If Ronco is part of Austin now, then these funky TV ads are Austin history

This image from a television commercial shows Ron Popeil, founder of Ronco, selling some of the company’s products. Ronco — known for such gadgets as the Veg-O-Matic and the Pocket Fisherman — is now headquartered in Austin.

You might know Ronco Brands, a new Austin-based holding company, has filed to raise $30 million in an initial public offering.

Founded by inventor and entrepreneur Ron Popeil in 1964, Ronco is famous for gadgets sold on late-night infomercials. Though it has struggled financially in recent years, Ronco maintains that it has sold over $2 billion in Ronco-branded products in the U.S. since its inception.

 

Let’s look back at a few classics from decades ago:

 

Take that, BeDazzler!

 

Awww, yiss. The original gangster.

 

Perpetuating stereotypes and enabling creeps in cars since 1978!

 

Hear that? That’s the sound of every hipster in town flocking to eBay …

 

Nothing says sex appeal like “rich foamy dust.”

 

“Want to come over? I got ‘Boogie Nights.'” “On DVD?” “Nah, baby. On 8-track!”

187 years ago, Texas’ first immigration ban didn’t go over well

The government was deeply concerned. Immigrants were pouring into their northern lands. Immigrants who were armed. Who did not accept their values. And, perhaps most terrifyingly, did not share their religion.

Building a border wall, of course, wasn’t remotely feasible. But if they had tried, it wouldn’t have been on the Rio Grande (or Rio Bravo as they called it). It would have been on the Red River.

We’re talking about Mexico in 1830, of course. A decade after Spanish authorities had welcomed settlers from the United States to help colonize Texas, newly-independent Mexico was beginning to realize that this was not going to end well for them.

So on this day in 187 years ago, the Mexican Congress issued the Law of April 6, 1830. Article 11 of that decree expressly forbid, according to T.R. Fehrenbach’s “Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans,” any “further colonization of the Mexican territory by citizens of adjacent countries.”

It was an immigration ban. Aimed at the United States.

The immigrants did not take it well. The Texas colonists were not only insulted, but were counting on growth to fuel their economy.

For years, embroiled in its own fight for independence and a hampered by political upheaval, Mexico had given little thought to its Texas territory. When they realized that the Texas colonists had little intention of assimilating into Mexican culture, it was too late.

As Fehrenbach notes:

“The Mexican mistake, beyond the original allowing of a large horde of self-discliplined, armed land seekers to cross the borders, was in permitting the Anglos to create, without hindrance, their own community within nominal Mexican territory.”

Stephen F. Austin would travel to Mexico to appeal the decree to a government still in flux and eventually did get Article 11 repealed in 1833 — just before he was imprisoned in solitary confinement at the ancient Prison of the Inquisition, according to Fehrenbach.

Other efforts by Mexico to put its stamp on Texas — collecting customs and garrisoning more troops (including convict conscriptees) there — helped fuel the fires of revolution. There were disturbances in Anahuac. A battle in Velasco.

By 1835, the Texas Revolution had begun.

It was a good week for Chuck Norris, but who else is an honorary Texan?

The Texas Senate named Chuck Norris an honorary Texan on Tuesday. This was not because Chuck showed up and roundhouse-kicked everyone into submission — naming honorary Texans is something the legislature does on a regular basis. Even for lesser mortals.

Who else, you are asking, has received this honor?

Well, in 2015, the Legislature was busy making Texans. Most notably, British singer Phil Collins got the Lone Star stamp of approval for his efforts on behalf of the Alamo. Also actor Gary Sinise was honored for his work advocating for veterans.

But other honorary Texans minted in 2015 include Albanian artist Genc Mulliqi, Czech Republic exchange student Vladimir Jaskevic, UT basketball coach Shaka Smart and former Philadelphia Eagles player Troy Vincent.

The resolution can be introduced in the House or in the Senate or it can be a concurrent resolution, such as the one in 2015 that declared May 26 to be John Wayne Day for a 10-year period. Often such resolutions simply absolve newborns unlucky enough to be born outside state lines, but lucky enough to have relatives with friends in high places.

Sometimes it’s weird. In 2011, a House Resolution granted posthumous Texan-ness to Italian national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi, for reasons nearly a half-dozen “whereas”es couldn’t make clear.

One particularly good story is the one of famous naturalist John James Audubon. After a visit to Texas in 1837, a senator in Texas’ fledgling government proposed to make Audubon an honorary Texan. Or Texian, as they said then. It went nowhere and stayed that way until 1985, when Sen. Carlos Truan sponsored a new resolution, which was easily adopted.

But the Lege doesn’t have all the fun. Texas governors can declare honorary Texans, too. Then-Gov. Rick Perry went nearly full partisan in his declarations: Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Rudy Giuliani, Glenn Beck and … Rush Limbaugh. (He also dubbed singer Chris Knight and actor Russell Crowe, for a little balance.)

Gov. George W. Bush was a little more, ahem, presidential in his selections. He made several prime ministers and other foreign dignitaries honorary Texans … and Bob Dylan, too.

Gov. Ann Richards kept it a little weirder. Under her watch, the parents of Jerry Jeff Walker, Bob Hope, Don McLean and Arnold Schwarzenegger became honorary Texans.

Perhaps the oddest honorary Texan ever was Nicolae Ceaușescu, Romania’s brutal communist leader until 1989. When Gov. Dolph Briscoe honored him, we’re willing to bet he didn’t anticipate Ceaușescu would be the only honorary Texan to be executed by a firing squad.

Five odd spots in Texas to look up for ‘Read a Road Map Day’

We had a subscription to National Geographic when I was young, back when you couldn’t buy it on the newsstand, and it seemed like being part of a secret club. And every few issues, a bonus! One would arrive with a map inside.

Not just any map, mind you. A National Geographic map — the best a boy could get. I would pore over them for hours, looking for lochs in Scotland, mountains in Chile, deserts in Namibia, weird places in Yugoslavia.

So I’m feeling a bit sentimental over “Read a Road Map Day,” which I found out just a few minutes ago was today. I didn’t have it circled on my calendar, I admit.

I still have road maps in my car. Perhaps it was seeing the early days of online maps, when asking for directions always steered you toward the nearest interstate (sorry, Yahoo, but I am NOT going from San Angelo to Austin via Abilene). Or perhaps it is an antiquated sense of masculine pride that, damn it, I know where I’m going … but I never cared for GPS. And I’m not going to ask my phone how to get there.

So let’s celebrate road maps today. Here are five odd places you can get to from Austin (with links to an online map, because, well, this is the internet) …

1. Ding Dong Tx. On Highway 195 between Killeen and Florence. The name is said to have come from a sign on a store owned by early settlers Zulis and Bert Bell.

2. Oatmeal Tx. On FM 243, southwest of Bertram. The annual Oatmeal Festival (in nearby Bertram) began in 1978 as a parody of the then-hot chili cookoff craze.

3. Click Tx. Off County Road 308, west of Texas 71 between Horseshoe Bay and Llano. Now a ghost town, it was named for settler Malachi Click.

4. Dime Box Tx. South of State Highway 21 and Old Dime Box. In the 1940s, a CBS broadcast kicked off a March of Dimes drive from Dime Box, according to the Handbook of Texas Online.

5. Nada, Tx. On Texas 71, between Columbus and El Campo. Even before I learned the name was Spanish for “nothing,” I was always amused by the sign on the town store. “Well if it’s Nada Grocery Store, what is it?” was the joke that never got old. But the name comes from a third source: najda is the Czechoslovakian word for “hope.” Rounding out the odd, the town’s original name was Vox Populi.

Would a cloud that rained tequila get you to visit Mexico? In Germany, they gave it a shot (and it gave them shots)

In Central Texas, clouds can bring rain, lightning, hail … normal weather stuff. But in Germany earlier this month, a display in Berlin featured a cloud that rained tequila. Photo by Ralph Barrera, American-Statesman

In Austin, ‘tequila cloud’ could be the hippest new tech company. Maybe the kind of place where you can lounge in the bean bag room on Beer Friday. Or, perhaps, ‘tequila cloud’ could be the hottest band at South by Southwest.

In Germany, a land traditionally a little short on whimsy, the ‘tequila cloud’ was a cloud. It was made of tequila. It rained alcohol.

Really.

This is not the best possible side effect of climate change, but rather the invention of the Tourism Promotion Council of Mexico and U.S. marketing agency Lapiz, who created the artificial cloud for display at the Berlin creative space Urban Spree earlier this month. The display was meant to urge Germans (long used to rainclouds during their damp and cold winter) to hightail it to sunny Mexico.

But you do not care about German tourism, presumably. You want to know how to get a tequila cloud to rain booze at your next party. “Lapiz formed the ’tequila cloud’ by using ultrasonic humidifiers to vibrate tequila at a frequency that turned it into visible mist, just like a cloud,” digital magazine designboom reported on their site. “The boozy mist then condensed into liquid form as it came into contact with a plastic container, making a real cloud rain tequila.”

The lucky Berliners to visit the display could simply hold a shot glass under the cloud and fill it up with tequila.

With any luck, somebody already is working on vodka snow.

 

Eight things you need to do in Central Texas before summer gets here

Spring has sprung. This is old news, of course. Winter — what there was of it — has been in Austin’s rear view mirror for weeks. But don’t get too comfortable.

Summer is looming. In Central Texas, it’s that 5-6 month season when you can’t walk out barefoot to get something from the car. When you can’t check out a new park without setting your alarm clock. When you can work up a sweat just watering your grass.

It will be here before you know it. Here are 8 things you need to do in Central Texas before summer gets here …

1. TAKE THE KIDS TO THE PLAYGROUND

Children take a break from the Mighty Kite Flight Sunday on the playground in the in Bee Cave Central Park in April last year. Photo by Sue Knolle for Lake Travis View

There’s nothing like the sound of a screaming child who has discovered for you that the playground equipment is way too hot. Better find an overcast day and take them now. Repeat until the sizzle makes you stop.

2. GO TO A SHOW AT A CLASSIC HONKY-TONK

Sure Gruene Hall has air conditioning … they open up the windows!

Sure, I’m from here. I know full well that there’s something great about a hot summer night at a historic venue. But you just can’t hear Ray Wylie tell his stories when you’re surrounded by people whining about how stuffy and sticky it is.

3. GO FOR A NATURE HIKE

Patty Wilson surveys the water of Barton Creek on May 26, 2016 at Gus Fruh park. Photo by Laura Skelding, American-Statesman

If you think water obstacles are part of the fun while hiking through the Barton Creek greenbelt, you probably don’t want to wait until July.

4. SEE THE WILDFLOWERS

The Kelly family of south Austin have fun in a beautiful field of bluebonnets near the Point Community Church off of FM 1626 east of Manchaca despite an easy drizzle. Photo by Ralph Barrera, American-Statesman

Duh. They got an early start this year. It’ll be crispy grass and cracked earth soon.

5. GET A GOOD JUMP ON THE YARDWORK

Katherine Weil mows a lawn with an environmentally friendly mower in north Austin on Saturday, August 18, 2007. Photo by Ricardo B. Brazziell, American-Statesman

If oak pollen allergies allow it, best to get out there now and fight the bugs and the humidity.

6. GO CAMPING AT ENCHANTED ROCK

Leilani Perry sits by Moss Lake, a small lake on the back side of the huge granite hill at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Photo by Pam LeBlanc, Oct 2015

It takes a certain type of person to lie in a puddle of sweat in a tent at Enchanted Rock in July. If you don’t think you are that person, trust me, you are not.

7. GO EAT CHILI AT THE TEXAS CHILI PARLOR

The Texas Chili Parlor on Lavaca Street in Austin. Photo by Mike Sutter

Traditionally, Texas is still at risk for a cold snap until Easter. That might be optimistic thinking this year. Better get that bowl of XXX chili before the XXX weather hits.

8. BREAK OUT THE BUG ZAPPER

A well-worked bug zapper. Photo by Dave Thomas

Seriously. A friend gave me a bug zapper and two lawn chairs as a wedding gift. (A good friend who could get away with such a thing.) He said it was a “redneck entertainment center.” And so it has been. The zapping is good now. When it’s 110 degrees in July, the flying bugs will be dead. The bugs will be dead. They’ll all be dead.

Annie Nelson introduces chocolates infused with ‘Willie’s Reserve’ marijuana

Once marijuana legalization started to take hold in places such as Colorado and Washington State (don’t hold your breath, Texas), it was only a matter of time before noted connoisseur Willie Nelson launched his own brand: “Willie’s Reserve.” Roll ’em up and smoke ’em before you die, right?

But now you can enjoy Willie’s stash in a more delectable fashion — at least if you are in Washington. Annie Nelson, Willie’s wife of more than 25 years, has launched “Annie’s Edibles.” Her first product, a marijuana-infused artisan dark chocolate (with Himalayan salt, no less), is available “at select retailers in Washington.”

Willie Nelson and his wife Annie Nelson listen at the unveiling of the Willie Nelson statue at the corner of West 2nd Street (Willie Nelson Boulevard) and Lavaca Street on Friday April 20, 2012. Photo by Jay Janner

The chocolate comes from Fine & Raw Chocolate — described as the “Willy Wonka of Brooklyn.” Except if Willy Wonka was making treats for very hip grown-ups instead of kids.

RELATED: Luck Reunion serves up Willie and a whole lot more

“I make my infused chocolates for people who want to enjoy gourmet cannabis chocolate in a controllable way,”Annie Nelson said in a press release this week. “It’s important that my chocolates are suitable for those with diet restrictions … or if they have a low tolerance to cannabis they can still enjoy the benefits of my infused chocolates.”

The press release brags that a “Zero Crap Policy” is followed in the Nelson kitchen and that the gluten-free and vegan chocolates use coconut palm sugar instead of table sugar. For those of you familiar with the numbers, each piece of chocolate is infused with “5mg of THC.”

“Those who regularly enjoy cannabis may choose to indulge in two chocolate squares, while those new to cannabis are encouraged to start with one square or half of one square,” the press release says. There is no mention of how many squares someone like, say, Willie, might enjoy.

RELATED: Willie Nelson brings it home to San Antone at the rodeo

Texas legislators have made efforts to reduce criminal penalties for marijuana possession and introduce medical marijuana use. Legal marijuana use, edible or otherwise, is not on the Lone Star horizon. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, however, will have daily nonstop flights to Seattle in June.

Willie Nelson, who had three prior marriages, met Annie D’Angelo when filming the 1986 remake of the John Wayne classic western “Stagecoach.”

The film, which co-starred “Highwaymen” friends Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings (in descending order of acting chops), didn’t exactly eclipse the original, but turned out pretty well for Willie. D’Angelo was a makeup artist on the set and the pair hit it off. They were married in 1991.

Remember Rosillo! Texas won its (very brief) independence 204 years ago today

How well do you know your Texas history? You celebrate San Jacinto, of course. Certainly, you remember the Alamo. Perhaps even Goliad. But do you know the Battle of Rosillo?

At a confluence of creeks 9 miles southeast of present-day San Antonio — 204 years ago today, and some two decades before those major events of the Texas Revolution — the Republican Army of the North fought Spanish royalist forces and defeated them soundly.

A week later, on April 6, 1813, there was a declaration of independence. Yes, even before Mexico secured its freedom from Spain, there was freedom for Texas. Sort of. For a bit.

The adventure began when Mexican revolutionary José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara went to the United States and sought an army to fight against the Spanish and free Texas. Under the command of Augustus Magee, the Republican Army of the North entered Texas at Nacogdoches, then marched to Goliad.

After skirting Spanish royalist troops led by Texas Governor Manuel Maria de Salcedo, the Army of the North seized the La Bahía presidio, laughed off a siege and easily repulsed an attack. Emboldened by reinforcements, the Army of the North (now led by Samuel Kemper after Magee died during the siege) pursued the Spanish troops toward San Antonio.

The forces met at Rosillo Creek on March 29. Much like the Battle of San Jacinto, the Army of the North routed a superior force while suffering only minimal casualties. In this case, as many as 330 royalists killed in contrast to fewer than 10 dead on the Republican side.

After the Republican forces captured horses, cannon, ammunition and arms, they followed the retreating royalist forces to San Antonio, where they accepted the surrender of Salcedo and Nuevo León governor Simón de Herrera on April 1.

Things went downhill for the pro-Texas supporters from there. In his book, “Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans,” T.R. Fehrenbach wrote that Gutiérrez seized control once the military action was over and drew up a Texas constitution that made it clear the new State of Texas “forms a part of the Mexican Republic,” to which it would remain bound.

When Gutiérrez followed that by allowing Salcedo and Herrera to be grimly executed, it was too much for Kemper and the most “idealistic” Americans in his army — they quit and returned to the United States. It was a good move on their part.

Fast-forward four months and Spanish soldiers who had marched north under the command of Joaquin de Arredondo crushed the disorganized Republican forces at the Battle of Medina. It is known as the bloodiest fight on Texas soil — fewer than 100 fighting for the “Texas” army of 1,400 escaped death.

Among the Spanish soldiers was Lt. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. He’d be back two decades later when Texas freedom fighters rose up again.

How much to ‘go Rambo’ with an M60 at a Texas ranch? We break it down

No, you cannot cradle an M60 machine gun in your arms and blow away everything in sight like Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo. But for $700 you can feel like you did.

Wednesday afternoon, we posted a story from the Cox Media Group National Content Desk about a ranch in Uvalde that allows visitors to pay to drive a tank, fire artillery or shoot a machine gun.

A portion of the 18,000-acre OX Hunting Ranch, west of San Antonio, lets you do things you’d otherwise have to enlist in the military to do, all under the watchful eye of a former Houston Police officer and Green Beret.

The story pointed out “prices range from $40 to fire a machine gun; $125 to fire a mortar to nearly $3,000 to operate a World War II-era Sherman tank, and fire its 76 mm main gun.”

The business is called DriveTanks and the story gave pretty good detail on the tank experience, but it glossed over the part about shooting machine guns — which is something a lot of red-blooded American men raised on action movies secretly (or not secretly) wish they could do.

Well, we are asking the hard questions. And doing the math — based on rate of fire numbers on the DriveTanks website. And it turns out $40 isn’t going to buy you a lot of machine gunning, at least by action movie standards. Here are the hypothetical costs to recreate a few famous cinematic machine gun scenes.

HOW MUCH TO RE-ENACT THE ‘PREDATOR’ MINIGUN SCENE?

The minigun (which actor Bill Duke picks up at the 21-second mark in the video) can fire up to 6,000 rounds a minute and costs $625 for 250 rounds (or about 2.5 seconds) at DriveTanks. You can’t pick it up and fire it, that’s movie magic. But if you could fire it for 44 seconds, you’d be out $11,000.

HOW MUCH FOR THE ‘TERMINATOR 2’ MINIGUN SCENE?

Arnold Schwarzenegger actually fires for 2 seconds longer than our “Predator” soldier, but not at the maximum rate of fire, and with pauses, so it’s difficult to calculate. But it would still be in the thousands of dollars.

HOW MUCH FOR THE ‘RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II’ M60 SCENE?

Sylvester Stallone fires the M60 machine gun for 28 seconds. At 600 rounds per minute and $50 for 20 rounds, that works out to $700.

WHAT ABOUT THE QUAD 50-CAL SCENE IN ‘WATERWORLD’?

The 4 50-caliber guns (they start firing here at the 17 second mark in the video) are equivalent to DriveTank’s M2 machine gun. They have a firing rate of 700 rounds a minute. The four fire for 17 seconds at 11.6 rounds a second. 788 rounds at $100 per 20 rounds works out to $3,940.


Keep in mind, everyone, that these are all fictional movie scenes and that DriveTanks will not let you shoot wildly or shoot four 50-cal machine guns at once, even if you’re very careful.

Willie Nelson, Farm Aid seek help for farmers, ranchers hit hard by recent wildfires

A black Angus cow walks amid charred grass on Garth Gardiner’s ranch outside Ashland, Kan., March 17, 2017. Nick Oxford/The New York Times

More than 750 square miles of the Texas Panhandle — as well as wide swaths of Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas — were burned by wildfires earlier this month. The blazes killed at least a half-dozen people and injured firefighters near Amarillo.

But the wildfires also were devastating to the livelihoods of many in the farming and ranching communities that populate the region. In Texas, officials are citing at least $21 million in agricultural damages, including lost pastureland and fencing and livestock losses in the thousands.

Now Willie Nelson and Farm Aid — the charitable organization he helped create — are stepping forward to help.

Farm Aid is providing financial assistance to these farmers and ranchers through its Family Farm Disaster Fund. “Prior to the fires, these farmers and ranchers were hard at work growing food and fiber for our country,” Farm Aid says. “Their recovery is essential for the health and vitality of America’s rural communities.”

On Twitter, and on his website, Willie has asked his fans to donate to help support farmers and ranchers.

David Crockett rides the scorched prairie of Franklin Ranch searching for injured cattle after wildfires raced across Gray County, Texas driven by 50 mph winds. Michael Schumacher/The Amarillo Globe News