Monday, November 28, 2016

Chicken Ranch discounted!

I don't normally post info about sales and such on my blog, but History Press is currently running a 50 percent off Black Friday sale on Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch that is good through midnight, November 30. The book normally retails for $24.99, so ordering a copy during this sale will put you back just $12.49. Let me put that in perspective: That's cheaper than I can get my author copies. So, if you're had my little book on your wish list, or plan to order copies as gifts for 30 or 40 of your closest friends and family members, now's your chance to save big. Note, this discount price is only good through History Press directly--I've got no idea what Amazon, B&N and the rest are doing.

Also, I wanted to give an update on my Waco signing that happened Saturday. It was pretty darn amazing, I have to say. The folks at Barnes & Noble were pretty busy, so I didn't get the relaxed bookstore chit-chat I normally engage in, but they were polite and welcoming in passing. But as soon as I got settled in, folks started arriving. Most of them had read the article, "Chicken Ranch realities: New book tells history of the infamous Central Texas brothel," which appears in the December issue of Waco Today, available now. It's a good write-up, and piqued the interest of more than a few readers. I had old Air Force vets come by and share their memories of visiting the Chicken Ranch while stationed at Bergstrom, and several La Grange ex-pats reminisce about the old days. Two were so interested in the Chicken Ranch that they bought the only two copies of Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch I happened to have with me, out in the car (these make great Christmas gifts as well. Just sayin'). I ended up going beyond my allotted time, which is a pretty good thing to say about a book signing. The B&N people were happy with the turnout, and gladly had me sign the remaining stock on hand. Who'd have thought Waco would become one of the high points of my informal Chicken Ranch signing tour?

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both and It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Smithfield Fair Highland Call (Remastered)
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Who's tired of hearing about the Chicken Ranch?

I'm sure some folks are tired of hearing about the Chicken Ranch, but not too many of them are voicing that concern to me. Take last week, for instance. On Thursday, I found myself in San Antonio speaking at the Stone Oak Rotary Club. What a great bunch of people they were! Dean Bentle had caught my presentation last month at the Woman's Club of San Antonio and was, I suppose, entertained enough to invite me over to regale his Rotarians. They made for an engaged, interested audience and once all was said and done, presented me with the nice certificate there to the right, along with a Rotary emblem made entirely out of chocolate! Do they know how to treat a guy right, or what?

When I wasn't speaking to the Rotarians, it seems I was speaking with Joe Holley at the Houston Chronicle, putting him in touch with various sources for his November 19 column "Will Fayette County ever outlive its Chicken Ranch history?" The short answer: No.

Some people are reporting trouble with the link, so here's my key quote from the write-up:

"I'd say 45 percent of the population think it's part of Texas history, and they should exploit it," [Blaschke] said from his office at Texas State University, where he's director of media relations. "Another 45 percent don't give it any never mind. And maybe 10 percent of the population just about spews blood out of their eyeballs if you even mention it."
The article goes on to quote County Judge Ed Janecka as opposing any public acknowledgement of the Chicken Ranch, any marketing of it as a tourist attraction. Instead, he wants tourists to come to town for the Texas Quilt Museum, Monument Hill and the Krische Brewery State Historic Site. Here's the thing: Although those are all worthy things in and of themselves, a quick Google search turns up dozens of quilt museums across the country. The National Quilt Museum is in Paducah, Kentucky. There are others in Colorado, Nebraska, Virginia, New England... How many of those has Judge Janecka personally visited? That's the thing--very few people are going to visit La Grange specifically for the attractions he and his supporters believe tourists should visit for, rather than the one famous attraction they do visit for. Even though it is long gone, the Chicken Ranch is never going away. Instead of fighting it, that 10 percent should use it as an enticement to tourists. Give them a map to a Historical Marker to look at and make them happy. That's maybe 15 minutes out of the tourist's visit, but what next? Include on that map information about Monument Hill and the Quilt Museum, plus Rohan Meadery and Rosemary's Vinyard. There's excellent dining options in La Grange, plus Weikel's Bakery serves up some pretty darn good kolaches. See where I'm going with this? Instead of complaining for 40-plus years that visitors only come to town to see the Chicken Ranch, use the Chicken Ranch to leverage their interest in all the other great things the town has to offer. It's a piece of history La Grange owns that no other city can touch, and the sooner they get over their faux-shame, the better off everyone will be. Heck, Dallas converted the Texas School Book Depository to a museum a very long time ago, and I guarantee that episode of history cast a far darker shadow over the city than the Chicken Ranch could ever match.

Enough of that soap boxing--I've got more interesting things coming up. In addition to the Houston Chronicle article, I've got another feature scheduled (I am told) to appear in the upcoming issue of Waco Today, due to be published by the Waco Tribune Herald November 23. This just happens to coincide with my book signing at the Waco Barnes and Noble 2-4 p.m. Saturday, November 26. There were some pretty strong ties between Waco and the Chicken Ranch, starting with the fact that the madam Jessie Williams, otherwise known as Fay Stewart, was born and raised in Waco. It should prove to be an entertaining afternoon, and I'm looking forward to having a good turnout. See you there!

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both and It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing:
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, November 21, 2016

Office build-along, pt. 7

Last time we spoke, I spent an inordinate amount of time discussing how I moved a wall outlet and subsequently attached a piece of paneling to the wall. Today, things get real, because we're going vertical! The upright supports for my bookcase consist of 10--count 'em--2"x12"x10' boards. That's right, I'm using 2"x12"s, which are stout pieces of lumber. The first order of business was to cut them for size. My ceiling is just over 9' tall, which makes the boards too long. But the ceiling isn't consistently 9' tall--I've found the distance between ceiling and floor can vary by as much as a quarter inch or more, so I had to measure each board for each spot. Some I cut just a hair too long to fit, so I had to go back out and sand them down to fit. The one thing I didn't want was to cut too short so they'd be loose. I need stability and shoring up a loose vertical would be a real pain.

Once the verticals were cut for length, I lined them all up in position, along with the cabinets that will make up the base. Only there's a problem. Can anyone spot it?

Oh my! It would appear the width of the cabinets, combined with the width of the 2"x12" boards, is about 2" more than the wall allows. Not only will that end cabinet not fit into the narrow slot there, there is no room for the 2"x12" that goes on the right side of it. You know the saying, "Measure twice and cut once?" Well, I did. And sadly, my measurements predicted this exactly several months back. Those extra-narrow vertical cabinets I ordered special? That's because I knew early on the regular, 12" wide cabinets would never come close to fitting. Even so, I've got more lumber than space for. Fortunately, I'd formulated a plan. I just lined everything up hoping that my estimates were wrong, and everything would miraculously fit. No such luck.

The first thing was to mark each vertical board where it met a cabinet. I had to pull 2" from somewhere, and the vertical boards looked like my best bet.

Earlier I said that for every problem, I come up with the most convoluted solution possible. I fear that's what I did this time, but I worried the problem for a couple months and couldn't hit upon another solution. I used a router to reclaim those missing two inches. I've got five verticals, and figured I could shave half an inch off each one if I set the router bit to cut 1/4" deep. I could only router one side of the vertical flush against the opposite wall, but the remaining boards should've given me more than enough flexibility to reclaim the space I needed.

I set up an adjustable rip fence/cut guide above the line I drew marking where the board met the cabinet, and started grinding away wood from that point down. The biggest problem with this is that router is designed to sit on a flat plane of wood and cut a groove. As I trimmed away more and more wood, there was much less surface area to support it, and my routing grew less and less stable. Eventually, I learned to start at the bottom and work my way back and forth in curved sweeps, keeping the router at least half supported at all times. I can assure you, this was not quick work. It took several evenings to get all of it done, but once the sawdust settled, so to speak, the verticals and cabinets all fit nice and snug in the space available.

There is probably a smarter, faster way to accomplish this goal, but for the life of me I can't figure what it might be. In any event, I'm through with the bulk routing and hope to never do that again. More traditional, groove routing, however, is another story. There's a lot of that coming up. Stay tuned. Now Playing: David Bowie Best of Bowie
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

No subject has ever made such a popular subject for song as love. As long as humans have been making music, love’s far and away the top choice of lyricists to write about. Writing and discussing Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch, however, got me to thinking. Amid all that blissful romance, the darker flipside beckoned, and prostitution served as the inspiration for more than a few memorable songs. The Greeks and Romans sang about prostitutes, and minstrels in the middle-ages were more than a little bawdy. Cowboys of the American West favored songs so scandalous they could strip the needles from a cactus. It’s no wonder, then, that popular music of the modern era has produced countless songs about prostitution as well.

What follows in the coming weeks is a countdown of the top 10 songs (as compiled by yours truly) about prostitution of the modern era that were not inspired by the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel of La Grange, Texas. Between The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack and ZZ Top’s “La Grange” (not to mention works by Willis Alan Ramsey, Billy Joe Shaver, the Austin Lounge Lizards and numerous others), the Chicken Ranch would simply have an unfair advantage.

10. “House of the Rising Sun” – The Animals
This ranks low on the list because, frankly, it’s such an obvious choice. The song itself has murky origins as a British folk ballad dating back as far as the 16th century, but was fairly well established in the U.S. by the first decade of the 20th century. The Animals made “House of the Rising Sun” their major contribution to the British Invasion in 1964, and the ominous guitar chords of their version immediately distinguished it from all those that came before. This version of the song forwards the misogynistic notion that women are the downfall of men--an element not often present in earlier interpretations of the song. The titular New Orleans brothel callously feeds on the lost virtue of men led astray, and all who enter are doomed to become lost souls.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Ariana Savalas.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both and It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Violent Femmes The Blind Leading the Naked
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Office build-along, pt. 6

It's been several months since my last update, but I haven't been entirely idle. Book signings, coupled with work and family obligations, not to mention a deep depression following the election, cut in to my available work time. Still, progress is happening, even if it only comes in fits and starts.

When last we spoke, I'd paneled the far wall, and subsequently screwed up on the stain color when trying to conceal the wood putty over the nail holes. Lesson learned. The near wall, as seen in the photo above, proved a little more time-consuming to panel. The reason being an electrical outlet. Now normally this wouldn't be any more problematic than the light switch I dealt with on the far wall. In this case, however, the outlet was located about 12 inches off the floor, just the right height to straddle the top of the cabinet that will form the base of the book shelf. At the old house, the wall sockets were a mere six inches above the floor, meaning I could simply cut a hole in the back of the cabinet and be done with it. No such luck here. I had to relocate the entire outlet about 5 inches higher.

I measured out the move, marked the boundaries with pencil, then sliced through the drywall with my handy utility knife. Sharp, fresh blades cut much easier than dull ones. And beware of slips. A sharp utility knife can easily slice off a finger tip or, you know, leave a deep gash in one's leg. I speak from experience.

Now we have a nice clean hole to work with. Just off to the left, hidden by drywall, is a yellow natural gas pipe that leads to the kitchen on the other side of the wall (our stove is electric, but there's a gas outlet there were we to ever decide we wanted to cook with blue flames). I had no idea it was there before I started cutting, so that's another point in the "proceed with caution" box whenever committing home improvement. Drilling through that gas line would've not been a whole heck of a lot of fun.

Next, the old outlet box needs to go. After turning off the circuit breaker and removing the outlet from the box and disconnecting all the wires, I got in there with a crowbar and brute forced it. Amazingly enough, the nail in the bottom wasn't in very far at all, so it popped right out. The box broke away easily from the top nail, and I was able to extract it with a pair of pliers and some twisting.

Somewhere along the line I realized I wouldn't be able to use the same type of side-nail box for the relocated outlet, not unless I wanted to cut a much bigger hole in the drywall (right where the gas line is) to get a hammer in there. Instead, I opted to cut out a much smaller section of drywall over the wall stud, and use a front-nail box instead. This worked out quite nicely. One thing about me is that I normally figure out work-arounds for various problems that are about 10 times as complicated as the most obvious course of action. Fortunately, this time I figured out the simple solution without the aid of hindsight.

The next step was to reconnect the outlet and secure it in the box so I could restore power to my office. It's not easy working in there with no light or ceiling fan. Or comfortable. Since I closed in the far wall, air circulation is just about nil.

This actually took a couple of days to complete on account of my having to go to work and such, so I put the front plate on the outlet and wedged the drywall pieces I'd cut away earlier into the holes. This is to keep various family cats from climbing into the wall and complicating matters. Don't laugh--I saw this happen growing up.

A more permanent solution to denying cats access to the wall interior involved drywall compound. I removed the outlet face place, trimmed the drywall pieces to fit and inserted them into the openings. Then I covered them with a mesh drywall tape and plastered over them. This is not a well-done drywall patch. Let's be clear about that. It's a fast job. It will be covered, so my primary goal was to just get it done.

Having learned from the light switch on the far wall that the gooey mouse bait works its way into all the cracks, I covered the outlet with duct tape--in this case, a fetching, space print. Then I outlined the edges with the mouse bait goo.

I set the paneling into position and pressed, coming away with a nice, gooey outline of the socket. A couple of measurements later, I'd drawn in the edges of the hole-to-be.

I drilled pilot holes with my drill. I'm not sure the size of the bit I used. It's smaller than a quarter inch, but not by much--3/16 maybe?

Pilot holes drilled in the corners, I then inserted the jig saw blade and sliced open the hole for the outlet.

Hole cut, the panel is ready to attach to the wall. But just in time I remembered that I forgot to show how that was done for the far wall. So I shall rectify that now. The most important thing is to locate the wall studs. Without knowing where those are, you'll just be hammering into drywall, which won't hold anything for very long. There are all sorts of stud finders, but they generally work the same way, beeping and/or lighting up when passing over a stud behind the drywall. Take a pencil and mark the locations--in this case, I marked onto the ceiling, as the paneling will be covering up the wall, and I'll have to remember where the studs are later in this project.

Next, positioned the paneling and nailed it into place with paneling nails (duh) along the top edge against the ceiling, where I know the studs are. Next, needed to nail the lower portions of the paneling to the wall. To do that, I used a plumb bob (essentially, a heavy weight on a string) to map out that wall stud all the way to the floor.

I'm not good at eyeballing these things, so I needed the plumb bob as a guide. I tapped in a paneling nail up near the ceiling and looped the end of the string to it. Then I let the plumb bob settle into an equilibrium with gravity (when you first let it go, it has a tendency to swing and spin around for a bit).

Using the string as a guide, I nailed anchors up and down the paneling, hitting studs every time. Once I'd done this for the entire piece of paneling and it was securely fastened to the wall, I puttied up all the nail holes. And no, I didn't dab "Dark Walnut" stain on them. I try to not repeat mistakes, in favor of inventing entirely new mistakes.

The long and short of it is that the wall outlet fit just right into the hole I cut for it. Attach the face plate, it it blends right in. Strangely enough, in real life the outlet does not appear askew against the edge of the paneling. I'm guessing the wide angle lens I'm using has introduced distortion, because serious, it really isn't that cockeyed!

Coming soon: Vertical bookshelf supports!

Now Playing: Whitehorse Leave No Bridge Unburned
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, November 11, 2016

New Braunfels author fair

Don't look now, but I've got another event on the horizon. Tomorrow (which would be Saturday, November 12) I'll be at the New Braunfels Public Library from 1-4 p.m. for the Local Author Fair. I'll be there signing copies of my book, Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse--perhaps you've heard me mention it? Each participating author will give a brief talk, which I'll devote to a Q&A on the subject of my book, which never fails to generate a good number of questions.

And, hey, even if you're Chicken Ranched-out, there are a number of other interesting authors that'll be there as well:

  • Ron Clark, The Prophet’s Secret
  • Ron Coley, The Fountains of Saint Mark: The Amazing San Marcos Springs
  • I.B. Hunger, The Healing Fountain and Searching the Ruins
  • Rosemarie Leissner Gregory & Arlene Krueger Seales, New Braunfels’ Historic Landa Park: Its Springs and Its People
  • L.M. Nelson, Scrubs and Sand & Sutures
  • Barbara O’Connor, Goodbye, Paris Nash and Enlightening Elizabeth Moss
  • Naomi Patterson, Death by Catgut and Penumbra Secrets

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both and It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: The Kinks Midlife Krisis
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Earlier this week, we caught Postmodern Jukebox at the Tobin Center in San Antonio. This is the second time The Wife and I have seen a PMJ show, and we both agree that one of the biggest highlights is Ariana Savalas. She has such an over-the-top vamp persona, channeling a hybrid mashup of Marlene Dietrich, Mae West and Eartha Kitt. It's glorious, and seems to have only intensified in the year since we last saw her. But none of that would really matter if she couldn't sing. She can. Here's her jazz-steeped "One Man Show."

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Pussy Riot.

Now Playing: The Kinks Face to Face
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Texas Book Festival round-up

Believe it or not, the Texas Book Festival wasn't just limited to my book, Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse. Hard to believe, I know. I didn't get to participate in much else, myself, but fortunately these other journalistic types were kind enough to share their thoughts and experiences on the shindig:

Beyond the Margins at the Texas Book Festival

12 things we learned at the Texas Book Festival

Get ready for day two of the festival

Day one: Small problems, big crowds of eager readers

Hitting the club for a literary evening

Sundway roundup and a wrap

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both and It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd More
Chicken Ranch Central

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Texas Book Fest in the rear view mirror

What a weekend that was! I trekked up to Austin on Saturday and Sunday for the Texas Book Festival and had an excellent time, despite the fact that I didn't make it onto any official programming. Saturday was a bit of a challenge--heavy rains blew through in the morning, drenching everything. To make matters worse, I overslept and got a late start. Amazingly, I found a parking space pretty quickly but things went south right after that. The Arcadia/History Press booth was supposed to be in a tent along 11th Street, between Brazos Street and Congress Avenue. This proved problematic, because there were no tents set up in that area. I ended up hiking through every single tent, lugging my vertical Chicken Ranch banner and a box of wayward Images of Spink County books that'd been sent to me by mistake. In 100 percent humidity and 80 degree temperatures, I was drenched by the time I finally found the proper booth in tent no. 2 on Colorado Street--pretty much as far from the original location as possible.

Once I got settled in, though, the fun began. Another author, Caroline Gnagy, was there signing copies of her book, Texas Jailhouse Music. I confessed to her that I didn't even know that was a topic that could be made into a book! We had a fascinating discussion of the Texas prison system of the 1930s and the radio shows that originated there. Then, amazingly, Caroline introduced me to Skip Hollandsworth, who just happened by. I've read Skip's work for years but never met the man. He bought a copy of Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch the moment he saw it, and we had a nice conversation about his fascinating book, The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America's First Serial Killer. That's Skip in the photo above, with History Press' marketing guru Mimi Gryska. As the afternoon wore on, I saw many friends--some new, some old, and some I hadn't seen for decades. I signed a bunch of books. The head of the Texas State Library and Archives stopped by, and was delighted to see how many of their photos had made it into my book (he was even more delighted that I'd give them proper credit on all of them!). It's nice to make a good impression.

My sleep that night was interrupted by by my eldest daughter, who burst into our bedroom at 4 a.m. to announce, "Sir Hill just released a bat into my room!" Those who've followed me for the past year know that the two lost kittens we rescued last year have grown into black panthers, and they take delight into capturing rats and other critters only to release them in the house and what chaos ensue. Sure enough, a very freaked out Mexican freetail bat was in Monkey Girl's room, flying in frantic circles, trying to find a way out. Sir Hiss watched in fascination from the bed, springing up every so often in an attempt to snatch the flying critter out of the air. I pulled on a pair of leather work gloves and grabbed a pool net off the back patio, and after a few false starts, was successful in netting the bat out of the air. Friends, that little bat did not like being caught. I took it outside and released the net, and that little bat took out like... well, it wasn't sticking around. Fortunately, nobody touched it and the animals are all up to date on their rabies shots. If you ask me, though, that little bat had nothing wrong with it other than the humiliation of being caught by a cat. And no, I wasn't able to get back to sleep.

Sunday was supposed to feature heavy rain all day, but amazingly enough, the rain held off for the most part, despite some very heavy storms hitting north Austin. The strong outflow from the storms made for some significant wind and blew at least one information tent into a nearby tree. Other than that, the breeze cooled things down and was quite welcome. The threatening weather kept a lot of potential patrons away, but I still signed more than a few books. One woman happened upon us and was very excited to see my book--The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was her favorite movie and she'd tried to learn as much about the real history as possible--but like me, found there simply wasn't much information available. She thanked me profusely before happily heading off with her copy. Another woman, who'd purchased a book the day before, sought me out to tell me she'd read it all night and gotten all the way to chapter 10--more than halfway through it. She like the book. Really, really liked it, and discussed at length the state of prostitution in Texas through most of the 20th century, and the exploitation that existed. The fact that so many careers were forbidden to women at the turn of the century tragically made prostitution one of the few viable career paths for single women trying to support a family. Another woman, from the Texas A&M Press, had read my book and came by to tell me how much she enjoyed it, and that she felt I'd done an excellent job of making such a complicated topic clear and understandable. She also expressed a great deal of frustration upon learning that the A&M Press held by book for consideration for an entire year before deciding to punt--neither rejecting nor accepting it--mainly out of worry they'd be accused of glorifying prostitution were they to publish it.

I talked with lots of people, and signed more than a few books. I was a great experience, and if History Press will have me, I'll be back again next year.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both and It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Johnny Cash The Essential Johnny Cash
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, November 04, 2016

The Chicken Ranch vs. the Texas Book Festival!

I'll be at the Texas Book Festival this weekend, signing copies of Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse 12:30-2:30 p.m. on November 5 and 2-4 p.m. on November 6. I'll be at the Arcadia/History Press booth, which--as I understand it--will be located on the south side of the capitol grounds, along 11th Street between Congress Avenue and Brazos Street. I'm hoping for a good turnout (after all, what Texan doesn't love a good Chicken Ranch book?) but I have to confess I'm keeping a close eye on the weather forecast. Saturday should be okay, but right now there a predicted 80 percent chance of rain for Sunday. Yikes!

Now, I've got a fun story to share. A few nights ago, I accompanied The Wife to a meet-up with some of her internet friends at Herbert's Taco Hut in New Braunfels. The women were at one table, so naturally the menfolk sat separately. Gradually the conversation drifted to the utter trainwreck that is the Baylor athletic program, so in between sips from my margarita, I tossed out the fun factoid that Waco had the first legalized prostitution/vice district in Texas. That prompted one of the guys to share that he'd come across a cool new book on the Chicken Ranch. He was going to buy a copy--but get this--the author lives in New Braunfels! So he thought he'd wait to get the book locally and have the author sign it.

Honestly, I thought he was putting me on. I'd never met any of these guys before, but The Wife has conversed with their wifes online, so... Anyway, I piped up, "What sick sonofabitch would write about the Chicken Ranch?" which got a bit of a laugh from the guys. But then they continued talking about it with increasing interest, saying how the author had tracked down the last madam ("Edna Milton," I offered) and how the reporter who shut it down was from Houston ("Marvin Zindler. He died in 2007," I said) and that there was actually another brothel that was shut down the same time, called the Wagon Wheel in Seguin.

"No, that was in Sealy."

That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. One of them turned to me with an odd look on his face and said, "How do you know so much about it? Did you write the book?"

"Yup," I answered, taking another drink from my margarita. There was a short pause, as they were thinking I was putting them on, quickly followed by a bunch of laughter and a flood of questions about the Chicken Ranch. I'm telling you, it was surreal hearing folks I'd never met wax enthusiastic about my book right in front of me, without knowing they were talking about me. I suppose if they'd been trashing it and saying how awful it was, I'd have been pretty miserable, but as it was, it served as a nice ego boost.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both and It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Prince The Black Album
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

For good or ill, election day in the U.S. is next week. Since Vladimir Putin has played such an outsized role in this presidential race, I think it only appropriate to include the Russian perspective. Here's Pussy Riot with "Make America Great Again."

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Steve Goodman.

Now Playing: Prince Sign 'O' the Times
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, November 03, 2016

2016 Texas Fruit Conference

Monday and Tuesday, I attended the 2016 Texas Fruit Conference, put on by the Texas A&M University Extension Service, now known as AgriLife Extension (which is goofy as all get-out, but whatcha gonna do?). I found out about it a few weeks ago, and as it was held in New Braunfels this year (previous years have all been in College Station) there was no way I was going to miss it. The first day's programming seemed geared more toward commercial farming and orchards, and I ended up skipping the reception in the evening to take the kids trick-or-treating, but my interest was piqued. I saw some researchers I'd only ever seen as names online, and met Dr. Larry Stein, who I'd discussed the possibility of planting Carpathian walnuts about a decade ago (the A&M research station in Uvalde was testing some blight-resistant cultivars. I eventually opted for pecan, which Stein informed me was a good choice--the resistant selections turned out to be not resistant at all, and A&M gave up on the great walnut experiment). I ended up picking up several interesting books:

The second day opened with the discussion I was most excited about, Dr. Stein's discussion on growing cold-tolerant avocados in Texas. He discussed the preferred rootstock and origins of the current Mexican-race avocados from San Antonio and South Texas that make up the bulk of the commonly available cultivars, and said that avocados in Texas are generally self-fertile enough that worrying about pairing A and B types for cross-pollination isn't necessary. He then showed that all avocados are not created equal, as some are much more fleshy than others. One example had a pit that made up maybe 80 percent of the fruit, with just a thin sheath of fruit beneath the skin. Alas, there was no objective analysis of the fruit qualities of the common Mexican types (all online sources are cut-and-paste descriptions interested only in convincing the prospective buyer that the 'cado in question puts Haas to shame). I'd have liked more objective discussion of the available cultivars, but I suppose it was a good overview. Monte Nesbitt followed with a fascinating discussion about growing olives in Texas (tempting, but I'm not going to go there), and Jim Kamas talked about growing grapes in Texas, with special emphasis on the new table grape release Victoria Red. Now I'm jazzed about putting up the pergola The Wife and I have discussed and getting some of those grapes started. Wes Mickel of Austin's Argus Cidery seemed at a bit of a loss during his talk, wandering off into a "It's really hard to grow apples in Texas, so we get ours from out of state" tangent. The Q&A rescued the section, however. I've long been interested in testing the viability of traditional cider apple types in Texas, and asked him if any work was being done with those varieties (most currently-available commercial cider is currently made from dessert apples, resulting in inferior cider). He explained there's a lot of interest in cider apple types in the coops of the Pacific Northwest, but nothing in Texas, because, again, it's hard to grow apples in Texas. Other people jumped in and the discussion moved into providing various fruit types to area distilleries, as fruit infusions are currently very popular, and the fruit used can be "ugly," with blemishes, bruises and the like which would preclude its sale to consumers. After the talk, quite a few people (myself included) gathered around Mickel to continue the discussion.

During lunch, a dozen crates filled with various pear type were set out. They all came from one of the A&M test plots and the attendees were ordered to take them all home, because the conference staff didn't want to haul them back to College Station. I've loved pears forever, and it broke my hear to leave the moonglow back at the old house, so I didn't need much convincing to scoop up a bag full to take home. I grabbed some orient, because I'd never had that type and it was recommended as a good pollinator for the moonglow. It was about the same as billed, mildly gritty, mild flavor, mild sweetness. Not great, but certainly palatable--nowhere near the sweet, juicy, smooth flesh of the moonglow. The Le Conte pears here were kind of mealy and left me unimpressed. The big surprise was the Shin Li Asian pears. I've never been much of a fan of the crunchy-crisp Asian pear types, as I've always found them to have watery flavor and apples do the whole texture better. But these, well, there was a bright, juicy pear flavor to them, with maybe a hint of pineapple. The crispness wasn't overdone. Looking back on it, I wish I'd have grabbed more of them, because they're definitely the best of the bunch.

There was also a box of various persimmons and satsumas on the registration desk. We weren't able to sample these, but they intrigued me. I'd never seen persimmons so red--they could easily have passed for tomatoes were they not marked clearly. I'm definitely going to look into Honan Red and Suruga persimmons.

Most of the time, I was seated next to Dr. Dave Byrne, an expert on rose breeding and peaches. He's a friendly guy, and confirmed that the La Feliciana I'd grown at the old house was not a good choice for this area. His discussion on peaches and stone fruit was interesting. Afterward, we had a brief discussion about the newer low-chill cherries available. He hadn't seen much about them, but wanted to get some and run some trials. The last formal presentation of the day was Tim Hartmann, who discussed growing exotic fruit. He touched on star fruit, dragon fruit and papaya, but what caught my attention was his brief detour into passion fruit territory. Whoo hoo! I wanted to talk to him more about this (turns out he grows p. edulis var. Purple Possum) but the presentations were running late by that point and the conference was almost over--and we'd yet to get to the pomegranate tasting.

Ah, the tasting! This is what I'd looked forward to more than anything else. I am a big fan of pomegranates, but have only tasted "Wonderful," and really wanted to get a sample of other cultivars before making a decision on additional types to plant in the back yard. Currently, I have sweet varieties "Austin" and "Sumbar" planted, and want to round that out with some tart varieties and maybe a sour type. Unfortunately, because of the running lateness of everything and the large number of people eager to sample the various pomegranates, I had to rush through the tasting. I didn't have an opportunity to savor them, and only jotted down my superficial impressions:

Ambrosia: Very sweet, but bland. Very bland. I'd been considering this one, but absolutely won't get it now.

Salavatski(?): This was a tough one to identify. The card looks to me like "Kala Vatsui Anor," but apparently no such pom exists. The closest I can find is Salavatski. Regardless, it had pretty red arils and was tart with a hint of sweetness. The seeds were somewhat hard.

Spanish Sweet: As its name says, it's very sweet. It also had good flavor--by far the best of the sweet poms tasted. Hard seeds.

Al-Sirin-Nar: I'd seen this one down at Fanick's in San Antonio but wasn't sure about it, as online descriptions seemed inconsistent. I found it nicely tart with moderate sweetness and good flavor. I'm inclined to get it now.

Karabala Miursal: Can't find anything about this one online. Misspelled name, perhaps? No matter. It's sweet with hard seeds, an okay flavor. Nothing special, won't be seeking it out.

Ganesh: The most common cultivar in India. Supposedly a sweet fruit with soft seeds, but this one was tart with hard seeds. Mislabeled?

Big Red: Juicy and tart, semi-soft seeds. Didn't make much of an impression.

Kara-Kalinski: Mildly sweet. I found it to have an unusual, almost apple-like flavor, very distinct for a pom. This is supposed to be a good juice variety with medium-hard seeds that have a nutty taste. I don't recall noting the seed taste, but I did hear others commenting on that aspect. This one's a possibility.

Vkusnyi: Sweet-tart taste with soft seeds. This is supposed to have a "complex" taste, but I didn't note much complexity. A long-keeping variety said to produce good juice.

Kazake: Sweet with hard seeds. Supposed to be a sweet-tart type, but I detected no tartness. Meh.

Parfianka/Garnet Sash: The reining taste-test champion, this is supposed to be the greatest, most complex pomegranate for flavor. Imagine my disappointment when I tasted watered-down Wonderful with small, soft seeds. Terribly, terribly underwhelming. Afterward, I spoke with others who'd had Parfianka before and they expressed their disappointment as well. Maybe this was just a bad crop? I dunno. This was on my must-have list, but I'm dubious now.

Sireneuyi: Bland with soft seeds. Supposed to have a "complex, sweet taste," but I found it unremarkable in every way. My least favorite of the entire tasting.

Kajacik Anor: Sweet-tart with hard seeds. Very sweet. Very tart. Really, this one is like Wonderful turned up to 11. I mean that in a good way. This was easily my favorite of the tasting--I sampled it a couple more times to be sure. This is supposed to be super-cold-hardy with long-keeping fruit. I want this one, for sure. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be commonly available. I spoke to one of the folks who works at the pomegranate testing farm, and she said she'll try to get me some cuttings when they go in to prune the plants this winter, so yay!

Guess what? They also brought out a couple boxes of pomegranates for us to take home. One box had Salavatski in it, which we didn't get to sample, and the other was a mix of random fruit from the test plot. I got a couple of the Salavatski, which is supposed to have a "sweet-tart fruity" flavor with seeds that snap in the mouth when bitten. I haven't tried one yet, but did crack open two of the smaller, unknown types. One had bad heart rot, but the other had pale, white-pink arils with a bright, sweet-tart flavor and hard seeds. It will be interesting to sample the other unknown types. I also got a copy of the tasting results. Nice to see my experience wasn't too far off the mark--apart from the people who thought Ambrosia and Vkusnyi were the best of the bunch (some folks only like sweet, apparently), my favorites, Al-Sirin-Nar and Kajacik Anor both scored highly, and Parfianka received no votes at all. Very interesting.

This being the first conference held outside of College Station, I wasn't sure how New Braunfels would compare with previous editions. I figure there were more than 150 folks in attendance, not counting the speakers. Afterward, I heard that this was the highest-attended conference they'd held thus far, so that was interesting. It might come back to New Braunfels in the future, or move around to other parts of the state. If it's nearby, I suspect I'll go again. A lot of what was presented was irrelevant to me, but a good amount of it was engaging. I'd like to see the pomegranate tasting moved to the first evening, so there's not the end-of-conference crunch to deal with, and it'd be great if additional fruits (persimmons?) could be added as well. I'd also like to see unusual/exotic fruit crops expanded on, because that's how I roll.

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