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We tend to think of Zoos as theme-park attractions that bring in thousands of people and generate maybe millions of dollars a year in revenue. Heck, that’s probably true for many of the country’s best Zoos. The factual, business side of the matter is that many of our favorite Zoos are not only businesses, but ones that run on very small profit margins, or are run as non-profits.

Also, as is easily forgotten, Zoos work in ways far beyond what we see when a rogue chimp spits water out of his cage, or a giraffe cranes it’s neck to grab an illusive, luscious shred of food. The research and man-power that goes into the various conservation projects that many Zoos participate in cost untold amounts of money, which can be difficult for an organization that’s run as a non-profit to commonly have on-hand.

Recently, Waco’s Cameron Park Zoo launched a new photo-store, where a large portion of the proceeds will go directly to aiding the conservation and awareness projects that the Zoo itself holds very dear. Cameron Park Zoo is an AZA accredited (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) organization. AZA members spend $90 million dollars annually on 400 different conservation projects in over 100 different countries. Impressive, right? Kind of makes one feel guilty for wondering if the $8 souvenir soda cup is really worth it.

So, as you plan your weekend family excursions, or coordinate fun side-tips on your next vacation, keep in mind not only the Cameron Park Zoo, but be sure to return home and pick up a momento from your visit. It’ll mean a lot to you, but possibly even more to the animals you visited.

Yes, as was mentioned last week, we made it down to hit some shows for the final full day of music for this year’s South by Southwest. Indeed, a good time was had by all and we’re now ready to actually discuss the goings-on of this past weekend.

Unlike in year’s past, when 6th Street was more or less the epicenter of our SXSW experience, this year, South Congress Avenue was ground-zero. Given that we were focusing on daytime events, and not the official night-time programming, such was an easy decision to make, really. With Threadgill’s, the Yard Dog Gallery, the Continental Club, Homeslice Pizza, and Hotel San Jose among the locales hosting free, live music, it was safe to say that we wouldn’t see much of any other area for the pre-dinner hours of the day.

Just after 1:00pm, A few tunes from Austin’s Stone River Boys inside of the Continental Club got us in the mood to get rolling and hit some shows. After a misguided trip up the road to the Yard Dog Gallery, where we had hoped to catch a 1:30 set from Wilco bassist John Stirratt’s band The Autumn Defense (that set wasn’t scheduled until 2:20pm, even though Stirratt had told me different earlier at Guero’s, where I also happened to run into Jon Langford, he of the legendary Mekons and Waco Brothers).

Feeling as though we had to make up for lost time, we jetted down the avenue to Threadgill’s Riverside Dr. location, where a steady stream of quality acts would be hitting the indoor (and air-conditioned) stage for a series of tapings for the superb site, Music Fog.Com. Luckily, the posse arrived just in-time to secure a semi-circle booth near the back, just before Bonnie Whitmore  - with The Masterson’s backing her up - began her set. Playing tunes from Whitmore’s solo-album, Embers to Ashes, the trio inter-played effortlessly, and Whitmore, who has played in the bands of several notable artists recently, continued to display why it is she will be a solo-force for some time, thanks to her vocals that can sonorously go from soft to swelling in a moment’s notice. Later, while still at Threadgills, Eddie Spaghetti of Supersuckers fame revved up the crowd with a mix of new solo-tunes (from recent solo-release Sundowner) and what he deemed “Supersucker classics.” Bawdy and ballsy, Spaghetti swaggered on the small stage the same way he does when he’s commanding a packed club of a thousand sweaty souls.

After recharging in the Fireman’s #4-soaked booth of Threadgills, we headed back up SoCo Ave and squeezed into a beautifully and electrically charged Continental Club for the band that has become one of its de facto house bands, the Mother Truckers. Hubby/wife combo of Josh Zee and Teal Collins led the conquering heroes through a torrid set of tunes that were picked from each of the band’s kick-butt albums. “Size of the Sun” and “Break Up Sex” from their latest release, Van Tour were especially on-point, but the trio of songs from their insane 2008 album Let’s All Go To Bed, “I’m Coming Over,” “Dynamite” and “Streets of Atlanta” were the perfect hybrid of punk and twangy southern rock that has made them such Capitol City faves for the last several years now.

With Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears playing to a beyond-packed parking lot next to the Hotel San Jose, we skipped up the street, back to The Yard Dog Gallery, so we could catch the 5:10pm set of my lunch-mate from earlier in the day, Jon Langford & The Skull Orchard Band. Employing what seemed like a dozen people on-stage, the former founding Mekon was clearly at home, especially since so much of his exemplary folk-art calls the walls of the gallery home. Two dollar drafts of Austin’s Live Oak Amber didn’t hurt either.

As the sun began its descent, the crew looked around for some other shows, but opted to hop in the car and head towards some pizza at Eastside Pies (the Nicola was pretty unreal) and drinks at Opal Devine’s on 6th Street to close out the night.

Thanks to the many wonderful shows we caught during the day, it was nice to know that the pressure of trying to catch a great show that night was off of our slightly burned shoulders.

My life has always revolved around a Ford Mustang.

Ford’s original Pony car was first introduced as one of the biggest new car projects in history as a 1964 1/2 model. I was introduced as a 1965… born in October. Now, over the last 45 years I am willing to concede the Mustang has had a much greater impact on the world than I have, but it seems like I have never been more than two steps away from one.

My earliest memories revolve around a hunter green Mustang my mom had as her car. My dad was the General Manager at a big Ford store and she always claimed a personal vehicle out of the inventory. Thankfully, her choice was always a Mustang. To this day, she still remembers her cars fondly.

The Sixties were good to the Mustang; the early Seventies were as well, but with the Arab oil embargo of 1973, EPA emissions, changes in safety standards and a general malaise at Ford, a neutered Mustang Cobra II, the Mustang II and other forgettable and anonymous renditions were the result. In 1979 the third generation plopped down on the scene, in our driveway and into the hands of my older sister.

It was the first new car she had ever bought and I remember it fondly, even though it was underpowered and a quality control problem poster-child. At this time, I was just coming of age and into my own automotive desires. A few years later I found myself selling cars at the local Ford dealership where my father had worked decades before, and I managed to get a 5.0 GT as a demo. This was the early 90’s and Ford had just backed away from replacing the Mustang’s Fox chassis with the front wheel drive, Mazda-originated car that eventually reached the market as the Ford Probe.

At the time Robert Van Winkle, a.k.a. Vanilla Ice, had emerged from “the hood” in Carrollton, TX and was “rapping” about cruzin’ in his Five Point-O. In fact, I know there is at least one picture of me with one company car, skinny tie, and a hair cut close to what we would call a mullet. Still, I thought I was pretty cool.

By the time the mid 90’s came around I was back in school and a guy at Ford called Alexander Trotman had risen to the big chair and he was being hailed as the savior of the Mustang, as low sales and build-quality issues had threatened to swallow up the entire rear wheel drive sports car market. The cross-town GM products, Camaro and Firebird, were about to end their production and Dodge had gotten out of the rear wheel drive world completely. While in college Ford recruited a bunch of us as part of a focus group on the then NEW Mustang, so again the car cut a swath through my life.

Years later, after moving to Dallas and being one of the founders of Texas Driver Magazine, there was yet another Mustang being introduced and I got the chance to ride it pretty rough while covering the Great Carrera Pan-American Road Race in Mexico where the newest mustang was the pace car. I wrote an article about the experience racing across Mexico in this newest stallion riding shotgun in the pace car through the mountains.

To be certain: The entire event is still something I consider a high water mark in my Auto-journalistic life.

Arriving back in Dallas I was pulled into the world of Carroll Shelby and the Mustang via some articles of many mutual friends who helped me write articles for TDM, Automobile Quarterly and other publications.

It has been a while since one made its way into my stable, but the original pony car looks pretty good after 45 years. In fact, Ford sent over a 2011 Mustang 5.0 GT,recently and yup, the Five OH is back. When the old 5.0 was replaced, it really was a 4.8l v8 and Ford put its corporate-wide modular 4.6 under the hood of the late 90’s early 00’s.

The newest Mustang continues with the formula of the relatively small car with the pretty big motor, as pioneered back in the 60’s. It’s a well sorted-out rear wheel drive whose evolutionary chassis upgrades and Big Brembo brake package makes for a car with plenty of go and stop.

19-inch, optional tire package brings both the right look and considerable grip to the short wheel base. Also, 412 horsepower and 390 foot pounds of torque make this pony get up and go in a hurry with considerable growl from the free flowing exhaust. It sounds WONDERFUL when you mash down on the go stick.

The interior is pretty much flawless as long as you take into consideration that the back seats are more ornamental than functional, and realize that the car is really intended for a maximum capacity of two. With subtle tweaks and a proper 6-speed MANUAL transmission, the Mustang is one of the most satisfying go-fast coupes on the market. But, keep in mind, the ads that claim 30+ mpg are based on the 6-cyl driven by the hypothetical little old lady.

Each time you make the ‘Stang growl, and your fuel gets sucked down into the 5.0., the result is grin-inducing but thirsty. Really, complaining about fuel economy in a car like this is kind of silly as there is an expectation of such. If you want mileage out of a gallon of gas, go buy something else.

With the history I’ve had with multiple Mustangs over the years, I would be hard pressed to find one that was better “out of the box.” And knowing how many modifications there are available, you can begin with a really well-handling, fast car like this and start screwing on bit and pieces using the Mustang as a platform for virtually limitless numbers of enhancements.

The Modern 5.0 Mustang GT comes across the checkout at $38,000.00 as tested. For most of the last 15 years there has been no real competition, but recently Chevy brought back the Camaro, and Mopar has stoked up the Challenger. The Challenger is really not direct competition as it is much bulkier and just not the same type of car. The Camaro is really the only natural rival, with Nissan’s 370z being the closest non-domestic option.

If I were in the market for a car like this, I might be tempted to stick with the clean, understated look of the GT, rather than the more attention grabbing Shelby that basically screams at you of its intent. I have always appreciated the “sleepers” that surprise you.

After 45 years in the market the Mustang is still young and vibrant - me not so much. But I did call my mom and tell her I was driving down the road in a new Mustang and at the age of 83, with a brand new aftermarket knee, she told me she still wants her old Mustang back.

Me too, Mom.

Jim Muise is a regular contributor to The Squawker. His Any Driven Sunday column appears regularly here, so keep checking back.

One sunny, late fall day a few years ago, I had the pleasure of skipping the afternoon session of a trade show while in our state’s largest city. Knowing I needed to back in the Galleria area later that evening for a function or two related to the trade-show, I discarded a couple of ideas that would’ve had myself taking a serious day-trip, well out of the city limits. As it turned out, it was silly to even think of exiting the congested confines of what is an underrated artistic gem. Well, at least it’s underrated to many of us outside of the Gulf Coast.

Given the fact that Houston’s Museum District is as rife with time-killing goodness as it is, I highly doubt that it’s flying under the radar of any art or history-loving Houstonian. Growing up in the Ft. Worth area, as I did, it’s easy to think that everyone else in the state gazes enviously upon the historic and renowned Arts District (home to The Kimball Art Museum, among many others).

In one afternoon, I was treated to eclectic and edgy installations at the Contemporary Arts Museum, just after experiencing a more traditional, yet highly awe-inspiring visit to Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts. In fact, the Fine Arts collection is showcasing a highly-praised grouping of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist work from The National Gallery, at this very time. Clearly, I focused on the art which the neighborhood offered, but the history is as prevalent and important as the collections of the museums I managed to visit. Perhaps on another trip, I’ll make it to the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, or possibly to Houston’s Holocaust Museum, which is different than the one in Dallas.

There’s also something for the kiddos, too. The Children’s Museum of Houston is a colorful blast of interactive fun for both parent and child. And there’s the Houston Museum of Natural Science - which, as is the case in Ft. Worth, has an IMAX Theater.

So, next time you’re sitting in a convention in Houston, and the rest of the day’s docket looks pretty dull, act like you have to take a call in the hallway and hop in your rental and point it to the museum district!

Some loyal readers may remember that we hit last year’s edition of South By Southwest in Austin. Fun was had, cans of Lone Star were drained and music revelry was had in a very serious dose. This year, we’re only making the trip for some of the laid-back Day Party good times over the weekend of march 19th.

Let’s face it: For those living outside of Austin and working outside of the musical realm, it can be tough to make it down for multiple days of uninhibited, song-driven debauchery. That’s why it’s a good thing you are reading this, because below is a listing of some of the best, free parties that are going on in Austin on March 19th.

The Nine Bullets.net Day Party: For the second year, one of the internet’s best musical blogs will be making the trip from Florida to host not one, but two days worth of festivities. The first one is Friday, but on Saturday, you can catch Two Cow Garage, Glossary and several other cow-punk greats at the Revolution Bar.

Twangfest at Jovita’s: When SXSW rolls around, there are only two legitimate culinary companions to the music being heard and the beers being had: BBQ and/or Tex-Mex. Thankfully, that is capably covered with this party. Two stages and insane acts. The Waco Brothers, Kasey Anderson and Freedy Johnston are but a few of the acts that will be present, and again, FREE!

Brooklyn Country Cookout: Taking the “cookout” theme literally, this find collection of twangy bands from both Texas and New York will be held in an actual private yard, just off of South Congress St. It’s open to the public however. Bands in both the front and back yard will make for some frantic fence-jumping, don’t you think?

Mess With Texas 2011: Taking the “Day Party” idea and stretching it into the night-time for those who aren’t rocking SXSW badges or wristbands is the annual Mess With Texas party. Taking place this year at the Eastside Drive-In, off of 6th and San Marcos St., this all-day line-up is kind of insane, especially for free. Headlined by punk legends The Dead Milkmen, there are plenty of buzzed-about and out of starters supporting the bill. Deer Tick, the Dodos, Esben the Witch, Surfer Blood and many more ensure that this will be the most indie-riffic day party all week.

Kelly Dearmore is a freelance writer, mean pot of chili maker and opinionated music lover. To read more about what Kelly is listening to, visit him here on The Squawker weekly.

Hopefully, it wasn’t lost on everyone that this week marked another Texas Independance Day. Of course, that also means that another legendary and pride-inducing, albeit somber, point in history is also welcoming another turn of the calendar.

The Battle of The Alamo took place between February 23rd and March 6th of 1836. The shocking losses suffered by the forces that had held its ground so bravely for that fortnight proved to be a galvanizing force, helping propel the rebel squad, led by Sam Houston, to a resounding and revolutionary victory over the Mexican forces of General Santa Anna just over a month later.

These days, the Alamo stands as not only a moving tourist attraction in the middle of a busy downtown collection of modernity, but as a symbol of Texan pride and resilience. It is with both of those attributes that the city of San Antonio asks people from all over the country to come, learn and remember what happened during what was perhaps our state’s most pivotal two weeks.

Concerts, lectures, exhibits and remembrances will be in great supply between March 3rd and March 6th. Go to www.visitsanantonio.com/alamo/events for more information.

The three-way battle for the Heavy Duty segment of the pick up pruck market just got considerably more interesting.

All three domestic players, Ford, Dodge and GM, have, over the last few months, rolled out their big guns. They are all packing new or updated power from big, stump pulling turbo diesel engines.

This is not the segment of the full sized market the others play in. Both Toyota and Nissan, who offer excellent 1/2 ton options, do not have vehicles in the 3/4 ton market and do not offer diesel alternatives in the North American market. It is one of the few arenas in which the domestics do not have Pacific Rim competition.

It has become a hotly contested segment where each is scratching for advantage touting “Better” towing, “Better” interior, “Better” horsepower and trying to parse the most miniscule advantage into a marketing bonanza.

The most coveted of all potential customers is the convert. The convert is one who has always bought a Ford who decides to go against trend and opt to by a Chevy instead. That doesn’t sound that farfetched to most but this is the most loyal consumer in the most loyal market segment in the automotive business.

Especially in Texas, which is the largest market in North America for trucks, where brand loyalty takes on a near religious fervor in some quarters, I have actually witnessed fist fights that began when one’s truck gets insulted. It is the Texan equivalent of telling ‘Yo’ Momma’ slap downs.

The general more than takes this profitable and competitive market seriously and offer both GMC and Chevy truck labels that are essentially the same rolling stock with slight variations on branding theme. The Chevy Silverado 2500 HD 4WD LT provided to Any Driven Sunday is one of the nicest riding large trucks in the market.

Powered by a wonderfully quiet and powerful DuraMax 6.6 V8 Turbo diesel mated to a strong and seamless Allison 6-speed automatic, the Silverado is a fantastic place to either watch highway miles disappear or slowly slip past trees and turf off road. The interior on the test truck was as it should be LOW maintenance, just simple fabric and vinyl – a no muss, no fuss affair.

Not that the Chevy was devoid of options. With the “On the Job” package, it came equipped with bed mounted tie down hooks, rail liner protectors, a slip resistant bed liner, and 18” polished aluminum wheels brightening up the exterior. It is as it should be: a work truck that looks great.

The premium uptick on the diesel for any of these HD trucks is usually a $5-7 grand ticket inflator that keeps all but those who need the power of this tool from experiencing how wonderful going to the pump with the green handle can be. A regular Silverado HD 4×4 with a big gas motor will hit you squarely in the 10-14 MPG area, where the diesel was consistently pulling 18-22 MPG numbers regardless of how hard I was throttling it down the road.

In my mind, the greater fuel economy and more efficient power delivery afforded by a diesel engine is worth the increased price. I know there are ways via tax incentives for Commercial vehicles and especially for “Alternative” fuel vehicles that can help take the sting out of that price jump. However you do it the diesel it the way to go, hands down, in the large truck market.

After all, with a Heavy Duty truck it is not about the show it is about the go and this Chevy goes very well, it handles far more like a car and has a very comfortable and well laid out interior. This is the kind of truck that owners keep for a long time and use the hell out of.

While driving around the Melissa area of North Texas, where the pictures were shot, it became obvious the simple but elegant lines of the Silverado carried well down side roads with minimal drama. The steering is light and the handling, braking and road manners Chevy brings to the table are second to none.

I really liked the Dodge HD 2500 we had a couple of weeks ago it was a great truck, but for the option of heavy duty I found my preference started to shift to Chevy, but alas it had to go home.

Thankfully, my truck fetish will be sated by the Ford Super Duty that has taken its place outside the front door of my home.

When I lived in New York, I suffered the most bone chilling, damp, frostbitten winters I’ve ever endured. But no matter how cold it got, nor how miserable I would become, I always made the trek to imbibe on the hot chocolate and homemade marshmallow goodness of City Bakery in the Flatiron district. Since being spoiled by their chocolaty marshmallowy heaven in a cup, I’ve been hard pressed to find something similar here in Texas. Well, that was until a good friend hipped me to COCOAMODA’s homemade hot chocolate w/ fresh whipped cream.

CocaModa

Ken Wilkinson creative genius behind COCOAMODA

The chocolatier, COCOAMODA, doesn’t just cater to your hot cocoa needs, though. Located in Calvert, Texas, they also sport a restaurant and chocolate boutique, too. Breakfasts – served only on Saturday and Sunday – are all served with fresh, buttered brioche. I had the luxury of sampling their Benedict of poached egg, smothered with hollandaise, lightly topped with shaved parmesan and black truffle. Drooling yet? The menu also sports a hearty cassoulet, lobster bisque and their signature Potage Jonelle – a delicate tomato and orange soup.

Even harder to resist is the chocolate boutique. Serving up handcrafted chocolates, truffles, candied fruits and gelees, COCOAMODA is the ideal shopping spot for holiday gifts or personal indulgences. If you can’t make the trip to Calvert, never fear, you can order their reasonably priced goodies online, too!

Cocoa Moda
518 S. Main Street
Calvert, TX

This month, the Belmont – the best little boutique hotel in Dallas – hits a full-forced five years old! To celebrate, they’ve given themselves a new website makeover and during the month of November, book any of their standard rooms for one night only, for $50.00

Sound too good to be true? It’s not, but there is a bit of a catch:
When calling to book, you must sing the happy birthday song. A little patio-time with friends at BarBelmont and a $50.00 standard room makes for a pretty good birthday celebration if you ask me.

This is only good through November 30, so book soon! Call 866-870-8010 to book…and show off your mad singing skills.

Here’s some upcoming holiday specials, too:

Holiday Special – 3rd Night Free
Not enough room in your house for the relatives? Or do you just want to make it a mini vacation when you attend the Cowboy’s game on Thanksgiving Day? From November 15 through December 30, enjoy your third night for free when booking three consecutive nights. See complete details and call 866-870-8010 to book.

Celebrate Thanksgiving with SMOKE
If the holiday special isn’t incentive enough for you to spend your Thanksgiving with us, maybe Smoke’s delicious Thanksgiving Day menu will do the trick. Forget about the hours of cooking and the piles of dishes left to clean up at your place, just come to ours! See the lip-smacking menu and call 214-393-4141 to make your reservation.

Bring on Holiday-Party Season
Does your annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Party need a change of pace this year? Whether you’re bringing together friends or organizing the annual office holiday party, the Belmont has spaces suited for 15 to 100 guests. We’ve got the drinks and catering covered for you as well. Contact us at 866-870-8010 for more information on booking. Dates fill up quickly, so call soon! Don’t forget to ask about group rates for all those who want to make a night of it while you’re at it.

Art with a View presents Michael Cross
Make sure to stop by the Belmont to view our newest installation. Artist and gallery owner Michael Cross will be sharing a series of his abstract paintings.
Opening reception at BarBelmont:
November 10, 2010 6-9pm
Will remain on view November 10 – December 14

Stay fit for the holidays at Clairevista
All Fit Solution classes include:
• 12 total body workouts with a Clairevista Vitality Coach ($900 Value)
• Crash course nutritional seminar; learn how to finally eat to lose weight and keep it off ($37 Value)
• 2 month membership to Clairevista Vitality Club ($100 Value)
• Weekly articles, recipes and tips for how to enjoy the holidays without putting on weight (priceless)
• Unlimited email support to help you overcome any obstacles to looking and feeling your very best! (definitely priceless)
• LIMITED ENROLLMENT – You must register by Nov. 12. Call 214-744-5400 or email info@clairevista.com

Like last year, when I discovered Bacon, Texas in an early morning Googlefest, this morning I discovered Turkey, Texas.

Seems that waaaay back in the 1890s,  the town’s first settlers found flocks of wild  turkeys roosting in that particular panhandle area. So, obviously, they decided to call their new settlement Turkey Roost. A few years later in 1893, they were granted a post office and the town shortened their name to Turkey.

Turkey is pretty proud of its most famous hometown hero, Bob Wills. Wills was a barber in Turkey and decided he’d form himself a country band.  Wills formed The Texas Playboys and ultimately gave birth to Western Swing.

In Turkey you’ll find the Bob Wills Museum, Bob Wills monument, Bob Wills Park and the annual Bob Wills Day Festival, which draws tens of thousands of folks to the town the last Saturday of every April.