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Cover Story: Austin Fires Back

So I'd gotten up at 5 a.m. and spent the day at NASA's Mission Control, where along with about fifty other writers, talking heads and camera crews from Houston, New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, I'd been granted unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to the final full-dress simulation for the 30-year-old American Space Shuttle program. (You can read much more about that trip here.)

I was mere feet away as a multitude of mock-malfunctions of the highest magnitude were solved by veteran Flight Director Richard Jones and Capcom Butch Wilmore and their astounding team of Mission Control scientists. Meanwhile the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis were bouncing around in their simulator a couple of buildings away, following Mission Control's terse instructions to the crisp letter.

One scenario had them ditching Atlantis shortly after take-off in Zaragoza, Spain. Another was so amazingly sadistic and complex even Jones had a hard time explaining all that went wrong. (It had something to do with a helium tank leak that, as Jones put it, "reduced our capacity to take heat away from the onboard computers." And that was just the beginning...)

Some of the breakdowns the Mission Control and the astronauts tamed were even unscripted. Just as that clusterfuck of a scenario was at its most outrageous, one of the flight sim's mikes got "hot." For the next few minutes, Atlantis Captain Douglas "Chunky" Hurley had to cut through everyone's chatter to hear Jones's and Willmore's urgent instructions while he multi-tasked a bevy of critical errors, all while imagining that the fate of the entire space program was at stake. And the steely-eyed Marine colonel pulled it off, along with the rest of the astronauts aboard the mock-Atlantis. In the press conference after the simulation ended, Hurley called that hardware breakdown his "favorite malfunction."

You can ask Tom Hanks, whose way-too-oft-repeated movie quote is far-too-seldom brought to its logical conclusion: Houston is a city that very famously solves problems.

Such was my thinking as I drove back to the office from Johnson Space Center. My head was not in the clouds -- it was far above them, in orbit 200 miles above Earth along with the crew of the Atlantis.

So it was kind of a come-down to come back to my office, and that feeling was doubled when I learned that Austin Chronicle editor Louis Black had penned a response to what he called my "full-body takedown" on Austin last week.

And Black's opening salvo on why Austin was, in fact, better than Houston, was a list of current Austin bands that have recently been mentioned in British music magazines.

I repeat -- I come back from hanging out at Mission Control with freaking astronauts to a dick-swinging contest over trendy rock bands?

You can have White Denim, Louis. We'll take Neil Armstrong, Sally Ride and Mission Control badasses like Chris Kraft and Gene Kranz.

While acknowledging that both are Austin icons, Black also writes off two of my principal sources -- Eddie Wilson and Joe Nick Patoski -- as dial-a-curmudgeons, even though Wilson rhapsodized about Austin's musical talent today and the gist of what Patoski said was that Austin was more like Dallas and Houston than many of its residents would care to admit. Evidently that really touched a nerve.

Black isn't all bile. He notes that had my piece been written by an Austinite and run in an Austin paper, a great many people might have agreed with many of my points.

But then he closed with this: "Lomax didn't mention that another advantage of Houston is that there you could find a 6,000-to-7,000-word piece attacking Austin. You would never find a piece at that length attacking another Texas city in the Austin press. There's just too much other stuff to do here."

Well, there's lots of other stuff to do here in Houston too, but the thing is, I am a professional journalist, so writing is kind of my thing. And when I do write, I like to put my name on pieces that resonate with people. Judging by the response this article has gotten, I would say mission accomplished on that score.

It certainly seemed to resonate with Black. How else can I explain how he took enough time out from every Austinite's busy schedule of doing Cool Things to both read all 6,000 words of my story and pen a column in response?

But like I said, there's lots of other stuff to do here too, like cover the planet's manned space program at its very nerve center, so I've got to say bye for now and let you get back to clipping out those Band of Heathens reviews from that stack of British music magazines.


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