I spent a whopping 14 years in Austin, Texas, so whenever I visit, catching up with friends is my top priority. But running a close second is filling my piehole with as much Tex-Mex food as is humanly possible. Fortunately, J shares my enthusiasm for this pursuit, so we had ourselves a lovely time on our recent 5-day trip. We came back bloated but happy.
We were a little worried about actually getting there, as we had a layover in Cincinnati and they had been hit with a winter storm recently. But all our connections went just fine (and J didn't throttle me for singing the entire theme song of "WKRP" as our first flight landed) so we arrived in Austin right on time, in the late afternoon on Friday.
You know who else arrived about that time? Craploads of runners! I had managed to time our visit to coincide with the Austin Marathon, the largest such event in the state of Texas. There was also some kind of bass-fishing tournament going on out in the lake area, plus a health and fitness expo in conjunction with the marathon, and we think there might have been a dog show in town, too. Finding a hotel room was a bit tricky; we had a king-size bed and a gorgeous view of Town Lake, but our room was a "smoking" room, so it and our clothes smelled pretty bad. We got used to it, though, and did a bunch of laundry when we got back.
Poor J had to listen to me noting "That's new!" every 90 seconds or so. It's just that Austin has grown so much in the 5 years since I moved to the East Coast. I returned for a visit in late summer 2004, but even since then, a bunch of new stuff has popped up. There are toll roads in the north side of town now. Toll roads!
But maybe they're somewhat necessary. Austin is a fantastic city for eating, drinking and partying. You know what it's not so great for? Driving and parking. Admittedly, I made some unfortunate choices in timing our sorties, but I don't remember the roads being that crowded a mere 5 years ago. J and I attempted to go back to our hotel at midnight on Saturday night. Going six blocks, from 9th Street to 3rd Street along the I-35 frontage road, took about 35 minutes. (Of course, the presence of the truck next to us, full of suburban kids blasting tooth-rattling hip-hop and yelling at everybody, didn't help much.)
In between my starting at new construction and griping about the traffic, though, we had some great times. I was bummed to see that Ace Pear Cider was no longer on tap at The Ginger Man, as I had been introduced to that alcoholic ambrosia there 10 years ago, but it was a joy to hang out with my friend Bronwen on Friday night and reminisce about our days of drunken tomfoolery. (True story: I used to show up at parties with two sixers of Ace. One for the party and one just for me. How I'm still alive, I don't know.)
On Saturday, J and I walked around downtown Austin and the Tarrytown area. We started the day with some breakfast tacos at the mothership Whole Foods store, then puttered our way over to some Latin American art shops on Congress Avenue. We meandered down Sixth Street, noting how bleak nightlife areas look in the daylight, and poking our heads in at Forbidden Fruit, 'cause that's what you do when you're on Sixth Street during the day.
That evening, we met up with some of the awesome folks I used to work with at Origin Systems and had drinks and Tex-Mex. Did you know Absolut now makes pink grapefruit vodka? I didn't, but that didn't stop me from pounding down as many ruby-red martinis as time and decorum would allow. In addition to seeing lots of old friends, I got to meet Susanna, empress of The Bling Blog, who up and married one of my Origin homies. They're a great pair, and she made a lovely addition to the group.
After dinner, J and I headed downtown to catch a special event at the Alamo Cinema Drafthouse: a live MST3K-style treatment of a much-edited cut of Titanic. A local outfit calling themselves "Master Pancake Theater" cut the 3-hour-plus behemoth down to about 90 minutes, and ragged on it nonstop. Good times! Unfortunately, our comedic buzz was harshed by the nightmare traffic mentioned above.
The next morning, we met another group of friends of mine, the core members of The Drunk Monkeys. Many of my Monkey buddies worked at Origin, too, but some of them just joined the group for the freewheelin' parties. (I think I still owe all of them at least one apology each.) When we met up at Juan in a Million, Bronwen noted that it was the first time we'd all been there that none of us were hung over or still drunk. But then, we're all a little older and theoretically wiser, and about half of our group had kids. It's a little strange to see your friends, especially those you remember as being hardcore partiers, as parents. But my buddies seem to be raising their offspring to be as fun and delightful as they are, so that another generation can have their version of The Night Bronwen Caught On Fire, a classic tale of Monkey misadventure (don't worry; she didn't stay on fire or anything).
You might notice that there are no actual pictures of these gatherings. For the second time in a row now, J and I have brought a camera with us but never got around to taking any pictures. We're not that fond of having our picture taken without the cats, I guess.
The weather was freaking glorious the whole time we were there, so we spent a lot of time outside walking around. (I guess it was a great day for a marathon, if such a thing can be said to exist.) Sunday afternoon, we hit the shops on South Congress, and got a gorgeous red lacquered low-profile votive candle thing for the dining room and a couple things for friends.
Austin is a very youth-oriented town, and that can make for some awesome eavesdropping. For instance, over a fantastic dinner at Chuy's on Friday night, we overheard a table of women in their mid-20s talking about hair as a topic for about half an hour. If any one of them is reading this: don't mention someone saying that you have "porn star hair" on your Match.com profile, as you were pondering. You'll get attention, but not in a good way. The next night, we overheard a couple of dudes discussing high-end sports cars they had recently seen in a bizarre kind of vicarious oneupmanship. "Hey, man, there's a Viper!" "Oh yeah? Well, I saw a Maserati last week!" The sad thing is, I'm sure I sounded at least that vapid in my 20s, if not considerably more so.
Sunday evening, we took a break from the Tex-Mex and had Southern comfort food at Threadgills. Our campaign against free-flowing arteries continued, as I had the fried catfish and J had their legendary chicken-fried steak. On Saturday, I had introduced J to Amy's Ice Cream Mexican Vanilla, and he agreed that we should eat it every chance we got while we were there, so we stopped off for dessert at the little Amy's stand on South Congress. I don't know what they put in Mexican Vanilla to make it so damn good -- I'm a little worried that it might be crack cocaine, that's how habit-forming it is.
On Monday, we drove around the hill country, then met my friend Joy for lunch. Like Britney, Joy has two kids: a toddler and a newborn. Unlike Britney, she also has a full head of hair, a great head on her shoulders, and her sanity. We chatted with Joy and played with kids and dogs for a little while. It was kinda cute to see her toddler take to J so strongly. I keep telling him that every mammal on earth loves him (and even sing it to him, to the tune of the "Everybody Hates Chris" ditty: "Ev'rybody luh-huhhvs Jaaaaaaay"). He thinks I'm nuts. He might be right.
We puttered around the Hike & Bike Trail and Zilker Park for a while, then had our last Tex-Mex dinner at Guero's (where we ran into my Monkey buddy Artie!). Yes, we hit the Amy's one last time for Mexican Vanilla. Amy, if you're reading this, hook your girl up with the recipe! Our last Tex-Mex meal proper was at Magnolia Cafe on Tuesday morning, where we enjoyed migas and eggs zapatito. (Then we hit Texas French Bread, where I spilled most of a mochaccino on myself.) The flights back home were every bit as orderly and punctual as our flights out, and once again, it was nice to be back home.
I'd like to thank all my friends who took the time to hang with their old buddy. It was so awesome to see y'all, to meet the new significant others and the new kids, and to remind myself how lucky I am to know you all. J thinks you're all pretty swell, too. Now, if you could just convince all these new folks in Austin to move to Houston or something, I can move back to town!