Column: Austin: come for the ribs, stay for the bats

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Wednesday’s column is about my vacation last week in Austin, Texas. Here are a few photos to illustrate moments from my column. Above, the line outside Franklin Barbecue from my place in line. An equal number of people ended up behind me.

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Above, a piece of surveying equipment seems to watch two construction cranes at work, a sign of the city’s building boom, especially by the waterfront. Below, a ghost bike is part of a memorial to those killed by a motorist during the South by Southwest music festival.

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Below, a Frito pie, which is chili, cheese and onions atop a bed of Frito corn chips. Not bad, with the chips more interesting than saltines, but not something I’d order again, I don’t think.

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And, lastly, here’s a view of the Congress Bridge bats and the people watching them.

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Videos: The animatronic LBJ at the presidential library tells a corny joke (it’s like the Bulletin’s Slice of Wry in oral form) and bats pour out from under the Congress Avenue bridge.

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Column: Half a century gone and wondering what’s ahead

I turned 50 recently, two weeks ago today in fact, and I reflect on that in Friday’s column. Well, mostly I just joke about it.

I started writing this one just after my birthday but dropped it to write about the Sunkist sign instead, then returned to it before vacation to retool it over the course of a couple of hours, which largely involved deleting some reader comments and putting more of myself in it. The result is better, I think, but there wasn’t much time to think about it. I’ll be curious to read it myself to see how it turned out — but not just now.

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On vacation

I’m in Austin, Texas, this week for sightseeing and relaxation. Also, ribs. It’ll be my first visit and I’m looking forward to it. Columns will continue to appear, as if by magic, on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, and I’ll post them here. Other than that, this blog is going dark for the week. Feel free to explore past entries, and I’ll check in as time permits. Regular posting will return Monday, March 31.

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Fifty

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In Pasadena a few weeks ago, I chuckled at Pizza Man’s sign, saw the possibilities and couldn’t resist a selfie that includes the relevant portion. And here the photo is today, my 50th birthday. I’m glad not only that I’m still around, but that I have it together enough to remember that I took the picture.

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Brand new me

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Due to reader complaints (!), I had my column photo retaken recently. The previous one was shot by one photographer who took the entire staff’s portraits one day in late 2012. It was like class picture day in school, except there was no advance notice.

I trooped in as ordered. Most of the instructions had to do with squaring my shoulders and turning to the side while facing the camera. A bright light shone on me. No attempt was made to amuse me, such as by squeezing a squeaky toy or jingling a bell.

My idea for a mug, as we call them, was to make my expression all-purpose. No need to look too giddy if the column it accompanies might one day happen to be about nuclear fallout. I tried to keep my smile modest.

Months flew by, seasons passed, and suddenly one day in mid-2013 the mug showed up online and in print as my new official portrait. (The print version is round and the exact size of a dime. It looks like I’m being viewed through a porthole. The online version is from the chest up.)

That small smile turned out to be impossible to spot without a magnifying glass. Also, the open shirt, high collar and low angle combined to render a version of me that did not fit my persona, or really resemble me closely.

“Why do you look angry?” one friend asked. “You look tough,” a co-worker said. “Are you going to beat me up?” a third worried.

Through fall and winter, I made three requests for a new photo. Finally, when a higher-up suggested I pose for a photo for publicity purposes, I brought up the mug. A fresh one was shot the next day. Two colleagues, Liset Marquez and Monica Rodriguez, also had new, more flattering portraits taken.

This time I resolved to smile. Laugh, even. Jennifer Cappuccio Maher obligingly kidded around with me as she clicked the shutter in our studio. A day later, the new photo showed up online, and a few days later in print. Looks far better, although I wish I’d checked a mirror and buttoned one more button.

A few people (including Upland Councilman Gino Filippi) have told me it’s a big improvement. And a reader from Upland named Rosemary emailed me under the subject line “Your smiling face” as follows:

“Thank God you have a new picture for your column. The other one made you look like a very unsavory character. (Are you?) I enjoy your column very much, especially when you write about your Metrolink trips into L.A. You have a nice smile, what took you so long to attach it to your column?”

Gee, I dunno (digs toes into dirt). I just hope no one complains when I write about somebody who died and my photo looks like I’m yukking it up.

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Super?

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Evidently there was some sort of sporting contest yesterday, but once again, I missed the whole thing.

It’s an annual tradition here that we discuss what we did instead of watching football. In my case, I took part in a morning Secret Stairs hike in Hollywood that involved Bronson Canyon and the Batcave from the 1960s “Batman” show (see above), followed by lunch in Los Feliz. That was all before the big game, though, and for the game itself, I was sore enough from the hike, and tired enough from the early start, that I sat on the couch like many of fellow countrymen and -women. Except I was watching the tail end of the DVD “Stones in Exile,” a documentary about the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street” album (only my favorite ever), and then listening to a disc of Louis Armstrong’s “Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography” while reading the CD booklet.

If you stayed away from what “everyone else” was doing, share the details below.

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Private ‘stache

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At the Upland firefighter party last week marking the mustache-growing Movember effort, paste-on mustaches were distributed to anyone who didn’t have the real thing, which almost no one did. I donned one. Councilman Gino Filippi, who did the same, told me: “You kind of have the look of Clouseau.” Flatterer.

Filippi later emailed me a photo he took of me taking a photo. My camera looks absurdly small, like a “fun size” candy car, but it gets the job done (sort of).

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