Politics & Personalities
2005 Readers Poll
2005 Critics Picks
Best "Real" Life Lesson Metaphor

"The one thing I learned is that there is nothing real about 'The Real World,'" says Colin Funderburk, who works at the Blind Pig on Sixth Street. Back in February, while the 16th installment of MTV's The Real World was midway through shooting in Austin, Funderburk briefly dated Rachel, the Valencia, Calif., Army nurse on a "break" from her boyfriend, who claims Jenna Jameson as her personal hero. Then the cameras caught him and another girl at a bar and the message for episode 6 was suddenly clinched: Funderburk was a reflection of what Rachel was doing in her own relationship. Or something deeply metaphorical like that. Now he finds himself in the strange world of semicelebrity, being uncomfortably mobbed by 16-year-old girls who recognize him from the show. "I had a good time hanging out with the cast," Funderburk admits, though he and Rachel have severed all ties. Surprised? Funderburk doesn't seem to be. "So much of it is about the cameras and the attention. True life is way more important then being on TV."

Blind Pig Pub
317 E. Sixth
512/472-0809
www.facebook.com/BlindPigPub

Best Active Activist

What can we say? If this woman had as many heads as she wears hats, she'd be one scary looking mama. But she doesn't have a gazillion heads. Just one, that's the miracle. Yet she's a board member of the ACLU and is active in a myriad of community groups, including the Austin Spokescouncil, the antiwar group CodePink, and Barton Spring's David to AMD's Goliath, Save Our Springs Alliance. She's been at the forefront of holding APD's feet to the accountability fire, most notably on their use of Tasers. She was an ever-present presence at Camp Casey, though she spent much of her time dashing back and forth from Austin to Crawford in her "Demo"car"cy art car. Plus, she was campaign manager for Libertarian hopeful Wes Benedict. And that's not the end of it, to be sure: As anyone who has spent a modicum of time with her can attest, her ever-present cell phone is constantly ringing with folks eager for so-and-so's number or reporters needing the lefty inside scoop. So, hat's off to Debbie! Unfortunately, we've only got one.

2311 Riverside Farms Rd
389-0215
www.texasbordc.org

Glen Maxey   Jana Birchum

Best Advice to Texas Voters

Run for your lives! With global terrorism limping behind as a far-distant second, the insidious spectre of gay marriage is here to destroy your family, ruin your neighborhood, and turn you queer in the process – or so would the cynical, grandstanding legislators that penned HJR 6 have you believe. The resolution prohibiting both same-sex marriage and civil unions is several things - smokescreen for the failures of the 79th Legislature, campaign fodder for morally bankrupt Republican politicos - but most importantly, a piece of legislation legally codifying discrimination in the Texas Constitution. Not so fast, says No Nonsense in November, an Austin-based political action committee. Led by a former legislator, Austin's beloved Glen Maxey, the PAC is out to remind Texans that with thousands of uninsured kids, underfunded schools, and an as-yet-unindicted speaker of the House, Texas has bigger problems.
*Oops! Due to proofreading error, in the Oct. 14, 2005, "Best of Austin" print issue, the word "indicted" ran in the Critics Pick award for Best Advice to Texas Voters rather than the correct "as-yet-unindicted." The Chronicle regrets the error.

No Nonsense in November
1210 Rosewood
512/443-2019
www.nononsenseinnovember.com

Best Archive of Survival

Alive in Truth: The New Orleans Disaster Oral History & Memory Project. This Austin-based oral history project was born after local resident and New Orleans native (and Chronicle contributor) Abe Louise Young first visited the convention center during the horrible aftermath of hurricane Katrina. "Like everyone, I was somewhat desperate to [figure out] how I could be of service," Young said. She also "realized that physical survival needs are vital, but … connection, healing, and being really deeply heard are part of that process." And that was basically the beginning of Alive in Truth, an admirable, all-volunteer effort to document the lives and experiences of New Orleans evacuees. The project is a lot more than therapy for its interview subjects and volunteers, however. Contrary to standard time- and space-constrained media coverage, Alive in Truth is a thorough, big-picture exploration of the toll of one of America's worst natural disasters through the eyes of its victims – an invaluable historical tool.

Alive in Truth: The New Orleans Disaster Oral History & Memory Project
1109 1/2 Fiesta St.
512/653-6539
www.aliveintruth.com/

Best Bipartisan Kids Legislator

Carter Casteel is a rare bird in Texas politics these days. She's a Republican who refuses to toe the party line on public education issues. If the GOP leadership had its way, the state would scrap public ed altogether and hand it off to profiteers. Republicans – the dangerous ones at the top – think corporates and/or Bible thumpers can do a better job of running schools than educators. Rubbish, Casteel says. The House member from New Braunfels is a former schoolteacher who knows a thing or two about teaching kids. Trying to educate her party bosses is a bigger challenge. Casteel's best-of-show came in May, when she delivered a fire-and-brimstone argument against private school vouchers that threatened to put public schools out of business. You got a problem with public ed? Casteel asked fellow lawmakers. "Look in the mirror! We are what we are, and we have created it!" The voucher bill died, thanks to a dozen brave Republicans like Casteel who bucked the bosses and voted their conscience.

Room EXT E2.906
463-0325
www.house.state.tx.us/members/dist73/casteel.htm

Best Customer Service

Dealing with billing issues is never fun. In fact, more often than not, it is a completely frustrating experience. But every once in a while you get a chance to meet a truly exceptional customer service agent. Meet Bobby Shaw, supervisor at Austin Energy's customer-service call center. Shaw is efficient and gracious, actually hearing what the customer has to say and exuding a Zen-like calm – even when met with the ire of a customer whose electric service has been shut off. Don't ask us how we know this. Just know that Austin Energy is lucky to have her.

Bobby Shaw
721 Barton Springs Rd.
494-9400

Best Dream Finally Realized

After seven years of planning, one of the largest universities in the nation finally acquiesced to student and faculty demands for a gender and sexuality center. Combining elements of an LGBT safe-space headquarters and a women's resource center, the little office in the SSB (Student Services Building, for you non-Horns) has been offering counseling, mentorships, and good ol'-fashioned advice to UT students and faculty. Director Ana Ixchel Rosal and crew aren't stopping there, either. Plans to resurrect the Safe Space program and institute faculty training sessions are just the first step. Yet, with the undeniable success GSC has had and since Michigan's version has existed since the Seventies, one question remains: What took so long?

UT Gender and Sexuality Center
Student Activity Center, 2201 Speedway, SAC 2.112, UT campus
512/232-1831
www.utexas.edu/diversity/ddce/gsc

Best Guardians of the Eternal Fag

Maybe that's what the Statesman's Michael Barnes was referring to when he detected an underground gay vibe in Red River cornerstone Beerland. Owners Randall and Donya Stockton have done so much for live music in Austin: They not only opened a hole in the wall four years ago that catered to small-crowd, punk rock shows knowing it was a far-from-prosperous venture, but they also fought tooth and nail against Austin's citywide smoking ban, a potential coffin nail for many small clubs. The Stocktons – neither of whom smoke – spoke out for those who are in this business for the right reasons: The love of music. Randall has been a staunch supporter of Austin's music since his days at Bates Motel, and despite the city's very mixed message (donning the Live Music Capital cap, yet doing little to encourage clubs and musicians), Randall and Donya aren't going to stop supporting now. By the way, all you nonsmokers out there, clubowners like Randall and Donya need you now more than ever. Come out before it's far too late. The time is drawing nigh.

Beerland
711 Red River
512/479-7625
www.beerlandtexas.com

Best Honored Guests

Come on down, sweet darlins. Shake off the weary sweat of "travel," and let Austin bathe your brow. Nothing could make Austin happier than to have thousands of new friends from the Big Easy and beyond take a respite here. You enrich our culture, spice up our cuisine, and make us proud to share an Abita beer with you – or a Dixie, for those real swamp-sisters. Thank you for surviving your hurricane season and getting here to recuperate and celebrate simply being alive. You've always been kind to visitors, and now it's our turn to be hospitable in return. Viva New Orleans! All hail the Gulf Coast! L'aissez les bon temps rouler!

Best Hunky Fundraiser

The Austin Association of Professional Firefighters entered the big leagues last year by organizing an annual fundraising firefighter calendar. All proceeds from calendar sales go to the AAPFF's Relief and Outreach Fund, which donates money not only to firefighter families in need but also to other individuals who, for example, have been displaced from their home by a fire, but who lack the resources to get back on their feet. Of course it doesn't hurt that the pictures, of both male and female firefighters, are H-O-T. Sizzlin' even, like a four-alarm blaze.

Austin Association of Professional Firefighters
7537 Cameron Road
441.7572
www.aapff.org

Best Hurricane Helper

In the wake of Katrina, Austin didn’t quite get the overwhelming second line of evacuees who landed in Houston or Dallas, but we opened our hearts and homes to those who landed here and can be justly proud of the city’s response, official and unofficial. Despite a few bumps here and there, the local Red Cross, Salvation Army, numerous other groups, and especially city employees worked day and night to welcome our guests, and for his unstinting, open-hearted hard work, this may well have been Mayor Wynn’s finest hour. We applaud him, his staff, City Manager Toby Futrell and all her staff, and all the city employees (volunteer and otherwise) for reminding us what makes a city is its people – and also, for unofficially recruiting a whole slew of transplant New Orleans artists who will return the favor musically for many, many years.

Best Labor Union

Love 'em or hate 'em, over the last decade the Austin Police Association has organized itself into a political force to be reckoned with. From their influence in City Council elections to their power at the bargaining table during labor negotiations (how else do you suppose the APD was able to secure the title of best-compensated cops in the state?) to the creation of Austin's Office of the Police Monitor, which would not have been possible without the union's support, the APA has thrown its muscle into action – no small feat in a relatively weak union state.

Austin Police Association
400 W. 14th
512/474-6993
www.austinpolice.com

Jana Birchum

Best Living Angel on this Earth

Imagine you own a tiny little cookery named Nubian Queen Lola's Cajun Kitchen and you've just closed up for the night after a long day of frying and smiling and talking and frying. You hear a knocking at your locked door, which you open slowly to reveal three sweaty people on bicycles. Would you smile and open the door wider, inviting them to come in and take a seat? Would you walk on into your finally cool kitchen and warm up the gumbo and jambalaya and rice that you had already put away for tomorrow? Would you, for that matter, create a special vegetarian meal for one of these late-night visitors? We bet not. And we bet you wouldn't close your restaurant on Sundays to feed the homeless, either. Well, the Queen would. And does. This foxy purple-haired Christian (with facial piercings!) embodies all the good there is in heaven and brings it right on down to Earth in the form of the most delicious cajun-spiced hamburgers you'll find, down here or up there.

Nubian Queen Lola's Cajun Soul Food Kitchen
1815 Rosewood
512/474-5652
www.nubianqueenlolas.com

Best Minister/Spiritual Leader

The minister of First Unitarian Universalist Church might possibly be the Austin faith community’s best-kept secret. Having already authored the thought-provoking and profound Jesus Series, Dr. Loehr delivered an incendiary sermon titled "Living Under Fascism," after the botched 2004 presidential election, and inspired standing ovations in the sanctuary. A Vietnam veteran and former photographer, Loehr strips religion of its rhetoric and offers a clear-eyed look at the issues that divide us today, reminding us that it is possible to have faith and use your brain at the same time.

First Unitarian Universalist Church
4700 Grover
512/452-6168

Best Open Arms

Not that Austin is ever at a loss to offer a helping hand, but when the hurricanes hit, this town rallied like never before. Not only did the capital city open its arms to thousands of Katrina (and later, Rita) evacuees, the benefits began to rock & roll into action. The biggest and most star-studded, organized by Clifford Antone at the Erwin Center, featured Jimmie Vaughan, the Flatlanders, Patty Griffin, the Neville Brothers, Ray Price, Eric Johnson, and Willie Nelson. New Orleans and the Gulf Coast lie as near and dear to Austin's heart as the musical beat, you see, and Mother Nature just can't take that away. "As long as these hurricanes keep coming, we're just going to keep doing them," declared Antone. Amen, brother.

Best Rock the Goat

We abound in hometown heroes: Lance, Willie, Ann, Molly, W.C., Earl. The latest addition to the pantheon is Nik the Goat, heir to the throne previously occupied by Dopey (also of the Capra persuasion). Nik's status rose from favored neighbor to local legend when city officials (aka the Man) found him in violation of city livestock codes and ordered owner Joel Munos to oust the horned hero. Neighborhood outrage, press in the daily paper, and petitions in support of the goat pressured city officials to grant Nik a "pardon" from the mayor who publicly declared Nik "a good goat." Nik's back at home where he belongs, but his star status continues to rise. He'll be among the subjects of a new play at Zachary Scott Theatre Center about Austinites called "Keepin' It Weird." Hail the conquering hero.

Jana Birchum

Best Senator Emeritus

Last month, after 30 years of official public service, 20 in the state Senate, Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos announced he will not seek another term and will step down at the end of 2006, to pursue other opportunities – and to continue to work for Texans. It’s been a long and distinguished run, and it’s not over yet – the unresolved public school finance debate will continue into the next year, so no doubt the senator will have much to say on that issue and its direct connection to support for public school employees, especially teachers. Announcing his farewell, Barrientos reiterated his consistent passionate defense of “the common good,” and looking back he said simply, “What I did more than anything else was follow my heart.” So may he continue, for all our hearts.

P.O. Box 12068
512/463-0114

Best Show of Bipartisanship

What a difference a biennium makes. In 2003, Republican House members marched in robotic lockstep with the GOP leadership on everything from congressional redistricting to ideological zaniness. In 2005 we saw a new day with a fair number of moderates splitting from their über-conservative brethren on education issues. Seems not all Republicans agree with the idea that public schools should be reformed (read: set up to fail and then shut down) and placed under private control. As such, enough Republicans joined Democrats to successfully block these "reforms."

Texas House of Representatives
PO Box 2910
www.house.state.tx.us

Best Use of Recycled Material

The highly marketable "One Tough Grandma" campaign slogan worked so well for Carole Keeton Strayhorn in her 2002 bid for state comptroller, she's taking the catchphrase out for another spin – this time in her candidacy for governor.

111 East 17th Street
www.window.state.tx.us

Best Way With Words

"I have listened to the arguments. I have listened to all of the crap. ... I want you to know that this amendment [is] blowing smoke to fuel the hellfire flames of bigotry." – Rep. Senfronia Thompson, who delivered an impassioned argument against a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions. Following her remarks, the Texas House voted overwhelmingly in favor of the ban.

1100 Congress, Room CAP 3S.06
463-0720
www.house.state.tx.us/members/dist141/thompson.htm

Jana Birchum

Jana Birchum

Best Woman in the Zone

Chances are, if you've stumbled across Channel 6 (the City of Austin's C-SPAN, if you will ...) and paused for a while, you've seen her. Poised at the mic, addressing the city council or dais full of county commissioners, this elegant woman presents data with a calm and certainty that makes even the driest civic-speak seem like engaging spoken word. She's soft-spoken, even when the issues flying around get hot. She's Alice Glasco, our city's Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department director. Annexation, urban design, permits, census info, historic preservation, smart growth, that's all in her purview. And since taking the position in the restructured city department five years ago, she has earned a rep for coolheaded efficiency, turning what was a wild bureaucratic ride into a more smoothly operating ship. You've heard the old saw: "Build it, they will come ..." In Austin, there's a slight variation: "Present your proposals to build it, Alice Glasco and her crew will look it over, then you might be able to build it, and see if they will come ..."

City of Austin Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department
505 Barton Springs Rd., PO Box 1088
512/974-7695
www.ci.austin.tx.us/planning

Most Unflappable Hostess

When a few curmudgeons among her Williamson County neighbors complained about Round Rock’s First Ever Drag Show! – horrors! – and some public officials proceeded to make official asses of themselves, even calling out the fire inspectors, Coffee House Impresario Roberts declined to respond in kind, saying simply, "What’s the big deal? This is … a talent performance. These guys were impersonating famous performers, and one of them was an acrobat." The acrobat may well have been Round Rock’s most famous son, Vander Clyde, who in the 1920s became an international icon as the legendary female impersonator "Barbette." Another likely subject could have been gunfighter Sam Bass, who still provides continued annual promotional entertainment for the town fathers, once robbing the local bank in a dress. Sounds like these guys could use a few history lessons – and who better to provide it than Saradora’s, its (un)Caged Birds, and its most gracious hostess, Sarah Roberts?

Jana Birchum

 
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