not politics. It is pure blue-collar poetry. The Billy Joe Shaver of building cars.

10. “Death in the Long Grass,” Peter Hathaway Capstick. I haven’t read it in a quarter-century. But at one point he tells the readers that the elephant would not hesitate to “stomp you into guava jelly.” And I’ve used that phrase ever since. Sadly, it doesn’t come up as often as I would like, but I never miss a chance.

There. And you probably know me. If you have a suggestion for a classic book I need to read, or re-read, please let me know. It might happen.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/725746 2014-08-11T04:00:26Z 2014-08-11T04:09:38Z Owed to Mrs. Warner

Toward the end of my sophomore English class -- we're talking high school -- the teacher sidled up to my desk one day and made the sort of demand that I've been ignoring all my life.

"You are going to be on the newspaper staff next year."

That's all she said.

She was trying to steer my life. And I liked her well enough as an English teacher. But not well enough to take any orders. Funny thing was that she knew. She knew I wasn't going to walk away. I was on the staff the next year. The next year, too. Hell, now it's near three decades later and I'm still a newspaper man.

Truth is -- and I'm big on truth -- that I could bless or blame her for that.

Of course, I joke that I could've been an engineering major and a wealthy man today. I wonder what would've happened if I'd joined the Army. I suspect that if I stuck with my 18-year-old plan of being a forest ranger, that I would've been the next Edward Abbey -- at least in my own mind.

I could blame her for turning me on to newspapers. I mean, hell, look where I'm at today. Look where newspapers are at today. Neither one is very pretty. (If you're not keeping track, I had to make the switch to the website after my copy editing career of 19 years was consolidated and shipped off to Florida. The other day I got a letter from my employer. It was mailed from Ohio.)

But let's be honest here. I wasn't going to be an engineer. I wasn't going to be a soldier. I wasn't going to be a forest ranger. I was going to be a journalist because I was fucking good at it. No other career would've tolerated the wildness that emerged in my 20s and the wild attitude that followed. Being good at what I did was my free ticket to be as bad as I could. That teacher wouldn't have believed it. I was one of her good kids.

After I won my first Charles Murphy Award -- what amounts to the copy editor of the year in the state of Texas -- I sent that teacher a nice letter. I told her where I was, how I was doing and how much I appreciated her. I never heard back. Don't know if it reached her or if it struck her the wrong way.

No matter. Truth is truth. She knew. I know. She looked at me as a 15-year-old and she saw -- despite my irreverence, despite my struggles -- that I was the sort of fellow who could make a job out of working with words.

So I'll bless her for her benediction. It's been a hell of a ride. Folks that know me at work today wouldn't have believed that passion I had. And if I've held on to Act 1 of my career a few years too long, that's my own damn fault.

Connie Warner died this week after a battle of cancer. I didn't know about it until it was nearly over. My classmates have come together and stepped forward in a way that leaders do and I'm thankful for them, too. High school seems very long ago. There are whole stretches that I don't remember that clearly -- recall what said about my 20s?

But I haven't forgotten what I owe Mrs. Warner.

And I'm just one of many. God bless her.

Hey, Mrs. Warner. You weren't the first or the last to tell me that I had to learn the rules before I could break them. But you told me more than anyone else.

I learned the rules. I learned the rules.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/713297 2014-07-12T17:10:17Z 2014-07-12T17:10:17Z 10 things I learned at Willie's Picnic: 2014

ONE: I joked on Twitter about a Waylon “hologram,” but if I were in charge of the 2014 Picnic, I totally would have screened 10 minutes or so of Waylon’s performance at the 1974 Picnic. Where do you get that? Easy, they released a movie of it: "Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Celebration." I have a copy of it on DVD, includes a jaw-dropping look at Waylon back in the day and a shitload of Leon Russell hogging the spotlight.

Here's what I would've done: Set up a giant bedsheet, for lack of a more descriptive term, over the front of the South stage. After Dierks Bentley drives ‘em nuts, wait a minute or so and turn that giant projector on, maybe with an introduction, but probably with just some overlay type on the film: “40 years ago tonight.” Then run about 10 minutes of Waylon’s performance (you have to include “This Time”). Then the giant screen falls to the ground and there’s Willie and band, ready to hit the opening chords of “Whiskey River.”

PEOPLE WOULD GO BATSHIT. It would be the most awesome thing I have ever seen. And that’s because of the nod to Waylon, that’s because of the surprise (don’t advertise it), but it’s mostly out of respect of the history – which is a huge part of the Picnic experience. I can’t imagine that Jessi Colter wouldn’t agree to it – it would only add to the value of Waylon’s estate. And, sure, you’d have to hunt down whoever has the rights to the film and pay them, but I’m sure Billy Bob’s has lawyers for that kind of thing.

TWO: My traditional night-on-the-town on July 3 was pretty tame. I bar-hopped, but without any real joy. I tweeted to zero effect. I did end up finding an interesting new bar, tucked away off the street real close to the Hotel Texas (Sam's Saloon) that I would've probably thoroughly enjoyed if I had started the evening there. It had a very San Angelo sort of feel to it, right down to the semi-wasted fellow in the Affliction T-shirt doing "Proud Mary" on Karaoke.

At one point, I was looking around the Longhorn Saloon and their awesome Texas beer artifacts, and decided that it was fine to be honky-tonkin' that night, but I'd much rather spend an afternoon discussing these treasures with the owner. I'm not saying I won't continue to give it the Ol' Army try, but it's possible that I'm not as in love with bars as I used to be.

(For the record: The Hotel Texas, which I roundly criticized in this blog last year, was very satisfactory this year. No problems at all until the morning I was checking out and Mrs. Grumpy showed up and tried to cheat me out of my $2 deposit for my room key. I gave her the Bullworker treatment, not because I wanted the $2 that much, but because I enjoy reminding her that I can match her attitude.)

THREE: Willie children scrutiny time. Just when I was ready to write off Folk Uke as a one-note act, they shined through this year with new songs and really impressed me with their empathy for the fan at the front of the stage who passed out and their comic skills once they figured out he was all right.

Micah's band, Insects vs. Robots, proved to be interesting for the pair of 12-minute songs they performed, ending the last with a fit of atonal wailin' -- which would be as close and as far that this Picnic would get to Waylon. (Yes, I know I used that line on twitter and in my review, but nobody fucking said anything about it, so I'm saying it again.)

Lukas didn't do the guitar gymnastics we saw a couple years ago, opting instead for a bluesier slow jam which proved impervious to any sort of criticism or analysis on my part. It was talent, no doubt, but it didn't stir me. I stood there, notebook in hand, forcing myself to watch until I came up with 3 things to say about Lukas. After 15 minutes, I went back to the shade and waited for Bingham.

FOUR: Crowd-watching is one of the better parts of any Picnic. Of course it is an endless sea, teeming with jiggle, but there are more PG moments. I liked the family of five who set down chairs near me at one point. A dad, three young boys and mom. Dad heaved the chairs off his shoulder, set them up, got the boys settled into them and then (and only then) mom interrupted -- pointing toward a nearby fellow with a cigarette and doing the pantomime "we are not sitting here, he is smoking" routine. The beleaguered dad quickly shot back: "OK, where do YOU want to sit?" I saw them a few hours later and they looked like they weren't on the verge of murder, so that's good.

Later came the best fashion moment of the day: Another family of five, each decked out in black T-shirts that said CASH and featured the famous photo of Johnny shooting the finger to the camera. That's family togetherness.

FIVE: Saw Ben Dorcy (the world's oldest roadie) at Stockyards Station before the Picnic started. Wanted to grab passers-by: "Hey, do you like John Wayne movies?! See that guy there!? He was John Wayne's valet! HISTORY PEOPLE! You're missing it!!!"

Later I saw him at the back of the stage during Johnny Bush's set, puffing on a pipe and wearing dark shades. Twenty minutes later, he was on the other side of the North Forty watching Charley Pride from the side of the stage.

It was Willie's show, but there was no doubt who owned the place. (I did approach him in '96 after a Keen show, and got a handshake before he figured out I was a journalist. Not that he was rude. He just didn't want to talk about himself.)

SIX: Am I the only one who really wished that Charley Pride would have followed David Allan Coe? Would've felt right. I had no expectations for Pride, but he was one of the highlights of the day for me, pacing the stage like it was 1965, mike in one hand and a white towel in the other to mop the sweat from his head. Pride started off sounding a little rough, but he worked through it. "Is Anybody Going to San Antone" sounded froggy, but "Kiss an Angel Good Morning" was straight out of history.

Coe, on the other hand, was terrible. I took it easy on him in my official review, but the man is not well. He skipped through a medley of hits like an impatient man searching through an iPod. I could've gone to get a corn dog or something.

SEVEN: No need to gush over Bingham, my favorite artist younger than I am, the real interesting headliner of the night was Dierks Bentley. Everyone knows that I spend my time watching geriatric and semi-geriatric singers do songs I've heard a thousand times before, but I could hardly have been less prepared for the human super-ball that was Bentley.

No, I still don't care for his brand of music, but it's hard not to find the guy likable -- he tweeted all day about watching the other arists -- or at least to be impressed by his skill at working a crowd. The fellow said "Fort Worth" more than everyone else the rest of the day, combined. 

EIGHT: I didn't tweet or write a word about the Josh Abbott Band. That's because I didn't see a second of their show. I went back to the hotel to charge my phone for more pointless twittering and to write the first third of my review. Last year, I spent the whole Gary Allan show having a steak and a beer at Riscky's. You can probably guess what I will do next year.

That's because I'm probably done with "covering" the Picnic. I'll still go as long as Willie is there. And I'll still take notes in case I ever write that book. But there's no sense in expending a live coverage kind of effort for a bit of writing that gets and has gotten so little notice.

Besides, after being treated so well by Billy Bob's for the past six years, they really left me kind of cold this year. I didn't dig it.

NINE: Willie? He was Willie. The crowd was huge, he sounded younger this year, he opened with the same stretch of eight songs, in the same order, that he has done the past four years. Shut up, he's 81 years old. If you're a fan, and I am, you take what you can get and are thankful for it.

TEN: Will the Picnic return? I really thought last year was it. Kris Kristofferson was struggling with his memory. Ray Price was on the way out. Leon Russell was obviously doing one more for the road. Coe was just returning from a serious car wreck and in bad shape. It looked like the Pichic had reached the end of its life expectancy.

But Bingham was a revelation. Johnny Bush and Ray Wylie Hubbard still do the heavy lifting for not much recognition. And where Billy Bob's wasn't quite sure what popular artists to augment the Picnic with last year -- Justin Moore stood out like a pig in church -- they sure got it right this year.

I saw one report that said the North Forty field was targeted for development, leaving the Picnic without a pasture (please don't put it back inside Billy Bob's -- that was just sad). I don't know if that will happen, but barring the curse of progress, or the unthinkable, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see a 42nd (somewhat) annual Picnic next year.

I'll be there. And I'll be doing it different.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/640157 2014-01-10T01:00:21Z 2018-09-13T15:22:27Z Armadillo expert, entrepreneur and promoter, Sam Lewis was also a Texas legend beloved by many

It's been 11 years since my original mentor/stand-in grandfather Jalepeno Sam Lewis died in San Angelo at the age of 80. What follows is an article I wrote for the Standard-Times' Sunday life section about a week later. Almost everything I wrote for San Angelo has vanished in the ether (I would not be surprised if I've been expunged from the archives, as well), but a friendly website happened to pirate this. Anyway, I thought I would share it with folks who weren't reading my little West Texas paper in 2003.

Jalapeno Sam Lewis at the 1994 Terlingua Chili Cookoff (Behind the Store, of course).

It's 2, maybe 3 a.m. and I'm in the passenger seat of Sam Lewis' old brown van as we hurtle toward Terlingua.

We wander across the center stripe and back and back again — Sam's not near as worried about it as I am. Sensing my discomfort, Sam says, ''Oh, I just kind of aim this thing down the road.'' And he does, not steering as much as giving the steering wheel a slap every now and then when we appear to be on the verge of disaster.

I'm reassured by the thought that Sam might have a few armadillos in the back of the van. Surely, he wouldn't risk harming them.

Tonight we left San Angelo at midnight — when I got off work — and we'll arrive at Sam's little adobe hut near Terlingua just before dawn. We'll nap for an hour or two, and he'll deliver a few boxes of Jalapeno Sam olives and catch up with some friends before driving back.

Along the way, he'll tell me how he became fascinated with armadillos, how he started his own business and lots of things I wish I could remember clearly.

I'm not quite 24 years old, and I'm exhausted.

Sam is somewhere in his 70s. He's all glasses and grin, and there's not an old man anywhere described as ''spry'' that has anything on Sam. He's a giver and is beloved for it. He's the grandfather I haven't had for 20 years, and he's family for many, many people.

That was 1995.

We lost Sam Lewis early Jan 10. He was 80 years old. He was buried last week next to Betty, his wife of 50 years.

Sam was more than an eccentric entrepreneur, an armadillo expert, a tireless promoter and a Lone Star legend. He was human, in a way we all wish we could be. He touched lives and changed them for the better, mine included.

All of Texas should mourn his passing; there won't be another like Sam.

You know Sam.

If you've been to most any big event in Luckenbach or San Angelo or Terlingua, he's been there racing armadillos or selling T-shirts. Short, slight, big glasses and a variety of broken-in hats, he was the old guy who wouldn't give you a handshake when a hug would do better. It didn't matter if he knew you or not.

It seems he couldn't walk into a honky-tonk in Texas without someone giving him a big smile of recognition, though Sam never drank anything harder than root beer.

Sam might be the only person from San Angelo who has had a musical written about him. His younger brother, Franklin, wrote ''Jalapeno Sam as Seen Through the Eyes of Frankie Dan'' for the Texas sesquicentennial celebration. The commission gave it their official seal, and the musical premiered in Austin.

Who knew Sam was so famous?

He invented the jalapeno lollipop in 1977 and sold millions. Jalapeno-flavored ice cream didn't fare as well, but jalapeno-stuffed olives were an even bigger hit. Today, his jalapeno-flavored foods, including guacamole, salsa and ketchup, are distributed by Unimark Foods Inc. as part of the Jalapeno Sam product line.

Then there are the armadillos.

Sam didn't just run armadillo races, he was an armadillo expert and perhaps the world's greatest promoter for the hard-shelled critter. It's little wonder his land near Luckenbach was called the ''Armadillo Farm.''

Sam's armadillos were famous, too. They could be seen during the opening credits of the Kevin Costner movie ''Tin Cup'' and had a bigger role in the Willie Nelson western ''Barbarosa.''

Sam introduced ''San Angelo Sam'' in 1984. This armadillo was our answer to Punxsutawney Phil. ''That Yankee groundhog doesn't know beans about weather in West Texas,'' Lewis said.

San Angelo Sam predicted the weather on Groundhog Day the next several years ... but wasn't much better at it than that Yankee varmint.

Sam even operated a ''pet the armadillo'' booth at the World Travel Market in London in 1982. Apparently the armadillos were extremely popular.

And famed writer James Michener called on Sam to learn about the armadillo when he was writing his epic ''Texas.''

But it was the armadillo races that will be his legacy.

I can still see him in Luckenbach during some event or other, his armadillo racing pen set up between the bar and the old blacksmith's shop. Sam has a tiny PA system and is rounding up youngsters and the occasional biker or cowboy to race his armadillos.

These races typically involve one armadillo sprinting for the finish line, one wandering aimlessly about and another refusing to budge.

''Blow on their tails,'' Sam says, ''but don't kick them! Don't hurt my armadillos!''

Sam's last armadillo race was held in October in Pampa.

Sam had told me during that road trip in 1995 how he came to love armadillos. How he found one during a hunting trip when he was just a boy and thought he'd found a dinosaur. How he'd been fascinated with them ever since.

I'm sorry I can't remember the details. I always thought I'd have another chance to ask him.

I apologize for writing about Sam mostly from my point of view. Sam had a great many friends, and most of them knew Sam much longer than I did. I hope in sharing my stories that people who knew Sam can remember their own experiences. I hope that people who didn't know Sam can understand who he was.

I first met Sam in the summer of 1994 when John Raven, then-editor of the Luckenbach Moon, urged me to go meet my fellow San Angeloan.

Through the doors of an office on North Van Buren Street, I found a little old man at a desk.

''Tell me about the Terlingua chili cook-off,'' I said.

In the first half-hour, he had persuaded me to completely change my vacation plans and go to Terlingua in early November. By the end of the hour, he had all but adopted me.

I didn't arrive at the chili cook-off until well past dark that year, the first time I had ever been in the Big Bend region. I was completely disoriented until Sam found me.

''Park over there,'' he told me, ''and come on, you've got to meet these people.''

Minutes later, we had disappeared into the camp riding on ''Geronimo's Cadillac'' — an old open-air jalopy. Some hippie passed back a bottle of sotol. I guess it's Mexican white lightning.

''Don't drink too fast,'' Sam said. ''You'll see pretty colors.''

Sam was always right.

I woke up in that adobe hut the next morning and stumbled out to a vista that was wholly unexpected and wholly beautiful.

If discovering Big Bend and chili cook-offs were all I had to thank Sam for, it'd be plenty. But that was just the beginning.

Sam wouldn't hesitate to introduce somebody, to help somebody, to smile, to wink. I soon moved away from San Angelo, lost track of Sam for a while and then came home again. I'm ashamed to admit that sometimes I didn't have time for Sam, or to help him out.

No matter what I'd done, though, Sam was always Sam.

I remember clearly a moment in 2001. Some friends and I were at Blaine's Pub in San Angelo when Sam walked up, gave me a hug, gave me a picture of him and Willie Nelson and walked away.

''That's him and Willie!'' a friend said. ''Why'd he give that to you?''

I don't know. But I think it's just that Sam had something to give and someone to give it to. And that made him happy.

''Come over here, you've got to meet this person,'' is probably what I heard most from Sam throughout the years, maybe right after ''let me know if there's anything I can do for you.''

Sam introduced me to the famous and to the down-on-their-luck with the same respect for both. I don't know if Sam ever met a man he didn't like, but judging from the number of friends Sam had, I'd say it's doubtful. He wouldn't pass up the opportunity to say hello, to give a hug, to make a new friend.

A favorite memory: One night, in the Luckenbach Dance Hall, Sam was kicking up his heels. He was on the high end of 70 and he could dance. He asked every woman in that dance hall to dance with him. No matter how unapproachably beautiful, no matter how . . . well, not beautiful. He asked them all, and I wasn't keeping track, but I'd bet he danced with nearly every one.

Sam was awfully proud of being married to Betty for 50 years — they had a grand anniversary celebration at the Armadillo Farm near Luckenbach in 1998.

They'd met after World War II, when Sam was a B29 tail gunner stationed at Pyote Air Force Base. They married in 1948 in San Angelo and enjoyed a half-century together.

When Betty died in December 1999, many of Sam's friends were worried that Sam literally couldn't go on without her.

But Sam struggled through. He might have leaned a little more on his closest friends, he might have slowed down a little, he might have been a hair more reflective — but he kept on going.

It was early Christmas week that I learned Sam had cancer and was refusing treatment. I went to see him that Saturday.

Standing outside Sam's home on Texas Tech Avenue in San Angelo, I might have turned back around and gone back to Blaine's Pub. I'm not emotionally prepared to see Sam in his final days. I don't know what to say to him. Hell, I can hardly talk at all. I'm afraid and I can't handle this.

And I think of the lines to a song by Ray Wylie Hubbard, who, in turn, was paraphrasing the German poet Rainer Marie Rilke: ''Our fears are our dragons, guarding our most precious treasures.''

And then I think of the best photo on the walls of Blaine's Pub, a picture of Ray Wylie and Sam standing together. I think Ray's got his arm around Sam.

And with a little more reassurance from my fiancee, Shannon, I go into see Sam for what would be the last time.

Some folks would tell me I shouldn't write about this part: how Sam was in a hospital bed in the middle of the living room, how he looked impossibly small, how he relied on his family and friends.

Some folks would say nobody wants to remember Sam that way. That's true. But I don't think they will.

Because even then, Sam was still a promoter, still a giver. And he knew how to put nervous visitors at ease.

When I first walked in, he asked me if I'd seen the December issue of Texas Highways; it featured armadillos and, of course, him. Then he went on to tell me about plans to hold a Llano River beauty pageant and cook-off.

''He never stops promoting,'' Dan Farmer said. Even now Sam is focused on the next project.

He was wearing a green Santa snowman shirt. He had a hard time hearing, but no problems understanding.

In the hour that I was there, a stream of friends came by. Later, former mayor of Luckenbach VelAnne Howle would come by and drop off a Gary P. Nunn CD for him to listen to. I've got to admit, ''Home with the Armadillo'' (as ''London Homesick Blues'' is often called) won't be the same without Sam.

Even some musicians from Luckenbach would come in to give a live performance.

But this day, the entertainment is a tourist calling from Luckenbach. He wants to see an armadillo and somebody told him to call Sam. We direct him to the Armadillo Farm. Maybe somebody there can help him out.

As we start to leave, Sam is blowing kisses to his daughter. I think I'd like to remember him that way. Shannon gives him a kiss on the forehead.

He looks up and says, ''Thanks, I needed that,'' and he winks at her.

Then he takes my hand once more and says, ''Thanks for being such a good friend.''

I'm so choked up, I don't know if he could hear my reply. But I know he can now.

No, Sam, thank you for everything.

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/622681 2013-12-09T00:22:00Z 2013-12-13T16:17:11Z THE BEER SERIES: Part One | Prohibition looms

Texas was abundant in breweries before Prohibition. Mostly small, some regional, they answered to no shareholders or corporate bosses – just themselves and their customers.
And (you might have guessed I was leading into this), the micro-brewing scene in Texas today is much the same. Central Texas, in particular, is a hotbed of small breweries, pushing out whatever beers their brewmasters' imagination will come up with — from coffee porters to oatmeal stouts to ales so packed with hops it’s like you’re chewing on a dishwasher detergent packet.
But in between these magnificent times for beer connoisseurs – there was the Age of Texas Giants. Beers like Lone Star and Pearl and Grand Prize sloshed across the state and sometimes beyond. In the time between Prohibition and the new millennium, there was a great flood of pale yeller liquid for those of us who proudly put the “sewer” back in “beer connoisseur.”
And yet, our blind devotion to our own particular brand of beer (in my case, Lone Star), meant that there was little curiosity about other brands — quick, can you name a half-dozen Texas beers brewed between the 1880s and the 1980s? In fact, I’ve come to realize it’s pretty possible you don’t even know your own beer that well — how long has Lone Star Beer been around and how much of that time has it been owned by a company from outside Texas?
Inspired in part by a Pearl Beer antique that Shannon gave me last year, I’ve done a bit of Internet research on brewing in Texas during this time frame and I’m going to share it with you in an unprecedented multi-part series of blogs that will appear here over the next couple weeks. We’ll start off today with a brief look at Texas brewing leading up to Prohibition.
(Note: Unlike my excruciatingly researched History of Willie’s Fourth of July Picnic, I’ve done this by the seat of my pants via Google and a couple books. After 20 years as a copy editor and professional newspaper man, I’m a pretty good judge of what’s a reliable source, but there may be a hiccup or two. If you notice one, bring it to my attention and I will feel appropriately remorseful. Also: Don't email me whining "but what about Celis? Or Saint Arnold?" Shut up. If you want to read about craft beer, you'll just have to read one of the 10,000 craft beer bloggers. I'm talking about history. And one more: There will be photos at the end of each part. Because, you know, words.)

Pre-Prohibition and the March to the Drouth of Righteousness

Leaning heavily on the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas, I can tell you that wherever there were Germans, there was beer as soon as the fighting with the Mexicans and Indians died down enough to let them brew.
Between 1840 and 1880, there were small breweries of note in places such as La Grange, Brenham, Fredericksburg, New Braunfels and San Antonio, where William A. Menger’s Western Brewery is thought to be Texas’ first commercial brewery. You might have heard of his hotel.
By 1883, Adolphus Busch had arrived in San Antonio to help build the first large and mechanized brewery in the state: The Lone Star Brewery (only connected by name to the company you know from giant armadillos and Bob Wills music) opened in 1884 and ran until Prohibition, selling such beers as Buck, Erlanger, Cabinet and (of course) … Alamo.
The brewery that would become Pearl began in 1881 as the J.B. Behloradsky Brewery and started producing Pearl Beer in 1886. This brewery (known as the San Antonio Brewing Association by 1918) and the Dallas Brewery Co. would be the only two Texas brewers born before 1890 to survive Prohibition.

Other brewers of note include Galveston Brewing Company (1895-1918), which sold a beer called High Grade, Houston’s American Brewing Association (1893-1918), which sold Dixie Pale and Houston Ice & Brewing (1893-1918), which sold Hiawatha, Magnolia and Southern Select. Southern Select would become the foremost beer of Texas during this time.

Then there’s Shiner, which got its start in 1909 as the Shiner Brewing Association and was even briefly known as “Petzold and Spoetzl” from 1915 until 1918. (Hang on, Shiner fans, I won’t forget them and you'll like what I have to say.)
The problem for beer-lovers is that as soon as Texas had breweries, it had proponents of Prohibition, starting as far back as the 1840s. The Handbook of Texas tells us that in 1843 “The Republic of Texas … passed what may have been the first local-option measure in North America.”
What this means (if you’re not familiar with the Panhandle or Deep East Texas) is that people can vote their own cities or counties dry as they see fit – which they did with alarming speed.
Texas ratified the 18th Amendment in 1918, but not wanting to wait until it became nationwide law in 1920, also enacted statewide prohibition laws that took effect almost immediately.
By then, the TABC reports, 199 out of 254 counties in Texas were already dry under local option laws, 43 were “practically dry” and only 10 counties were “without prohibition areas.”
By 1933, however, Texans were relatively quick to follow the national lead in repealing Prohibition. Voters in Texas adopted an amendment to  the State Constitution legalizing the sale of beer in August of 1933 and ultimately repealed state Prohibition entirely in August 1935.

Up next: El Paso and the Metroplex

A Dixie Pale beer glass of great antiquity. Taverntrove.com

Hiawatha was a near-beer of sorts. They did things with a little more style back then. Taverntrove.com

Galveston's High Grade, promoted as "liquid food." Taverntrove.com

Southern Select was the king of Texas beers pre-Prohibition. Taverntrove.com

Reputation, from Houston Ice & Brewing. Taverntrove.com

Magnolia beer, from Houston Ice & Brewing. Taverntrove.com

Check out more photos from Houston Ice & Brewing at http://magnoliaballroom.com/memorabilia-gallery.html

tag:bottlecaps.posthaven.com,2013:Post/622699 2013-12-08T01:40:00Z 2013-12-13T16:17:25Z THE BEER SERIES: Part Two | North by West

Before we become fully submerged in Texas' brewing history, we have to pay homage to points north and west. El Paso is an unlikely place to find one of Texas' top historic brews. And the Metroplex is strangely quiet in this tale.

El Paso
Never count out El Paso — which you will do anyway until you actually go there. That’s what it took for me to realize that El Paso is just a little West Texas town that is bulging at the seams with Mexican food, history and scenery. Where else would you find something as cool as Rosa’s Cantina, the actual joint mentioned in the Marty Robbins opus “El Paso.”
(I saw someone on CMT one time refer to “El Paso” as the “Stairway to Heaven” of country music. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I wish to hell I had said it.)
The El Paso Brewing Co. that existed before Prohibition became the Harry Mitchell Brewing Co. in 1933 and produced a beer that went through names like a self-conscious teenager: Harry Mitchell Beer, Mitchell’s Beer, Mitchell Beer and Mitchell’s Premium Beer were produced during a 20-year run from 1935 until HMBC went out of business in 1955.
But that’s not quite the end of the story for El Paso. The brewery was purchased by Falstaff Brewing in 1955 and it produced Falstaff until 1967.
Falstaff was a national brand, but was produced in Texas from 1955 until at least the 1990s (When Falstaff’s Galveston brewery was closed in 1981, production moved to San Antonio’s Pearl Brewery).
El Paso was also a temporary home to Frantz Hector Brogniez — one of Texas' most iconic brewmasters. Herr Brogniez lived in El Paso and had his driver take him daily to Juarez where he brewed beer while waiting out Prohibition. You'll learn more about him in the Houston section.
You had no idea: Falstaff was still available as recently as 2005.

Dallas / Fort Worth
The Metroplex doesn’t have much of a brewing history (though they did better than Austin) and I’m not sure why. Not enough Germans? Too close to the dry regions of the Panhandle and East Texas? We would need a historian to help us out on that one.
What D/FW didn’t have in history, though, they made up for in memorable beer names. A pair of breweries that existed before Prohibition — Dallas Brewery Co. and Texas Brewing Co. — would both come back post-Prohibition and put out interestingly-named beers before both folding up before World War II.
Dallas Brewery would give us White Rose, Texas Select and Chubby Beer (I did not make that up). Texas Brewing was reborn as Superior Brewing Co. and would give us Old Chippewa, Golden Kreme, Casino Club, Kellermeister, Prosit and … wait for it ... Kego Beer in addition to the less awesomely named Superior Ale, Old Style and Golden Lager.
But it’s a brewery born post-Prohibition that would give us North Texas’ most iconic beer.
Schepps Brewing Corp. existed from 1934-1939 (giving us Schepps, Highland Park and Black Dallas, among others) before becoming Time Brewing for a short time.

Finally pulling it together as the Dallas-Fort Worth Brewing Co. in 1940, the brewery gave us Bluebonnet beer until shutting down in 1951. With an 11-year run, Bluebonnet qualifies as one of Texas' top historic brews. 

Up next: Good times on the Gulf

Harry Mitchell's from 1936. Taverntrove.com

Mitchell's from 1950. Taverntrove.com

A Mitchell's beer glass from the 1950s. Taverntrove.com

A Mitchell's label from 1954, just before they went out of business. Taverntrove.com

A Schepps label from 1935. Taverntrove.com

Black Dallas beer from 1936. Taverntrove.com

Time beer from 1939. Taverntrove.com

Black Dallas beer from 1939. Taverntrove.com

Bluebonnet beer from 1943. Taverntrove.com

Bluebonnet beer from 1947. Taverntrove.com

White Rose Bock from 1935. This one is pretty cool. Taverntrove.com

Falstaff, from the El Paso plant in 1957. Taverntrove.com

Chubby Lager. Told you I wasn't making it up. Taverntrove.com

A Bluebonnet beer shell glass and an appropriate stand-in beer.