December 16, 2008
Let’s assume for a moment that you’re growing psychotic from holiday shopping and want to take the edge off your misanthropic rage with a couple of longnecks at the Carousel Lounge. You exit the top ramp of I-35, cross Airport, and head north on the access road where you will cross 51st onto Cameron and hook a hard right on 52nd. You’re so close, but wait a minute … you forgot … in order to get to the Carousel from the I-35 access road, now you have to make a completely unnecessary, asinine detour through the Mueller development. You’ll be driving past Best Buy and Home Depot and Rack Room … all the big, big boxers … plus their hordes of greed-crazed shoppers who drove into town from places like Marble Falls, Elgin, Lockhart, and Smithville – ostensibly so they can go 5 mph in front of you in the left lane, periodically hitting their brakes and turn signal and weaving perilously close to either the curb or the traffic speeding around them. Fortunately, you are sustained through your journey by the knowledge that there is a pawnshop just around the corner on Cameron where you can buy an assault rifle to hunt down the evil dirtbag city planner who signed off on this depraved boondoggle. Surely he will be the one walking around with a huge lump on his ass from a wallet stuffed fat with developer payoffs. He will be the only city worker who drives a Hummer with gold rims and a license plate that reads, “BBOXBUKS.” You don’t actually have to shoot him, but maybe keep a muzzle trained on the security guards while your buddies put the beat down on him with a couple of orange road cones. Scarier still is the possibility that there is some sober rationale behind the design – that perhaps some committee got together over cold bagels and Starbucks and hatched this idea out of thin air. It had to be thin air. Clearly their brains were oxygen starved at the time. Maybe they were exhausted after a full day of replacing four-way stops with traffic roundabouts, the beloved panacea of urban planning – unless you happen to be a bicyclist pasted to the brush guard of a ¾ ton 4-by-4. Maybe that’s what they were going for with Mueller: a huge traffic circle – albeit with stoplights and product placement. You never know when someone is going to get a hankering for a bigass chain-store burrito or some discount child labor sneakers on their long journey back to traveling in a straight line. The concept isn’t new. Highways all over Texas are routed through dying little towns with empty main street storefronts and Wal-Marts the size of football fields. You can’t blame a chamber of commerce for a couple of speed traps and some schmaltzy holiday decorations designed to lure casual travelers into buying fake antiques, chainsaw sculptures, and tooth-breaking peanut brittle, but the Mueller development isn’t some Rockwellian hometown fallen on hard times. It’s a pricy piece of downtown dirt – pricey enough, apparently, to prohibit participation by local businesses. Then again, local businesses would probably have been too ashamed to sign on to such a gallingly deceitful site plan. They’re more likely to dangle the carrot of live music, which is exactly the tack the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar has been taking for several decades. This week’s performers include local favorites like Paula Nelson, Jimmy Lafave, Shelley King, Butch Hancock, and the Eggmen, plus 130 booths of arts, crafts, clothing, furniture, and jewelry by local artisans. Admission is $6, and you have to drive to it, rather than through it, but it sure beats big boxing.