When discussing options for a family vacation, Son (nineteen) requested a trip to Austin, Texas. He’s a huge fan of Rooster Teeth (“Comedy. Gaming. Community.”) and wanted to attend their RTX event (don’t ask) July 7 and 8. Hubby and I looked at each other. Why not? We’d take the week. Austin in July couldn’t be as hot as Austin in August. We were wrong.
Austin is so hot, it’s cool. As the lady behind the counter of South Congress (gently used) Books said, “Austin is very progressive— for Texas.” It’s a melting pot. My shrinky heart swelled to the city’s anthem: Keep Austin weird! Yeah, baby. Bring it on.
- The natives are friendly. They make eye contact. They nod hello. They chat with you, amusingly, while waiting in line. They say please, thank you, and excuse me. Business people offer water. I could get used to that, even in Texas.
- Independent bookstores, like Book People. So fabulust, we lost control. One more book and it would have been Your money or your bags! at the return flight check-in. Like everything else in Austin, the literary scene is awesome. Did you know every May Austin hosts the O’Henry World Championship Pun Off? Me either. And isn’t it punny I learned that from a book I bought and read while there? (The Pun Also Rises, John Pollack. Outstanding in the field.)
- The mother of all Whole Foods. It was loaf at first bite walking into the “Landmark” megastore on Lamar. A cornfield-sized salad bar. Ditto warm food buffet. A soup station. A shortbread cookie cart. An artisan chocolate kiosk. A gelato bar. A ginormous deli, bakery and patisserie. Little bistro bars you could belly up to, and be served: sushi, barbeque, seafood, cheese, wine. Alas, nothing involving humans is perfect. Recent news leeks add just enough morel dilemma to make shopping there a guilty pleasure. You can't beet that. Still, lettuce give thanks to Whole Foods for meating my need for greens. Texas restaurants cater exclusively to carnivores. Look all you want for salad or veggie sides on the menu. (Potatoes don't count.) You won't find one. Hubby loved it.
- Restaurants. All good. But these two were finger-licking, lip-smacking grrrr-ate! The Boiling Pot: cajun seafood, dumped from a steel bowl onto three-deep butcher paper and eaten with fingers. Kreuz: fall-off-the-bone barbeque, black-peppery and dry, served on butcher paper with no sauce and eaten with fingers.
- Tears of Joy. An entire store of hot sauces and salsas with poetic names: Austin in August, Ring of Fire, Devil Drops, Growing Heat.
- Guadalupe Street. A people-watching, browsers paradise of open air artists markets, vintage clothing stores, music stores, antique stores, and—
- Outdoor cafés. Nothing beads the dry dry heat like taking a seat with a tall icy-cold drink under a light mist puffing down from the roofline, while serenaded by a Johnny Cash sound-alike. If you live for live music, you’ll love Austin.
- Museums. The University of Texas Ransom Gallery exhibition of the Gutenberg Bible was really goot. The King James was centrally placed in a raised, glass covered case, lower cases with other bibles courtsied round it, and on the walls Bible-themed art by artists such as William Blake and Marc Chagall hung around and paid court. We arrived bowed down, and left spiritually uplifted, as well as royally impressed.
- The largest urban bat colony in North America lives under the Congress Avenue Bridge, as many as 1.5 million Mexican free-tails. When they take off en masse at sunset in search of food, the spectacle is reputedly astounding. We missed it.
These bats consume 30,000 pounds of insects a night. Which is not enough. Every cricket on the planet vacations in Austin in July. I understand they need a place to stay, but really. It's not cricket to wake up to wall-to-wall crickets. Privacy please! I stuffed the quarter-sized hole in the door skirt with a washcloth. Every night thereafter, countless crickets clicked and chicked and clattered and battered the door to the cri-de-couer of Texas: Remember the Alamo! It was a rain of error. Only a bat’s mouth would drop in joy at the sight we behelld opening the door in the morning.
Speaking of the Alamo, we drove out to San Antonio: “Without the Alamo, there would be no Texas.” And without Texas, there would be no southwestern states in the States. You history buffs know this of course, but it was noose to me. In 1821, Mexico won independence from Spain. In 1861, after the Alamo, Texas seceded from Mexico. While Mexico was distracted tearing itself apart in civil war, we (not us, the U.S) grabbed Texas, stole the southwest and ran. You and I would go to prison for that kind of thing.
We wilted our way through the Mexican market, and just as the end was near, found an outdoor café where the water glasses magically refilled, no matter how often we drained them. A live Mexican band played. A smiling, dark haired waitress served up a mountain of meat (“Everything is bigger in Texas.”), topped with a roasted pepper stuffed with— queso what? I was astounded. Who could eat in such heat? And in such quantity? Son and Hubby, is who. They put that protein in its place.
Lunch plus one hundred degrees equals a siesta. Unless you’re a wandering tourist. We wondered if we would make it back to the car. The shade along the enchanting River Walk was heaven but the last quarter mile in open sun to the uncovered parking lot required hellth insurance. “Good God,” I said to Hubby, faintly. “The car's a tin oven.” “Yeah, he said, “and we'll pay with a tin buck too.”
The RTX event took place in the Austin Convention Center, a block from the nightlife scene on Sixth Street. The RTX guys floated in the mixed crowd like potato chunks in gumbo: young, soft and white, badges dangling from lanyards round their geeky necks. Turns out Austin is a mini Silicon Valley, with Dell, and many other computer and cyber entities based there. Like Rooster Teeth. Son was up with the sun for RTX, and when it was done, gave it (and Austin) the thumbs up. “I want to go back next year!” Me too. But in May, for the World Championship Pun Off. That would be lots of pun. Also cool. Austin’s jest too damn hot in July.