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X Games Downtown, 'Last Plane Out of Saigon,' Austin Ale House and more

saigon
Michael Barnes

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SPORTS: X marks the spot for games on Congress Avenue. The main population that squeezed into the sweaty confines of the X Games demo corral on Austin's main stem seemed to be tough-looking kids and their tense-looking parents. This adds a whole new demographic to downtown street life. Blessedly, there was no sign of binge drinking, unlike the last two, spring-break-ish nights of SXSW this year. Still, crowd controllers remained vigilant and other public spots around downtown that usually don't bother with uniformed security posted spotters in case skaters or bikers descended. No matter, Austin loves a party. And the X Games presence in the city is certainly less noisy and disruptive than the Republic of Texas Biker Rally, which returns to town next week. Ran into actor Aaron Eckhart, in town to play Coach Darrell Royal, in an upcoming movie. He was gracious when I complimented his work. Try as I might, I couldn't get into the extreme athletes tooling their wheels around the giant, yellow "U" assembled in front of the Capitol. (It must look better on TV.)

MEDIA: 'Last Plane Out of Saigon' book launch. Austin attorney Richard Pena was among the last of his generation drafted to fight in Vietnam. He did his stint. Then Pena returned to Austin to pursue -- quite successfully -- the legal profession. After decades passed, he returned to Vietnam to visit sites such as the War Remnants in Ho Chi Minh City. There, he spied a black-and-white photograph. The title card read: "Last Plane Out of Saigon." In the image, uniformed men and women line up to board what looks like a transport plane. Midway through the line is a man carrying a brief case, his back to the camera. That was Pena. Turns out, he had kept a journal, too. With writer John Hagan, Pena has published a version of that journal. A crowd of well-wishers gathered at the rather incongruous Rio nightclub on a sticky weekday to examine the thin, compelling book. (Perfect for a profile in the paper.)

NIGHTLIFE: Austin Ale House toasts music showcase. The nightspot on the corner of Lavaca and West Sixth streets has been many things. Remember when it was ultra-chilly Olso? It's hard to be believe that this long, narrow room supported even a post-modern dance club. (That said, people still dance at Plush, a much smaller, narrower space on Red River Street.) Austin Ale House has settled in as a comfy pub, which fits the setting. And the back bar, which sometimes operated as a completely separate club, now offers live music from a tiny stage. Again, an excellent use of the space. Who holds the secret to success in Austin nightlife? Nobody I know. Yet it seems Austin Ale House has found right role for this ligature building on the borders of the Warehouse District, West Sixth and East Sixth. (A small party toasted the showcase launch. There I met folks from several cities whose main destination seemed to be the X Games nexus.)

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