Thursday, November 29, 2012

LBJ Ranch: Serenity In The Hill Country


First off, no matter how eloquent I am or how riveting the pictures I may take, nothing can give you the feeling of LBJ ranch without an actual visit. I'd been there once before in the 90's and never forgot that feeling, a sort of a high like you get going to the mountains. It's like a long, cool drink of water for the soul. And I say that as a person who mostly despises LBJ. So when I had the chance to return during my Formula 1 Fantasy Trip, I made a special effort to quench a longstanding thirst.

LBJ1 A 6,300 foot runway was completed that allowed this smaller but speedy jet to land directly on ranch property. At any point in time LBJ was just a few short hours from here or Washington.

It came to be known as the "Texas White House" and Johnson spent a great deal of time there, not only to relax but to conduct business. He liked the feeling of having a "home court" advantage when twisting congressional arms. But I also think considering the incredible pressure he felt in Washington, the escalation of the war he both inflicted and was conflicted by drove him to this wonderful paradise in the hill country of central Texas about 50 miles west of Austin.

LBJ38 The "Texas White House"

When I came through before, Lady Bird was still living here and the tour took you only on a trip around the property. With her passing the house is now the tour (rest of the property is self guided). Unfortunately, no photography is allowed in the house but it was like stepping into a time machine. It's an absolute historical treasure. Desks, furnishings, paintings, books, typewriters - the whole nine yards is still there as if Johnson were ready to walk right out of it as President. It's truly a miracle of preservation.

LBJ24 Western side addition where Johnson housed his office. Inside was his desk on one side and two secretarial desks opposing him. High on the wall was buried a TV with the remote still lying on the desk. It was a special model from Zenith that was not released to the public until a year later.

LBJ25 Underneath this 450 year old tree was a favorite spot for LBJ to conduct his meetings. It's become famous for the various world leaders and other notables who came to sit below its arching branches. The tree is a monument in itself now. If only it could speak!

LBJ28 Like his own version of Grauman’s Chinese theater, Johnson had visitors sign their name in concrete. Everyone from Billy Graham to Milton Berle can be found here.

LBJ27 Upper left is a certain Mr. Kennedy, may he rest in peace.

LBJ loved to play mind games on people. Whether it was carrying on a face-to-face conversation while sitting on an open toilet in the White House or playing a favorite trick with his Amphicar. Without telling his victim the car was amphibious he'd head straight for the river pretending the brakes were out while his passengers braced themselves to wreck, only to find the car floating happily on the water.



Pictures and memorabilia fill the tour shop to paint a human portrait of Johnson. Still, it's a painful reminder to think of what brought him to the Presidency. To step back into the Sixties and its time of hope and innocence lost forever filled me with mixed emotions between the serene countryside, the powerful feeling of history and the painful longing of what could have been.



To see the entire collection click here

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Random Mind Bombs While Wandering Beirut

God, what a mind fuck. Walking among bombed out ruins and bullet ridden buildings and all I can think about is the landscaped, manicured lawns of upscale bubble-land Plano as I transpose one image on top of the other. I keep thinking - hoping - that some sort of resolution will happen if I do this long enough. But it never happens.

I just can't wrap my head around the dichotomies of this world.

What do you do when you know more than you can say? What is the path when you hold only words not ready to be heard? The prophets of old were reviled and run out of town. Power rests upon a lie, truth its natural enemy in the wild. Those who speak the truth will be attacked but the truth resides within us all. So who's the real enemy?

We hide behind fictions like Arab and Jew, Christian and Muslim, and whatever sort of mud sticks to the wall for today as an excuse. But that's all farcical. There's only two kinds of people over here in the Middle East: those who want war and those who do not. So you have to pick which is your real enemy: war or peace.

You'd be surprised at the number of people who fear peace. Even if you've made hell your home, there's a natural tendency to protect that home. War's hero is often peace's coward. Who are you when the last bomb has fallen and the last bullet shot? You might delay that day of reckoning but never avoid it.

If you want, you can feel the vibe of the whole situation here. Strip away the politics, the petty personal agendas and all the other horseshit shoveled here on a daily basis high enough to bury Mount Everest. It's just a human thing like everything else. When those who fear peace feel the masses start leaning towards the inevitable dropping of the burdens of war, they commit a new outrage they hope will draw them back in.

It's a time of intense agony after committing an act of terror. You've put yourself on the moon of hate and you've no guarantee anyone's coming to join you. If love is ever returned for hate, you're doomed, marooned for eternity. You get down on your knees and pray, pray, pray terror begets terror and you won't have to live alone. In the end, love is always the real issue (though it's wicked funny watching people lay it on thick that it's otherwise).

My memories of this part of the world are grating and long. All I can recall is the harsh struggle for survival and its oppressive nature. Yes, there was Jesus who made every day green and sunny as Easter in the Spring. He was truly like water in the desert. But with his departure, all I see is the arid terrain and cruelty of war.

It's funny, but Beirut is a party town. There's a certain electricity here that's a yin to the war's yang. You feel connected to something but the price for that is so very, very high. Still, disconnection is never an option. All that can be done is to hold out for peace whether it comes or not. The anger you see on that boy's face is the pain he feels for not feeling loved. Simple as that. Tell him that and he will shoot you.

In America, the shots are mostly verbal. I've wondered about the lack of outrage over our President's arbitrary murders. We make up excuses. It's [war time, half time, fill-in-the-blank time] so therefore it's no time for [truth, justice, survival, etc]. This world is merely a metaphor for our spirit lives. Like Herbie said, "It's a fix! It's all a fix!"

Our lives are on loan for which we must pay rent. We know this, we avoid this and we rarely admit this. But the truth cannot be completely suppressed. So we express that suppressed truth by making up our own rules that all rented items must be paid for or you forfeit said item. Money, of course is an artifice, a figment of our imagination, but this rule seems so imperatively moral because we know we must give back for the life we've been given.

Even if it is given in this god forsaken shithole.

Wandering these war torn streets in this ancient land of mine I so gladly forsook two thousand years ago I've come to realize why the great silent vacuum: How can a murderer protest a murder? I've seen so-called atheists on the left bestow Papal-like infallibility on our President. And whoever on the right ever protested a war? We're all in on it. It's not that we don't know, we do. All assassinations are a conspiracy.

We're each fighting to be worthy of love - even killing for it - but love already knows that answer.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Formula One Fantasy Fest! (photo/video)


I came, I saw, I recorded. Yes, it really did happen. They held a Formula 1 race deep in the heart of Texas, just outside of hippie town Austin, and I was there. Unbelievable. I might be licking my financial wounds for a while but I was a part of racing history. I'll never watch another race the same.

The race components consist of two practices on a Friday, a final practice Saturday morning followed by qualifying to determine grid position, and finally the actual race on Sunday. Not everyone did, but I showed up for every event. I couldn't wait to explore the track and witness for the first time Formula 1 cars racing in ernest.



I'd made a few recon trips to the track during construction but this would be my first time onto the hallowed ground itself. The biggest surprise that first day was the ease of traffic. No tie ups or jams, smooth sailing all the way. I'd received an email from the organizers warning me delays of up to 90 minutes were possible. Maybe on other parts of the track it was, I don't know, but I breezed right in.

Practice1 The signature tower with turn 12 bleachers. My seats were just off camera to the left.

The bleachers I knew would be an experience and I tried not to think about the haste in which they were constructed. They did not flex as much as I feared even when at full capacity. I liked my view from turn 12 which was at the end of the longest straightaway of the 3.4 mile track. From there the cars would have to brake into a brutal chicane and I figured a lot of passing would occur here. I was right.

Race40 I was in section 4


Practice58 Turn 12 is at the bottom right leading into the chicane exiting past Turn 15 which were PSL seats.

Race60 Another cool thing about this spot was I could zoom in to Turn 1

Practice63 To the left I could see turns 7-8 which lead to the hairpin that starts the straightaway below me.

Practice48 Many of the shots taken are from on high which has a tendency to flatten out the track on TV. In person it appears much more dramatic. I'm hoping they offer tours because I think anyone who takes one will be impressed and thusly anxious to see a race there.

Wasn't long before we saw some action! The sound of the shrieking engines is indescribable and you could sometimes feel the popping from the downshifting as the cars entered the chicane. Ear protection is a must!



Practice36 A Red Bull coming out of the turn.

Practice66 Come in too quickly and you'll have to lock up your tires!


Video cameras were on the forbidden list but I snuck mine in anyway figuring they would probably be pretty lax on their first go around. Below you can hear what I heard on my very first Formula 1 day.

One thing you can't miss from any point at the track is the observation tower. What the rules were for getting up into that thing I did not find out. I assumed the hassle factor would be off the charts anyway if just anyone could get in. It proved to be very popular, though, and I hear other tracks are now asking for their own version.





Was a full day on day one. Traffic was painless again on my way out but by the time I got to the hotel I needed to rest. There was still much of the track to explore as the engines still rang in my ears. I was drained but it all seemed to go by so quickly. For a complete look at the first day click here.

Day Two: Qualifying

Armed with sunscreen and an early arrival I managed to make my way over to the Main grandstands and pit lane. I wanted to get a firsthand look at where the hoi polloi were seated and, of course, the pit garages where the cars would come screaming out. My ticket was obviously no good for that area but I managed to slip by the checkers and stand in an aisle behind the lower level seats. No one bothered me as I took all the verboten video I wanted.

Qualifying8 Walking down the hill behind Turn 1

Qualifying11 View from Turn 1 back towards my seat at Turn 12

Qualifying12 Behind the main grandstands. Can I sneak to the front??

Qualifying27 Ah, a place to nonchalantly watch qualifying!

Qualifying28 Nico Rosberg is my favorite driver. His father Keke was world champ.

Qualifying15 For a mere 4,500 bucks you too can get a seat at the paddock club above pit lane.

Qualifying32 Now you see why money was really invented!

Qualifying36 A peek inside the Ferrari garage

Qualifying39 Red Bull will take pole

Qualifying40 Winner's podium for the top three finishers on Sunday

Qualifying47 Starting grid. Will try to catch a few racing by!



Qualifying55 Everyone's watching up at Turn 1

Qualifying52 Pushed back into the garage after qualifying

Qualifying66 Was a very international crowd. Italian, Spanish and British accents could be heard as you wander around the track.

Below is video I took on qualifying day:

To see the entire collection from qualifying day click here.

During race week, blocks of downtown Austin were cordoned off for special F1 celebrations. Stages were set up for live bands as well as race specific events. Most locals stayed away fearing traffic jams but the area was not a problem if you didn't mind walking a bit. I did a LOT of walking over the course of three days!

Downtown1 Pedal carts were to help ease with the walking. I was too cheap.




Downtown19 Oh boy, did I want the Le Mans in the rain print!


After a very long day was all I could do to make the long drive back to the hotel. I went straight to bed and when I woke up, it was race day.

Day Three: Race is on!

Race1 Dawn in the Texas sky. Dawn of a new era in American racing!

Race2 Making way in from parking lot.

Race30 With plenty of time to kill, I made my way to the much talked about S curves by Turn 5.


Race4 God help you if you wanted a donut! Lines for food vending were horrific throughout the weekend. No idea what they were thinking with so few food vendors.

Race28 Crowd was amped up and ready to go!

Race49 Race is on!



The race quickly turned into a two man race between Hamilton and Vettel as they pulled away from the field.

Race103 Hamilton made a desperate chase


Race81 Webber's car expired. Will the same happen to teammate Vettel?

Race98 Hard racing by everyone!

Race104 Hamilton takes the lead!

Race113 Vettel is unable to retake first place

Race114 First ever Formula 1 Grand Prix of Austin goes to McLaren's Lewis Hamilton!

Race115 After three days, both I and the car were tired and covered in grime.

After Senna's death in '94 I thought I'd never have interest in Formula 1 again. That took the heart right out of me. The ensuing Schumacher era was a snooze fest of monotony. Over the past three years I've gradually gotten back into it and next thing you know they build a track right in my own back yard!

I'll still be soaking in the race for a long time to come. These events are something I've been reading about since I was a teenager. It just didn't seem real I was there. Don't know when or if I will be back. Would be interesting to return in a few years and see how the track has matured. Developments are supposedly in the works for its immediate area but who knows what will come to fruition.

For the full collection of race day photos click here.

Helpful hints:

Hotel accommodations can cost multiples of race ticket costs with all the price gouging going on. I was lucky enough to find a regular room rate but had to drive 50 miles each day. Probably won't be so lucky to find that rate again. Book early and be prepared to drive!

Parking pass vs. shuttle. Definitely worth the extra bucks for the pass. Ingress and egress were relatively pain free.

Buy sunscreen! Face was red as a beet after the first day. Doesn't matter what time of year it is, the Texas sun is never kind.

Seat cushion! To get an actual seat you have to buy a Personal Seat License (PSL) for thousands of dollars. Otherwise you're sitting on bleachers like I was. After that first day I was walking like a ninety year old man. Bought a cheap seat cushion at Walmart that night and it worked wonderfully.

Here's my final video, from race day, including the opening and final laps: