A Tale of Two Cities – Why Houston is Unfairly Dissed in Favor of Austin

I guess city rivalries are a standard thing in almost every state of the U.S. I grew up in the Houston area, lived in Austin through most of the 1990’s, moved back to H-Town, and then recently back to Austin after living in Houston for many years. I like both cities a lot, for different reasons.

But there’s a lot of weird hard feelings and mean-spirited criticism of both cities by people that live in the other, and it seems dumb to me. Especially considering that there are a lot of ignorant fools from outside of Texas that think the whole state is populated with subhuman stereotypes, or that the whole area in unfit for human habitation. They think Texas sucks and that we’re unsophisticated and stupid. Those are the morons we should save our disdain for, not people living a little less than 200 miles apart.

Rather than determine that one city is “better” than the other, it would be far more accurate to just say that they’re very different in many key ways, and the things that make one place paradise for a person, might make it a Hell for a different individual.

There is a really REALLY tired slogan for Austin – “Keep Austin Weird.” Oddly enough, I generally see that bumper sticker or t-shirt being used by the most average-looking people you can imagine. Middle-aged dudes in khaki shorts and topsiders that look like they probably are executives at a bank somewhere, or their completely mainstream (but slightly different) equivalent.

When you’re really weird, you don’t generally need to advertise that. You just are.

That annoyance aside, Austin quit being un-self consciously weird years ago, perhaps decades ago. For good or bad, it went from being a magnet for oddballs from all over Texas and beyond to becoming a hip place to live. It went from being weird to being cool. And cool is only cool if you like it that way.

Yes, Austin is still a college town, and it still has a very lively local music scene. But its population has also boomed, with people from all over the world moving here in droves. That’s fine, but it’s killing a lot of the quirky, small town feel that Austin had been known for. Throw in gigantic music festivals like SXSW that seem to draw a mostly out of town audience while the locals avoid it, and this does not seem like the odd little college town with a great local music scene that it once was.

Yes, many of the local places and pastimes that seemed to mark Austin as a unique city are still around. You can still go cool down at Barton Springs, or see the bats on Congress, and there is live music happening all over town, but it seems more like a Disney World replication of the Austin of years ago. Seeing families with children all over town makes it seem like you’re in some sort of approximation of what a “cool college town” would be if it were sanitized for suburban consumption. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but the spirit of this town has changed a lot, and I suspect that it will continue to.

Houston, on the other hand was never burdened by an image as a hip weird place where “anything goes!” It always seemed to be considered a good place to raise a family and make a living by Texans, but hip it was not.

I have to report that in the decades that I’ve bounced back and forth between these two cities, I’ve experienced just as many weird shenanigans in Houston as I did in Austin. It’s actually a lot more accurate to say “Keep Texas Weird” because Texas IS weird, an enormous state marked by its diversity of people and places. This state often gets snubbed by people from outside of it because…well, because people are stupid and mean, and because some will use anything they can to try to feel superior to others.

Austin is the sort of place where everyone you meet is an “artist” of some sort, and everyone is self consciously trying to broadcast how weird and edgy they are… While producing very little.

Houston wears it’s weird more secretly. It remains hidden, not self promoted as much, and then one day you realize that the quiet normal looking guy you work with has created art or music that’s really cool and strange without most people even knowing it.

I’ve known quite a few idiots that can’t conceive of living anywhere except for a small handful of cities. Places like San Francisco, Portland Oregon, New York City, Seattle, and unfortunately Austin also seems to be on that list.

We all like what we like, and that’s fine and dandy. Acting like anyone living outside those places is a cretin is both pretentious and shows a stilted elitism on the part of the moronic clowns who think that only those places matter. There’s a HUGE country outside of those cities, and it’s not all hillbillies and idjits occupying it. I’ve been all over this country multiple times, and discovered that, almost without exception, people are pretty much the same everywhere. Yes, some cities and even states have a certain “feel” to them that sets them apart from others, but I’ve never found a place that just won over all the rest.

To the people that have found that place that is perfect to them, great. Please move there, enjoy your life, and shut the fuck up about how everywhere else sucks. No one wants to hear from people like you.

Anyway, while Austin has long attracted a certain dubious fame as a hip city, Houston never has. But let’s look a little closer at the things Houston has to offer a person.

1. Houston has Great museums and a good art scene.

Let’s just get that one out of the way first. Houston has many exceptional museums. I’ve been going to the Natural Science a museum and the Museum of Fine Arts since I was a kid. I took summer art classes at the Glassell School of Art, and have hung out at the Menil Collection museum since I was young. There’s a Printing Museum, the Children’s Museum, and countless galleries throughout the area. Then you have the Commerce Street Art Warehouse, and the Orange Show, two longtime havens for local artists of all types. Houstonians have the opportunity to see work by contemporary artists, or head to see work by artists like Andy Warhol and Van Gogh. The city has an enormous art presence. It’s also known as a hotbed of folk art, as places like The Orange Show, Beer Can House, and Art Car Museum demonstrate. Houston also has a vibrant street art scene, and if we’re talking about music, the often dissed city has had a huge impact of popular music, particularly the hip hop world.

Austin is full of artists of various types, and it would never seek to insult the creative people in this city, but its museum presence is negligible compared to Houston’s, which is world class. Musically it’s got a lot going for it, but a Austin can’t touch Houston in regards to museums or other artistic venues.

2. Houston is the most ethnically diverse city in America.

Yes, even more so than New York City, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. This is probably shocking news to some people outside of Texas, but would not surprise most Houstonians who’ve bothered to look around town in the last couple of decades. Houston is full of people from all over the world, and is truly an international city now. There are many areas of town that offer cultural experiences brought from places like Russia, China, Vietnam, Mexico, and the list goes on and on. Perhaps the most notable effect this has had on the average Houstonian is the emergence of one of the nation’s best food scenes, but more on that later. It is common to hear people conversing in many different languages, and this melting pot of nationalities has infused Houston with a wealth of multicultural experiences to enjoy. The idea that Houston is some sort of cultural wasteland populated by lily white faces with red necks is utter bullshit.

Austin, on the other hand, still has a majority white homogeneous population. In a brilliant recent article in Texas Monthly, writer Cecilia Balli brought up the fact that it’s one of, if not the top, most segregated major cities in Texas. Minorities still live behind certain invisible geographic lines in this city, and seeing anyone that’s an immigrant from another country is rare unless they’re in town visiting, or going to UT. It’s just not a diverse mixing pot of people.

What you see a lot of here are a cross-section of white people. Austin’s not even as influenced by Hispanic culture as many other Texas cities are. Austin seems to be full of youngish white folks, a lot of whom are pretty comfortable, having come from nice middle or upper middle class backgrounds. They tend to be more socially liberal than young people in some other Texas cities, and some may look “weirder” – getting a few tattoos, piercings and a weird haircut while they spend their parents’ money pursuing an Art Degree or whatever. They’ll hang out at Austin music clubs, and keep it all weird, until they hit their early thirties and clean up their acts to assume their entitled positions of privilege (that were waiting like the wings of an angel to catch them if they fell the whole time). Then they’ll have kids with whimsical names, and will trade in their Fuck Emos shirts for khaki shorts and flip flops.

One will hear a lot of political and social outrage from these young Austinites, it’s like a real life version of some pissy Facebook community. Of course, there are minorities and white working class people making this city roll along, but those Peter Pan type young Austinites sure are plentiful. A lot of time they’re just waiting tables and biding their time before they can cash in their trust funds and move to some other urban paradise like Portland, which strikes me as an even more affected “weird” city. Grow thy beards and ride thy unicycles. Please just do it somewhere outside of Austin. We’ve got enough of that crap here already.

I guess my point is that Austin seems full of entitled white kids play-acting at struggle, while the people that really ARE struggling (minorities and working poor whites) either can’t afford to live here anymore, or are too busy trying to survive to go check out some fucking music festival. Houston offers a lot more things for people of all types, and socio-economic groups to enjoy.

Which brings us to…

3. Houston is cheaper to live in.

Surprisingly, that’s NOT true over all. Houston is actually a little more expensive than Austin in most ways that people measure their cost of living, and that includes rent, utilities, and groceries. But the average income is also marginally higher in Houston, and where the disparity comes into play is in scale. Houston is a big freaking city, and when we’re talking about things like rent that’s important. Yeah, it’s expensive as fuck to rent a decent place in the previously quirky and affordable Montrose neighborhood, but a broke ass Houstonian can find reasonably priced places to live in many other not so in-demand neighborhoods. Austin is not as small as rumored – it’s currently the 11th largest city in America, and grows with a steady influx of new residents with every passing day. But there are fewer and fewer cheap places to live here. Unlike the mighty sprawl that is Houston, pretty much every neighborhood here is getting pricey, so those rent averages are less “average.” If every place available is $1200 a month, does that make it better when Houston’s average rent is say $1300, but that takes into account rents in the $1500 range AND places that cost much less? You just don’t have a wide range to choose from if you’re on a limited income. InHouston, you’re more likely to find something livable for less.

When it comes to home prices, that also seems to be the case. I live in a modest 1300 square foot home with a train track behind it. It’s nice, but far from palatial. For the same money in Houston, I’d have my pick of much bigger places in some nice neighborhoods. Your home buying money just goes a lot further in H-Town. It’s been weird seeing formerly affordable neighborhoods mutate into hip hotspots over the last twenty years. The run down homes that I once rented in a South Austin would cost close to half a million dollars to buy now. That’s no joke. Some of those places were selling for $80,000 back in the 1990’s.

But this one is somewhat of a draw when either city is compared to other places nationally. Texas cities are just far more affordable for the average person than many other cities across the USA. Neither Austin or Houston bury the other on value.

4. Food. Houston is one of the nation’s best food cities.

It just is. I think it’s pretty obvious to any Houstonian who eats out a lot that the city is pretty special in that regard. It’s part of that international and ethnically diverse trend that’s been happening in the Houston area for decades. You can easily find many different options when it comes to eating in Houston. Vietnamese Pho is everywhere, along with a Indian food, Tex Mex, Cajun, and everything else under the sun. There are thousands of restaurants ranging from four star affairs down to food trucks dotting the culinary landscape of Houston.

Austin, on the other hand, offers much less variety.

Sometimes it feels like Austin has three types of basic cuisines – (mostly watered down) Tex Mex, BBQ, and “Breakfast.”

Be prepared to have black beans and home fries with every fucking meal when you eat out. Also be prepared to encounter vegan and vegetarian options everywhere, including the BBQ joints. I’m not saying that’s a “bad” thing, just that eating out here is pretty homogenized and boring after maybe a year. Houston in comparison is a dining adventure that seems like it could take a lifetime to explore.

But hey! You want some black bean goo on that burger! Fuck it, we HAVE that here!

5. For all of the negative stereotyping, Houston is a tolerant town in general.

Maybe it’s all of that ethnic diversity, or the huge gay population, but Houston is a pretty tolerant place to live. There’s an openly gay Mayor, making it the city with the highest elected homosexual person in the nation. Houston has the Pride Parade, and just feels like there’s a “live and let live” attitude there. Not every place in the country can boast that. I work with two lesbians who came from New York, and both have told me that they encountered a lot less discrimination when living in Houston than either New York or Austin. Granted, that’s anecdotal, but I see no reason to doubt their experiences.

Austin is pretty friendly to gays too, but they don’t have the developed community or leadership here that Houston provides.

When it comes down to it, Houston and Austin are both great cities in their own way, and we should collectively hone our hatred for the miserable shit hole that is Dallas, home of thieves and villainous scum.

OK, maybe Dallas is alright. I’ve never spent a lot of time there.

Let’s get a couple f other things out of the way. Houston by and large is not a “beautiful city”, although it has a sort of spiraling urban charm that some people come to love. I certainly do. Austin is in a very pretty part of Texas, and you’re never more than a few minutes away from some pretty bit of nature.

BOTH cities have traffic issues if that’s really important. I routinely drive during rush hour across town in both Austin and Houston, and I don’t get what the ruckus is. If you live in a big fucking city, traffic is part of the price you pay. I somehow have learned to avoid the traffic hotspots, other people should learn that survival skill too before bitching about “bad traffic”.

When it comes down to it, neither Austin or Houston really “win” over the other. Both are cool places to make a home, depending on what is most important to a person. If growing a stupid looking beard and mustache, and scooting down the road on a unicycle playing your ukulele sounds like paradise to you, you might be happier in Austin. But please do us all a favor and just head straight to Portland with that shit.

Seriously. We’re sick of that crap around here.

OK, more seriously. A young liberal person that wants to be surrounded by people much like themselves, and who really likes things like frisbee golf and seeing bands every night might enjoy Austin more than Houston. Someone that likes living in a huge city, with the cultural activities that offers, while enjoying a diversity of people and neighborhoods would probably enjoy Houston more.

The coolest thing is that you can like both. These are two Texas cities, not warring city states. I love both for very different reasons.

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Sizurp… Houston’s drink of choice.

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Black beans… You’ll be encountering a LOT of those little bastards if you eat anywhere in Austin.

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Always nice to go out and see a band in Austin…. Oh wait… Fuck that.

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Modern Vampires Suck.

Vampires. I’m a huge fan of horror movies, but I’ve really began to loathe vampires.

To be clear, there are some great vampire films out there spanning decades, and occasionally a really good new one will appear.

So what’s my beef with undead blood suckers? It’s really my disgust with how all things “Vampire” have evolved in pop culture over the last thirty or so years, but especially over the last twenty.

Vampires are a great classic monster. Almost every culture has at least one creepy vampire myth, and the film and literature versions were mostly scary, until 1976 when “Interview With the Vampire” was published. Now, by that time vampires probably needed a dose of originality to keep them frightening for newer audiences, but keeping them as monsters would’ve been preferable to turning them into bisexual immortal super heroes, which is how Anne Rice’s vampires have always struck me.

I’m not the hugest Stephen King fan, but 1975’s “Salem’s Lot” managed to keep the vampires a lot spookier than Lestat and company. If a dead blood sucker isn’t at least spooky then something has been lost along the way.

Yes, the movie vampires have almost always had powers of seduction. It is part of the myth’s appeal, but when the undead begin to resemble gothic club pickup artists more than hell-spawned creatures of darkness, that’s going to get in the way of my enjoyment.

About that gothic club thing…

I’ve been around the gothic music scene since the 80’s, and while I don’t presently claim any sort of membership in the gothic subculture, I am fond of some of the music and associated culture. I own an old Cadillac hearse, I collect horror movie props, my house looks like a horror museum of sorts, and my old bands played gothic and industrial music clubs all over a North America. I have some considerable experience around that scene.

The gothic subculture is a lively one strangely enough, and has mutated and continues to mutate as the years roll on. One of the weirder developments in that subculture was the introduction of vampire role playing games into the mix. Way back in 1991, the “Vampire the Masquerade” game was released, and fangtards everywhere were suddenly born. People that probably never would’ve set foot inside a gothic dance club before were donning leather trench coats and top hats, and snapping in a set of fake fangs for a night out on the town.

This was not a good development in preserving the inherent scariness of vampires. Encountering goofy vinyl wrapped fanboys and girls wearing fake teeth and in some cases expecting others to take their vampirism seriously made vampires seem dumber than ever before.

Yeah, a few of these costumed nerds actually expected the rest of us to believe that they were REALLY vampires. Made me want to drive a fucking stake through the lot of them.

Look, I fully support anyone’s right to shape their reality in any way they see fit, but don’t expect me to believe your patently absurd bullshit. There are even a few of these nouveau vamps that see their fake undead status as a “religion” of sorts, and who see it as some sort of energy transfer..

I would be fine with people absorbing certain aspects of Vampirism into their state of being, but so much of this stuff just looks like a sad cry for attention. Someone who actually possessed certain vampiric qualities probably wouldn’t need to go to some “Vampire Night” at the local goth club wearing a fricking cape.

So there has been a silly convergence of comic book and role playing game style fandom, combined with gothic club culture and vampire fiction.

Somehow this combining of elements has managed to make all of those things worse. Unlike chocolate and peanut butter, some stuff just doesn’t go well together, and gothic culture and vampire wannabes are one of those things.

The Internet has created and organized all sorts of subcultures, and in the case of “real vampires” this has drawn more people to “embrace” the goofiness.

Probably as an attempt to market to these types of vampire fans, a new generation of shitty vampire movies came into being. Films like the “Underworld” series, or the “Blade” films look like they’re tailor made for the fake fang and top hat crowd. Unfortunately, this “Clubification” of the vampire myth has made them less scary. Now they’re just sexually seductive anti-heroes, and might as well be a new kind of super hero. That’s fucking stupid to me.

Let’s review:

Vampires are supposed to be dead, and the real myths are fairly gruesome, not sexy. Most film and book depictions up until Anne Rice shat all over the myth preserved the central monstrosity of vampires even when they were shown to have powers of seduction.

Somewhere along the line, a specific kind of nerd fan base was born, and when vampire role playing games came along, many of those folks started integrating some sort of fake vampirism into their public life.

Movies inevitably came along, and suck followed. Not blood sucking either, just sucking in general. I guess it goes without saying that that I’m not a fan of these types of films, and would like to see the vampire preserved as a scary monster, not the greasy dude wearing ill-fitting vinyl pants in the corner of some dance club, trying to pick up chicks.

Oh yes, the role playing connection has also created an equally stupid “werewolf” subculture. It’s like the vampires except hairier. Also like the vampires, some of these folks expect you to believe their status as a magical being, despite them being unable to demonstrate any supernatural powers at all.

I’ll leave you with this image. Once, many years ago, my roommate and I were working at a comic book convention as part of our job. We accidentally walked through the wrong door into a huge banquet hall filled with mostly obese “werewolf” people in the middle of some sort of live action role playing game. They were all howling in unison, as if the Ramada Inn had been transformed into a Transylvanian Forest.

Roommate and I exchanged a glance and backed the fuck out of that place.

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Somewhere in there is a pimply guy wearing fangs, clutching a copy of “Interview With a Vampire”, and his boner.

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Basically a bible for blood sucking nerds.

Bottom Feeder TV – How Reality Shows Make Celebrities Out of Terrible People.

On some level a lot of us understand that reality television is both not real and mostly awful.

It’s a popular format for good reason. Viewers seem to have an insatiable appetite for the manufactured and random drama being fed to us, and we get to live vicariously through the real life cartoon characters that populate most reality television. In some cases, almost anyone gets the happy thrill of being “better than” the people they see in these shows. That’s an appealing idea to many folks.

It’s a popular format with the people that manufacture these mostly shitty shows because it’s a fairly inexpensive format to produce, and often results in a runaway hit show. Who knew that so many of us would enjoy watching wealthy “rednecks” or alligator hunters in Louisiana?

Who would’ve thought that we’d be so captivated by goofy, living stereotypes of New Jersey Guidos, or “American Gypsies”?

Yeah, so quite a few of us realize this stuff is trash – the television equivalent of making fun of the retarded kid at school, or the poor kids that live in the trailer park on the bad side of town. But unlike those scenarios, these garbage shows let us feel superior in private, and not many people will criticize you for making fun of Honey Boo Boo’s mother.

I work a skilled labor kind of job. Most of the people I work with are crude and a few are pretty abrasive. When I get off work the last thing I want to watch is a bunch of yelling lumberjacks or crab fishermen acting like total assholes to each other. It’s like putting in extra hours at my job.

So there are lots of horrible reality shows out there. Pick your poison, I guess. But the shows that get my goat the most celebrate bottom feeder jobs and the people that work them.

Like something out of a John Waters film, we have elevated pawn shop owners, tow truck drivers, people that go to abandoned storage auctions, and “Pickers” into celebrities. What. The. Fuck?

There’s nothing noble about running a pawn shop. Let’s strip away the bullshit, that is not a particularly nice way to make a living. I’ve seen people argue about how pawn shops fill a “necessary function,” but do we need to celebrate that shit? I’m a musician, and have had gear stolen on two occasions. On both, my stuff was almost immediately sold to scummy pawn shops, and no, the owners were not helpful when they discovered they’d bought stolen goods.

And let’s face it, they prey on desperate people. Yeah, I guess it’s marginally better that pawn shops exist so those folks don’t have to go to some criminal loan shark, but anyone that can make their living as a pawn broker is not someone I’d rank highly on the compassion scale.

Yet there are multiple pawn shop reality shows. I guess the “classiest” is Pawn Stars, since they try hard to act like that store’s bread and butter is museum piece rarities. From what I understand, the guys from the show don’t really work there, most of the walk-ins with interesting items are set ups, and there’s nothing much real about any of it. I’ve heard the pawn shop was the kind of place where junkies would hock gold fillings for 3 AM drug money prior to the show, and that’s not surprising.

I get that people like seeing rare items, and probably enjoy the fake haggling and deal making, but why the hell would anyone like the Harrisons or Chumlee? Can’t we find enough greedy slimeballs and stoners in real life to sate our appetite for people like that?

Then there are shows like “American Pickers”, proving that two guys from Iowa can hop in a van and take advantage of elderly hoarders. It seems to have a similar appeal to the pawn shows. The idea that hidden treasures are out there is one that a lot of people enjoy, and the Pickers are less assholish in general, even though they still manage to come off like exploitative weasels from time to time. They may or may not be nice enough people in real life, but their business model is finding people with cool stuff, and then talking people into selling said stuff for about a third of what the Pickers think they can flip it for.

That’s not necessarily exploitative in itself. People sell things to antique stores or shops that specialize in collectibles all the time. The people running those businesses have to buy stuff at a price that allows them to make a profit, but what’s troubling is that many of the people the American Pickers find who are extremely old. If you listen to the way they haggle, they get pretty cut throat too, or resort to manipulative tactics to convince those folks to sell to them.

I collect the kinds of weird stuff that those two dudes seem to like buying, and I would love the opportunity to tell them to get lost and pound sand if they ever showed up at my front door.

Finally, there are the “Storage Wars” shows. Let’s not fool ourselves. People rent storage lockers, and occasionally lose them because they’re too broke to pay the storage rent. Then the storage facility has a public auction. That’s when the parasites that are the main characters in “Storage Wars” come in.

So we have a show that begins with the premise that someone else’s life has gone to shit, and that they’ve had to abandon what might be their only material possessions. Of course, that reality isn’t brought into this reality show, as that’s just a bummer to consider. I’ve seen an interview where the shows producers say just that. Exploring the locker’s history and backstory wouldn’t set the mood they want to sell.

Reality huh?

This show does manage to make most of it’s primary characters look like the scummy bastards they probably really are, and I guess that’s something. Whenever I’ve caught an episode, I see these slimeballs sifting through the locker contents, probably skipping over irreplaceable family photos in the scramble to find something that they can sell at the local flea market, and I think “these people are total garbage. They should be killed and the Earth cleansed of their presence.”

And I’m probably right about that.

corey-harrison

Buuuuurrrrrppppp!!!

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Hi, we’re all reprehensible parasites.

Good going, America. We’ve embraced a format of television show that really is a race to the bottom of the worst that human nature has to offer. We can now vicariously experience loathsome individuals of all sorts fighting each other or trying to take advantage of other people for financial gain. We should be very proud of ourselves.

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The Skinny Weasel.

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The Chubby Weasel

It’s Time To Do Away With Tipping at Restaurants.

I’m always a little amazed and disgusted when I discover that someone I know is a lousy tipper, or expects some ridiculous level of service in order to extract a meager single dollar bill from their miserly pocketbook.

It’s not usually a case of that person simply being a cold and cheap individual, although it’s obvious that some of those people exist, and like to eat out. It seems to me that a lot of otherwise nice and generous folks just have strange attitudes in regard to the people that serve them their food.

I’ve worked in and around various food oriented jobs for decades. Although I’ve never been a server, I’ve known a bunch of them, and observed the shitty treatment they often get, along with other people in food service jobs. There’s a stupid perception by some that servers must have ended up in those jobs because they “didn’t stay in school” or had low ambition (which is a ridiculous thing to think). I’d love to see the people I know with a Bachelors degree and an office job try to work a busy lunch or dinner service, remembering often picky patron’s orders, managing several tables, and also appearing friendly while doing it. It’s a grace under pressure job, and requires a lot of quick thinking and a heavy skill set. Most people simply can’t do it.

Unfortunately, here in the USA, someone decided that servers should be paid a very nominal hourly wage, and have to depend on tips to really make their money. Who the fuck came up with this system, and how would people in other vocations like to depend on the optional generosity of strangers, sometimes total dickheads, to make ends meet?

I can’t even fathom a situation where say, the local auto mechanic only made $5.00 an hour, and had to rely on tips to get by. Or a company’s I.T. Department? Yep, reroute the servers, and if we like what you do, we’ll tip you. I’m sure that would go over well.

But some people will gladly mistreat their waiters, and tip them less than they should, or will forego the tip entirely if given the chance.

There seem to be different types of lousy tippers too.

You get the “True Assholes”, which are just that. They’re bullying pricks or cheapskates that will abuse someone they temporarily have power over just because they’re miserable pricks. I’d prefer to just see these types of individuals humiliated or murdered when they’re discovered, but that’s not a popular position. These fucks sometimes seem to just have an antagonistic attitude towards servers in general. They might consider them “losers” or less than human. They should look in the mirror.

Then you get the “Super Picky Performance Analysts.” These are probably the most common under-tippers I’ve seen. They’ll “tip” a server, but only if their ridiculous high standards are met. And I’m sorry, but there is a difference in the dining experience depending on the type of restaurant you’re eating at. It’s unrealistic and harsh to expect the server at a Denny’s to lavish the type of attention some diva might require to match his or her expectations of perfection.

As long as the service is competent and friendly, what more does a person want for a $10 meal? If you’re the type of person that routinely goes radically “off menu” and is so picky that your requests veer towards Stupidville, then just do everyone a favor and eat at home.

As much as I hate to bring up this inconvenient observation, there are also certain minority groups that are famously bad tippers. I have to think that this is based in some real phenomena, as almost every waiter or waitress I’ve known has remarked on it, but for some reason it’s not culturally taught that decent tipping is the right thing to do.

Oddly, that seems to be limited to restaurants, as I’ve seen that tipping is happily provided at other venues, for other services.

I guess I’ll also have to throw in the observation that old people are often crappy tippers, even the ones that are comfortably well off. I’m not sure why that is, perhaps it’s just some cultural artifact from the days when $1.00 was a generous tip for a big meal, maybe the elderly just like to hold onto that cash for bingo night, but it is a thing.

I’ve heard some people argue that a restaurant is just too expensive, and use miserly tipping as some way to punish the place. The logical disconnect is astounding, as all they’re doing is punishing the person serving them. The restaurant doesn’t care. To put it simply, if you don’t have enough money to tip at least 15% you don’t have enough money to eat out at that place.

Waiter friends of mine have also mentioned that church groups eating out after services on Sunday often suck at tipping. A few have even received ridiculous religious tracts instead of a real tip. Trust me, your server working on a Sunday lunch service can use the cash more than Joel “I’m a Money Demon” Osteen. Congrats cheapskate religious people, you’ve made Baby Jesus cry. See you in the Lake of Fire.

Honestly, I think there is a sad cultural perception by too many people that the folks in service industries, particularly those that prepare and serve them food, are somehow “less” than them, which is as ridiculous as it is asinine. If you seriously or casually think like that, I’d like to see your face introduced to concrete. Might be a humbling experience. If anything, the people serving others should be looked up to and respected, not treated like abused servants.

My ideal scenario would be for America to change towards a more European model in regards to how we pay servers. Do away with tipping entirely. There’s no reason that a person serving food should have to give a patron a complimentary blowjob just to “earn” a meager wage from super picky pricks that like their power trip.

In France tipping isn’t expected, and the service remains just fine. How is this possible? Just the same way it is in every other business. When a waiter provides consistently bad service, the manager is alerted, and that person doesn’t keep their job for long. If anything, this system weeds out the truly incompetent or unpleasant servers, and provides the patron with a better dining experience.

Restaurants are marginally more expensive there because they pay their servers instead of forcing them to rely on tips, but they’re not THAT much more expensive. Maybe a cheapskate that’s grown accustomed to eating out ten times a week would have to cut down their eating out a little, but that’s a fair thing to do if it eliminates the power they have over another person’s wages.

I’m sure some people reading this won’t like what I have to say. That’s fine, but look in the mirror. Maybe you’re one of the cheapskates that should reconsider how they treat their servers.

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This is not a tip any server would want. Off to the Lake of Fire with ye!

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This is an adequate tip. if it’s 1923.

Animal Lovers… Some Animals They Love, Some They Eat.

I work as the manager of a grocery store meat department. This was not some life passion I pursued. I fell into it out of a mix of desperation and luck, and it pays my bills.

My vocation also gives me ample opportunities to consider the weird attitudes that people have about the foods they choose to eat, but that weirdness is particularly remarkable when it comes to their choice to eat meat. I regularly encounter folks that want to eat the “best” meat they can. They throw around words like “grass-fed” and “organic”, but most of them don’t really know what that stuff means. They just know it’s supposed to be “better” in some vague fashion.

Occasionally some customer will ask me how fresh a cut is, and I tell them the “Kill Date,” since that would be the most accurate gauge of freshness. They’ll act repulsed or even sad, because they are so far removed from what meat actually is that they don’t want to think of it having been a living creature at one point. That’s my guess anyway. It’s easier for them to look at the pink and red carefully trimmed cuts, which don’t necessarily look like they were from a creature that was living and breathing a week previously. I don’t mention the kill date to be an asshole, but so they know what meat is. People shouldn’t forget the reality of what they eat.

Meat may be delicious, but people that eat it are eating the flesh of a corpse, so the idea of “quality” and “freshness” do give me a little dark laugh.

Weird thing about meat is how polarizing the question of eating it is. I would guess that a majority of Americans are omniivores, and it’s amazing to me that so many of them will ridicule or harass vegetarians, as if that’s an insane lifestyle choice. I know people that would criticize a person for showing intolerance of any kind, but who still take weird jabs at vegetarians, for choosing to not eat meat.

Or they’ll act as if the concept of not eating dead animals is completely crazy and abhorrent to their sensibilities. Some of them will throw examples of the worst, most offensive vegans they can find as “proof” that people are crazy unless they eat meat. This is about the same ill-conceived argument as the people that act as if the majority of feminists are ugly man-hating lesbians. Both are bad examples attempting to sway opinions by vilifying the opposing point of view.

I think I understand both camps for the most part. Nobody enjoys being told that the lifestyle choices they’ve made are wrong. I don’t blame them. Especially when it comes to something as personal as what they choose to eat.

My own feeling is not that eating meat is necessarily evil, but the way most Americans get that meat sure is. The factory farm system that allows people in this country to eat meat with every meal is seriously fucked up. It’s cruel, and not healthy for the animals that it produces, or the people that eat them.

But here’s the thing.

People in the USA are almost entirely insulated from the reality behind the goods they’re eating. That applies to almost all food, but is especially troubling when it comes to the meat industry. Almost no one raises livestock to kill and eat anymore. To the average urban dweller, meat is just something they pop out of a package to cook and eat. Most of them wouldn’t eat meat if they had to actually kill some creature to get it. I base that conclusion on the hypocritical repulsion so many voracious carnivores that fancy themselves somehow “enlightened” become whenever the concept of topic comes up. And let’s face it, even if they are OK with hunting on some basic level, very few of them are prepared to leave the cocoon of their comfortable homes with giant televisions and the Internet, to tromp on down to some wooded area and hope they get a good shot at some sort of edible creature. It’s just not likely to ever happen. Too much work.

What’s not much work is buying a bunch of hamburger from the grocery store, and never asking how that blob of ground creature got to them.

I am a hypocrite myself. I’m an animal lover, I have five dogs. Love them all. I DO think about the reality of what meat really is on a daily basis, since my job makes that impossible to avoid. And yet I still eat meat. It’s an addiction of sorts, and I don’t use that term as an excuse. But in this culture, most of us are raised eating meat. People that don’t are treated like freaks, and it seems like that’s the standard.

I realize that not everyone is going to become a vegetarian, but is it really such a crazy thing to consider? I love my dogs. All dogs really. Cats, too. I feel like they’re easily as sentient as I am, they seem to show forms of emotion, especially affection, and have distinct personalities. They would be on the menu in some parts of the world.

How can I reconcile that love for my pets with the weirdly taught desire to eat other animals? How can I work at the vocation I do? It’s hard to be forced to consider these kinds of questions daily, but I do. I think most people simply avoid considering them, or they have tried and true rationalizations for why they show affection to some animals, and will allow others to be raised in an immoral and abusive factory farm system, so they can enjoy eating them.

And for the record, I’m not against people that choose to eat meat. But if they’re going to make that choice, then they should at least try to do it in a way that’s not contributing to widespread systemic abusive practices.

Yeah, bacon tastes great. Human baby probably does too. We draw the line there though. Shouldn’t more of us draw the line at eating the meat produced from a system that makes animals suffer from birth until they are slaughtered for our consumption?

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Quick! Throw them in the pot! They’ll be delicious!

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The bacon is most flavorful when it comes from the most innocent animals.

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“Dinner” in some parts of the world.

Gns! Guns! Guns! America!

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A typical gun owner enjoying his collection.

Mass shootings and gun rights have been in the news and the court of public opinion for quite a while now, but it seems like the arguments surrounding these events have really heated up recently.

People I normally like (on both sides of the issue) turn into raving assholes whenever the question of America and guns comes up. I tend to play Devil’s advocate a lot, and to also try to look at any issue from as many angles as possible, so I tend to draw a lot of fire (clever gun funny there) from people on both sides.

Many of my passionately anti-gun friends seem to think that the only solution to violence in America is a total ban on all firearms. Meanwhile, people I know that like guns for one reason or another seem to loathe any suggestion that maybe there are some problems with gun culture that should be dealt with.

Like most controversial issues, the people on the farthest extremes are not likely to change their minds no matter how persuasive the argument, or how compelling the evidence given. They’re extremists, whether they want to cop to it or not. The dude living in a concrete bunker with 200 guns and 10,000 rounds of ammo is not going to change his mind about his need for all of those guns. He’s already invested too much of his life to a rather extreme lifestyle.

The anti-gun person, who thinks the good ‘ol U.S. Of A can and should adopt a total gun ban as soon as possible, regardless of the millions of guns already out there, is not going to be swayed by evidence that gun violence as a whole is actually declining in this country. They also have invested too much emotion into their position.

It’s a sad bit of human nature, but we tend to distrust anyone and anything that is different than ourselves and our own experience.

Me? I have mixed feelings on guns and their place in this country. Guns are as much a part of the culture of the USA as muscle cars and baseball. The history of the gun is inextricable from the history of this country.

I grew up around guns, but no one in my family was the stereotypical “gun nut.” I lived on a farm for a few years, and a rifle under my mom’s bed was just another tool, and one us kids never touched. We didn’t hunt, so that wasn’t part of my background, although I had friends that did. Weirdly enough, I don’t remember guns being as divisive an issue as they seem to be now.

Mass shootings certainly aren’t new. You can still see a few bullet holes from Charles Whitman’s psychopathic 1966 U.T. Tower rampage on the buildings along Guadalupe Street here in Austin, if you know where to look. And mass shootings in America weren’t new even then. School shootings weren’t either.

So why does it seem like these mass shootings are occurring more and more often?

The Washington Post and other researching entities have found that there’s been no major increase in the frequency of mass shootings since 1980 or so. So what’s happening?

This is just my opinion, but I think there are several factors at play here.  The population keeps increasing, we have almost instant media coverage, and with the Internet people on all sides of the issue can howl endlessly at one another. It gives the appearance that these events take place more and more often, when in fact they are probably just more widely reported and given more media attention than was possible in earlier generations.

That doesn’t mean that mass shootings shouldn’t be an issue that we as a country try to address, but it does help to have some perspective.

The thing is, the right to bear arms is enshrined in our Constitution, and it’s not going anywhere soon. The Supreme Court has pretty consistently supported the interpretation of that Second Amendment as meaning that a person has the right to own guns and defend themselves with them.

The hardcore gun people are not going to give up that right simply because a lot of people don’t like the fact that they can own them. They’re not likely to give up that right simply because others think it would make society a safer environment for all. Many of the gun rights people equate being allowed to keep guns as FREEDOM (in all caps), and any infringement on those rights is seen as a draconian overstep of the government’s power. Quite a few of them extend this opinion to the point of thinking that they could somehow keep the government at bay in case it veered towards totalitarianism.

This is of course absurd, as a handful of clowns armed with AR15’s could be almost instantly vaporized by the might of the U.S. Military.

It seems to me that there are plenty of people with stupid ideas and faulty logic on both sides of the issue, and more concentrated towards both extremes.

But guns aren’t going anywhere in this country. They’re just not. Unless they can be magically “poofed” away in a cloud of “never existed”, there are so many guns in circulation already that it would probably be hundreds of years before they were all discovered and rendered inoperable. Also, guns are old technology. Most people with simple tools could probably build one if they wanted to.

There’s also vastly different attitudes towards guns depending on location. People living in rural environments tend to have a different view of guns compared to folks living in densely populated  cities.

People tend to simplifying views and vilify people that live differently than themselves. The old stereotypes of evil southern rednecks and out of touch liberal pussies isn’t accurate, but it sure gives both sides of this debate people to hate on. Viewing people as cartoon characters accomplishes nothing.

So what CAN change?

I honestly don’t know. Attempts at making the laws stricter seem to consistently fail, so I don’t see that working. I think the root of the problem isn’t so much the guns themselves, but problems and attitudes within our culture.

I think it’s odd that so many people equate freedom with their right to own guns. Not because I don’t think they shouldn’t have that right, but because freedom conditional on having a gun doesn’t seem that free to me. My own brother was an avid gun collector, and seemed to harbor a mild case of that sort of “Come and take it” mentality. He died at home alone of natural causes. All those guns did nothing to help save his life or freedom.

Why are so many people so paranoid?

Sure, there are times when a person’s paranoia is justified, but if I had to own an arsenal just to feel safe or secure, I sure wouldn’t feel too good about that.

For the record, I DO own a few guns, including the scary “assault rifles” that the anti-gun folks focus so much attention on (“assault rifles” are used in a tiny percentage of crimes, compared to handguns, but seem to get the most attention), but I don’t go through my daily life in fear of…I don’t know…criminals?

I just think that living like that wouldn’t be much of a life.

But we’re also bombarded with violent movies and video games these days. I happen to like those things. I wish someone would invent a modern video game where the player is a clown driving around in a van murdering people, but that hasn’t come out yet.

I can separate myself from the fantasy violence, and I don’t look at that stuff as a reflection of reality. You’ll never see me arguing for censorship of any kind. Ever. But it probably wouldn’t be a bad thing for society if more people could step away, and realize that Grand Theft Auto isn’t a realistic depiction of inner city life. At least violent media probably shouldn’t be routinely enjoyed by little kids.

I just don’t feel like it’s all that likely that I’ll be attacked by some random criminal at this point in my life. If I was, I’m pretty sure it would happen so fast I wouldn’t be able to react anyway.

That wouldn’t stop me from carrying a gun if I thought it necessary, I just think the fantasy of repelling an attack is a lot more unrealistic than a lot of people think.

Another part of the problem is that guns are cool in this culture. I don’t know how many young guys I’ve known that immediately went out to buy a hand gun as soon as they were old enough. Not because they “needed” one, but they wanted one because of the cool factor.

And that’s pretty dumb when you think about it.

So perhaps, if the perception that guns aren’t all that cool was to grow, we’d see a lot less in the hands of people that probably shouldn’t have them. I don’t know.

What I do know is that this issue isn’t going away. Both extremes should probably relax a little, and at least try to understand each other a bit more. In the cases of people that have been personally affected by gun violence, or who have used a gun to thwart an attack, neither side will ever give an inch. But there are a lot of people that might be open to some sort of compromise if they could just listen to each other without all the screaming.

I think the country would be a better place if fewer people chose to own guns, and we treated criminals that used them more harshly.  That’s my opinion, not something I wish to impose on everyone.

Now someone go make that Killer Clown in a Van game for me please…. 20140528-135435-50075987.jpg

Joel Osteen. The Prosperity Doctrine, & Rock and Roll

I grew up going to big rock shows at an arena in Houston called The Summit. In fact, the very first big rock show I ever went to was held there – Billy Squier on the “Emotions in Motion” tour with Fastway opening. My mom took me and my brother. I was 11 or 12.

For years after, any big rock or metal shows in Houston were held there. I saw everyone from AC/DC to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest to Motörhead at that huge venue. It was big, loud, and not particularly comfortable, but it was the scene of a lot of great shows over the years.

It’s still the scene of a big show of sorts. It’s currently the headquarters of Joel Osteen Ministries and his enormous Lakewood Church. I suppose that certain Christians would find this turn of events to be some sort of victory for their religion – God’s Army occupying a former stronghold of Satan’s music of choice. Judging from a quick perusal on the Internet, lots of Christians still think that Satan is in control, as Joel Osteen is not universally popular among the ranks of the faithful.

Despite that, he IS incredibly popular with millions of other Christians, so why is this guy so polarizing?

Well, he’s one of the more successful proponents of the “Prosperity Gospel” or “Word of Faith” movement, a relatively recent religious theory that claims that God wants his flock to become wealthy and successful. In fact, faith can be measured by the devout’s worldly successes if one buys into this line of superstition.

Despite never having stumbled across anything in the Bible that backs this weirdly magical connection between wealth and faith, it’s a very popular idea. That popularity makes sense if you look at basic human nature, as most of us do want to become successful and financially secure, and most people seem to have a basic need to feel like they’re good people. For those with an inclination towards religion, it must be comforting to think that God wants us to be successful and comfortable, and in fact will reward those that are devout enough.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing that really backs that idea anywhere in scripture that I can think of, and Jesus in particular seemed to have a dim view of those that coveted money too much. It seems that the canonical references to wealth are used as cautionary tales, not an enticement to greater depths of faith.

But charismatic modern preachers have carved out very successful careers for themselves, promising their followers that God wants them all to be prosperous. Not just spiritually, but also financially.

Some of these mega-preachers are outwardly so slimy that it’s difficult to understand how much of anyone could be taken in by their obvious quest for personal riches. One of the techniques they claim garners the Lord’s favor is (of course) by their followers filling their churches coffers through donations. Pretty much all churches ask for donations, but hucksters like Oral (The Lord will call me home if you don’t donate enough $$$) Roberts, or Robert (speaking in tongues) Tilton took this greedy form of faith up several notches by telling their followers that God expected them to plant “seeds” of faith in the form of money sent to their ministries. These financial “seeds” would then in turn bloom, rewarding the faithful with worldly and other worldly successes.

As a general rule, it’s probably prudent to not trust multimillionaire ministers. But people continue to do so, despite the almost inevitable scandals that reveal their character.

The Prosperity Gospel has a decidedly dark side, and not just because it breaks from what the Bible actually says. It’s extremely popular with lower income folks and minorities, people that probably can’t afford to endlessly plant financial “seeds” to prove their faith to God. If their seeds don’t result in greater success (and they won’t) then those people just end up further down the hole, perhaps spending money on the outward signs of success (Since God’s favor is tied so closely to worldly successes), when they could be spending that money more wisely.

For religiously-inclined people that are financially secure, the message must be a popular and comforting one. God favors them, and has shown his approval of their lives by rewarding them with financial success. Who cares if some of them might be awful people? God doesn’t think so. It might be less convenient for them to remember that Satan is supposed to be “lord of this World”, and the dude more fitting to ask for money.

Joel Osteen seems like a nice guy. Why would I pick on him? He’s not so obviously insincere and sleazy as people like Benny Hinn or other wealthy televised purveyors of faith. Heck, Osteen might actually believe the crap he’s spewing. It’s not based in anything I get from the Bible, and sounds more like something out of a self help book, but why should I feel so strongly about him?

Well, he’s from Houston, and he’s set up shop in a place I used to enjoy going to. I guess that’s part of it. Maybe I just work for the Devil, and live to knock down incredibly rich televangelists. Or maybe I just don’t like smarmy rich fucks that take advantage of people looking for a positive message. I don’t know.

I like to think that maybe I just don’t buy into hogwash and bullshit that easily, and don’t like to see others taken in by it either.

From a purely selfish angle, I just don’t like the idea of millions of people walking around perhaps thinking that they can act like creeps as long as they follow the Prosperity Gospel “rules” and are rewarded by God.

In any case, I say it again. If you’re looking for someone to follow, perhaps a multimillionaire religious figure is not the person you should be considering. Something about a camel and the eye of a needle.

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Joel ” I’m a soulless money Demon” Osteen

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I was at this show.

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KISS played The Summit on the Love. Gun tour

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The Who played the too.