F1 Parties: Economic Impact, Heyman Talent South at the W, Blu at Aquavilla and more

David Heisler and Crystal Truehart during Heyman F1 Party at W Hotel Austin.
David Heisler and Crystal Truehart during Heyman F1 Party at W Hotel Austin.

F1 1: How does nearly a billion dollars in estimated annual economic impact effect Austin exactly? We plan to keep our eyes and ears open away from the Circuit of the Americas. “They are the ones buying those thousand-dollar bottles of wine,” one F1 party patron told me last night about the splurging visitors. Well, that explains one sale at least, but not the wider economic impact in terms of job creation, tax revenues, etc. Beyond hotels, which increase their rates this week, restaurants seem to do quite well, anecdotally. The big winners the first two years: Steakhouses. Tourists in Texas seem drawn to them. Expect some hard numbers from Statesman business reporter Gary Dinges not long from now when he analyzes the TABC reports for October and November. Another line of questioning: Are some of the private F1 parties in peril because of stricter city and TABC standards after SXSW 2014? We’ve heard about small events canceled or big parties nearly closed down this year, but no confirmations yet. Send us your tips.

Linda Asaf and Chip Thomson during F1 Blu at Aquavilla.
Linda Asaf and Chip Thomson during F1 Blu at Aquavilla.

F1 2: A good place to find out about ancillary employment during Austin’s mega-fests is an industry mixer. Heyman Talent South staged a small get-together at the W Hotel Austin while hotel employees prepped for a series “Blu” F1 bashes. Among those guests who chatted about this weekend’s special gigs were photographers, models, stylists, publicists, techs, cooks, designers and students who will help levitate events such as the Amber Lounge, My Yacht Club, Full Tilt Fashion Show, Luxe, British Consulate’s Garden Party, Marquee Las Vegas, Fan Fest and Better Worlds Awards — to name just a few. It’s not just the clothes, settings, food, drink, service, lights and sound, it’s the locals hired to look good. That might sound alien to Austin culture, where good looks abound freely. But sometimes, it’s not an accident.

Nayab Dhukka and Anna Terry during F1 Blu at Aquavilla.
Nayab Dhukka and Anna Terry during F1 Blu at Aquavilla.

F1 3: It’s amazing that any photographers showed up to the Heyman mixer. It seemed like everyone who owns a camera was way across town at Aquavilla, the singular manse owned by precious metals dealer and Circuit of the Americas investor Milton Verret. At this early F1 party, one could witness ready work for caterers, mechanics, retailers, financiers, decorators and, especially, real estate agents. Turns out the hilltop house with the expansive view of Lake Travis and the aquatic design is also for sale. Embedded TV screens in various rooms around the three nested floors showed a video from Cord Shiflet Real Estate with drone-eye views of the estate. You might already know that Verret and family collect really high-end cars. A few of them were on ceremonial display inside and outside glassed garages that lead to the mansion’s entrance. Asking price for the spot: Just under $8 million. Don’t think the cars are included.

F1 4: Where to eat this weekend? Get a clues from Matthew Odam‘s Top 25 and more: “With my third annual dining guide, I limited my top restaurants list to 25, down from 50. In previous years, the gap between 40 and 60 was negligible, and I wanted a tighter, more competitive list. (In order to share some of my other favorites, I created an additional roster of 100 places I like to eat). As in years past, I looked for a group of restaurants that serve as a snapshot of Austin’s vibrant dining scene. These aren’t necessarily the most expensive restaurants, but it is a dynamic group of places I believe matter the most right now. I visited each place on the list (and many others) at least once in the past year.” http://projects.statesman.com/features/top-restaurants/

Margo Howard, #WOWW, Swan Songs, Danielle Crespo’s F1 and Phillip and Laura Brown

Danielle Crespo is your guide to Formula One parties.
Danielle Crespo is your guide to Formula One parties.

MEDIA: Margo Howard is a firecracker. Short, frank and fiery-haired, the former advice columnist says she’s had five husbands, four of them hers. The only daughter of Ann Landers, the writer seems to have been funny all her life, despite some bad luck with spouses, including actor Ken Howard. She’s written a short book, charmingly titled “Eat, Drink and Remarry.” Two dozen or so admirers gathered atop the Four Seasons Residences to hear her wisecracks. “I wrote this book as a public service,” Howard says. “My destiny: Always a bride, never a bridesmaid.” At 74, she’s whip-sharp. She amused the witty likes of Ruth Pennebaker, Brenda Bell, Sarah Bird, Jean Rather and Stephen Harrigan. (Now that would be a dinner party guest list!)

CITY: Joy Pecoraro is wowed by women. So much so, she interviewed and videotaped 46 Austin-area women about how they overcame challenges in their lives. She’s got scores more on her to-do list for what she dubs her “#WOWW Campaign.” (Nothing like getting the hashtag in the official name, is there?) A few dozen folks gathered at the rooftop bar of 219 West on West Sixth Street to toast the campaign. Along with Wow Women such as County Clerk Dana Debeauvoir, with whom I spoke about supposedly flat Travis County early voting, there were a few outstanding men, such as Alex Torres, who mentors mentors through the Crossroads Scholarship Fund. Among others interviewed were Austin Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, Whataburger owner Lynn Dobson and cosmetics queen Rochelle Rae.

MUSIC: Name a style, any style. Swan Songs will play it for you at the end of life. It can sound a bit morbid at first, but it’s a classically Austin addition to the comforts one is now afforded at home, in hospice or elsewhere. A Swan Songs benefit, featuring two-time requestee Ray Benson with Milk Drive filled up Shoal Crossing Event Center. Before he played, we heard about all the styles that have been performed for the dying, including Lithuanian accordion music. Austin must be one of the very few cities that can support such a program. An honorarium goes to the musical artists, who often donate the money back.

SPORTS: Danielle Crespo geared up for Formula One. Taken from my story in the Statesman: “Curious about the Formula One parties this week? Ask Danielle Crespo. The Texas State University graduate, 29, tracks all the socializing around the Circuit of the Americas races. You can scan her crisply aligned calendars, news and party notes at SuitePass.com and AustinRaceEvents.com. Crespo, who works by day for a commercial building company, needed a creative outlet. She had been impressed by the cosmopolitan lifestyle when she lived in Barcelona, Spain, and later witnessed the Grand Prix setup, though not the race, in Monaco. When she heard that the big race was headed to her stomping grounds two years ago, she realized that some education was in order. “Austin’s version of lifestyle luxury is inherently different,” she says. “At the same time, we have a lot of things to offer that other places don’t.”” http://shar.es/10qFKj

FOOD: How the Browns learned about customer care. Taken from my story in the Statesman: In June 2010, Phillip and Laura Brown got married. The couple, both 24, had trained for careers in the hospitality business and planned to open a small meat and cheese shop. Jim McIngvale, Laura’s father and owner of Houston’s Gallery Furniture, had other plans. He announced in a speech at the wedding that the young Browns would open a big, new restaurant. Not only that, it would open in November of the same year. “We had never owned a business before,” Phillip, now 28, remembers. “Never done anything on this scale. It was trial by error, learning on the fly.”” http://shar.es/10qQGA

Austin Children’s Services, Project Transitions, Austin Film Festival Gala, the Seton Fifty and more

Amy and Markel Petty at Austin Children's Services Gala.
Amy and Markel Petty at Austin Children’s Services Gala.

CHARITY: She’s helped them go from ‘Shelter’ to ‘Services.’ And now’s she’s in the Women’s Hall of Fame. Kelly White, along with Dorothy Richter and Olga Campos Benz, were honored recently by the Austin Commission for Women. “When I looked at the resumes of the other inductees, I felt like I’d done so little,” White said during the Austin Children’s Services circus-themed gala at the Hyatt Regency Austin. “But Dorothy does have a few decades on me. There’s still time.” Richter, by the way, is known as the “Mayor of Hyde Park,” and led the charge to preserve the neighborhood’s venerable character. Campos, the former TV news anchor, has spent her recent days guiding community relations — and having a good time at it. White leads the group formerly known as the Austin Children’s Shelter. Now it has evolved into a full-service center for children in jeopardy.

Ryan Piers Williams, Barbara Morgan and Matthew Weiner at Austin Film Festival Gala.
Ryan Piers Williams, Barbara Morgan and Matthew Weiner at Austin Film Festival Gala.

HEALTH 1: Twenty-five years and counting. “We don’t want a 50th anniversary,” said one patron during the Project Transitions Silver Ball Gala at the Austin Music Hall. They did the place up right. Fountains of David Kurio flowers poured on onto the cleverly decorated tables. The fabulous Sentimental Journey Orchestra from Kerrville played big-band standards from the stage. James Armstrong and Larry Connelly — among those steady leaders honored this evening — held court to one side. I ran into Austin’s Mr. Pride, Casey Lee Fontaine Kline, who wore a rainbow sash, but no crown. Nice guy. Not lost in the festivities was the somber reminder that Project Transitions, along with AIDS Services of Austin, Care Communities and other groups, have been among the city’s bulwarks against the worst consequences of the HIV/AIDS scourge.

Scott and Chris Vasquez at Superheroes, Villains and Sidekicks for the Seton Fifty.
Scott and Chris Vasquez at Superheroes, Villains and Sidekicks for the Seton Fifty.

MOVIES: When a gala is small, you get a chance to meet everyone. The inaugural Austin Film Festival Gala, held on the 55th floor of the Austonian, was, by necessity, an intimate affair. After all, the fest was still in progress and the sky quarters are not ample. (The changing view, as always, is disconcerting from that height.) As a result, one could chat away with some pretty amazing folks, including actor Robert Walden, who, among many credits, played the Woodward-and-Bernstein-style reporter Joe Rossi on “Lou Grant.” He received three Emmy nominations for the role. Such was the impression he left, I still treat him like a revered investigative lion. Also present and quite gracious was “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner and “X/Y” writer-director Ryan Piers Williams. No sign during my Austonian stay of his wife and collaborator America Ferrera. Just as well. I might have swooned.

HEALTH 2: All of a sudden, I realized that this is the real Chris Vasquez. At a costume party, you never know. This very approachable woman is the head of the new Seton-affiliated teaching hospital that will accompany the University of Texas Dell Medical School. Her husband, attorney Scott Vasquez, told me more about their career journey from Houston to San Antonio and Austin. They are going to be a couple to know well. The party given by the Fifty, a group of young leaders who back the hospital under construction, is called Superheroes, Villains and Sidekicks, an appropriate theme amid Austin Film Festival weekend and just days before Halloween. I saw a lot of men padded into superhero shape, then noticed some guys whose muscles were genuine. (Fooled again!). They were part of a parkour team, who then nimbly scampered around walls and rafters of Brazos Hall. Freaked me out a bit.

Lone Stars and Angels for St. Jude, First Edition Literary Gala for Texas Book Festival, Travis County Poor Farm and more

Cora Shinaberry and Michael Portman at Lone Stars and Angels for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Cora Shinaberry and Michael Portman at Lone Stars and Angels for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

HEALTH: Why do people volunteer anyway? Here’s one story, shared by Suzanne Majors Davis before the Lone Stars and Angels western-themed benefit for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital at Brazos Hall. “It goes back to when I was a freshman in high school, and my Uncle  Mike underwrote a fundraiser in San Antonio, for Danny Thomas, his friend. The hospital was just getting off the ground. I remember being on stage  with him and my uncle at La Villita, and impressed because Danny was a TV star from “Make Room for Danny.” As an American of Lebanese descent, it  was pretty cool to watch a national show with a fellow Lebanese, who actually joked about the culture (before the jokes were about car bombs). … Years later, when I handled press for the Lebanese ambassador in Washington, Danny received the Congressional Medal of Freedom from President Ronald Reagan, and I got reacquainted with him. He was a really good and grateful man who never forgot his humble beginnings. My uncle was the same. Both he and my Uncle Mike are gone now, but I volunteer to help with this event every year to honor two great men.” There you go.

Richard and Maria Zuniga at First Edition Literary Gala for Texas Book Festival.
Richard and Maria Zuniga at First Edition Literary Gala for Texas Book Festival.

BOOKS: Martin Amis tried hard to offend. And did. But that’s his eternal schtick. His joke about the Kennedys might have elicited groans even at a John Birch Society smoker. It didn’t support his point about high standards. Otherwise, the First Edition Literary Gala, which benefits the Texas Book Festival, was a jolly affair at the Four Seasons Hotel. The menu was based on Italian inspirations from Lidia Bastianich, cookbooker, TV cook and one of the evening’s speakers. Terse, funny children’s writer, Mac Barnett, sat at our table and later read aloud an entire book of his from the dais. We also heard from Walter Mosley on the link between literary genres and other classifications in life. Adrian Todd Zuniga of “Literary Death Match” made a sprightly emcee. Planners realized that we all wanted to chat, so they gave us generous hours to do so, then lowered the house lights for the speakers. Worked. Then Amis spoiled it.

HISTORY: Life down on the Travis County Poor Farm. Taken from my story in the Statesman: “The entries for 1891 in the thick ledger pose as many questions as they answer. “Runaway (Bad Boy).” “Taken Away by Husband.” “Without Leave (No Good).” “Old Age.” These remarks appear next to names in a leather-bound book, filled out in two spidery hands and preserved at the Austin History Center, for the Travis County Poor Farm during the years 1890 to 1900. On lined pages, one finds semi-annual inventories of the farm, where paupers landed in times of crisis and convicts worked off fines and fees to the county. It lists expenditures and receipts as well as the names of the paupers, convicts and hired farmhands — including, in some cases, their ages, races, places of birth and reasons for departure.” http://shar.es/101s0e

SafePlace Lunch, Kirkus Prizes, Serve: Gourmet Gadgets and Goods and Austin Film Festival

Lynn Meredith and Kathleen Sebelius at Kirkus Prize ceremony.
Lynn Meredith and Kathleen Sebelius at Kirkus Prize ceremony.

CHARITY: ‘The first 18 years of my life were Outward Bound.’ That funny conclusion was reached by Jeannette Walls, author of “The Glass Castle” and speaker at the SafePlace lunch at the Hyatt Regency Austin. A media star who lived on Park Avenue, Walls once spotted a homeless woman in New York and realized it was her mother. After she tracked her down and asked to help, Walls came out, through her memoir, as somebody whose youth had been hair-raising. Walls is a fantastic public speaker — her humor sneaks up on you — who lifted the spirits of the 40-year-old SafePlace backers and staff. They’ve witnessed a big surge in public attention since the Ray Rice wife-punching incident. The annual lunch also includes a speech from a survivor of domestic violence, which I’m always tempted to skip. The details can be harrowing. Poet and songwriter Brooke Axtell told her story with clarity and grace. It was important to hear it.

Armand Marie Leroi and Jerry Hall at Kirkus Prize ceremony.
Armand Marie Leroi and Jerry Hall at Kirkus Prize ceremony.

BOOKS: The setting was nothing less than spectacular. See the winners of the first-ever Kirkus Prize in Joe Gross‘ blog. Here’s the social scoop: The three $50,000 awards were given out with much excitement at the Four Seasons Residence penthouse of Lynn and Tom Meredith. On hand were former Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, who professed her love for Austin and is now splitting her time between Washington D.C. and Kansas. Nearby was model and actress Jerry Hall, whose friend, Armand Marie Leroi, was a finalist for nonfiction. I was delighted to meet Sarah Bagby, who runs the Watermark Books and Cafe in Wichita. She’s pals with my sister, Valerie Koehler, who owns Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston. (Indie booksellers stick together.) Kirkus Reviews editor Clay Smith kept ’em in stitches while creating suspense for these fine and generous new prizes in fiction, nonfiction and youth books.

Bob and Brooke Gentry with BA Snyder at Service: Gourmet Gadgets and Goods.
Bob and Brooke Gentry with BA Snyder at Service: Gourmet Gadgets and Goods.

FOOD: Came for the gadgets, stayed for the urban analysis. Serve: Gourmet Gadgets and Goods, a jaunty shop on Third Street, is packed with retail provocations. Despite being located amid the fast-changing and often disrupted landscape of the Second Street District, it has thrived for two years now, which owners Bob and Brooke Gentry toasted with frozen margaritas and savory snacks. Almost immediately, Bob and I engaged in a fruitful discussion of urban foot traffic and how much it affects his business. He told me that tourists, usually in a holiday shopping mood, are among his mainstays. He has been helped by the new Starbucks in the W Austin Hotel and has high hopes for the nearby JW Marriott and a nearly completed office tower. What would help even more, I’d judge, is development on the north end of Block 19 along West Third Street. Pedestrians don’t like empty lots. They are drawn by activity. Here’s hoping.

MOVIES: Festival gives peek at Oscar hopefuls. From Charles Ealy‘s story in the Statesman: “The Austin Film Festival and Conference, which kicked off Thursday and continues through Oct. 30, features more than 180 films — both shorts and features — and several Oscar hopefuls this year. It also includes retrospective screenings, multiple panels on screenwriting, an awards ceremony and conversations with some of the most renowned directors and writers of Hollywood and beyond. Oh, yes, and there are a few parties, too. The highest-profile films this year are the 1800s Western “The Homesman,” starring Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank; “The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch; “Wild,” with Reese Witherspoon; and “Rosewater,” the directorial debut from Jon Stewart and starring Gael García Bernal.” http://shar.es/1mNgK1

LGBTQ Panel at Mass Com Week, Arc of the Capital Area, Aware Awake Alive, La Belle at Bullock, Food and Film & Dress by Candlelight

That’s right, it was one of those six-event autumn days.

V Karri and Shelby Butler at Arc of the Capital Area event.
V Karri and Shelby Butler at Arc of the Capital Area event.

MEDIA: About 125 students crowded into the classroom. They were there at Texas State University to hear LGBTQ issues in mass media as part of Mass Comm Week. Leading the discussion was Texas State professor Bruce Smith. Joining me on a restless panel — no sitting behind nameplates here — was Texas State student reporter Ernest Macias. Egged on by the students, we explored the past, present and future of gay representation in the media. We covered countless issues, but kept returning to a few basic principals: Listen to the community, respect its individuals and let them tell their stories. Get out of the way of how they express their lives and identities. We also talked a lot about the generational shifts from when I first started following the subject in the media during the 1960s. Pretty cool stuff.

CHARITY: We need to hear more from Arc of the Capital Area. The group that empowers folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities has moved into a new home with a big art studio at 49th and Grover streets (the old Girling spot). During the group’s annual art show at the Hyatt Regency Austin, director Susan Eason told me a tantalizing bit about her 33-year history with Arc, how she started out as a mom seeking help for her daughter, then became a volunteer before joining the staff, which now employs a staff of 32 on a $2 million budget. What’s easy to forget at this unforgettable event is the unquestionable quality of much of the art created by clients (they are branching out into digital media). You also get to meet the artists who give you even more insight into their creative growth.

Michelle and Patrick Chaiken at Awake, Aware, Alive event.
Michelle and Patrick Chaiken at Aware Awake Alive event.

HEALTH: Let’s not bury the lead here. The Aware Awake Alive event, for the group that educates young folks about binge drinking and alcohol poisoning, was held in the penthouse of Luci Baines Johnson and Ian Turpin. If you haven’t been there — and I hadn’t — it’s atop the Neo-Gothic Norwood Tower and it’s a beauty. The two-story residence echoes the exterior with beveled surfaces interpreted in clean modern lines with plenty of blond wood to warm the place up. Mementos from the Johnson clan can be seen everywhere, but don’t overwhelm. Back to the charity: The group was founded on the death of Austin-born Carson Starkey following a fraternity initiation ritual in California. They’ve made admirable progress in Texas, California and elsewhere with college students and are now focusing on high school students. As anyone who has re-watched “Friday Night Lights” — we are currently back in Season 2 — there’s a need. Although fictional, we know Dillon is duplicated all over the state.

HISTORY: I attended a small event that toasted the innovative “La Belle” exhibit at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. Although I enjoyed several historical chats, it’s best to let Pam LeBlanc explain the plans to reassemble La Salle’s ship in front of visitors and cameras. Taken from her story in the Statesman: “Coming soon to a museum — or computer — near you: A team of experts, rebuilding a 17th-century shipwreck found along the Texas coast. Starting Saturday, visitors to the Bullock Texas State History Museum will be able to watch curators and technicians reassemble the hull of the French ship La Belle, which sank in Matagorda Bay in 1686. The work, which will be broadcast live via webcam, is part of a new special exhibit called “La Belle: The Ship That Changed History.” The job should take about seven months. Next May, crews will wheel the hull into the museum’s main gallery, tilt it to the 21-degree angle at which it was discovered, replace its cargo, encase the whole thing in glass and build a ramp around it so visitors can look inside. The main gallery will be closed starting in February to prepare for the permanent exhibit, which is expected to open in fall 2015.” http://shar.es/1mPtPP

Kate Schlienger and Mike Gupta at Film and Food for Austin Film Festival.
Kate Schlienger and Mike Gupta at Film and Food for Austin Film Festival.

MOVIES: Once again, it was less about the food and the drink and more about the people. Austinites have grown quite accustomed to events that allow one to sample the delicacies of our city’s top kitchens. Food and Film, which kicks off the Austin Film Festival, is one of the oldest and most respected. Yet, one a day when there were many, many competing events, I was able to spend maybe an hour bouncing around the upper lobby of the Driskill Hotel. There, film and sports reporter Victor Diaz told me all about Natasha Verma, a television journalist and filmmaker who graduated from the University of Texas at age 17, completed her master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University and directed a film about a female boxer while hosting a new show in Florida. At age 20. Kathy Blackwell, formerly of the American-Statesman and now editor of Austin Way, traded all sorts of tips about recent social events and possible future ones. It’s a pleasure to have her out and about.

Amanda Messbauer and Mike Johnston at Dress by Candlelight for Candlelight Ranch.
Amanda Messbauer and Mike Johnston at Dress by Candlelight for Candlelight Ranch.

NATURE: My final event for Oct. 23, 2014 was Dress by Candlelight. This annual affair benefits the Candelight Ranch, which provides outdoor activities for special-needs and at-risk kids. I’ve always wanted to spend  an entire evening at this undressy affair, but, as you can see, it’s often scheduled on a busy, busy night. Brazos Hall was laid out for a fashion show with silent auction galleys alongside the main action. I spent the most time with Mike Johnston, who makes “live painting.” You might have seen some of these quick-study artists at other events, who might paint a large canvas in the course of a few minutes or hours. Johnston, however, is the only one I’ve met who lives in Austin. His painting and his spirit well represented the good impressions I’ve always had about Candlelight Ranch. Someday, the whole evening …

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post got the name of Aware Awake Alive wrong.

Zach Unplugged, Richard Moya, Lois Kim and Austin’s Ward System

Mindy Ellmer and Cindy Greenwood at Zach Unplugged.
Mindy Ellmer and Cindy Greenwood at Zach Unplugged.

ARTS: Traditional analysts of the arts often distinguish between the classical and Romantic urges. In classicism, one often encounters astonishing hesitations — a silence, a blank space, a pose held midair. In (big-R) Romanticism, one finds astonishing excesses — a soaring note, an embellished image, a wild leap. Controlled excess, to be sure, but excess nonetheless. Zach Theatre’s Dave Steakley is a Romantic artist. More than a dozen of his singers entertained for Zach Unplugged, the group’s tented, informal “un-gala,” chaired by Maria Groten and State Rep. Jim Pitts. Almost all of them, singing gospel, rock or jazzy show tunes, generated gasps of astonishment when talent and emotion coincided in a rush of splendid excess. (To single out any of the singers would be to disrespect the others.) I shared these rare moments — and a far-reaching dinner conversation — with table mate Tom Mays, who showed a wide range of expertise and a cultivated taste for Zach’s artistry.

POLITICS: Trailblazer Richard Moya reflects on life inside and outside office. Taken from my story in the Statesman: “The long Economy Furniture Company strike played a pivotal role in the 1970 election of Richard Moya, the first Hispanic Travis County commissioner. “The strikers walked the picket line, then came back to help my campaign,” Moya, now 82, recalls. “A week before the election, John Treviño got six kids to run my campaign for nothing. But we really needed $1,200 for radio ads. I’d already borrowed money from my dad, so I talked to the strikers. They got $21 a week on the picket line. When they got paid, they gave me their checks.” One way Moya hoped to repay them was to pave the way for labor organizer Cesar Chavez to speak at a strike rally. Among his first acts as county commissioner was to introduce a resolution designating the date of the rally “Cesar Chavez Day.”” http://shar.es/1mOzFW

BOOKS: Lois Kim ties it all together at the Texas Book Festival. Taken from my story in the Statesman: “Lois Kim describes herself a “recovering academic.” The director of the Texas Book Festival, which returns to the Capitol area this weekend, did time in graduate school. She emerged with a doctorate in English. Yet Kim decided to skip the traditional job search, which might have landed her at some isolated college, teaching goodness knows what as a first-time professor. “I wanted to be out in the world more and make things happen in a bigger way,” Kim, now 46, says. “But I was highly unemployable at that point.” So she worked for 10 years helping to run the continuing education program at the University of Texas Extension, while raising two children with architect Phillip Reed and expanding her management portfolio. In 2012, the Book Festival needed a new director.” http://shar.es/1mOzJ2

HISTORY: Not Austin’s first swing at single-member districts. Taken from my story in the Statesman: “On Jan. 13, 1840, Austin held its first election for mayor. The city’s population was 553. Edwin Waller, whom Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar had appointed to build the fledgling city, took the mayor’s spot. Later that year, when Waller’s short term ended, Thomas William “Peg Leg” Ward was elected mayor. Alongside Ward, eight aldermen — in essence, city council members — were chosen from eight districts called “wards.” n other words, the municipal vote on Nov. 4 will not be Austin’s first swing at single-member districts. In fact, by the 1870s, two more wards had been added, giving the city a 10-1 system not unlike the incipient one.” http://shar.es/1mOiWn

Andy Roddick Foundation Gala, Texas Exes Distinguished Alumni Awards, Pop Austin and more

Andy Roddick and Brooklyn Decker at Andy Roddick Foundation Gala.
Andy Roddick and Brooklyn Decker at Andy Roddick Foundation Gala.

SPORTS: Tennis great Andy Roddick borrowed a jean jacket for the occasion. That’s because his wife, Brooklyn Decker, and her gala co-chairwoman, Whitney Casey, chose a down-home theme for this year’s big Andy Roddick Foundation benefit. “This is the first year that we have our own programming on the ground,” Decker says of the group that teaches character through sports. “So we thought we’d make the party down to Earth.” Denim predominated in a crowd that included Roddick admirers from near and far. Country musician Darius Rucker entertained. Among the novel items auctioned by Heath Hale and his winning crew of bid spotters this $1 million night was a reserved parking space at Whole Foods Market. You can dress ’em up in denim, but you can’t subtract from the decidedly Austin glamour of this group.

Kendra Huskey, Travis Martin, Patrick McDermott and Anna Lehnhoff -- members of the Longhorn Singers -- at Texas Exes Distinguished Alumni Awards.
Kendra Huskey, Travis Martin, Patrick McDermott and Anna Lehnhoff — members of the Longhorn Singers — at Texas Exes Distinguished Alumni Awards.

SCHOOL: “Everything I have in the world, I owe to the Good Lord, my mamma and this school.” Sitting behind a podium, football legend Earl Campbell, his body cruelly humbled, recalled that, when Longhorns mega-fan Joe Jamail first met the talented player from rural East Texas, he exclaimed “What a body!” That left the unworldly young man to wonder if the man might be, well, you know. Campbell spoke of these things at the Texas Exes Distinguished Alumni Awards, held at the Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium. Competing with Campbell for audience reverence was Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, who revealed that he almost became an SMU Mustang. His brother tried to tell McConaughey, who wanted to be a lawyer, that Austin was more his style. “You’ll be at a bar between a cowboy, an Indian and a lesbian.” It all worked out for the future movie star. Alumna Dealey Herndon, the project manager for the State Capitol and Governor’s Mansion re-dos, said: “My first memory was my father putting me to sleep singing ‘The Eyes of Texas.” Also honored were investor John Massey, Atlantic Trust’s Scott Caven and astronaut Karen Nyberg. Several honorees lavishly praised UT President Bill Powers — dubbed the “$3 Billion Man” for his recently completed fundraising campaign. Winning former basketball coach Jody Conradt, who received the Distinguished Service Award, told of the cultural evolution from a time when women’s sports were ignored to a point when she heard a little girl ask: “Boys play basketball, too?”

Andres Saenz and Daniela Pelaez at Pop Austin International Art Show.
Andres Saenz and Daniela Pelaez at Pop Austin International Art Show.

NIGHTLIFE: The Pop Austin International Art Show is fresh, fun and smart, bringing in hundreds of stylish, mindful people. “We need more of this,” says Asa Hursh, director of Art Alliance Austin. The music made the pristine Fair Market, a former industrial site on East Fifth Street, sound like a nightclub. The cosmic crowd made the party and art show seem more like a high fashion event. The luscious art made one feel as if the whole building had been transported from Chelsea or Miami or some such contempo spot. Only the air conditioning failed to cooperate. I kept hearing remarks among even skeptics like: “Breathtaking.” “Sensational.” Some in the crowd, many of them newcomers to Austin’s art scene, could actually afford the immaculately hung samples, which will remain on display through Sunday. Despite all the top names in this show organized by New Yorkers-turned-Austinites Amanda Huras and Matt Randall, my favorite set were gilded pieces by Bale Creek Allen that recalled the beautiful bleakness of the open road.

Hamilton Book Awards, La Dolce Vita, 175 Reasons We Love Austin and more

Gabriela Polit and Carlos Ramos at University Co-Op's Hamilton Book Awards.
Gabriela Polit and Carlos Ramos at University Co-Op’s Hamilton Book Awards.

BOOKS: Start with the fact that the woman who discovered the origins of writing, Denise Schmandt-Besserat, sat at our table. They Eastern Studies professor — who taught me Egyptology 30 years ago — was up from another Hamilton Book Award. To my left was Luis Caffarelli, a leader  in the field of partial differential equations, who later in the evening won the 2014 Career Research Excellence Award from the University Co-Op, which uses the Hamilton Awards to recognize publications by University of Texas faculty. To my right were Eve Nichols and Ockhee Bego, who put together UT’s fabulous fashion show each year. Benjamin Ibarra-Sevilla and Kirk Lynn, from architecture and theater respectively, shared the Creative Research Award, and Rachael Rawlins from architecture took him the Best Research Paper Award for her work on planning for fracking on the Barnett Shale. The Grand Prize went to Denise Spellberg from history for “Thomas Jefferson‘s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders.” Runners up: Huaiyin Lin on Chinese history, Allison Lowery on historical wig styling and Mark Metzler on the postwar Japanese miracle. Held these days at the AT&T Center, it’s among the most illuminating nights of the Austin social season.

Sean Gaulager and Tamara Becerra Valdez at La Dolce Vita for the Contemporary Austin.
Sean Gaulager and Tamara Becerra Valdez at La Dolce Vita for the Contemporary Austin.

FOOD: Going against the grain, I paid little attention to the delicious bites, ambrosial sips or divine dusk at Laguna Gloria. Instead, for this glorious La Dolce Vita outdoor food and wine party to benefit the Contemporary Austin, I focused on longer conversations. The Contemo’s Louis Grachos told me about the Austin museum’s long-term plans and partnerships on public art, while Pedernales Cellar’s Fredrik Osterberg talked about his Swedish origins, his life in finance and his family’s decision to retreat to the Hill Country to make splendid wine. Tribeza’s Tim Dillon joined me analyzing the quitter, less manic tone at this year’s Dolce Vita. Artist Sean Gaulager filled me in on his recent doings and Michael Hoinski discussed the prospects of the often ignored Brush Square Museums. And those were just some highlights. Fave dish? Probably a version of mac and cheese from Ramen Tatsu-ya.

Alex Choice and Simon Cawley at La Dolce Vita for the Contemporary Austin.
Alex Choice and Simon Cawley at La Dolce Vita for the Contemporary Austin.

CITY:  175 Reasons We Love Austin. My personal contributions, taken from a group effort in today’s Austin360: https://www.facebook.com/austin360/posts/10152779602944395

  1. Walking anywhere in Austin. Doesn’t matter where. Mostly, however, in the central city, where, thanks to the Great Streets program, pedestrians are safe, shaded, comfortable and happy. (austintexas.gov/page/great-streets)
  2. Sitting in sidewalk cafes such as Second Bar + Kitchen. There’s nothing more luxurious. And the pleasure can be had for the price of a cup of soup and a sandwich. The people-watching in Austin is priceless. (congressaustin.com/second)
  3. Reading anywhere. From the Texas Book Festival to BookPeople and South Congress Books. But especially on our front porch in the Bouldin neighborhood, where our attention is pleasantly interrupted by passing neighbors and strangers. (texasbookfestival.org, bookpeople.com, southcongressbooks.com)
  4. Parties at the W Austin, Driskill or Four Seasons hotels. Oh, any old place will do if the guests are right. But these three inns have been dishing out hospitality on a large scale for a long time. Some newcomers and old-timers are upping their games, too. (whotelaustin.com), (driskillhotel.com), (fourseasons.com/austin)
  5. Coffee at Jo’s, Seventh Flag, Caffe Medici or Houndstooth. There are more than 100 inviting, inventive and independent coffee shops in town. I end up at these candidates most often because their decaf is as good as the leaded, the wifi is strong and the people are pleasing. (joscoffee.com, seventhflagcoffee.com, caffemedici.com, houndstoothcoffee.com)
  6. Shopping at Trader Joe’s, Central Market, H-E-B or Farm to Market. I grew up in grocery stores. I visit them like landmarks when I travel. I’ll drop by any Austin market, including hometown giant, Whole Foods Market, but these other four take up the majority of my happy hunting and gathering time. (traderjoes.com, centralmarket.com, heb.com, fm1718.com, wholefoodsmarket.com)
  7. Researching at the Austin History Center, Briscoe Center for American History, etc. Austin is home to dozens of top-notch archives and libraries. In 2016, a new Central Library will open. I’ll be there Day 1. Meanwhile, these are blessed oases of insight into our past. (library.austintexas.gov/ahc, cah.utexas.edu)
  8. Any Longhorns sporting event. Lately, it’s been the volleyball team, whose play at Gregory Gym has been nothing less than electrifying. Still, the only two UT teams I haven’t seen in action are golf and cross country. (texassports.com)
  9. Any theater, live or otherwise. People sometimes forget that I spent more time in the theater than in the newspaper business. Really don’t mind seeing theater at any venue, but I’m grateful for Zach’s Topfer Theatre and the Long Center, in part because, yes, they are easy walking distance from our house. (zachtheatre.org, thelongcenter.org)
  10. The people. Every night, I go out. Not because I want to, but because it’s my job. As soon as I reach my destination, however, I’m delighted by the open, smart, kind, fit and fun folks that populate every strata of Austin life.

Travis Audubon Society, Limpy the Clown, Gentlemen’s Agreement and more

Lisa Monreal and Sean Bender at Travis Audubon Society's Victor Emanuel Awards.
Lisa Monreal and Sean Bender at Travis Audubon Society’s Victor Emanuel Awards.

NATURE: You know an award will last when only the very best candidates are honored. The Travis Audubon Society has established such a durable prize in the Victor Emanuel Conservation Award, given out Saturday at the Austin Hyatt Regency. During its short history, the award has gone to Emanuel, a globally revered nature guide; Andrew Sansom, river advocate and director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment; Carter Smith, charismatic director of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department; and J. David Bamberger, trailblazing rancher and president of the Bamberger Ranch Preserve. Who could walk in this company? Georgean and Paul Kyle, toymakers who started the Chaetura Canyon Preserve near Mansfield Dam with a $75 loan. “Then the chimney swifts abducted us,” Georgan said when accepting the award. “And we’ve learned so much from them.” In fact, the soft-spoken Austin couple is credited with bringing back the declining species by designing artificial chimneys where they can roost. More than 200 of them have been scattered around the country. The Kyles are truly humble heroes. How many people have saved a species?

Julia Marsden and Greg Lipscomb at Travis Audubon Society's Victor Emanuel Awards.
Julia Marsden and Greg Lipscomb at Travis Audubon Society’s Victor Emanuel Awards.

PROFILE: Limpy the Clown finds rate chances to spread joy after years of poverty. Taken from Pat Beach‘s superb story in the Statesman: “Limpy the Clown still lives. Sort of. His red nose is usually in Billy Ray Howard’s pants pocket, with balloons at the ready in the other pocket. It’s July. Limpy’s oversized shoes are in the corner of a converted garage Howard has called home for about a year. His prospects changed when his son’s mother found out he was living on the streets. She told Howard he could stay at her place — for about $400 a month and another $20 for cable — there’s a microwave, a boom box, a mini-fridge, a throw rug over the concrete floor, and Limpy the Clown posters, pictures and memorabilia on the walls.” “http://shar.es/1m5KC9

POLITICS: New system could amplify Hispanic voices in Austin. Taken from Lilly Rockwell‘s illuminating story in the Statesman: “Hispanics tried for years to breach the gentlemen’s agreement. The bargain struck by two white men in the 1970s, and held in place for decades by some of Austin’s most entrenched political interests, ensured there would be a seat on the City Council reserved for a Hispanic member and another for an African-American. But only those two seats. Hispanics who tried to upend the system by running for other council seats struck out, lacking the blessing of influential community or business groups whose endorsements and donations could carry a campaign.” http://shar.es/1m5Kt0