Keep Austin Weird

Trip Start Mar 30, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , Texas
Saturday, May 16, 2009

Austin takes great pride in being liberal, intelligent, musical, arty, individual, weird. Just my kind of town! It's beautiful, hilly, covered with trees, and full of green space. There are bicycles everywhere, marked bicycle lanes on most roads, and 36 bicycle shops! In one town, can you imagine? The drivers are laid back, often driving under the speed limit, and use their blinkers. Tons of good restaurants, many with patio seating, and roadside trailers serving everything from tacos to crepes. Funky boutiques, junk and antique shops, high-end retailers, and $9.99 haircuts. It's like a better version of Nashville, before it took a wrong turn and became another Atlanta. Of course, Austin natives like to say "you shoulda seen it 20 years ago before all these people moved in", exactly like we Nashvillians say!

I found a terrific fabric shop, Silk Road, that carries only natural fibers. I restrained myself and shipped home some organic cotton canvas to dye, Jetson-style bark cloth to cover the cushion on my desk chair, and cotton batik from Bali to make a couple of sarong skirts. I successfully resisted a room full of silk and two huge display cases packed with buttons.

Book People is a huge, independent book store, with two floors of every book imaginable, lots of wide open aisles and comfy chairs, a coffee counter (of course), and very friendly staff. I now have the best t-shirt in my collection: "Go to hell. I'm reading." (Archie Goodwin)

I've decided it's imperative that I start a t-shirt tally and will publish the list soon.

South Congress, or SoCo, is a fun mix of shops, clubs and restaurants, as well as Allen Boots. Don't get your hopes up -- I found another pair of amazing boots, but they didn't have my size. Oh, well, I've got the details written down and will find them somewhere further down the road. I think my sneaker habit may be in danger!

Shopping makes me hungry, so it was time for Chuy's famous Elvis Green Chile Fried Chicken. Breaded with Lay's potato chips, deep fried, smothered in green chili sauce and cheddar, and crammed on a plate with rice and beans. Delicious! Even the rice was amazing, full of cilantro and peppers. I liked this restaurant so much I'm going to hit it again on the way out of town; heck, how can I resist "Big as Yo' Face Burritos"?.

I headed back over to SoCo to see a few more shops, so I took the opportunity to sample some of Amy's Ice Cream. Oh. My. Goodness. This kicks Graeter's butt! According to the window guy, there is no air whipped into the ice cream, which is why it feels so thick and rich and creamy. I had Mexican vanilla and dark chocolate. I went back the next day and had coconut cream pie and dark chocolate. I may go back on my way out of town after Chuy's. So sue me.

So where in the U.S. can you get live music at 10pm on a Monday night? Why, Austin, folks! I went down to SoCo yet again to the renowned Continental Club and was blown away by the honky tonk band Two Hoots and a Holler. What fun! And the club was full! Not packed, but full, and tons of people were dancing. On a Monday night. Wow, what a cool town. I've already downloaded their latest CD from iTunes in preparation for my next long drive. Yeehah!

The Mexic-Arte Museum is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a large exhibit of items from its permanent collection. Grouped in themes of Connections, Struggle, Consciousness, Rebirth and Memory, the works featured a wide variety of media, from painting to carving to installation. I enjoyed the wide variety of art, although I just don't get the fascination with Day of the Dead.  As an official sister museum of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Studio Museum in Mexico City, I had hoped to see more than the three photos on display, but there were no Kahlo works being shown.

Okay, here's the breakfast to beat: migas at Cisco's Restaurant on Sixth Street. Miga means "crumbs" which, in this case, are the tortillas, which are used to extend the recipe or to use up leftovers. Just cut or tear flour tortillas into pieces and saute in a skillet with butter or oil until soft. Add onion, peppers, whatever veggies you like, and cook until soft. Add beaten eggs and scramble. At the end, add chopped tomato, avocado, cheddar, etc. Cisco's serves their Migas with a spicy sausage patty, salsa, refried beans, and a HUGE biscuit with texture more like a yeast roll. Oh, and squeezy butter and honey. This must be the perfect mix of carbs and protein, because I wasn't hungry for over six hours.

Finally, I spent most of a day at Lady Bird Johnson's Wildflower Center. Although it's a bit late for the flowers, many of the cacti were in bloom, and the grasslands were green and peaceful. It was funny to see so many prickly pear: I remember my granddad griping about having to dig them out of the fields, along with huge thistles. Of course, they never reached this size! I also had a literal memory when I had to dig a spine out of my finger; evidently I brushed too close and ended up with a shoelace full of them - and didn't see them before tying my shoe. Ouch! There were some exquisite paper sculptures by Shou Ping, originally from Taiwan, and bronze sculptures throughout the gardens. Sarah, one of the Center's volunteers, invited me into the Butterfly building to see butterflies that had just hatched; I also got to see her take them outside for their first flight. It was an absolutely beautiful day to be outdoors!  

I finished up at Fran's Hamburgers, again in SoCo. The place isn't much to look at, but I trusted the great online reviews and ordered a cheeseburger and onion rings. The burger was good, but is nowhere near what I had at Fulger Grocery in Nesbitt. It's gonna be hard to top that one. But the onion rings were the best I've ever tasted! Imagine crunching on a handful of fresh corn flakes, then add a little ketchup, and you've got Fran's rings - they're the ones to beat.

So it's off to hill country, but I've got to say I'm really tired. If I could do a Barbara Eden and blink myself home, I'd really like to lay around for a week and do nothing but read and eat, then blink myself back to Texas. Since that won't happen, I'm just going to try to make it through a week of hill country and San Antonio, then head off to Big Bend. It's so huge that I should be able to find a quiet place to hang around in my tent for a few days, then get out on the trails.

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