If Ronco is part of Austin now, then these funky TV ads are Austin history

This image from a television commercial shows Ron Popeil, founder of Ronco, selling some of the company’s products. Ronco — known for such gadgets as the Veg-O-Matic and the Pocket Fisherman — is now headquartered in Austin.

You might know Ronco Brands, a new Austin-based holding company, has filed to raise $30 million in an initial public offering.

Founded by inventor and entrepreneur Ron Popeil in 1964, Ronco is famous for gadgets sold on late-night infomercials. Though it has struggled financially in recent years, Ronco maintains that it has sold over $2 billion in Ronco-branded products in the U.S. since its inception.

 

Let’s look back at a few classics from decades ago:

 

Take that, BeDazzler!

 

Awww, yiss. The original gangster.

 

Perpetuating stereotypes and enabling creeps in cars since 1978!

 

Hear that? That’s the sound of every hipster in town flocking to eBay …

 

Nothing says sex appeal like “rich foamy dust.”

 

“Want to come over? I got ‘Boogie Nights.'” “On DVD?” “Nah, baby. On 8-track!”

187 years ago, Texas’ first immigration ban didn’t go over well

The government was deeply concerned. Immigrants were pouring into their northern lands. Immigrants who were armed. Who did not accept their values. And, perhaps most terrifyingly, did not share their religion.

Building a border wall, of course, wasn’t remotely feasible. But if they had tried, it wouldn’t have been on the Rio Grande (or Rio Bravo as they called it). It would have been on the Red River.

We’re talking about Mexico in 1830, of course. A decade after Spanish authorities had welcomed settlers from the United States to help colonize Texas, newly-independent Mexico was beginning to realize that this was not going to end well for them.

So on this day in 187 years ago, the Mexican Congress issued the Law of April 6, 1830. Article 11 of that decree expressly forbid, according to T.R. Fehrenbach’s “Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans,” any “further colonization of the Mexican territory by citizens of adjacent countries.”

It was an immigration ban. Aimed at the United States.

The immigrants did not take it well. The Texas colonists were not only insulted, but were counting on growth to fuel their economy.

For years, embroiled in its own fight for independence and a hampered by political upheaval, Mexico had given little thought to its Texas territory. When they realized that the Texas colonists had little intention of assimilating into Mexican culture, it was too late.

As Fehrenbach notes:

“The Mexican mistake, beyond the original allowing of a large horde of self-discliplined, armed land seekers to cross the borders, was in permitting the Anglos to create, without hindrance, their own community within nominal Mexican territory.”

Stephen F. Austin would travel to Mexico to appeal the decree to a government still in flux and eventually did get Article 11 repealed in 1833 — just before he was imprisoned in solitary confinement at the ancient Prison of the Inquisition, according to Fehrenbach.

Other efforts by Mexico to put its stamp on Texas — collecting customs and garrisoning more troops (including convict conscriptees) there — helped fuel the fires of revolution. There were disturbances in Anahuac. A battle in Velasco.

By 1835, the Texas Revolution had begun.

It was a good week for Chuck Norris, but who else is an honorary Texan?

The Texas Senate named Chuck Norris an honorary Texan on Tuesday. This was not because Chuck showed up and roundhouse-kicked everyone into submission — naming honorary Texans is something the legislature does on a regular basis. Even for lesser mortals.

Who else, you are asking, has received this honor?

Well, in 2015, the Legislature was busy making Texans. Most notably, British singer Phil Collins got the Lone Star stamp of approval for his efforts on behalf of the Alamo. Also actor Gary Sinise was honored for his work advocating for veterans.

But other honorary Texans minted in 2015 include Albanian artist Genc Mulliqi, Czech Republic exchange student Vladimir Jaskevic, UT basketball coach Shaka Smart and former Philadelphia Eagles player Troy Vincent.

The resolution can be introduced in the House or in the Senate or it can be a concurrent resolution, such as the one in 2015 that declared May 26 to be John Wayne Day for a 10-year period. Often such resolutions simply absolve newborns unlucky enough to be born outside state lines, but lucky enough to have relatives with friends in high places.

Sometimes it’s weird. In 2011, a House Resolution granted posthumous Texan-ness to Italian national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi, for reasons nearly a half-dozen “whereas”es couldn’t make clear.

One particularly good story is the one of famous naturalist John James Audubon. After a visit to Texas in 1837, a senator in Texas’ fledgling government proposed to make Audubon an honorary Texan. Or Texian, as they said then. It went nowhere and stayed that way until 1985, when Sen. Carlos Truan sponsored a new resolution, which was easily adopted.

But the Lege doesn’t have all the fun. Texas governors can declare honorary Texans, too. Then-Gov. Rick Perry went nearly full partisan in his declarations: Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Rudy Giuliani, Glenn Beck and … Rush Limbaugh. (He also dubbed singer Chris Knight and actor Russell Crowe, for a little balance.)

Gov. George W. Bush was a little more, ahem, presidential in his selections. He made several prime ministers and other foreign dignitaries honorary Texans … and Bob Dylan, too.

Gov. Ann Richards kept it a little weirder. Under her watch, the parents of Jerry Jeff Walker, Bob Hope, Don McLean and Arnold Schwarzenegger became honorary Texans.

Perhaps the oddest honorary Texan ever was Nicolae Ceaușescu, Romania’s brutal communist leader until 1989. When Gov. Dolph Briscoe honored him, we’re willing to bet he didn’t anticipate Ceaușescu would be the only honorary Texan to be executed by a firing squad.

Five odd spots in Texas to look up for ‘Read a Road Map Day’

We had a subscription to National Geographic when I was young, back when you couldn’t buy it on the newsstand, and it seemed like being part of a secret club. And every few issues, a bonus! One would arrive with a map inside.

Not just any map, mind you. A National Geographic map — the best a boy could get. I would pore over them for hours, looking for lochs in Scotland, mountains in Chile, deserts in Namibia, weird places in Yugoslavia.

So I’m feeling a bit sentimental over “Read a Road Map Day,” which I found out just a few minutes ago was today. I didn’t have it circled on my calendar, I admit.

I still have road maps in my car. Perhaps it was seeing the early days of online maps, when asking for directions always steered you toward the nearest interstate (sorry, Yahoo, but I am NOT going from San Angelo to Austin via Abilene). Or perhaps it is an antiquated sense of masculine pride that, damn it, I know where I’m going … but I never cared for GPS. And I’m not going to ask my phone how to get there.

So let’s celebrate road maps today. Here are five odd places you can get to from Austin (with links to an online map, because, well, this is the internet) …

1. Ding Dong Tx. On Highway 195 between Killeen and Florence. The name is said to have come from a sign on a store owned by early settlers Zulis and Bert Bell.

2. Oatmeal Tx. On FM 243, southwest of Bertram. The annual Oatmeal Festival (in nearby Bertram) began in 1978 as a parody of the then-hot chili cookoff craze.

3. Click Tx. Off County Road 308, west of Texas 71 between Horseshoe Bay and Llano. Now a ghost town, it was named for settler Malachi Click.

4. Dime Box Tx. South of State Highway 21 and Old Dime Box. In the 1940s, a CBS broadcast kicked off a March of Dimes drive from Dime Box, according to the Handbook of Texas Online.

5. Nada, Tx. On Texas 71, between Columbus and El Campo. Even before I learned the name was Spanish for “nothing,” I was always amused by the sign on the town store. “Well if it’s Nada Grocery Store, what is it?” was the joke that never got old. But the name comes from a third source: najda is the Czechoslovakian word for “hope.” Rounding out the odd, the town’s original name was Vox Populi.