Monday, April 16, 2007

Adios, Las Manitas!

photo from

The scenery in these parts--the DFW "Metroplex", as it were--was getting pretty bland, so what better way to spend three days than to pile myself, my wife and our two kids into the SUV and hit the road to. . . Austin. It'd been a few years since I'd visited the so-called Center of the Music Universe, and I'd have to say that things are getting worse. More of what used to make Austin such a great place to visit is getting torn down, and in its place more of the same old shit that makes any other place in the United States "Generica." The bloom is off the Yellow Rose. Austin is like any medium-to-almost large American city anymore. There's traffic jams and a high-tech corridor, and construction, construction, construction. Is it possible to build too many convention centers/high-rise hotels? I wonder.

Each visit to Texas' Music city finds a shining new Marriott or Hilton standing in the place of what was a great (but probably low-rent) restaurant or music venue. And if it isn't the convention and tourism industry (yes, I realize the irony of me, an out of towner, complaining about it), it's the whores of government. I suppose I'm aware of the influence of lobbyists, but I never realized there's so much money in this scam that they can construct their own glass and chrome office buildings in edification of themselves. What the hell do I care, though, anyway? I'm going down there as SUV-Daddy, hauling two boys (ages 6 and 2.5) around, not to see the music but to create some great family memories. So, there will be no Stubbs, no Jovitas, no Continental Club this trip. But. . . there will be Las Manitas!

M and I first started eating here on each Austin visit before E (the six year old) was even born. I can't say we made a conscious decision to go there based on anything we knew about the area--just that it was handy and looked to be fairly authentic Mexican food. And it was, for unless you've had a plate of migas or chilaquiles rojos on a Sunday morning after staying out too late the night before, I don't think you've experienced Austin. This time around, Las Manitas was jammed--crawling with the usual tatooed and braided musicians, but this time with a huge gaggle of credential-wearing music critics and self-labeled "music industry executives" in town for the massive SouthbySouthwest spoogefest (guess I should've looked at the calendar!). So, there was a wait, but not excessive, as we took refuge next door in Tesoro, a gift and curio shop that features Mexican and Central American folk art. Need a "Day of the Dead" t-shirt? Old Mexican movie posters? How about a Luche Libre mask? Here's the place. Eventually, we were seated in Las Manitas' back patio, negotiating our way through the front of the restaurant, running the gauntlet between tables and booths, threading our way through the crazy-busy steamy kitchen and into the picnic-table lined patio in the rear. We didn't realize it at the time, but this is likely our last such repast at Las Manitas--seems that the place is threatened by still more development (as if the area needs it) in the form of a mega Marriott hotel. Go ahead and sign the petition to stop it, but I doubt it'll do much good.

Ah well, as railroad photographer Mike Schafer would say, "Everything Turns To Shit" (or, ETTS). Hopefully, Austin will still have Zilker Park, the Congress avenue bats, Roller Derby!, and Hippy Hollow (thought I'm much too shy to go near the place!) for a long time to come.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

An appropriate place to begin. . . .

Channel 5 Meterologist David Finfrock points out the location of the Haltom City tornado, near the "hook echo" of the April 13 Supercell. Our location is at the black "X" above his head.

This blog site had been created for several weeks, but never posted to. I don't know what was keeping me from doing so--having something worth reading to post, probably. Where do you kick off a blog? The name--Under The Weather--is the name of a website I once hosted back in my storm chasing days (i.e. pre-marriage and daddyhood); it kinda died out about the time M and I got married and our first son E was on his way. It got tougher and tougher to find the time to go out storm-chasing, a hobby I pursued quite avidly after moving to Texas from Washington state in 1995. But with a new wife and a baby, it just didn't seem right to take off for a day or three and drive all over hell looking for bad weather. And my heart just wasn't into it on those "bust" days of driving 12 hours and 700 miles to see nothing develop.

Last Friday, appropriately the 13th, was the sort of day that in my "previous life" I would have been out the door and many miles west of Fort Worth for. The Storm Prediction Center had issued a "Particularly Dangerous Situation" tornado watch for our area, and things were shaping up for a pretty nasty afternoon of storms. Older, not necessarily wiser, but with more responsibilites than back in my chasing days, I kept close to home, picked E up from his nearby school, and monitored the approaching line of thunderstorms over the internet and local television stations. By 1745, a fierce line of storms were just west of us. Campers at Texas Motor Speedway, around 15 miles to our north, were already being warned for a severe thunderstorm. Expecting this to be primarily a wind and hail event, I thought I'd take a quick shower before settling down to watch the spectacle unfold outside our door.

Before I was dry and dressed from the shower, M was preparing our hall bathroom as a makeshift storm shelter, and the neighborhood tornado sirens were going off. The line of storms, had suddenly developed mesocyclones, and even more ominous, "tornado vortex signatures," low-level shear detected by the doppler radar software and precursors of potential tornadoes. A view out the back door presented a rainfree base of clouds, a nasty ball of grey cotton candy. . .I knew we were close to whatever was going to happen--it wasn't raining even a drop here, but I felt big hail was imminent, being just north of the storm's main updraft. Moments later, it began falling--pea size, then marble size, and progressively bigger hail, up to golfball and a little larger. M and the kids were in the closet; the sirens were wailing; I was shooting stills, and video and checking the television for the latest radar images. Hell, if I heard the roof start ripping off, I shoud have a few seconds to get my ass into the hallway bathroom.

Just south of us, I could see David Finfrock point out on Channel 5, a pronounced hook echo was forming and moving east. Soon reports were verified of a tornado near Haltom City. Within 20 minutes after the storm arrived, it had moved east. The kids went outside to play in the hail and look at a rainbow forming as sunlight from the east filtered through; I walked down to our neighbors house, where he was taping over a shattered window on his car.

We were lucky this time. Very little rain. Marginally big hail, not much wind. And no tornado. We watched the storm move east on television, the weather men announcing its arrival downline as if it were a commuter train. It was an entertaining afternoon, unless you were among the unfortunate to be in the path of its destruction.

Three tornadoes, the National Weather Service survey discovered, dropped out of this storm. The Haltom City tornado was rated an EF1, with 100-110 mile per hour winds. Semi-trailiers were tossed around, big trees broken, roofs ripped off buildings. One man died when a stack of lumber was blown onto him. But the warning system was in place, and the weather service, the spotters and the media did their jobs flawlessly. You'd have to have been in a hole in the ground not to have known that severe weather was forecasted.

Living in North Texas, you're always "under the weather."

The ominous updraft just south of our house. From our home video, where you can hear the tornado sirens wailing. The hail was just about to start. . .

M and I and E hunkered down in our interior bathroom. E was pretty worried.

Golfball sized hail, spiky and everything.

Our neighbor's broken out car window.

The hail here was as heavy as I'd seen it since moving to Texas in 1995.

E holds some golfball sized hail.