Coffee On South Congress

Posted: December 6, 2010 in Cultural Review

Whether biking, walking, or driving down South Congress, you will notice that there’s definitely something about this part of town that sticks out from the rest of Austin.  It could be the aged feel of the area that makes old Austinite’s tear up remembering how it was back in the 1970’s compared to the now urban feel of a city going through growing pains.  Or it could be the food trailers that offer quality food at low prices in a setting that is often filled with street musicians and local art venders.  Or maybe it’s the myriad of funky shops that line the street as it opens up to the beautiful view of downtown, underscored by the lake, and emphasized by the capital.

St. Edwards University looms dramatically on a scenic hill with one of the most inspiring views of the skyline.  In the more than one hundred and twenty five years it has been open, it has looked over the changing SoCo scene below.  One feature of this area is the variety of coffee shops that surround the university.  Stomping Grounds and Ruta Maya are two that occupy the same street only one block down from the school.  Jeanies Java just opened right across the street which replaced The Garden District (another coffee shop) which had previous replaced another coffee house.  There is also a café on the campus that serves blended drip coffee as well as espresso drinks.  With so many coffee shops literally blocks away from each other, it is interesting to see which one customers pick and why?

After interviewing local café goers, there are four general criteria they tend to ask themselves about the coffee shop environment when, or before they enter, like: Do they have WiFi? What are their hours? Do they serve food?  and Do they serve alcohol?  The answers to these questions are never universally good or bad but do seem to dictate what kind of clients the café attracts.

When entering Stomping Grounds, it is apparent that most people there are well dressed.  The formal attire might be because of the obviously well lit bar that greets you as walk through the door.  This coffee house is also advertised as a cocktail lounge, further adding to its classy appeal.  It services free WiFi, is open late till 2am, and serves mini pizza’s and other bar snacks like jalapeno poppers.

As you make your way from Stomping Grounds up a pretty large hill on Alpine Dr., you find Ruta Maya right across the street.  This coffee house opens up into what looks like an empty concert venue with wide-open space and an up stairs looking down onto the stage.  Unlike the other coffee shops around this SoCo scene, Ruta Maya has tons of events it hosts on almost a daily basis like open mic night every Tuesday, free yoga classes every morning, and salsa lessons on Sunday.  This explains the openness one feels when entering juxtapose to the traditional personalized cozy feel of most coffee houses.  They close at 1am during the week and 2am on weekends.  Ruta Maya serves beer but no liquor, has free WiFi, and things like roles and other cold sandwiches to eat.


Leaving Ruta Maya and jumping one block over, you encounter the reason why all these cafés are bunched so close together, St. Edwards.  The coffee shop on the campus located in the Ragsdale Center is called Meadows Café and is owned by Jo’s Coffee.  Here you’ll find most peoples idea of a typical coffee shop with large comfortable couches that, if it weren’t for the coffee, would probably put you to sleep.  Meadows Café is a bustling place were customers are always pouring in, yet the décor is very tranquil with dark earthy colors and Christmas lights around the ceiling that are probably left up all year.  It’s open till midnight most nights, has free WiFi for students, and a limited amount of snacks to eat.

Heading southbound from Meadows café and right across the street, you see a giant mural painted over the entire building of what is Jeanies Java.  The mural looks like a psychedelic poster for The Little Shop of Horrors representing not only the funky side of south congress, but also the plant nursey that is attached to it.  This is the newest of the coffee shops around this area (having only opened for business in July) and the only one where I was actually greeted by the owner herself.

When asked what got her into the coffee business?  She replied, “Back in 1997 I lived in Seattle Washington and got hooked on coffee and the culture surrounding it, so I decided to familiarize myself with the business.  It took a while but by 2006 I was working directly with the owner of a shop called Caffinity where I learned how to make coffee in a fast paced environment. After working in a corporate environment for many years, I finally decided it was time to open my own café.”

When asked what made her coffee shop different or unique from the other ones around the area?  She answered, “I like to be more social with our customers in the hope that we are creating a more fun atmosphere where they enjoy stopping in.  We like to keep a kind of funky vibe around the shop.  We also have an amazing patio over looking the garden of The Great Outdoors Nursery that has been around since the 1980’s.  We also really try and support local businesses as much as possible.”

Having finally gotten some feed back from an owner of one of these SoCo cafés, it was time to listen to some customer’s opinions.

A.J. Molyneaux, an Austin native whose parents reside in the south congress area, talks specifically about which coffee shops in the area he likes and why.

“It’s hard to find a good coffee shop because each one has a different vibe that fits each person.  Stomping Grounds is too yuppie for me and at night people start getting drunk and ridiculous so as far as coffee shops go, it seems like more of a bar to me.  Ruta Maya is a cool place with cool events but there’s a particular crowd there that reminds me of the homeless side of hippie culture, at least at night that seems to be the case.  Meadows is an ok place and I only say O.K. because it just doesn’t seem to be to unique in anyway.”  He added, “it’s a great place to grab a cup of coffee but not to hangout.  If I really just want a good cup of coffee, I go to Jeanies Java because of the awesome balcony overlooking the garden, and I like their coffee the best.  They don’t have wireless however so as a student that can be a big obstacle.”

When asked which of the four criteria was most important to him, he replied, “do they serve food?”

Martin Hatch and Mathew Bentley both live in a house off of south first and are frequenters of the SoCo Cafés.  When asked which of the four criteria was most important to them, one said WiFi while the other emphatically answered whether they serve alcohol.

Out of four more south congress residents and St. Edwards students asked the same question, answers varied between all four of the criteria leaving a definitive answer illusive.

So what truly makes a café appealing to one person over another?  It seems a matter of personal taste, which in the end, is what makes the SoCo area so special in a city that appears to be going the way of it’s neighbors, Dallas and Houston.  The diversity of the citizens that live in the 78704 area is displayed not only in the creative art plastered across the sidewalks at the First Thursday festival, but also in the choices they make when choosing local coffee shops.

A liberal protester at a Rand Paul rally was violently stopped from posing with the politician.

Click here to see video

Yes it’s true I like working out to Katy Perry blaring in the background.  The gym itself is one of the most homoerotic places guys can go where men openly complement each other on their bodies, get behind one another to help with “form” while doing squats, and put their balls in each others faces while spotting on bench press so if you think about it, doing push ups in my apartment by myself and listening to KP is really less gay than your average gym experience.  Regardless, I do have at least some justification for my musical selection so hear me out while my public masculinity waits in limbo.

First of all the girls relatable, I mean we both like to kiss girls and talk about it.  Second, although the musics so pop I don’t even think my Ex-girlfriend listens to it, its catchy and it up beat.  Third, although normally it induces the same response in straight men as cold water, I’m working out so my testosterone boost completely cancels out the mad dose of estrogen flowing through the speakers making a happy medium and great workout.  And last, I’m a lazy guy.  Sitting on my couch drinking a Budweiser to football is a lot more appealing to me than getting off my ass and actually putting forth the effort to exorcise but Kate Perry has a sexy voice, so it keeps me motivated and my eye on the prize because lets be honest, the only reasons guys like me work out is to get better looking women, not to be healthy.

Say what you will about KP and me ladies, but in 2 months when I’m looking good AND can tolerate your music while driving in the car, your going to thank me!

Toast of the Town!!!

Posted: November 8, 2010 in Simply fun

Academics and common sense have never been more at odds than with today’s Toast of the Town, Mr. Max Seiter. In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Max exposed it all about his upcoming movie, Thor: The Legend of an Aryan God who wasted all his money touring with Jam Bands because he found Jerry Garcia at way to young of an age. He also discussed his love for glamorous fashion which includes drool proof tie dye T-shirts, suits with tasteful holes cut in the back so everyone can see his “sweet” Grateful Dead Tattoo, and trendy Celebrity accessories of all kinds like: colonial style helmets with American flags sticking out of them, Egyptian style gold head dresses, and of course the classiest of all, glow-stick bracelets. When not being hunted by the paparazzi and posing for Men’s Health magazine, you can find Mr. Seiter at any “lot scene” of annoying bands that think it’s cool to play hour long songs while tuning their guitars on stages half the time to drug induced hippies who are fatally going NOWHERE in life. Don’t be afraid to approach this master of fame, simply mention that you too think it’s cool to name your pug dog after 19th century dictators and he will probably sign an autograph.

Warning!- Do not ask Mr. Seiter any questions about how or why things are the way they are or how they function. He will go into a lengthy scientific explanation that you will most certainly care nothing about and then wonder why you don’t understand, or have simply fallen asleep!

The legend of the Vampire goes back centuries (mainly beginning in Eastern Europe) but was brought to life in Bram Stokers famous novel Dracula.  Depictions of the undead however can be found in medieval manuscripts and painting as beings awaken from death not to drink blood from young virgins, but to feast on the flesh of the living.  These stories originated in the 14th century during the height of the Black Death in Europe where bodies would pile up and for the first time many people began to witness the decomposition process up close.  Some of these bodies became bloated with gas from the decay of the organs leaving many superstitious minds to conclude that they had awakened and were feeding.  Blood oozed from the mouths of the dead which we now know to be a relatively normal part of the body breaking down, but again the people of medieval Europe became convinced that the person had reawakened and was drinking the blood of the living.

Stokers’ novel was a romantic piece of literature ripe for its time but shockingly the inspiration for Dracula himself was based on a 15th century Wallachian Prince named Vlad Dracula.  The name Dracula itself comes from his father who was inducted into the Order of the Dragon for his defense of Christian Europe against the Turks.  Vlad was one of the cruelest and most sadistic Princes in history giving rise to his nickname Vlad the Impaler.  It was said that Vlad dined with his impaled victims and drank their blood as they hung dangling and dying on steaks high above.

Although Stoker never visited Transylvania the home of the mythical Dracula he used his imagination to create an icon symbol of darkness that would permeate the shadows of culture throughout the twentieth century and beyond.  Anne Rices’ Vampire chronicles of the 1980′s were a hit series that combined vampire culture with sexuality before anyone every heard of Twilight. Ever since, there has been a mainstream push for vampires in movies and TV shows in pop culture. The image of the vampire has changed so much, that it has penetrated its way into a vast audience. Now, everyone can choose the “type” of vampire they like: the cold-hearted killer, the over-sexualized predator, or hopeless romantic that is trapped in a cage of immortality.

Fascination of the vampire comes from people of all ages, but specifically, the obsession is most predominate amongst young adolescents and teenagers. Many have questioned why this age group idolizes these super natural creatures, but the answer really lays behind emotional constraints.

Vampires represent certain aspects that young teenagers desire to have. The element of sexuality is the most obvious factor as frustration and control come into question. As adolescents start to undergo hormonal changes, they often look for some outlet to relate to- that is ideally away from the embarrassment of parents. The vampire, on the other hand, has been sexually portrayed as a being in full control by having a odd power over their victims, or opposite sex. Through this, teens grasp the idea that sexual relationships are far more effective, and less awkward,  if the other person shared the same desire.

But this same idea of control also applies to general situations. The pre-adolescent/ early teen years can be an extremely awkward time many kids. In contrast, the vampire is always confident because it knows it has the ability to control a situation; or to transform (into a bat) and leave the situation if needed. This unsaid sense of coolness, is something that teenagers would love to have- thus, making the perfect role model for unsure teens.

Furthermore, the teenager can also relate to the vampire in terms of feeling alienated and outcasted. A vampire struggles against immortality, sunlight, and a sometimes conflicting thirst for blood. The common teenager also has developed various addictions to cope with issues, including drugs & alcohol, to video games and social media. An extreme example is with the recent phenomena of “teen wolf” packs forming in High Schools. These groups of kids dress in Gothic attire, simulating the look of both vampires and werewolves.  Once labeled as “different”, these kids are now banding together as a support network.

KENS5 interviewed one member who stated “We’re not a gang at all, gangs are posers. They just want attention … The pack, like, we’re a family and we go to each other for our problems.”

Overall, supernatural figures such as vampires and werewolves represent something that is different, but in control; something that is an outcast, but is strong and feared. For these reasons, males too fall for the lure of the vampire, not just the stereotyped female longing for a romantic happy-ending.

A Clockwork Orange

Posted: November 8, 2010 in Movie Review

Clothes ripped and methodically cut from her body, her husband (an unfortunate handicap man) beaten and bloodied on the floor, the once peaceful house they shared ransacked while a violent rape ensues to tune of the 1929 classic “Singing in the Rain.”  This is one of the most disturbing yet oddly famous scenes in a movie that has thrill and haunted audiences since it’s release in 1971.  “A Clockwork Orange” is probably one of the most famous cult classics that survives to this day as director Stanley Kubrick takes an unassuming audience into a world of “ultra-violence.”

“A Clockwork Orange” is a twisted sadistic tale that centers around a futuristic street gang in London.  The gangs leader Alex played by Malcolm McDowell along with his three “droogs” or sidekicks, spend most of their time rolling old drunks, sipping laced milk at the infamous Korova Milk Bar off of nude manikins posed in wild sexual positions, robbing the innocent, brawling with other local gangs and of course their favorite past time, “a bit of the old in-out in-out.”  Alex however is psychologically your average sociopath, yet has a strange passion or obsession if you will, for the music of Beethoven seeming to be captivated if not transcendent by the composers melodies.  In the end he is arrested and held accountable for his crimes by traditional means of incarceration at first, then a new approached to rehabilitation is tried using him as the first test subject and it’s outcome appears profound but is it really safe to let someone like this back on the streets?

“A Clockwork Orange” made its debut as a novel published in 1962 by Anthony Burgess and was then adapted later into film by director Stanley Kubrick.  Kubrick was an accomplished director at the time, know for a string of bizarre and thought provoking films like “Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” and the epic 1968 “2001 Space Odyssey.”  These films cemented his extremely over stylized presentation and paved the way for progressive bohemian look of “A Clockwork Orange.”  He makes a masterful use up close ups on characters faces to enforce a Hitchcock like dramaic tension and emphasize emotional drawl.  Whenever a character is being brutalized, Kubrick makes a point of zooming in close up when ones natural reaction would be to back away.  This creates an uneasiness as a viewer that persists throughout the film and leaves me to caution those with delicate sensibilities because in some of the most violent and graphic scenes, you really do feel as though you are baring witness to some horrible crime and are powerless to affect it’s outcome.

The music in “A Clockwork Orange” is especially disturbing and mind-bending as Kubrick uses master pieces of symphonic classics that we, coming from a westernized world, were raised to think of as brilliant art.  If the German philosopher Schopenhauer argues that music of this nature (mainly Beethoven) is one of the only things in life to free us or lift society above the oppression of individual will, Kubricks’ timing and use of these ballads against a backdrop of horror will certainly bring the viewer back to reality.  I don’t think anyone who has sat through A Clockwork Orange will ever listen to “Singing in the Rain” or Beethovens’ 5th Symphony the same again.

From a modern stand point, the depiction of women in this movie is especially distressing.  Women are seen as vulnerable objects, there for the taking and delight of any man who chooses them.  There is not one strong female character in the film and the only woman who actually stands her ground to the demented leader of the gang is bludgeoned to death by a giant statue of a penis.  Women’s bodies are also objectified by numerous scenes of rape to melodic masterpieces, the bent and twisted naked manikins that pump milk from their breast to greedy customers at the Korova Milk Bar, and the huge picture of a naked woman, legs spread wide and inviting that hangs front and center in Alex’s room just at the foot of his bed.

It may seem rather irrelevant to review a movie released almost forty years ago but its effect on pop-culture still peculiarly lingers to this day.  The latest episode of South Park features a tribute to the film that only individuals who have watched, or rather experienced this unique picture would understand.  It comes in the episode “Coon 2: Hindsight” when Eric Cartman’s friends try to over take his position as leader and ironically leads to the same tragic end result.  This shows that even today “A Clockwork Orange” has an impact and more importantly a cultural significance in today’s society cementing its place as a classic piece of film history.

After viewing this film for the first time it is hard to grasp the questions and meaning that arise from it; the shock factor alone of what Kubrick has managed to do kept me stunned and disturbed for weeks.  Then a kind of Nietzcheian perspective came about where I tried to justify the crimes of the main character and put them in a comical sense like a villainous Batman character who has read Beyond Good and Evil way to many times.  These analysis are way too individualistic because whether you subscribe to a Neitzcheian or Kantian perspective of morality, there is simply no justifying the psychopathic, sadistic, and misogynistic deeds of Alex and his droogs,  yet there may be a way of explaining it.  When we look at someone like a Ted Bundy or a Jeffery Dahmer we would like to think of them as some demonic force sent to earth by supernatural means to terrify and brutalize our society.  Yet the sad fact is that people like this are not only all too human, but were produced along side your own children.  The most disturbing part of this movie this that is seems to implicate or even indict the audience as complicit in the crimes of the lead character because they are in fact part of the society that created him.  It then falls on all of our shoulders to figure out what is the appropriate thing to do with these kinds of people and for an answer to that question, you’ll just have to watch the movie.

From Where They Run Interview

Posted: November 1, 2010 in Music Review

Nnothing that better describes being in The Right Place at The Right Time than drinking a beer in the audience of a From Where They Run show.  This five-piece band started in Austin and has become a fast growing success as their music continues to evolve and become more direct and refined.  The band consists of three brothers, Pat, Tyler, and Nolan Wheeler, along with their college buddy from LSU Danny Mathews and the newest member A.J. Molyneaux who joined the group this summer.  Recently I sat down with the lead singer and guitarist Nolan Wheeler to talk music and gain insights into their recent success.

Mr. Wheeler began talking about his early influences growing up listening to classic rock mainly handed down from his father.  This, he explains, that this gave him a solid foundation and musical since of rhythm that has been a trade mark of the band and the underlining backbone to all their music.  “Bands like The Rolling Stones, or Johnny Cash, have an old blues since of time and rhythm to their music that more experimental bands of our generation like Radiohead don’t seem possess.” He also took this time to vent a little bit about the emerging DJ scene with bands like Pretty Lights and Deadmau5 as prime examples saying although its slightly innovative, the traditional instrumental bands will always be better, more talented and better respected.

He went on to define their style as a sort of southern folk, indie rock bread that is still developing, noting the fact that the band is not even a year old.  One thing I had always wondered was what it felt like to be on stage singing and jamming out in front of a huge crowd and Mr. Wheeler seemed to wince a bit at the thought of their early shows saying “at first of course I was nervous, I just hoped the audience wouldn’t see my legs shaking but then after a while I realized that we play some damn good drinking music and have great fans so then it just turned into a big party instead of a performance which made it easier on me.”

Last I wanted to question him about their first and upcoming album that is due for release in spring of 2011.  He said it’s probably going to contain around 10 to 13 songs and most of the recording is already done but the title of the album is still up in the air.  All the recording was done at the bands house in Austin where they turned a basement room into a workable studio.  “One thing that’s cool about our band is that we all live together so that makes the process of producing an album independently more fluid if you will.”

I personally have known many of the band members for years now so it is interesting from my perspective to see this new collaboration that they have developed into From Where They Run.  The last show I saw was about two weeks ago when they played at the Independence Brewery’s sixth anniversary party and I was extremely impressed with many of their new songs I had never heard before.  At the beginning it was obvious that all the members of the band were musically gifted but in my opinion they were still finding their unique and personal direction (as most bands starting out go through I’m sure).  With this last show however it was evident that something had changed and that spark of authenticity that makes great musicians and bands alike stand out from all the others seemed to finally have been kindled.