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Elton John at Andy Roddick gala, Victor Rivas Rivers at SafePlace

Michael Barnes
mbarnes@statesman.com

SPORTS: It might be the most glorious gala of the season. The Andy Roddick Foundation has found a new mission: Using tennis as part of a program of essential life couching. It has a new director: Impressive Richard Tagle, who takes over from the tranformational Jeff Lau. Thursday, the group that has raised $11 million for children’s causes in just a few years, staged its best gala ever. It might rank as the best of the season. Start with the well-drilled staff of ACL Live and the spectacular food from W Austin Hotel. Mix in media, sports, music, business and other figures in a relaxed cocktail setting, then around talkative table, which in my case included Lau’s family and his girlfriend from New York. Then add magic: Elton John at top form, playing, not just for the dinner guests, whose bidding pushed the net take for the event over $1 million by one early estimate, but also for adoring fans who filled the mezzanine and balcony as the well-tended auction ended. I was so close to Sir Elton I could count his sequins. He sang and played song after song as if it were a command performance for each of us. (Nina Seely texted me that the well-attended Signature Chefs for March of Dimes in the same time slot also went well.)

CHARITY: One heart-wrenching speech would have been enough. Two doubled the impact. Just as Thursday evening presented wicked social choices, three luncheons competed for crowds earlier in the day. I closed my eyes and chose the SafePlace celebration. Here the attention never strayed to the food or service. Instead, two powerful speakers talked about their personal experiences with domestic violence. Actor and former football player Victor Rivas Rivers has written a memoir about his harrowing childhood with a Cuban American father who tortured the whole family. He’s now a national spokesman on the subject. The second testimony came from a Texas woman whose dear aunt was killed by her boyfriend. My nearest tablemate was an Austin woman whose sister was killed by her husband. They are not public figures, so I’ll withhold their names for now. Too much? Nope. It’s all about surviving. (If you ever get a chance to hear Rivas Rivers’ story, take it. Or read his memoir, “A Private Family Matter.”)

FOOD: Arro attempts to bring French comfort to West Sixth Street. Reported by Matthew Odam in today’s Statesman: “Chef Andrew Curren and the ELM Restaurant Group have created popular comfort-food destinations in Easy Tiger and 24 Diner. They return to that theme but with a different accent at Arro. The French-country bistro took over the spot on West Sixth Street formerly inhabited by Haddington’s. The menu leans heavily on French classics like duck confit and croque monsieur, with a few curves thrown in to keep things interesting. Despite the presence of Bess Bistro, Jezebel and Benji’s Cantina, this part of West Sixth Street is still known more for imbibing than dining. Arro plays to that crowd with late hours, food that can absorb happy hour drinks and a convivial atmosphere. http://shar.es/EIEur (Can’t wait to try it.)

CITY: TxDot outs toll road scofflaws. Reported by Juan Castillo in today’s Statesman: “If bill collection letters and phone calls don’t work, then maybe public shaming will? That was the theory Thursday as state officials made good on their promise to out the top highway toll dodgers, naming a few of the 28,000 habitual violators who each have at least 100 unpaid tolls. All of the top 25 are from the Austin area. The state says it’s trying to collect $27 million in unpaid tolls from Texas Department of Transportation tollways. The amount owed by the 28,000 habitual violators was unclear. “In effect, these people who are not paying are stealing from the state and the citizens of Texas,” said David Glessner, a TxDOT spokesman. “We just don’t see that as being fair to those who do pay their bills, nor is it fair to the progress of the state in terms of maintaining existing infrastructure and possibly building new roads.”” http://shar.es/EIEDe(How do you rack up $200,000 in tolls?)

POLITICS: Playbook: Anatomy of a shutdown. Shared by Eugene Sepulveda on Commnity Matters: “Speaker John Boehner just wanted to sneak out of the White House for a smoke. But President Obama pulled him aside for a grilling. Obama wanted to know why they were in the second day of a government shutdown that the speaker had repeatedly and publicly pledged to avoid. ‘John, what happened?’ Obama asked … ‘I got overrun, that’s what happened,’ Boehner said. It may be the most concise explanation of a chaotic, 16-day standoff that prompted the first government shutdown in nearly two decades … The House Republican conference ran roughshod over Boehner.” http://communitymatters.biz(Spent the entire evening with Eugene at Andy Roddick event and we didn’t discuss politics once. Yet he’s keeping his eye on the ball for all of us.)