Saturday, April 30, 2016

Chicken Ranch report no. 66: Texas Roadtrippers part 2

"Texas Roadtrippers," the spring feature series from KTRK-TV reporters Pooja Lodhia and Steve Campion aired the much-anticipated Chicken Ranch installment of their La Grange adventure last night, during the 10 p.m. newscast. There's a nice shout-out for my book, Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch and some great archival footage. It was fun talking with them and bringing this little bit of Texas history to life. If you don't live in the Houston media area, or haven't had a chance to see it yet, they've kindly made the segment available online for viewing:

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now listed on both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com for pre-order.

Title: Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse
Author: Jayme Lynn Blaschke
Publication Date: August 1, 2016
ISBN: 978.1.46713.563.4

Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch is still available:

Now Playing: Original Broadway Cast Recording Spamalot
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, April 29, 2016

Chicken Ranch report no. 65: Texas Roadtrippers part 1

"Texas Roadtrippers," the spring feature series from KTRK-TV reporters Pooja Lodhia and Steve Campion aired the first installment of their La Grange adventure last night. I know a bunch of people watched, because about 150 people from the Houston area visited my website right after it aired. This segment only has a small teaser about the Chicken Ranch (and yours truly in my Lone Star shirt) but tonight's piece, set to air during the 10 p.m. newscast, is entirely devoted to the Chicken Ranch. It should be interesting--don't forget to set your DVRs!

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now listed on both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com for pre-order.

Title: Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse
Author: Jayme Lynn Blaschke
Publication Date: August 1, 2016
ISBN: 978.1.46713.563.4

Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch is still available:

Now Playing: The Hooters Nervous Night
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Chicken Ranch report no. 64: KTRK redux

Remember a few weeks ago, when a news crew from KTRK-TV out of Houston met me at the ruins of the Chicken Ranch in La Grange for a story? Well, I'm now informed by a producer at Channel 13 that the piece is scheduled to run this Friday, April 29, during the 10 p.m. newscast!

Those of you who know your Chicken Ranch history know why this is kind of a big deal, circle-of-life kind of thing. KTRK was the home of the legendary Marvin Zindler, a crusading consumer affairs activist whose bombastic, on-air reports about the Chicken Ranch operations forced the closure of the brothel in 1973. A year later, Zindler returned to La Grange to do a follow-up story and had an unfortunate encounter with Sheriff Flournoy and the rest, as they they say, is history.

In any event, Pooja Lodhia and Steve Campion were a lot of fun to work with. The story itself will air on Channel 13 (ABC) in Houston, but should be available on their website at some point and also via the ABC13 Houston mobile app.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now listed on both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com for pre-order.

Title: Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse
Author: Jayme Lynn Blaschke
Publication Date: August 1, 2016
ISBN: 978.1.46713.563.4

Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch is still available:

Now Playing: Martin Denny Exotica
Chicken Ranch Central

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Happy birthday, Dolph!

On this date in 1923, Dolph Briscoe, who would go on to become the 41st governor of Texas, was born. He would've been 93 today. Briscoe, a long-time Uvalde rancher, is generally remembered fondly from his terms as governor for being a decent guy. But his administration did earn some dubious distinctions. Briscoe was the last Texas governor to serve a two-year term and the first to serve a four-year term. He undermined two efforts to rewrite Texas' abysmal constitution (which remains a trainwreck to this day). Briscoe once appointed a dead man to the State Health Advisory Commission, and if what I've heard is true, called a press conference in the aftermath to reassure the press and public that he hadn't lost his grip on sanity.

But what most people remember him for--and which doesn't appear in most official biographies--is that he is the governor who ordered the closure of the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange. Ironically, Briscoe had no actual legal authority to order the Chicken Ranch (or any other brothel, for that matter) closed. But he did, hoping nobody would call his bluff. Fayette County Jim Flournoy certainly knew the governor had no authority to do so, but acquiesced to Briscoe and effectively ended a surreal two-week media circus that captured the attention of Texas as well as the rest of the country.

Governor Briscoe died June 27, 2010, after ignoring my interview requests for the better part of a year. He's have been 93 today. Happy birthday, Dolph!

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now listed on both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com for pre-order.

Title: Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse
Author: Jayme Lynn Blaschke
Publication Date: August 1, 2016
ISBN: 978.1.46713.563.4

Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch is still available:

Now Playing: Prince Around the World in a Day
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

The Wife and I have discussed Prince on several occasions. "Genius" is a term grossly over-used, but I don't think anything other than "musical genius" does justice to Prince's immeasurable talent. Had he lived in the 1700s or 1800s, he'd be known today as a composer comparable to the likes of Mozart. The 20th century figure I'd compare him to most would be Duke Ellington. Prince was always pushing musical boundaries, fusing different styles and flexing his creative muscles in weird and original ways. Funk, jazz, pop, rock, R&B, soul, classical... just about the only genre he didn't regularly utilize was country, and I'm not 100 percent sure on that one. Was he a flake? Erratic? Eccentric? An egomaniac? Sure. It's hard to tell where the performance ended and the real man began. He produced brilliant work, and he produced a lot of crap. That's the thing--he failed musically many, many times, but he never stopped. He constantly tried new things, and many efforts fell flat but those that worked were hailed as visionary. He was so prolific that he got into a huge blow-up with his record label, Warners, because they only wanted to release one album a year and Prince wanted to do something like three a year. Nuts. It's rumored that Prince has more than a thousand unreleased songs in his Paisley Park vault--not outtakes or demos or rejects or alternative mixes, but actual finished, polished, fully-produced songs just waiting to be released whenever the Purple One deemed it time to do so. The only other artist who left a comparable legacy is (as far as I know) Frank Zappa, who left behind enough material for a dozen or more albums at the time of his death, the last of which was finally released just a couple years ago. I expect we'll be getting new Prince material for decades to come.

In 1988, I managed to get ahold of a bootleg copy of Prince's legendary Black Album, which was pulled from distribution right at the point of release because of a weird dream he had. That tape was a prized possession for years, until a friend's tape player chewed it up in early 1994. To say I was upset was an understatement. It was a damn cool album. I mean, any album that starts off with "Le Grind" can't go wrong. Fortunately, an official version of that album actually made it to market later that year, so I was able to replace the lost take with a more durable CD. That doesn't mean much, other than the fact that for a few years I was the cool guy who had a mythical album nobody else could get--at least as far as Prince fans were concerned.

Alas, Prince has fiercely fought to keep his music and videos offline, almost as hard as he's fought to keep Weird Al from parodying any of his songs. Therefore there are no official Prince videos to feature on Friday Night Videos. The only one I can find is "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" from the George Harrison tribute at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2004, featuring Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, Tom Petty and a bunch of other folks. Prince upstages them all with a blistering solo that reminded everyone that no matter how great a performer, singer and songwriter he may be, he was still a much better guitarist than almost anyone gave him credit for.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show.

Now Playing: Prince The Hits/The B Sides
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, April 21, 2016

And so it begins...

I've made no secret that the hardest thing for me about selling our old house (apart from the memories left behind) was parting with my office. I built floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in there, my small approximation of the spectacular formal libraries one always saw in those Agatha Christie-style whodunit films from decades past. I began it about two years after we'd moved in, in May of 2005 and finished it in November of 2005. Unfortunately, all of my meticulously-photographed stages of progress were hosted by a former internet provider that stopped offering residential service a decade ago, so it would appear all of those photos are lost. Here's one we took when we first put the house on the market at the end of 2014 to give you a frame of reference:

I'd never attempted a project of that scale, so my learning curve was a steep one riddled with trail-and-error (mostly error). The new office, however, is half again as big as my old one with ceilings about 16 inches taller. It's not exactly build-a-photo-studio challenging, but it's no day at the park, either. With the completion of my workbench the other day, I saw no reason to delay any further. Last year, sometime after I finished The Wife's photo studio, I closed in the large entry to the former dining room, which is designated my office. Over the past 10 months or so I've been purchasing cabinetry here and there with which to build my bookcase upon, so as to not break the bank all at once. I started with an unfinished corner cabinet on clearance from McCoy's--spruce, I think. Then I picked up unfinished horizontal, double cabinets from Home Depot when they were on sale--these are oak. As happened back in 2005, I ran into some logistical problems. The cabinetry I'd planned on using wouldn't fit in the space I had available, and the pieces I did need had been discontinued. Great. Scrounging the internet, I found some building supply clearance outlets in the DFW area that had two narrow, vertical cabinets just the right size for me. It was a hassle and shipping costs more than made up for any savings I realized by getting discontinued cabinets, but hey, beggars can't be choosers.

But some mistakes are there to be learned from. In 2005, I picked up a polyurethane stain that looked great in the store, but turned out to be pretty darn ugly when applied. I ended up having to sand everything down, which was an unpleasant experience. I was never able to get the issue resolved to my satisfaction. Also, back then, The Wife and I were wary about dark woods and stains, since our house didn't have an over-abundance of window light. I eventually went with a golden oak stain, which is the default neutral wood color for all subdivision construction. So this time around, I wanted to avoid that cheap look and go with a deeper, richer, warmer wood color. We really loved the flooring at the old house, but since that has naturally been discontinued, I found another type of laminate that is very similar and set out to try and come up with a stain that would come close to matching it. I picked up one can each of Minwax and Rustoleum's Dark Walnut stain, because they both looked great in the store. But remembering my folly with the cherry wood stain before, I experimented on pine plywood first. It's a good thing I did:

The big board on the right was my initial test subject. The Minwax, on the bottom, looked like black ink spread over white wood, imparting impressive grain texture but zero underlying color. The Rustoleum, on top, boasts of incorporating advanced nano-sized pigments for better penetration. What it did was give me brown wood. Chocolate brown. Gunshoe brown. Buster Brown. Crayola brown. Neither looked like the in-store samples. Neither was acceptable. What I needed, I realized, was a layered approach. I needed the raw wood to already have a deeper base color so that the dark walnut stain could just focus on accenting the grain. Since the Rustoleum was super-thick and not so easy to work with (and I didn't like the brown color anyway) I picked up a can of Minwax's lighter "Special Walnut." Using another scrap of pine (middle, above) I stained it with Special Walnut, then after a three-hour break, went over it again with Dark Walnut. The result was very much closer to what I wanted. There's a lot of glare in the image above, but the image below shows the color match between the pine and floor sample much better. In reality, the color difference isn't even this noticeable--the mixed flourescent and flash of the garage really did a number on the white balance in these photos.

Encouraged, I removed all the doors from my accumulated cabinets. Seeing as how oak and spruce differ from pine, the stain could still turn out to be a mistake, so I made the strategic decision to stain the insides of the doors first, just in case.

To hedge my bets even further, I broke down and bought a can of pre-stain treatment, which is supposed to prevent blotches from forming and ensure an even coat of stain. That's never been a big problem for me, but I'm trying to up my game on this one. The pre-stain went on easily and gave it a familiar honey oak hue. The instructions said to wipe off any excess after 10 minutes, but the rag I ran over the wood came away clean.

The next step was to apply the Special Walnut. Using a foam brush, I applied the stuff and was a little worried at first, as it appeared much darker than I expected. Uh-oh. After five minutes I wiped a section of one door and found that the wood hadn't absorbed very much--it was still quite light, so I left the remaining stain on the others for 15 minutes before wiping. It looked quite nice. Were I not going for a specific look, I might've stopped right there. As it was, I set the doors aside for a three-to-four hour dry.

Next up... hoo boy. Remember how I said the first bit of cabinetry I got was a corner piece made of spruce? Yeah, well, this bad boy is already becoming a pain in the ass. For the first time I realized that it does not have molding on the front of the door--it's simply flat, so visually it stands out quite obviously from the other cabinets. I'm not sure what I will do about that--I may get some boards and try to router out an approximation of the trim for it. Will have to think on that. Of more immediate concern, though, is the fact that spruce doesn't really want to take the stain, even after I sanded the surface to remove accumulated grime (it'd been a display model, after all). The grain's not differentiating as much with the spruce as with the oak, so I have a strong suspicion this one's going to give me trouble this entire build.

After the requisite drying period, I broke out the Minwax Dark Walnut and applied it with a foam brush. I wiped one spot after 5 minutes, saw that the underneath was still relatively light, so left it on for the entire 15 minutes before wiping away. Jumpin' Jehosaphat, that surely does look pretty! Below, right, is the wood with only the Special Walnut applied, and left is the wood with the Dark Walnut soaking in. The middle piece is the finished product. To say I'm pleased is an understatement. There's a tonal depth to the wood that my single stain applications don't come anywhere close to matching. Hopefully, I'll be able to get the fronts of the doors completed tonight and turn my attention to the cabinets themselves this weekend.

Now Playing: Prince The Black Album
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tool time!

Some of you may or may not remember a couple of weeks when I realized (and subsequently posted on Facebook) that after 13 years and two homes here in New Braunfels where I undertook quite a few of building and remodeling projects of varying ambition, I didn't actually have a workbench with which to facilitate those various projects. Kind of a d'oh! moment for me. It was a deficiency I needed to rectify, and I did:

This is, to put it mildly, unusual for me. I always have a long queue of jobs that "need to be done" and tend to stick to them on a first-come, first-served basis. But, of course, the workbench would make so many of those easier--not to mention help tidy up the garage--that I jumped it to the head of the line. The Wife even said, as I was cutting lumber that first weekend, "When you said you were going to build a workbench, I didn't realize you meant right now." If you're curious, here is the set of plans I used, with a few minor tweaks of my own. I used a 2x4 as a backstop and made the bench top wider than the plans called for so I could double-layer the overhangs to anchor a vise on one end and a bench grinder on the other (still need to get the grinder, though). The pegboard above just seemed like a necessary addition. The "one-day" project actually took a week to complete construction, doing a little bit every evening, then several more days to apply the polyurethane and let it dry between coats. A word of warning, though--the plan instructions are not very clear in places, so trial-and-error is necessary on occasion. And I don't know what they were smoking when they calculated the cost, but unless you're one of those folks who has a lot of lumber and assorted parts stockpiled, the total cost is going to be closer to $150-200 than the absurdly low $20-100 estimate they cite.

Now Playing: Various artists Dr. Demento Show 2/28/1998
Chicken Ranch Central