2013 Recap: The Ice Storm

Originally published on November 23, 2014


Around this time last year was the ice storm. Temps dropped so much that the tri-county area was covered in a thick blanket of ice. Some power lines had inches of it that they snapped off the pole as a result. While Marfa lost power for a little over 24 hours, some surrounding areas didn’t have power for weeks, including Thanksgiving weekend.

It was pretty rough.

Here’s my recap of that weekend.

I used a small flashlight to guide me through a dark Marfa the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Every now and then a car would drive by, but other than that, it was straight up an episode of that Revolution show.

You know, that show about the world permanently losing power?

Anyway, when I saw that red beacon of light that said “BEER,” I thought to myself “Sweet. I can charge my cell phone.”

I had just gotten home from an intern brunch earlier that day when the power went out. As a former Marfa Public Radio intern, general manager Tom and his wife Katherine invited the staff, current interns and a few past interns to their house for brunch on Sunday morning.

It was delicious.

So I was at least fed right before the (unexpected) long night ahead of me.

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I was only home for about 30 minutes sitting at my desk watching a movie, when I heard my computer make that familiar beep telling me it’s unplugged. It took me a bit to realize it was from a power outage. I glanced at my electric heater and noticed the light was off.

Great.

Fort Davis, a neighboring town, had already lost power from the ice storm the night before, so I shouldn’t have been surprised our town was next. It was still disheartening when it happened though.

I immediately text my friend Jefferson, an intern at Marfa Public Radio, to ask if they still had power at the station, hoping it wasn’t just me.

After all, my electric bill wasn’t due til the next week.

They didn’t.

So I walked over to bring the pan he wanted to borrow for Thanksgiving. I figured I didn’t have anything to else to do (except try not to panic and freeze in my apartment), so I might as well get that taken care of while the sun was still out.

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When I showed up, Tom and Jefferson were trying to figure out how to keep the station going. There’s a backup generator, but Tom knew it wouldn’t last long. I took in as much heat as I could at the radio station while it still lingered in the building and drank a cup of still-warm coffee.

To pass time, I walked around and took photos of downtown Marfa covered in ice.

After all, I’m a reporter.

There were icicles everywhere. Some of them would fall when I walked by, which was creepy. I don’t want my cause of death to ever be “killed by an icicle to the head,” so I tried to walk as far as I could from them. There was ice on the plants. The water fountain at the Hotel Paisano froze in time, which everyone and their mother (including me) took photos for their Instagram.

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I called my dad and brother to let them know what was going on. I debated over that because I didn’t want them to worry. But I also didn’t want them to find out there was no power from someone else, and with my luck, my phone would be off when they tried to call me, and they would make a six-hour worried-fill trip to try to save me. My dad took the news surprising well.

I’ve learned during the power outage that I get really bored really easily. I was so, so bored. There was no internet. I had to conserve my phone and laptop batteries so I couldn’t really listen to music or watch a movie to kill time. I did some reading and laid around at my apartment. Fun times, for sure.

Tom and Katherine were nice to loan me some blankets so I wouldn’t freeze overnight with my heater being electric and all. At least I could still cook with my gas stove. Dinner was leftover hot chocolate from the night before and some eggs, which I made with the guidance of a flashlight. I set up a workstation at my desk by clipping a small bike light to my iPad and did some transcribing by hand, because deadlines don’t care. The paper was still coming out this week.

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I had just finished watching the rest of a movie on my laptop when I got the text from Jefferson that people were at the Lost Horse. Of course a bar, especially that one, would be one of the very few places in Marfa with power.

Ty Mitchell, bless him.

The bar wasn’t too crowded, but it felt like any other Thursdays (which is dollar draft night) to me. There was music playing. People were drinking. Some were playing pool. You could have forgotten it was pitch black outside those doors. However, the chili someone made didn’t last very long at all, which reminded me why we were there.

I let Zane, another Marfa Public Radio intern, use my phone charger to charge his phone. His battery was almost out, and I still had 50 percent so he was in more dire need. Plus, where were we gonna go? Back home?

Actually, that’s what I kept wondering when people would leave. Did people just go back to their powerless homes? To me, that just didn’t sound appealing, especially with cell phone service down. I felt safer around other people, and hanging out in the dark was kinda depressing.

Zane kept joking the zombie apocalypse was coming, and I couldn’t help but not doubt it could happen. I’ve seen way too many horror movies in my lifetime, and I never thought I would end up in small town West Texas with no electricity during an ice storm, and that happened, so nothing would have surprised me after that. It was the type of situation that makes you question life decisions. And makes me constantly worry if I have enough cell phone battery in case it happens again.

I was mainly worried that my train to Austin the next night would be canceled. I had been planning this trip for weeks, and for it to not happen because of the ice storm would have been the last straw. A girl can only handle so much bad news at once, you know?

When I got back to my apartment, I thought about staying up and doing some more transcribing, but I was cold. So I laid under my three blankets and went to sleep.

The power came back on around 4 p.m. the next day when I was in the nearby town of Alpine.

And my train wasn’t canceled.

The story behind Bankrupt and the Borrowers' "I Love You Baby" music video

Originally published on January 16, 2015

I can’t express how much this post means to me. I’ve been waiting five years to write this.

Lauren Green (Follow that Bird!): This is a great way to start the interview.

It had been two years since Green saw Bankrupt and the Borrower’s music video for “I Love You Baby.”

The concept showed several bands from the East Cameron Collective, a friendly group of bands from the East Cameron neighborhood, to perform parts of the song as they traveled through the neighborhood. Blue Mongeon, from Bankrupt and the Borrowers and the music video’s director, didn’t want the actual band to appear in the video.

Blue Mongeon (Bankrupt and the Borrowers): The idea in Bankrupt was that any music video that we made, we didn’t want anybody to see what we looked like. I thought it would be a really funny idea to have different bands. Every video we made would be a different band, so any time you saw a video by this band that it’ll look totally different. It’ll be different people, which would hopefully cause a lot of confusion. I don’t know what the central goal of that was really, but I didn’t want anybody to know what we looked like.

It’s kind of the same philosophy the guys had with the nicknames they used to refer each other in public and in interviews.

BM: It seemed like a much better idea to ask our friends to do it and kind of all enjoy the moment together and join into something together we’re working towards.

Those friends included Hobomouth, Bridge Farmers, The Van Buren Boys, The Bread and Follow that Bird.

Blake Bernstein (Van Buren Boys): We actually never played with (Follow that Bird) before, I don’t know why you…

BM: Oh, I’ve done sound for them a bunch of time at Mohawk and just met them and thought they were really cool.

Mongeon hit up AJ Miranda, who was a regular fixture at Bankrupt and the Borrowers’ shows. Usually with a video camera in hand, Miranda filmed many of the band’s performances for his blog ‘Nites, which can be found on YouTube.

AJ Miranda (videographer): I showed up at their house and went drinking one day before a show. They pitched me the idea, and I was like ‘This is just crazy and stupid enough that it might actually work.’

On a Sunday in October 2008, everyone gathering at the Bankrupt house and started prepping for the video. All the musicians assembled at the house in the afternoon and they walked through the route that was mapped out beforehand.

BB: I remember when we were doing it, it was just a group of like 20-50 of us walking through the street listening to it.

LG: We were setting up in their neighbor’s yard hoping that they wouldn’t come out and just find a random drum set in their garden.

BM: (Lauren) was really sweet. She sat down with me and Jon (Pettis from Bankrupt and the Borrowers) and learned our guitar parts. Not that there’s a lot of them.

BB: We learned the song right before the video. We’re like 'How do you play that? Show me, so it looks kinda accurate.’

LG: I just remember we kept listening to it over and over and we didn’t mind because it’s such a good song.

BM: We’re the only ones that played the song wrong. Out of the whole video, everybody else was perfectly in sync doing their job great… And when it got to us, it was all off time. I had to sit with AJ and we edited that. Just that part a lot because it was all misconstrued.

The video takes the viewer through a brief stroll in the East Cameron neighborhood, ending at the Bankrupt and the Borrowers’ house. It was filmed in one take.

BM: It’s difficult to achieve, I think. I don’t know anything about film, but from what I understand, to have one continuous shot that follows along a sequence of events is difficult to coordinate.

AM: If something went wrong, we’ll be 'Ok, let’s go back and do it again’ or if it just doesn’t look quite right, it doesn’t look like what we want it to look, 'Ok let’s go back and do it again.’

BB: The one guy at the end kept messing it up, which is very inconvenient… All he had to say was 'You fucking whore’’ but he couldn’t remember that and he would like freak out and start screaming other shit.

BM: One of the funnier things to me was that Denis and Robert and Eric, they were the first band. They were the furthest away from the house and we didn’t want to get into any trouble with the law. I didn’t want to. So every time I went back over to say 'We need to do another take,’ their bass player Robert’d be like 'Can I have a fucking beer?’ I’d be 'No, no, not yet. Hang on, man. I don’t want us to get arrested for drinking on the street before we’re done filming. I don’t want us to get arrested at all.’

Denis O'Donnell (The Bread): The best part was the Bridge Farmers’ couple of takes 'cause they had to run through the streets.

Garett Carr (Bridge Farmers): By like, what? The third or fourth fucking time we were doing it, I was like 'Oh my god.’ Like in track again or something.

BB: It wasn’t like you were wearing a poncho or anything. Oh wait.

AM: I felt bad at the end of the day… The afternoon sun is burning down on you. We’re having these guys running down two blocks every couple with a poncho. I kinda felt bad by the end of it, but everybody had fun.

BM: To me that was incredibly sweet 'cause these guys were allowing me to kinda direct how it was going. It’s intense walking outside and looking at all your friends that are stationed around your neighborhood just being like 'No, we gotta do it again.’ Everybody’s like 'nooooo.’

The last shot ends inside a room in the house where most of the Bankrupt and the Borrowers lived and practiced.

BB: That’s where Folkcore started.

BM: I do want to say the shot that went into our house, that’s our house. We didn’t like dress it up or put art on the wall for the video. That’s the way it was.

AM: You’d think that’s like set decoration or that was put there to make it look like a party had happened. No, a party had actually happened. That was all real… That’s just how their house looks on any given day. That’s kinda the endearing aspect of hanging out with those guys, you know.

Once the video was done, Bankrupt and the Borrowers had a show to celebrate the release.

AM: I don’t think the Mohawk will ever be that beer-stained again.

DO: We brought the Hole in the Wall to the Mohawk.

AM: The room was packed, but it was packed with everybody there knew each other.

It was common at a Bankrupt show for the crowd to put their arms around each other and sing along, especially with the song “Holden Caulfield at Age 35.”

AM: Everybody goes nuts and there’s just something about that song that really just brings out something in everybody. I don’t know what it is. I can’t explain it, but it just like touches your soul. Everybody goes nuts when that song plays, and when the trumpet part kicks in, everybody starts throwing beer and spitting beer.

One photo in particular from the night of video release shows Jake Van Buren from the Van Buren Boys crowd-surfing during Bankrupt and the Borrower’s set.

AM: That picture just encapsulates what that whole scene was about and what these guys are about. Just being with friends and getting drunk and living and just being happy regardless of what’s your financial situation or whatever you’re from. It’s just a very accepting group. That’s why I’m glad that my music video debut is with those guys. I’m glad we found each other 'cause it’s a really cool group of people. I think they have something good going. They should keep going for as long as they can.

Bankrupt and the Borrowers played their last performance during Fun Fun Fun Fest in 2009 after the unexpected death of their band member Pettis. Now, five years later, Mongeon, Carr, Bernstein and O'Donnell sat down with me to reflect on the video.

The majority of the musicians from the bands in the video are now a part of the East Cameron Folkcore, who performed on October 18 at Holy Mountain.

BM: Tonight we’re here to honor the memory of our friend, Jon Pettis, and we’re also here to celebrate East of Cameron becoming an official non-profit.

East of Cameron is a vocational school to teach 12- to 15-year-olds cosmetology, hospitality, automotive and carpentry to give them hands-on training and help them build resumes and confidence.

East Cameron Folkcore has traveled around the globe, including Germany, Austria and Switzerland. They’ve self-released three albums and were mentioned in various media outlets such as the New York Times, NPR and Austin Monthly.

BM: I think overall there’s a lot of celebration. I certainly do and I think we all miss Jon quite a bit… There’s a lot of positive great memories, but there will always be some sadness that goes along with a loss like that, but overall, I’m very proud and excited about how we all moved on and progressed and what we decided to do and what we built here in this town.

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Interviews: A.J. Miranda, April 2009; Lauren Green formally from Follow that Bird!, now Mirror Travel, November 2013; Blue Mongeon formally from Bankrupt and the Borrowers, now East Cameron Folkcore, Blake Bernstein formally from Van Buren Boys, now East Cameron Folkcore, Garett Carr from Bridge Farmers, and Denis formally from The Bread, now East Cameron Folkcore, October 2014

Luna family history

I wrote this for the first Luna family reunion four years ago. A relative volunteers at the Austin History Center and collected all the public records he could on the Luna family. He shared the information with me and I wrote this narrative from it, which was presented at the first reunion in 2012.

I’ve been told our family probably came into Austin in 1872. We might possibly be the oldest Mexican family in Austin. I don’t know exact details, because we’re relying on the only public records that could be found. Facebook wasn’t around back then, so Pilar Nava couldn’t tell us when she “checked in” to Austin, but I do know that her relationship status would have changed to “married to Joe Eulogio de Luna” on September 11, 1847.

Pilar came down from China (Chee-na), Mexico where she was born. The town was an important center for guerrilla resistance to the U.S. Occupation of northern Mexican during the U.S.-Mexican war. However, it was also a small village that almost didn’t have agriculture because of the poor conditions. The people had to travel to seek water and pasture for their animals.

There’s no exact date when Pilar, Eulogio and their small son came to San Antonio, but Lucielle Castro Camacho, a great granddaughter, wrote that they came to Austin to hide from the Indians that were rebelling from the Mexican Government. Indians back then were treating like slaves. In San Antonio, they had seven children: Gertrudes, Antonio, Carlota, Elojio, Refugia. Manuela, and Edwardo. One of the granddaughter said that Pilar would talk about how Austin was filled with huddle of huts and people lived in fear of roving bands of Indians. At the time, the Mexicans population reached 300 and and the men were mostly teamsters and farm laborers.

The Capitol was made of logs. She was actually around when they laid the cornerstone to our state’s capitol. One source states she would frequently encounter chain gangs of convicts who were led to work at the construction site by armed guards. She would fall to her knees and make the sign of the cross and pray for forgiveness of their souls.

One interesting thing is that it seems the family moved a lot. According to the Austin City Directories, the address always changed. What makes that interesting is that the family never moved. They lived in the same house in the area known as “Mexico” near the mouth of Shoal Creek, but for some reason, the address was the only thing that changed.

Pilar did laundry and ironing to bring in income. Elojio passed away in Austin and is buried in the oldest cemetery in Austin, which is located in downtown Austin across the street from Brackenbridge Hospital. Pilar passed away in 1918 when she was 105 years old. However, it should be noted that one article states she was 105, another that she was 106, so keep in mind that ages are not exact. The Statesman, which we all know as the Austin American-Statesman, wrote a small article about her death. That was a huge deal during those days as most Mexicans didn’t have lengthy write-ups about their death in the paper unless it was an unusual circumstance. According to the article, she died bearing 24 children and one relative reported that there were at least 300 direct descendants just from her. An interesting note about that article is that it states that she survived all her children except one, who was 54 at the time.

Lucielle also wrote that she remembered Pilar’s casket because it was light brown pine which she and her brother Paul placed wild poppies in. The wake was held at home with the casket in the living room.

Eulogio, Pilar’s first son, attended Austin First Ward School. There’s a school record that showed he was enrolled when he was an older teen even if it also showed he was absent a lot. But it shows that even though he was older, he took advantage of the first time they had free public schools with the other siblings. The father had passed away at the time so Pilar became the parent and guardian.

There isn’t much information on the children besides the basic public information: death records, school enrollments with the exception of Valentino Luna, our famous boxer. Did you know he was born a twin? It looks from the records that the other son didn’t make it at the birth. However, this generation includes your parents, your grandparents. So please join us in sharing your memories so we can add to our family history.

#the100dayproject Day 10: WriteLane

This post is part of #the100dayproject that encourages creatives to do an action every day for 100 days. I've chosen to write an article or blog post every day. Previous posts for this project can be found here.

One thing that inspired me to do this 100 day project was Lane DeGregory's podcast WriteLane. DeGregory won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing for her story, “The Girl at the window,” about a seven-year-old feral child who was adopted by a new family. She is also known for not only finding story ideas from doing something as simple as riding a bus or buying groceries, but also for writing in a way that gives you all the feels.

 Lane DeGregory chatting with us during the Poytner College Fellowship in 2011.

Lane DeGregory chatting with us during the Poytner College Fellowship in 2011.

I first met DeGregory during my Poynter College Fellowship in 2011. Out of all the things I learned during those two weeks of journalism boot camp, her session was the most memorable.

Someone asked me recently why I pursue journalism. I didn't hesitate to respond that I love sharing people's stories. I love discovering a story idea, gathering all the facts and details before I take on the challenge of writing the story that reveals them just right.

DeGregory shared her tips on how she finds her ideas during the fellowship, and her podcast is an extension of that. Her enthusiasm in what what she does is infectious. I find myself ready to write and take on the world after every episode.

Before the podcast came into my life, I had been phoning it in for quite a while. I left my weekly newspaper job of over three years because I was burned out. I took a year sabbatical to give my brain have a break. Now that I have, I'm trying to remind myself why I love this job in the first place. I'm trying to find that motivation again.

DeGregory's podcast was one of the first things that made me feel that spark again. I get excited for a new episode because I know it means I'll be inspired.

And I always am.