With the University of Texas' iconic "Eyes of Texas" song currently stirring up controversy, it might be time for some to find a more wholesome way to celebrate the alma mater. Many have already found a reminder of college life with UT's iconic blonde squirrels.
UT alum Marie Romano found out just how special the squirrels are to campus life when she created an Instagram and Facebook account dedicated to the university's furriest residents. Since its founding in 2018, the Squirrels of UT Instagram has grown to nearly 10,000 followers.
It's no secret that UT squirrels are remarkably unafraid of humans, especially when food is around. Because of their friendliness, Romano got a chance to take up-close-and-personal pictures with the animals back when she was pursuing a philosophy degree at the university in 2016.
A native of Brownsville, Texas, a less likely place to find squirrels, Romano instantly connected with her new furry friends. It wasn't until she revisited her camera roll years later, however, that she realized how closely intertwined the squirrels were to her experience at UT. She decided to spread that feeling of nostalgia with others.
Marie Romano at UT. (Marie Romano)
Soon recent graduates and long-time alumni found her page, and Romano realized that the squirrels may be more of a UT mascot than Bevo himself.
"I think they're kind of like the secret mascot," Romano said. "You'll see Bevo at the football game, but with the squirrels, you see them every day. You can't escape them—they're going to come up to you and ask you for your waffle fries from Chick-Fil-A. And I think that's why a lot of people, when they think back to their time (at UT), they're going to remember this squirrel."
After visiting campus and posting squirrel updates for a year, Romano came up with a new way to connect her audience to each squirrel's individual personality. She used Kickstarter to fund her new project, a Squirrels of UT yearbook. The book was an instant hit.
"It was the most fun project I've ever done," Romano said. "I felt like I was in the yearbook club at high school or something, but it was really fun, especially photoshopping graduation caps on the squirrels."
When the pandemic hit the following spring, Romano decided to follow up her former project with a special commencement video. Thanks to Romano, students who may not have walked the stage themselves could cheer themselves up by watching graduates like "Cashew, B.S. in Nutology" get the recognition they deserve.
While their diplomas may not be real, the squirrels' names certainly are. As the hustle and bustle of campus life goes on, UT squirrels have their own goings-on right underneath our noses. Renowned family dynasties can span generations, including the most famous example, the blonde squirrel clan.
Romano found herself learning about much more than just squirrel clans as her relationships with the creatures grew stronger. By now, she can use a three-step process—location, appearance and personality—to tell each squirrel apart. She's been so successful with telling each squirrel apart that she did a presentation about her process in a human anthropology class. She says it's like "reading human faces;" it takes practice, but soon it becomes natural.
Each post on her Instagram not only gives a close-up shot of a chubby-cheeked creature but also gives a little tidbit into what makes that squirrel so special.
Although she is a fan of all of the squirrels, she's partial to a few: Teacup, who loves humans but doesn't like other squirrels, and Nutter Butter, an older gentleman with chubby cheeks who loves to share.
"The more flamboyant they are, the more I like them," Romano said. "They're individual squirrels with their own individual personalities."
While the pandemic has halted some of her creative processes, Romano won't stop posting UT's nuttiest residents anytime soon.
"At the end of the day, it's pure, light-hearted content that brings a smile to people's faces," she said.
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If you are a committed, grunge-wearing resident of the Pacific Northwest, it is easy–almost automatic–to look at Texas as an extraordinarily dry, hot and culturally oppressive place that is better to avoid, especially in the summer. Our two granddaughters live with their parents in Portland.
Recently we decided to take the older girl, who is 15, to Dallas. Setting aside the summer heat, a Portlander can adjust to the vibes of Austin without effort. So let’s take Texas with all of its excesses straight up. Dallas, here we come.
Our 15-year-old granddaughter and her sister, 12, have spent summer weeks with us, usually separately so that we could better get to know each individually. In visits focused on Austin and Port Aransas, the girls seemed to be developing an affection for Texas.
Houston and Dallas are two great American cities, the 4th and 9th largest, each loaded with cultural treasures, each standing in glittering and starchy contrast to Austin’s more louche, T-shirts and shorts ways.
Three hours up I-35, Dallas loomed before us as a set of gray skyscrapers in a filmy haze, accessed only through a concrete mixmaster of freeways, ramps and exits. I drove with false confidence. Be calm, I said to myself, it will all end in 10 minutes under the hotel entrance canopy. And it did.
The pool at the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas. (Crescent Court Hotel)
We stayed three nights at the Crescent Court Hotel ($622 a night for two queens), a high-end hotel in Uptown, patronized by women in white blazers, business people in suits, and tall, lean professional athletes, their shiny Escalades and Corvettes darting in and out, and other celebrities like Bill Barr, the former attorney general who shoe-horned his ample self into a Toyota.
Each morning as I walked to Whole Foods for a cappuccino, a fellow identified by a bellman as Billy the Oilman arrived in his Rolls Royce Phantom. Where does he park? “Wherever he wants to. He likes the Starbucks here.”
We garaged our more modest set of wheels for the visit. We were chauffeured for tips by Matt Cooney and Alfonza “The Rev” Scott in the hotel’s black Audi sedan. They drove us to museums, restaurants and past the enclaves of the rich and famous. In Highland Park, The Rev pointed out the homes of the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman along with the family compound of the Hunts, oil and gas tycoons.
The Dallas Museum of Art’s “Cartier and Islam” exhibit (until Sept. 18) attracted an older crowd; the nearby Perot Museum of Nature and Science was a powerful whirlpool of kids’ groups ricocheting from the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the oil fracking exhibit. Watch your shins.
A Geogia O'Keeffe oil painting called "Ranchos Church, New Mexico" at the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art. (Rich Oppel)
For us, the best museum was the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, a 50-minute, madcap drive away via a 75 mph toll lane along I-30. Don’t try it during rush hour. The Carter has an exquisite collection of Remington paintings and sculptures and an excellent array of 19th and 20th-century paintings as well. Pick one museum? The Amon Carter. Peaceful, beautiful, uncrowded, free admission and small enough to manage in two hours.
The Fort Worth Stockyards, a place of history (with a dab of schmaltz), fun and good shopping, filled one of our mornings. The 98 acres brand the city as Cowboy Town, with a rodeo and a twice-daily (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) cattle drive. We shopped for boots, drank coffee and watched the “herd” of 18 longhorns. So languid was their progress that if this were a real market drive the beef would have been very tough and leathery before it hit the steakhouse dinner plate.
The cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards. (Rich Oppel)
But we could identify: the temperature was 97. “I saw a dog chasing a cat today,” said the emcee, deploying a very old joke. “It was so hot that both were walking.”
With limited time, we chose three very different restaurants:
- Nobu, in the Crescent Court Hotel; Jia, a modern Chinese restaurant in Highland Park; and Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. Nobu’s exotic Japanese menu set us back $480, with tip, for four (we had a guest), but it was worth it.
- Jia was an ordinary suburban strip mall restaurant, but with good food and a reasonable tab of $110 for four.
- Joe T.’s is an 85-year-old Fort Worth institution (think Matt’s El Rancho but larger), a fine Mexican restaurant where a meal with two drinks was $115.
Sushi at high-end restaurant Nobu. (Crescent Hotel)
It was all a splurge for a grandchild’s visit. Now we will get back to our ordinary road trips of Hampton Inns, where a room rate is closer to the Crescent Court’s overnight parking rate of $52. And to corner cafes in small towns.
Did Dallas change our 15-year-old’s view of Texas? “Yes. I think it’s a lot cooler than I did. The fashion, the food.” So, not only Austin is cool. Take Texas as a whole. It’s a big, complex, diverse and wonderful state.
Giga Texas, the massive Tesla factory in southeast Travis County is getting even bigger.
The company filed with the city of Austin this week to expand its headquarters with a new 500,000-square-foot building. The permit application notes “GA 2 and 3 expansion,” which indicates the company will make two general assembly lines in the building.
More details about the plans for the building are unclear. The gigafactory has been focused on Model Y production since it opened in April, but the company is also aiming for Cybertruck production to kick off in mid-2023.
While there is room for expansion on the 3.3 square miles of land Tesla has, this move comes after CEO Elon Musk’s recent comments about the state of the economy and its impact on Tesla.
In a May interview with Tesla Owners Silicon Valley, Musk said the gigafactories in Berlin and Austin are “gigantic money furnaces” and said Giga Texas had manufactured only a small number of cars.
And in June, Musk sent a company wide email saying Tesla will be reducing salaried headcount by 10%, then later tweeted salaried headcount should be fairly flat.
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