Thank you, Austin, for Enabling My Curry Addiction

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Saul Elbein, and I’m addicted to curry. It’s taken me a long time to get to a point where I could admit that, but it’s true.

It wasn’t so bad at first. I’d go to someplace like Madam Mam’s and sometimes I’d order a Yellow Curry. Not always, mind. Sometimes I’d order Pad Thai, or Pad Kee Mao, or any kind of other noodle dish. And they were good. They were always good. But looking back, I have to admit, every time I did, I felt a little pang in my heart. Because it wasn’t curry.

But I was doing okay. I really was. It was too expensive for me to go that often. So most of the time I ate normal, healthy things, like pizza or hamburgers. Things that could be found in the line at Kinsolving or Jester dining hall.

And then my friend Mauro turned me on to Thai Noodles House, Etc. Tucked away behind the 7-11 at 26th and the Drag, with an incomprehensible menu, cheap plastic tables, and a staff that spoke neither English nor the language of basic human kindness, it was capital-A Authentic. Best of all, probably since they cut so many corners on their health policy, it was capital-C Cheap.

Or to put this in the drug terms you can all understand, Thai Noodle was crack to Madam Mam’s cocaine.

So I started going there a lot. I’d order a Massaman curry, no rice, slurp it down while the waitress was still standing there, glaring. Then sometimes I’d order another.

I stopped seeing friends and family. Girls would complain that I always smelled like ginger and coconut milk. Those were the bad days. When I saw friends, it would only be at Thai Noodle. If they wanted pizza or a sandwich, I’d say goodbye and traipse off behind the 7-11, alone with my shame.

Looking back, now, I realize that the low point was when I pawned my roommate’s TV for curry money. I bought an industrial size bin—Red curry cut with Panang. I know you’re not supposed to mix, but I was beyond caring. I ate it all in one epic twelve hour binge, my eyes tearing up from hot sauce and ecstasy.

Those were the bad days. Then I moved away, to the far end of West Campus, at 22nd and David Street, far from the Thai Row of 26th and the Drag.

Then Crave opened at 21st. At first, I tried to avoid it. I’d walk blocks out of my way so I wouldn’t have to walk past it, wouldn’t have to smell the succulent, sweet-sour aromas wafting over the Drag.

Until one day I was late for class. I passed by and—well, I want to say that the smell crawled into my room and forced me to skip class, to walk into Crave and put down all the money I had on Yellow Curry, extra spicy. But I’ve learned, by now, that that’s just me refusing to take responsibility for my own actions.

So I stand before you, today, to beg you. Close the Thai restaurants. Why must West Campus have three within four blocks of each other? This is a clear and present danger to the students of Austin. Maybe if we can take a stand now, they’ll go back to safer things, like alcohol, or chocolate, or LSD.

Also, to be on the safe side, we should probably close Pho too.

Thanks for your consideration.

Very Truly Yours,

Saul Elbein

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High-Rises Suck

Here’s an idea, okay? Let’s say you’re a developer, right, and you want to make a lot of money by building in West Campus. You know college students and their parents, so used to substandard, below-code housing, will gladly pay a-lotsa, lotsa money for a nice, pretty high-rise. You know, someplace with a gate, and a nice paint job, and whatnot. Some place tall and high-density, so we can pack in lots of students, maybe make room for a pool on the roof.

Luckily for you, the city of Austin has rezoned West Campus to allow you to throw up (if you will) all kinds of new high-rises. Now you can charge $1700 for a two bedroom, poorly made apartment. And lo and behold, people pay it. Frat boys and sorority girls, flush with their parents money–of course, you expected that. But also other people. People who want to live somewhere nice. Or that looks nice, at least, when you show it to them.

And so the arms race starts. I see you making money, and I want in. So I by some land and throw up my own. Someplace like The Block (25th Street, 28th Street, et al) or The Texan (Salado, 25th and Pearl), or Stirling, or Quarters, or Jefferson 26. And so within two years, West Campus is filled with high-rises. Gleaming and sterile, they stretch to the sky from the Drag to Lamar, popping against the sky in bolts of creamy paint.

Except you’ve made a mistake. It’s no one’s fault, really, just a law of economics. It’s called a collective action problem, or the tragedy of the commons. None of us big-money developers wants housing prices in West Campus to crash. But we all have every incentive to throw up as many high-rises as possible. More money, right? So it should come as no surprise to find that we’ve over-saturated the market. And that $1700 you used to be getting from that two-bedroom? Well, now it’s more like $1400. Or less.

Now, we might say, okay, so we’re back where we started. The neighborhood is full of cheap housing. So far, so good.

Except that it’s not. Because what used to be an actual, um, what’s the word, ‘neighborhood,’ with actual houses and whatnot, is now a sea of identical beige monstrosities. They’re ugly, they’re poorly made, they have no character.

So thank you, developers. You’ve made my neighborhood suck just a little bit more.

Bastards.

To the guy who broke into my apartment:

Thank you.

No, seriously, thank you.

I’m writing this on my girlfriend’s laptop because you currently have mine. Also, both of my roommates’. You walked into an (unlocked) house bursting with expensive goods-video games, game equipment, musical instruments-and walked out with the least valuable of them. Seriously, those computers? Probably worth $200 a piece. Maybe. There was video game equipment in one of the bedrooms worth more than all of them combined.

But, GWBIMA, I assume you knew that, because you took all of our computers out of our respective rooms. Why you missed out on larger chances for fun and profit is, I must confess, beyond me. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I would have burgled my place differently. But I guess if I had stolen my laptop, I’d still have it.

Now, GWBIMA, I assume as you’re reading this, toggling periodically between this page and the eBay auction on which you are, even now, fencing my HP DV2000, you’re wondering what in the name of God any of this has to do with Austin. “Does Saul,” you perhaps wonder, “think that I am sufficiently representative of this town to symbolize something he loves/hates about it?”

Well, GWBIMA, to answer your question, yes and no. Yes, I love Austin for being the kind of place where my roommates and I were able to leave our door unlocked for almost a semester without incident, where we were able to feel like our neighborhood was totally welcoming and safe. It was something that always struck me about this place, that though there are 800,000 here it always feels like a small town. Every time I walked away from my place and didn’t lock the door, I was reminded of that. I kind of liked it.

But, GWBIMA, I guess what I’m trying to say is, that wasn’t reality, was it? No matter where you go, there will be people who are going to do shitty things, and you have to protect yourself. My romantic view of Austin was a fantasy, a dream. And thanks to you, I guess I realize that.

So thanks. Enjoy my laptop.

Shmuck.

MGM Foods

So don’t get too excited, because this isn’t going to happen a lot, but here’s something I just found that’s really cool.

One of the things that has always bugged me about Austin is that – being, in essence, a really big small town – it doesn’t have a big enough population to support the large East/South Asian or Middle Eastern neighborhoods you find in, say, Houston, with their accompanying awesome, cheap ‘ethnic’ groceries.

So the other day, I was looking forlornly at this awesome recipe for Paneer Masala, an Indian dish of which I am somewhat fond, wondering where I was going to find paneer, the Indian farmer’s cheese with which the recipe is made, or any number of the semi-exotic spices which it called for. Things like coriander, garam masala, etc.

Anyway, I won’t bore you with the details of my epic Google search, but it eventually led me and my friend Tamilla to MGM Indian Foods up on Burnet a little past FM 2222. As soon as I saw their website – so ridden with typos as to be borderline incomprehensible – I knew it would be a quality find. 

And it was. The shelves were packed with everything you could possibly need to make Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi food, from dried chickpeas to frozen naan dough to more spices than you could shake a stick at, were you inclined to go around shaking a stick at spices. Around the edges of the store, stacks of Bollywood videos (in the original Hindi!) reached to the ceiling.

The owners, a sweet older couple from Northern India, were both there, and having nothing better to do, they trailed me around the store helping me find what I needed. The spices were ridiculously, riotously, obscenely cheap. For $2.50 to $3.00 each , I got half pound bags of cumin, coriander, garam masala, and “chilly powder,” which I assume was ‘chili powder,’ although, on closer inspection of the bag, seems to be a magic powder to spray on things to make them cool down.

Oh, and while I didn’t get any, they also have tons of prepared foods, curry mixes, etc. Also very cheap. So let laziness about cooking be no excuse.

So basically: cheap prices, cool ‘authentic’ feel, helpful staff, great selection. Well worth the trip.

#32 Dating Scene, or Self-Described Experts

I talked to the self-described ‘Dating Expert’ Natasha Tchirynko about why Austin is a paradoxically bad place to find a date.

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#3 Allergies

Seriously, what the hell? Who said anything about fall allergy season?

I did not sign up for this. Add this to the region’s other plagues (hipsters, vampire bats, Comanche raids, et al) and I have no idea why anyone settled in this place.

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Overheard at Spiderhouse Coffee

Random lines overheard at Spiderhouse, within about two minutes of each other.

No, it didn’t make any more sense in context. I’ve begun to wonder if one can become a hipster by osmosis. I’m afraid it may be possible.

  • “Mmm, gentle Austin liberals walking through their fields with flowers.”
  • “You won’t say that when the black helicopters show up.”
  • “Yes, I know the kitchen closes in half-an-hour, but it’s closed now.”
  • “Yeah, well, Ecclesiastes is my favorite book of the bible. All is folly! I tried fuckin’ everything, and it’s all folly.”
  • “I feel like people should be more like Ethiopians.”
  • “Mmm, the dick jokes are comin’.”
  • “Yeah, it’s like Jesus would have come back, but he realized we’re all wearing crosses around our necks.”
  • And, in response, “I feel like I should wear a rifle pendant around my neck for JFK.”
  • “No, man, Luke didn’t actually write Acts.”
  • “I feel like it’s nice that at 21 you can do something that’s previously illegal, but I feel like we should extend that. Like, every birthday you can do something that was illegal. When you’re 65, you can litter without penalty. Then if you can make it to 100, you can legally murder someone.”
  • “I, you know, I didn’t become doctor because, you know, I didn’t want to lose my fascination for the female breast.”