Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lone Star State of Mind

Austin was like one of my favorite t-shirts: cool and creative and I just FELT comfortable in it. To say it was a good fit, at least for a girls weekend, would be an understatement. It didn't hurt to have the company of old college roomies too.

The town is very chill; very relaxing. Maybe it’s because music is always playing and people are in to being unique and creating - you know, doing their own thing. Maybe it's just like any strange city: everything seems novel and new the first time. Maybe it's because I was toddler-free and got to sleep in till 10 am one morning. I can't shake the feeling though of old songs returning to me as we weaved in and out of stores or over lunch; tunes I hadn't heard for years or forgot about but that made the city seem more alluring (from Toad the Wet Sprocket to TV on the Radio). It just felt like the city was wooing me.

Stars are everywhere. I would expect nothing less from Texas but in Austin it comes in much cooler forms. I got in later Friday night and missed "happy afternoon". On their way back to the hotel, Chena, Dahlia and Sophia came across an Austin Film Festival premier and James Franco moving through the red carpet doing an interview. To my dismay, we met up after that and all I had to look at were photos of the star-crossed meeting. 

We changed and went to find some dinner. We headed over to Rainy Street and had a drink at a place called Clive while we waited to be called for some Indian Food at a place called G’Rag Mahal. Then we walked through the neighborhood to a bar called the Blackheart. All the places were houses or empty lots made into some great venue. it was all very residential in feel, like we were cruising some college town and a cool neighborhood had magically turned in to a bar scene one night. You could hear music seeping out on to the street, loud and lofty, like the night was on fire. The feel though was still very mellow in many ways. Beautiful people everywhere; some of them certainly quaffed but others quaffed with a creative vein - in a tight fitting flannel and some cool band t-shirt. It certainly is a place to be an individual. The crowd at the bar surfed Facebook and listened to the band and danced and drank; never fully invested in one thing other than the scene itself and being out for the night.

The next morning, we woke up at 10 am. I can’t remember the last time I did that and though we were up late, it felt good to sleep in; to not pop out of bed for a miss M, always on schedule at 7; to have a breather and only take care of myself for a few days. We wondered down to Congress Street and walked towards breakfast. Dahlia’s friend Star literally ran directly in to us, what a strange sighting and what a sweet girl. She tipped us off to Second Street, where we headed for breakfast. We stopped at a place called Jo’s, which ironically might be a chain (and you know how I feel about that but damn my sandwich was worth it). I had a gooey egg sandwich and a latte as we all sat outside at the bar space watching Austinites in the Saturday morning routine. Bikers going by, women in dresses and fedoras. Older people. It was truly a mixed bag. 

We walked a chunk of the city after that looking around. We accidentally ended up on a three hour tour to reach our paddle boarding destination. It provided those moments where you come upon daily life in an unfamiliar city. We got lost found ourselves over by a spring pool trying to figure out where to go and then how we even got lost to begin with. But there were people everywhere: running or on the river or playing music.

When we finally got to the paddle boarding place, it was really a great experience. Paddling down the Lady Bird Lake, feeling like we were on a river. Looking up at the mansions and getting lost in the vegetation on the cliffs just below them. Watching the birds sweep over the water. Hearing the light paddle in the water and sitting down, lying down relaxing with a cool breeze to alleviate the humidity in the air. It felt like a perfect experience I could recreate everyday, though I wouldn’t have the inspiring new place and curiosity in my pocket.

We painstakingly walked back towards the hotel our sweet river retreat. We stopped to eat across from Austin City Limits, a statue of Willy Nelson standing guard. From there we headed to see the bats, which I hate to say were a bit of a disappointment, though I imagine in the height of summer are still pretty amazing. Back at the hotel showers ensued and some chill time. We headed out for dinner at Perla's, a great restaurant with a fun patio for pre-dinner drinks; one that almost felt 1940's movieish. Once inside, the food backed up it's reputation (all the entrees were impressive but goddamn their Shells & Cheese was out of this world). We made our way to a jazz bar after that and then got dropped off before Sixth Street to take in the post-college football happenings. It was pretty chaotic and funny and also left me feeling old.

Sunday, shopping was on the schedule. The clouds were full and floated through the air rather quickly when we started out that morning. It can get a little windy down south, which serves as a reminder that you’re in the old west because otherwise, it doesn’t feel that way at all. It feels like some strange place you wander in to that has really good eye candy: architecture and signage and restaurants. Music streams from all over the place and if it isn’t streaming, it’s live. There is a constant stimulation to your ears – in a good way (not in the Vegas way where machines leave you feeling bombarded) - more in the way where you find yourself walking down the street in a light mellow mood wondering why you feel so relaxed only to realize music has been dusting your ears for a few days, weather subtly in shops and restaurants or at a bar right in front of your face. You run in to old songs you haven't heard in a long time. You run in to new songs too.

We made our way around the sites, stopping to see what this guy Lance Armstrong has to sell in his UBER-bike shop, which was pretty cool. Dahlia made out like a bandit in there (unfortunately some lucky bastard found her souvenirs in the cab after we were dropped off at the airport). Still we had a good lunch thanks to Julie Howard's recommendation of Guero's Taco Bar. I knew I could trust anywhere she sent me and really, how can I be unsatisfied with fresh guac and queso?! We shopped after that down State Street taking in the food carts and secondhand stores, finding cute screen press t-shirts and funny schtuff to take home to loved ones. One last drink and then we were fetching a cab to leave. Quick but a great escape.

This seems the perfect sign for this place: uncorporate and phallic and bright. It's just a fun, sexy city keeping it fresh. 

And then it was just a memory. Until next time, my friends...

Some photo credits to Chena Popper, Dahlia Feiter, and Sophia Yen :)

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