Sunday, July 11, 2010

Austin says: "Keep Austin Weird"

We had a long drive into Austin, and once we got here the pace slowed way down. It's nice to be staying with friends, being in a house again, and knowing locals such that we don't feel like tourists anymore--at least for a little while.

Yesterday we had a delicious brunch at Paggi House in Austin, which is one of the best brunches I've ever had. They had a buffet that featured Niman Ranch Bacon, which is like the Kobe beef of the pork world. They also had the best hash browns we've had on this trip (and we've had our fair share). I had chicken and waffles, which is apparently a southern tradition I hadn't encountered until I got to Austin. I was surprised at how simple and delicious it was. Fried chicken, waffle, syrup: voila. After reviving from a brief food coma, we went to a little bar on W 6th street (Austin's famous main drag) and watched some of the World Cup finals, which we finished watching on the couch (in the AC) a little later on.

We had dinner at Chuy's, a funky and very popular Texican joint with hub caps on the ceilings and Elvis kitsch on the walls. The food was good, particularly the queso and the jalapeno cream. I've decided that next year, during my period of unemployment, I will focus on developing the perfect queso sauce.

After dinner we rode bikes down to the Congress street bridge to see 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats emerge from their daytime perches under the roadway. But they didn't show, at least not that we could see. They were supposed to emerge en masse around dusk, but alas they didn't. Harboring some disappointment and a deep grudge against the echolocating critters (who we could hear pinging their little sonars under the bridge, but who hadn't come out by 9:45), we rode on to to Amy's Ice Creams, where the ice cream is exceptional and the staff is...extremely irritating. There was a line out the door, and this line was was comprised almost entirely of high school aged kids, possibly on a church group trip or summer camp excursion. Now...I love(d) working with teenagers. One-on-one and in classroom settings they can be truly interesting and intriguing human beings. But en masse and in public they are...excruciating to be around.

As teenagers are inclined to do, this herd turned the inside of Amy's into their own personal cafeteria, jumping up and down on the chairs, shouting at each other, getting into physical contests in corners, making out in the little photo booth. Perhaps it is merely because I had no allegiance to them, but I found myself unreasonably disliking them--even loathing them.

But my deepest malice was reserved for the guy who prepared my ice cream. He was not much older than the teenagers (and there were probably 25 of them), and he was putting on a show for them. You may remember the 1988 classic "Cocktail" starring a young Tom Cruise and Elisabeth Shue, about a bottle flipping bartender in some little beach town. This guy was trying to be that guy, throwing his little ice cream paddle up in the air, tossing balls of ice cream and then catching them in cups or cones (or missing the cups or cracking the cones with his little paddle). Now I am not opposed to a little showmanship. But there was something fake and disingenuous about the whole show; it seemed a little too motivated by the tip jar. It also struck me that they had a line out the door, and their little show was slowing down the whole production. Only the teenagers (on both sides of the bar) seemed amused.

"Are you having a wild and crazy and weird evening?" He asked me. Perhaps you've seen that tee-shirt that reads "Keep Austin weird." I think that what ultimately irked me about the whole scene in Amy's was that it was artless weirdness, weirdness for the sake of being weird in a town that prides itself on being weird, and so (in a bizarre twist of fate) became hopelessly commonplace, plain and common and normal and dull.

John and Leah have two dogs, Nelson and Rosie. They are perhaps the cuddliest, friendliest dogs I have ever come across. They both have this very otter-like habit of lying on their backs; and Nelson (the smaller of the two) resembles a seal pup. They woke us up this morning by jumping up on the bed and lying across us and licking our faces. They make at least one of us want a dog (who will be named Mies Van Der Dog).

Today we had breakfast at a taco train, juice at a juice hut in a converted garage, then went for a swim at Barton Springs pool, a natural spring that the city of Austin transformed into a swimming pool. The water was about 68 degrees, which is pretty damned cold, but in the sweltering heat (which I might add I haven't commented on until now) it was about as refreshing a swim as I've ever had.

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