Believe it or not, until earlier this month I’d never stepped foot in Austin, Texas. Since my routine is a little more clear these days and my 50 State Quest is long under my belt, when a Virgin America fare deal came up last fall, I decided to finally book a flight for a long overdue visit to see my friend Nathan and a few other folks who’ve relocated to muggier climes.
Like anywhere, especially anywhere hip, people had loads of recommendations, and contrary to all of my work/family/wedding-oriented 2016 travel, I had a whole four days to follow them and will hopefully complete a blog post from each day of journal entries before the end of the month.
Never fear, y’all know I cram enough into one day of vacation that it’s enough to spread out over a long weekend if you’re following in my steps.
Part I: Friday
Despite arriving late on Thursday, I made a conscious effort to be up-and-at-em on Friday morning. I also never want to burden my hosts, so planning to be up when Nathan had to leave for work was part of my agenda. Finding a yoga studio within a few minutes of his house was part of that plan. Thanks to internet research I came across the wonderful little Dharma Yoga in the pocket of far East Austin where I was staying. After a lovely “Gratitude Practice” All Levels class (which thankfully improved after an opening killer core workout), the locals directed me to the nearby Cherrywood Coffeehouse so I could plan out my day over coffee and a ginormous breakfast taco.
While my countermate at Cherrywood rose from his seat and declared, to no one in particular, “well, it’s time to go get this body inked up”, I quietly left and drove across town to spend a warm afternoon at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden. Bequeathed to the city by the estate of UT Art Professor, Charles Umlauf, the garden is a pleasant spot to stroll on a cloudy afternoon. There’s also a small gallery of Umlauf Prize winners, showcasing modern sculpture and multimedia art. As for Umlauf’s work, I definitely appreciated seeing the evolution of the artist’s style and found the juxtaposition of Catholic imagery and erotic scenes pretty interesting.
After my walk, I needed to take a drive to recharge my phone. Unfortunately I discovered that my rental car didn’t charge phones very well, which meant I had to conserve battery by putting it in airplane mode. Not very helpful if you’re trying to navigate an unfamiliar city! After getting super lost in a ritzy, hilly area of West Austin along the river, I pulled over to take a walk on what I thought was the main recreational trail. Turns out Redbud Isle is more of a dog park, and I was pretty suspicious without a pup, but I still enjoyed my little stroll.
I finally found more of the famed Greenbelt trails I was looking for when I happened upon Pease Park and hit the Shoal Creek Trail for a couple of miles to get in my steps. The taco finally wore off here and I decided to try to find lunch on an Austin B-Cycle, but just got lost at a dead end trail before hitting Friday rush hour traffic. I rode back to the car.
Silly Yankee should’ve realized that all the BBQ joints would be out of meat by 4 p.m. and I hangrily stopped at a food truck park in East Austin. This was a great decision because I got vegan joffa rice with fried plantains from Wasota African Cuisine, which was a fantastic flavor explosion and didn’t fill me up too much before dinner.
I looped back with Nathan and we headed downtown to the Alamo Drafthouse, which was definitely on my list. I was much more impressed with the huge selection of menu items (hummus & veggie plate! quinoa veggie bowl!) compared to SF (so many more healthy and vegetarian/vegan options, seriously in Texas over California), than Arrival (I figured it out halfway through and then was just bored), but enjoyed the experience overall.
Apparently it was a relatively quiet night on Sixth Street, but I still concluded that my time to enjoy any college strip has long passed. RIP, my youth. We popped into Swan Dive on a side street and finished our Fire Eagle beers before the band finished their soundcheck.
Back to the Eastside, we checked on some gallery set ups for Saturday (more in next post) and got a tip on a party at a new place called Cherry Cola Dog. I wish we’d been in more of a partying mood, because this place was incredible and the event was planned to run until 4 a.m. As it was, we enjoyed some good tunes while perusing local art (I especially liked the work by @erthink, Helen Martin, and Gent). We also hung out by both the firepit and in one of several fluff piles set up in storage containers in the huge backlot.
Cramming in one last “Austin” thing for the night, Nathan took me to the White Horse and I’m so glad he did. It was one of the most uniquely entertaining bars I’ve ever been to, perhaps second only to the Fairview Inn in Talkeetna, Alaska. Cowboys and hipsters co-existed and we watched the pick up games going on in the back patio area.
A late-40s, genteel businessman, “Steve”, sidled down next to us for a minute — long enough to pour out some “apple pie from Georgia” into Nathan’s empty popcorn cup. Tossing the kernels to the floor, he discreetly produced a shot of brown liquid from a flask procured from the inner pocket of his ill-tailored suit.
(No Mom, we didn’t get roofied)
Instead we decided to call it a night and walked back through the now-crowded bar.
“NO WAY AM I LEAVING NOW!” I yelled.
The band, who’d been setting up when we arrived was in full-swing and so was the dance floor. I’d arrived in another country — Texas. I insisted on getting another beer and once it was done, forced Nathan to briefly clumsily dance with me. Still, so much fun and an A+ first night in Austin.