Austin, the state capital of Texas, is nestled in Hill Country, eight hours east of Carlsbad. The pretty rolling hills outside of Austin are covered by the first deciduous trees I’ve seen since Flagstaff. It’s a welcome refreshment from the searing heat of the plains.
Austin is a hipster’s paradise. It is inordinately proud of its ‘weirdness’ and its cultural incompatibility with the rest of the state. Much of the youthful energy in Austin springs from the local campus of the University of Texas. It’s situated on the north side of town above the Colorado River. The University’s Blanton Museum of Art holds the local Hopper picture, the first watercolor of this journey.
After checking into my retro motel, I wander the main drag of South Congress Avenue. Twenty to thirty somethings laze in the sun. They drink coffee, sip beer, smoke cigarettes in high-end bars and restaurants. A man in a cowboy suit with a stack of CD’s in his hand pulls me aside to ask if I like ‘good quality country.’ To which I reply, politely, in the negative.
After dinner at a ‘Japanese Food Fast’ restaurant, I head next door to Amy’s Ice Cream, where someone who looks like Amy is serving. I get a ‘tiny’ (i.e. large) scoop of Mexican Vanilla and cross back over South Congress to look around the suburban back streets.
The houses here remind me of those in Arlington, Virginia and Portland, Oregon: New Englanders with big verandahs, grassy lawns and aged maples out the front holding tire swings, or at least looking like they could handle a tire swing. As I scoop the melting ice cream into my mouth, I realise that Austin is a lot like Mexican Vanilla. It’s smooth and easy on the palate. It’s rich and interesting, with just a hint of cinnamon and spice to keep your attention.
At dusk, tour boats light up the Colorado River and play live rock ‘n roll. A million Mexican free-tailed bats sweep up from beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge. I stand on the riverbank, pondering this incongruent scene, and realize that this is a place I could call home.
Happy Hour, Happy Tuesday
It’s Happy Tuesday at the Continental Club, the legendary Austin club across South Congress Ave from my room at the comfortable Austin Motel. Toni Price, a blues/folk/rock singer, is playing, as she does every Tuesday night.
Described by John Burnett of National Public Radio as ‘something like a holiness revival and a Harley rally and a Phish concert and an Appalachian wedding party’, Toni’s concerts are an integral part of Austin’s famously vibrant live music scene.
Price, born in 1961, still carries her youthful heart on her sleeveless wrist. Nursing a highball of whiskey, she exclaims to the joyful crowd, ‘There’s nothing like Tennessee whiskey. It tastes good! It looks good! And it gets you where you’re going.’
After four Dos Equis of my own, I was going to bed. Before passing out, I felt privileged to be part of a truly American subculture, one of so many across this vast land. And the heartfelt, foot thumping music was pretty damn good too.
The next morning, The Onion, America’s leading satirical newspaper, haunted me with the week’s horoscope for Leo: ‘If there’s a drinkable liquid in the world that doesn’t cause loss of motor function, impaired judgment, slurred speech, dehydration, and eventual unconsciousness, you don’t want to know about it.’ Luckily, I’m a Capricorn: ‘The scene of your murder will be perplexing for the investigating detectives, as each of your eleven parrots seems to have heard you and the killer say something different.’
Have you been to Austin? What’s your favorite night spot?