Too Bad It’s Friday: A Wonderful Week in Austin

By Karla Rosales:

For most, Friday is a day to exult the end of the work week.  For five SHSU interns, however, it was a sad day, a reminder that our week in Austin was coming to an end, at least for now.


Last Day in the Capitol

I worked in Representative Zerwas’s office for the second half of the week where I was able to apply the concepts I previously learned in Senator Schwertner’s office. I was able to see some differences between the Senate and the House, but in actuality, they work in similar ways. During the week-long “internship” I was able to familiarize myself with Correspondence Management System (CMS), deal with constituent issues via telephone and mail, and even do some bill analyses. Both Senator Schwertner’s and Representative Zerwas’s staff were very friendly and helpful in teaching me how things in their office and in the Capitol function.

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I thought I knew the process on how a bill became a law, but there was so much more to it than I realized! There is a team of teams system behind this process. The Legislative Counsel helps with drafting the bill and the Legislative Budget Board helps assess the budget impact of the bill.  And while the office staff typically initiates the bill, the staff also listen closely to constituents.  Many of the ideas behind the legislation come from constituents, who alert their representatives to what is working and what isn’t.

The great part to this is that everyone in each of the offices works great as a team and everyone I encountered at the Capitol was very friendly and helpful. I think that’s a huge plus when working together to accomplish the same goal.

I also learned much more about how committees get their work done and what it means to be the Chair of a Committee. Representative Zerwas is Chair of the Higher Education Committee, a committee that will be meeting this Tuesday, prompting much preparation.  Interested, knowledgeable, and affected parties often testify at these hearings, providing additional information that may be helpful in finalizing the bill.

I was fortunate to see some of these preparations unfold.  I was invited, for example, to lunch with Representative Zerwas’s staff and David Montagne, a member of the TSUS Board of Regents.  It was a privilege to be able to learn from the expertise of others, and I was glad to be brought into the loop.

Following lunch, we returned to the office, where I finished up working on projects I was given, and thanked the staff for the wonderful opportunity I was afforded.

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UT Tower

After our last day as interns in the Capitol, we headed for a tour of the University of Texas Tower.  As you might expect from the site that witnessed one of the first mass shootings on a college campus, security is tight.  Following a discussion of rules and regulations by the tour guides (UT students), we  crowded into a small elevator…

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At the top, the tour guides offer background on the UT Tower. The tower was completed in 1937, and it continues to be one of the most recognizable buildings in the city of Austin. Paul Philippe Cret designed this building, which is two feet taller than the Austin Capitol Building. The building was originally used as an old-school library, one that utilized the card catalogue system.  Approximately 25 percent of the tourists knew what a card catalogue system was, so that was explained to us, before we were freed to explore the observation deck.

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The wire cage enclosing the observation deck are to prevent suicides, which is a rather sobering thought.  Even with the wire, however, the views are impressive!

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Interestingly, the tower offers a protected view of the Texas Capitol.  By “protected,” I mean that the City of Austin passed an ordinance prohibiting the building of any building that obstructs views of the Capitol from the Tower.  It is one of 35 or so such protected views in ATX.


Dinner

With a play to attend at 8, we had to hustle for dinner.  Fortunately, the New World Deli (“where bland is banned”) accommodated our schedules, offering good foot, to boot.

As we headed for our table at the restaurant we found a huge surprise. Our team mom, Stephanie, joined us for dinner and will join us for the rest of our weekend! We began to tell her all about our week-long internship while we waited for our food which consisted of sandwiches for everyone and salad for Megan. Even though we were stuffed at the end and were in a rush to get to Austin Playhouse, we still made room and time for dessert. We enjoyed some key lime pie and salted chocolate chip cookies which were delicious!


A Little Night Music

After dinner, we headed to Austin Playhouse for the musical, A little Night Music. It was a humorously romantic musical, penned by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler.

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As one of the most famous musicals, it’s plot is well familiar while also being intriguingly complex.  With six main characters and as many love triangles, the play mixes humor, great music, and bittersweet romance.  On top of its complex plot, the songs also offered complexity, with duets, trios, and a couple of patter songs.

Although “LEAP” stands for Law, Engagement, And Politics, it could just as easily stand for Law, Engagement, Art, and Politics.  This was our second musical of the last couple of months (Damn Yankees being the other), and as yesterday’s blog noted, we regularly visit art museums and even sponsor our own art program.

But this was a more complex and serious piece of musical theater than we usually see, and we’re glad we had the opportunity.  The music was great, the acting was fine (the Austin Playhouse uses professional actors), and the cast was excellent!

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It proved another late night for us, but it was a musical and fittingly bittersweet end to our “work week” in Austin.  But just because our work week is over, our education continues, with trips to the Bob Bullock Museum, town parks, and other educational excursions awaiting us tomorrow.  Our panoramic view of Austin and the political world continues!

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I’d like to thank the staff in Senator Schwertner’s office (especially Ariel Traub) and the staff in Representative Zerwas’s office for hosting me this week.  Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving the Lower Valley

Our final day in the Valley was mostly a travel day, but we did have a chance to visit some Valley tourist attractions.

Although it wasn’t spring break, we did manage to step foot on South Padre Island.  After “missing” a turnoff, we drove over a giant bridge, taking us to the spring-break  hot spot.  Our visit lasted just long enough for a photo op…

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…before heading to the Port Isabel Lighthouse.

The Lighthouse was constructed because of heavy shipping traffic. It was completed in 1851 and has been standing for more than a century and a half, with a light that could be seen for almost 16 miles. During the Civil War, the lighthouse was used as an observation point and afterward, it continued to guide ships until it was permanently abandoned in 1905.

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The lighthouse now serves not only as a tourist attraction, but also as a community engagement point. For the past twelve years, for example, it has hosted a cinema night, where visitors come to watch films together.

Lighthouse Establishment Cinema (LHEC) at the historic Port Isabel Lighthouse! Fridays, June & July, 9:30 p.m. FREE to the public!

The people who show up for the movie obviously have a great tolerance for humidity, which we found somewhat oppressive.  It did not, however, prevent us from waiting our turn in line to get to the top.  Depressingly, the people who were exiting the lighthouse would tell us, “Gosh, it feels like a sauna up there.”  This was bad news, because we felt like the bottom of the lighthouse was already sauna-like.

Undaunted, we made our trek up to the top, where we admired a view of  an endless sea in some directions, touristy shops in other directions (Pirate Jack’s Gifts!), refineries in still another direction, and a view of South Padre from another.

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It was the LEAP Center’s third trip to a lighthouse, the other two being at Tybee Island (next to Savannah) and Biloxi, MS.  Although the Port Isabel lighthouse had a bit of charm, it lacked the local support, the scenery, and the amenities of the other two we had visited.

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And, with that, we headed back to Huntsville, where we would have less than 24 hours to prepare for our venture to Austin, Texas, for a trial internship in the state’s legislature.

From Baseball to Bowling: Striking Out for the Valley

After a morning of art and aquarium life in Corpus Christi, we set out for the Valley.  The night before, we went to a baseball game–Alex’s first.  Tonight, we stumbled upon a bowling alley next to our hotel in Weslaco, and decided to play a couple of rounds–our first in a very long time!

Beatriz Martinez, LEAP Ambassador and valley resident, joined us for the bowling game.

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It had been a while since any of us had bowled so we knew it would be…interesting. All of us bowled pretty well the first game, which Megan won the first game–showing exquisite form.

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Our second game, however, showed a marked dropoff among everyone except for Professor Yawn, who seemed energized by his loss to Chapa in game one.  In fact, he thinks he bowled his best game ever. He won after posting nine strikes (!)–while the rest of us spent significant time nursing sore arms from our efforts in game one.

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It was a fun time filled with both embarrassing and proud moments!

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Happy to say all of us made at least one strike!

For dinner we tried a highly recommended restaurant named Arturos.   We started off with Queso Flameado with tortillas and Avocado Pico de Gallo that we enjoyed while waiting for our meals. Megan ordered Tacos de la Calle, which she said had amazing fajita meat; I ordered something that I had never tried before, Enchiladas Suizas, which were chicken enchiladas topped with tomatillo sauce and oxaca cheese. Beatriz and Professor Yawn split the Special Mexican Plate that allowed them to taste a little bit of everything. We then had Tres Leches Cake and a Caramel Crepe for dessert.

With the bowling and the food, it was a sweet (and spicy!) way to begin our time in the Valley!

 

Corpus Christi in Six Hours

It’s not easy to prioritize your time in a City when you have just five hours to spend, but we did a pretty good job of it.

Our morning began by visiting The Texas State Aquarium. As a fish enthusiast, Megan was especially looking forward to this underwater adventure. We began with a shark exhibit…

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…before moving on to the Lion Fish and Electric Eels.  One of the highlights was seeing the Aquarium staff in full scuba gear feeding these fish.

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The Museum’s exhibits are well configured, giving you the opportunity to see them up close.  The jellyfish exhibit, for example, is in low light, highlighting the animals translucent tissue.

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The sea otters, crocodile, and bald eagle were outside, and they were in separate exhibits, again configured in such a way as to maximize human interaction with the animals.  In the case of the sharks and stingrays, we could even put our arms in the water and “lightly touch the animals with two fingers.”

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The true highlight of the aquarium are the dolphins.  The trainers brought out four dolphins, two of which were especially good at tricks.  Through mimicry, these dolphins learn to clap, jump out of the water, do flips, swim on their back, and even splash the audience!  Our favorite was a three-spin flip.

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Next door to the Aquarium is the city’s Art Museum of South Texas.  The museum is housed in a structure designed by Philip Johnson and made from shellcrete.

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The current exhibit in the Museum was of Texas Mixed Media, and my favorite artist represented was Mary McCleary, who is actually a Professor of Art at Stephen F. Austin University.  In her artist statement, she indicates she takes found objects and layers them onto paper in a way that “conveys an intensity which the viewer finds compelling.”  That was the case for me (Alex), and I’d like to see more of her work.

We also had a chance to see another Dale Chihuly, and I learned about the “Art Guys,” who have a work composed of clear glass tubes horizontally placed on the wall and filled with broken glass.

Megan, too, found a new artist she liked: Bill Meek.  A glass artist from Houston, his piece “Catharsis” is in a sun room overlooking a piece by Jesus Moroles outside the building.

Speaking of which, the exterior of the Museum is as intriguing as the interior.  The walkway to the building includes a large, ringed fountain.

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Off to the side is a large piece by James Surls, who graduated from Sam Houston State University.

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With all the art hitting close to home, we decided to stray outside the box for lunch.  Thus we went to a Vietnamese Restaurant (literally called “Vietnam Restaurant”) in Corpus Christi.  This seemed like an unlikely pairing, but the food was truly good.  I (Megan) ordered the Vietnam Fried Rice, which was delicious; Alex had the Vermicelli Noodles with grilled chicken; and Professor Yawn had the restaurant’s signature “Hot Pot” which, after being slow cooked for 25 minutes was, indeed, hot!  And very good.  It was our favorite restaurant thus far in the trip.

Before leaving Corpus, however, we felt somewhat compelled to visit “Mirador de la Flor,” which is a memorial to Selena, the Tejano singer.  Selena was shot at the age of 23 but she sold more than a million albums in her short career and paved the way for other Hispanic singers.

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And with that visit, we closed down our time in Corpus Christi.  Although “hooked” by the beaches, baseball, sea-life, and art, we had business in the Rio Grande Valley, so southward we roamed.

But not before getting drinks at Coffee Wave.  We cannot recommend this enough!  The coffee was good; the Mexican Hot Chocolate was excellent, even on a summer day; and the Chai Tea Latte was amazing!  And with that, we waved goodbye to Corpus Christi!