Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Bug Bites

The Houston Museum of Natural Science has everything you want in a natural history museum.  Fossils, rocks, interactive displays, rotating exhibits...and all the dinosaurs you stare at.

But it was when I was on my way out that I discovered something truly unique.  Near the gift shop is this unassuming vending machine:

Sure, it looks like the average treat dispenser but if you take a closer look you'll see a menu of science specific snacks and borderline gross grub.  Let's start with some of the more traditional fare.  And what's more at home at a museum than dinosaurs?

Gummi bears are replaced with Gummi Dinosaurs but the real find here is the top row.  Choc-o-saurus is a combination of two museum staples: dinosaurs and freeze dried ice cream!  It's chocolate with chocolate chips and, while eating it, you have the option to pretend like you're an astronaut or a extinct predator who loves dehydrated food.

Larvets!  Wondering if these things are what they look like?  Well, here's the explanation directly from their website: "Real larva, deliciously seasoned. Offered in three flavors: BBQ, Cheddar Cheese, or Mexican Spice."  And that's not enough bugs to satisfy your appetite, then good news...

Here we've got "Crick-ettes." which are, you guessed it, real crickets.  These are Bacon & Cheese flavor but they also come in Salt N' Vinegar and Sour Cream & Onion.  And if you're still hungry for bugs, you can also grab some Ant Wafers!  It's essentially what it sounds like: "Real ants in chocolate flavored round wafers."

Have you ever eaten hard candy and thought to yourself, "I wish this had ants in it."  Then you should have picked #56 or #57 from this vending machine.  You get the option of either Cherry or Apple flavor, both with Black Ants of course.

For our final selections we head to outer space for Alien Ice Cream.  This another freeze dried ice cream and is your standard Neapolitan flavor but it's either made by or eaten by Aliens.  Or maybe there's just one on the package.  Or you can have a Moon Pie!  Get it?  "Moon"

So the next time you head out to the museum, bring some change and an adventurous appetite.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Flag Wavers

Everybody loves a trip to Six Flags Over Texas.  Locals and out-of-towners flock to the park for high speed thrills and kid friendly fun.  The amusement mecca has attracted its fair share of camera crews too since the locale looks great on screen.  So today we have a couple of examples of when Hollywood came to Six Flags!

The Banana Splits Adventure Hour consisted of live action costumed characters (an ape, an elephant, a dog and a lion) having madcap adventures, playing music and introducing Hanna Barbera cartoons that couldn't merit having their own show.

To set up the fun tone of the show they shot their opening credits at amusement parks including Coney Island and, you guessed it, Six Flags!  One of the first recognizable rides you can see in the credits is the Run-A-Way Mine Train:

Another easy to recognize attraction is "El Sombrero":


 If trippy weirdo characters on trippy rides are up your alley then you'll love what comes next.  Sid and Marty Kroft designed the Banana Splits' costumes and, of course, produced their own shows like H.R. Pufnstuf, Land of the Lost and Lidsville.  When it was time to shoot the opening of Lidsville (a show about a land of magic hats) the Kroft brothers knew where to go:

The sequence involves young Butch Patrick (Eddie from The Munsters) running afoul of Merlo the Magician at a magic show at Six Flags.  You can see from the sign above that the producers felt no need to hide the identity of the park or try to disguise it as a fictional park.

With Six Flags definitely being the setting, you can spot quintessential Six Flags accoutrements like Texas Flags and El Aserradero (the Log Ride):

And since we're talking about the Log Ride (and for no other real reason), I have an excuse for posting this old school token that's been lying around for awhile.  I'm not sure what year it's from:

Our last stop at the park involves a much more recent production.  Texas native Robert Rodriguez is known for his gritty, violent action movies but he's also been known to make fun kids movies too.  So when it was time to shoot an amusement park sequence for Spy Kids 2, you can guess where he went.

The Oil Derrick Tower is one of the most recognizable elements in the park.  It's 300 feet tall and was perfect when Rodriguez needed to create his own special effects thrill ride:

Of course, that's the late, great native Texan Bill Paxton as "Dinky Winks."  And that's our last ride of the day.  Time to head back to the parking lot for the long drive home.    Hope you had fun today and that the lines weren't too long.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Pin Pal


If there are to be various World's Largest things then surely they would feel right at home in Texas.  While, I've so far been able to stop myself from beginning a blog entry with the phrase, "They say everything is bigger in Texas," it's getting harder and harder with the amount of great big stuff that populates the Lone Star state.  And with that, we head inside Pinballz Kingdom in Buda, TX to check out another great big thingamajig.

Now it's always tricky when you get into the "World's Largest" this and the "World's Largest" that.  Caveats tend to abound.  Many people play it safe by claiming they have the largest thing in the state or the country or they can even get cute and claim to have the second largest such-and-such.  But when signage is involved, you know they mean business:

There's a lot of great pinball machines out there but there's only one that can claim to be the "World's Largest."  OK, so these were commercially produced so there's technically more than one of them out there but I this is the one in Central Texas.  Behold...the "Hercules":

The place is full of tons of retro (and newish) pinball and arcade games but this one is the arcade's pride and joy and is positioned right in the center of the action.  In the interest of full disclosure, the Folks at Guinness claim that this machine in Italy is the real World's Largest but that location probably doesn't have the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game like Pinballz does so I'll head to Buda the next time I want to sink some quarters.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Matchbook Memories: Big Texan Steak Ranch


If you're reading a blog about Texas Pop Culture then you're probably already aware of the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo. What you may not be aware of is the 2002 film Waking Up in Reno.  In it, a quarter of fairly obnoxious couples go on a road trip and like the best road trips, they make a stop at the legendary restaurant.

This wasn't just some quickie lip service about a famous roadside Route 66 attraction that was actually shot in some Hollywood sound stage.  The production filmed scenes at the actual legendary destination.

Billy Bob Thornton is one of the stars of the film and the Big Texan scene is pretty much what you'd expect.  But before we get to the inevitable "full belly" situation, a true Amarillo legend makes a cameo in the film.  If you've been to the restaurant, you've no doubt met Hodie Portfield.  He appears in the film in his trademark animal skin outfit:

Well, as you can imagine, Billy Bob takes on the Big 72 Ounce Steak challenge and succeeds!  And while he didn't do it in real life, fictionally eating the 72 Ouncer can go on his Texas Resume alongside fictionally fighting in the Alamo.

As often happens in real life, four and a half pounds of beef was a little too much for Billy Bob's character and things get a little out of hand.  As you can see, Hodie steps in to help out, which I assume would also happen in real life:

So the next time you head up to Amarillo, let Billy Bob's story be a cautionary tale:  there's no need to try to eat that much food in one sitting.  But it you can do it...it's free!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Nolan Ryan: The Comic Book

The comic book medium has never been shy about branching out from superheroes to other genres.  That frequently includes biographies and as we saw with the Tom Landry comic, Texas sports heroes tend to have interesting lives.  So with that, we take a look at the Personality Comics issue from 1991 that chronicled the life of baseball legend Nolan Ryan.

As biographies tend to do, this one starts with Ryan's birth in Refugio, TX and his childhood in Alvin, TX as well as his time as a student athlete playing basketball and his love of baseball.  As a young man his talent was clear and the book covers his recruitment by the Met's farm team:

I couldn't tell you why that scout looks so sinister.  Maybe because he's from New York?  Like all ball players, Ryan had to pay his dues in the minor leagues.  The comic chronicles his struggles working his way up to get to the Mets.

The struggle was only beginning once he made it to the majors.  He had to work through injuries to survive and attempt to thrive in the big leagues.  But the book also features personal highlights during the time.

Once he got to California his career really started to thrive.  Batters started to fear facing him on the mound and he got his famous nickname:

The no hitters started and Ryan's reputation as an incredible talent was solidified.  It was time for his triumphant return to the Lone Star State with a position with the Houston Astros (which apparently came with large, cartoonish bags of cash!).

Soon came his 3,000th strikeout and then his 4,000th strikeout.  Records were breaking and stats were racking up.  Nolan's next move was closer to home as he joined the Texas Rangers, which he apparently celebrated by standing atop a mountain and posing:

A quick mention is made of the Nolan Ryan Foundation Museum in Alvin but since the comic was published in the early 90's it was unable to include Ryan's time as the Ranger's CEO or as a beef pitchman.  Let's hope someone picks up where the now defunct comics company left off and we get a sequel!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Texas Marvels


As you can see above, it's not uncommon for this blog to highlight comic book issues that take place in, or feature, the great state of Texas.  But sometimes there's not enough in the issue to warrant a full blown blog entry.  So here's a couple of quick hits from our pals at Marvel:

We start with Frank Castle, the Punisher.  He visited the Lone Star state awhile back with his pal Spider-Man but this time he's going to have to eat his barbecue by himself.  But that's okay, that's the way he likes it.  There's a reason they call it a "One Man War on Crime."   And this time...it's gonna be a massacre:

When he hears about a bad hombre in Houston who's pulling the old S & L scam in Houston, Frank decides it's time to head south to dish out some punishment.  Unfortunately. he and his sidekick have a fairly limited understanding of Texas geography:

Well, as you can imagine, with the Punisher there's always plenty of bang bang punch punch.  Suffice it to say, the bad guys were thoroughly punished.   Our next stop takes us to Big D for less violence and more moodiness.

This issue of X-Men took a break from the usual action packed melodrama for some non-action packed melodrama.  The main story primarily takes place while Storm (from the movies) convalesces in home/offices of Forge (not from the movies).  And where might that be?  The fictional Eagle Plaza in the non-fictional city of Dallas:

Most of the story takes place indoors but occasionally you get a peak at the skyline.  Most comic book artists skimp on skylines and just add one or two recognizable buildings in.  So when you see a comic story taking place in Dallas, you can be sure that, at the very least, you'll get a few shots of Reunion Tower:

And sometimes that can be enough.  We head east for our next stop but there's a little bit of a set up.  You remember the movie Logan's Run, right?  Well, as happens from time to time, it got a comic book adaption from Marvel.

You may remember that we covered how the film was shot in the North Texas area and it made use of unique settings like the Fort Worth Water Gardens.  Here's what they normally look like:

And here's what it looks like in the movie:

And, you guessed it, here's what it looked like in the comic:

So there's a quick trip around Texas via the funny book pages.  You never know when your town will be the backdrop for a vigilante dispensing justice or a sci-fi struggle.  So be careful out there.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Check Your Local Listings

Years ago, when people actually watched television shows on their television, it was necessary to know what was coming on when.  And the primary way to do that was to check your local listings.  That meant actual newspapers.

It was the 80's and without DVRs, the internet or program guides, the shows on the handful of available channels were difficult to keep up with.  So on an evening in a year like 1982, here's what your viewing options might look like in the DFW metroplex:

This was back when networks would show actual movies.  It used to be a thing.  You could have also seen actual TV shows like Square Pegs, M*A*S*H and Cagney & Lacey.  This was also the heyday of independent local channels.  In the 80's they were your go-to channel for for programming like Abbott and Costello movies, Godzilla films and a ton of arbitrary older content that you just don't find that much any more.

The programming of stations like these also consisted of a ton of classic TV reruns.  You'll notice that KXTX was airing the original Star Trek at 10:30.  In addition to shows like Hogan's Heroes and Little House on the Prairie (which were both also airing that night), Star Trek was a mainstay on Channel 39 for years and I spent a lot of my childhood staring at the space opera on that very channel.

That childhood was also spent watching quite a bit of Saturday morning cartoons.  So here's a look at what a Dallas area youngster had to choose from in 1982:

Again, this is the kind of thing that just isn't done anymore.  While we have entire networks devoted to showing cartoons 24/7 today, it wasn't always like that.  There was a time when cartoons were relegated to weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings.

In addition to a mega-block of the Smurfs, you also had old friends like Popeye, Spider-Man and Bugs Bunny.  If you want to see Bugs today you have to go to Six Flags.  That guy has practically disappeared.  At the time there was also a trend for live action shows to have animated counterparts.  That's why you had cartoon versions of The Dukes of Hazzard, Lavern & Shirley and Gilligan's Island in the form of Gilligan's Planet.

Saturday mornings were the best but cartoons were around the rest of the week too.  Let's turn over to Channel 21:

It's easy to forget how popular the Jetsons used to be.  It looks like the show was on 7 days a week.  KTXA also showed old favorites like The Little Rascals, a.k.a."Our Gang," He-Man and Inspector Gadget.  That's more than enough to prevent healthy, able bodied kids from going outside and playing.

I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that there was TV before the 80's so as a bonus here's an ad for American's most trusted newsman, Walter Cronkite, in the 1960's on Channel 4 back when it was known as KRLD (it's now KDFW):

And that's the way it was...