Hi Magic Typewriter, I’m back! My last post was kind of all over the place, so let’s see if I can write about one idea in a style that honors some narrative cohesion. While I was traveling I took some notes on random observations, if you like. All of these notes appeared in my tiny paper journal that I carry with me when I need a break from the glowing screens.
Observation 1: If you are traveling, and there is rain in the forecast, do not assume that just because you’ve lived in the rainy Pacific NW that you will be handle it. The rains in Austin were unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and it further confirmed that I have no business living in that climate. Note to future self, bring an umbrella and read the weather reports closely. Scattered rain showers mean something totally different in the South, and I should know better. I’ve lived through hurricane rains in Georgia. It pained me to buy an umbrella when I have all the gear you need to sleep outside and ride bikes in the PNW rain. Rain by the Bucket: A Memoir.
Observation 2: I really really dislike cockroaches, poison ivy, large bugs that bite you, spiders, and humidity. Albeit, I really loved Austin, Texas, the items in the sentence above thrive in this town. I am meant to visit again to be sure, but I don’t think I could ever live there. The flora, however, is so spectacularly different that I took many photos of plants that I have never seen. Or it’s been a while since I’ve seen hot climate plants. Evolution is an amazing thing to witness in a state where they teach Creationism as if it was plausible. Go figure.
Observation 3: There are tons of free music opportunities but they charge you out the nose for drinks. Mixed well drinks in plastic cups and $6.50 for beer? Just charge me a cover and give me a glass. The musicians mostly play cover songs for tourists, so albeit it was cool, I’m not a huge Stevie Ray Vaughn fan. Sheesh already, coverbands, play something else, like the music you mostly write together when you’re practicing. Halfway through their sets, bands would devolve into “Pride and Joy” or “Voodoo Chile.” I can’t say it made me want to stay, so I’d leave. It brought the touristas to the dance floor and thus to the tip jar, so I get it.
Two miles away, I’m sure there was a little club playing the music I wanted to hear, but I wasn’t hip enough to find them. One band I saw, and I don’t know their name, played the most wicked blistering cover of “Proud Mary” ala Tina and Ike. And it made the hairs on my arms rise with goose bumps. I’m sure I was grinning like a fool because the lead singer even had the opening banter that Tina does and all of the dance moves. It was awesome!
The lead singer had the Tina spins with her hips and the Tina kicks down pat. She was maybe 22 or 24 and totally owned that song. Out of breath and sweating at the end of the song, she dedicated her sexy as hell song and dance to the memory of B.B. King. That gives me hope for the future, y’all.
Observation 4: Late night public drunkenness is a menace to society when there are car-free streets. Pedestrians and cyclists have full domain, so that’s cool, but it’s also a sketchy mix of drunken chaos. It’s fun when you’re in a group, I imagine, but if you’re just drifting around solo–like I was–you just start to feel bad for drunk cowgirls and sorority girls. The scent of heavily cologned men gave me a headache. I wondered how many ankle surgeries have resulted from such drunkenness wearing such ungodly high-heels on cobbled streets. I pondered the success of the chest waxing trend for men. I got bored with the people watching and realized the same meathead style mating ritual exists in Seattle. I became more interested in eating the fares of food trucks than drinking and listening to music. Maybe I’m old.
I also heard a band play a cover of one my favorite alt-country bands The Meat Purveyors who have sadly broken up.
For the record, “Tall Boy” and “Morning After” from More Songs About Cows and Buildings are two of my favorite songs from my favorite album of theirs, and if they get back together I’d sell my left kidney to see them. One of the best bands I’ve seen live. Hands down.
Observation 4: The no-helmet law in Texas is shocking. I get that motorcycle folks don’t like to wear them. It’s cool to live out some Easy Rider fantasy, I suppose, and it’s hot. But cyclists? Wow. What the hell? Seeing a large group of cyclists riding in a group without helmets made me want to lecture all of them. These were serious riders mind you (I can tell by their massive leg muscles and their skinny arms), so it shocked me to see them riding on streets where people speed like there are no laws and who seemed to be mostly driving drunk.
I understand that the popularity of helmets is relatively recent, but we now know how important the brain is to who we are and what we do. Beloved Austin folks, you should be wearing your helmets. You protect your $5,000 frame (that’s not including any of the parts, I know) with canvas shields when you put your bike on the car, yet you don’t wear a helmet. You have helmets on your kids in trailers but you yourself do not wear one. If you value that kid and the frame, why don’t value your own brain?
Observation 5: The Mexican free-tailed bat migration of the Congress Avenue Bridge did not disappoint, and I loved seeing the sky turn into bits of wings. Swarms of flying bits of black. Flits of unpredictable flights. Swarms of black dots swirling. That was an incredible night where I ran from the shore to the bridge so I could see both perspectives. I was so lucky that I chose to check it out that night because very next day the river had covered that area and there was a flash flood warning. Twelve hours later there was madness along the shore with the river rising.
What an amazing spectacle of people watching at the bat exodus! It was truly inspiring to see how human architecture can foster a creative habitat for the bats. I also fell in love with the hippies—the generous kind hippie types, not the self-righteous-holier-than-thou-hippie-types—who lectured the crowds about the disappearing bat populations. I gave them $5 because they had a solid lesson plan with outcomes, engaging crowd interaction, and a fun assessment for the kiddies. They had posters and pictures. It was old school table-style protest teaching with the aim to educate people about the misunderstood yet pretty darn cute bat. Winged wonders, those bats. One man in the crowd said it well as I murdered the bugs feasting on my legs, “The bats come out to feed on the bugs and the bugs come out to feed the people. Don’t they, baby?”
Observation 6: A man with an American southern accent can call me baby, sugar, shoog, darling, sweetie, honey, honey-babe, sweet-thang, and I’m not offended. It doesn’t make me angry. It’s like hearing a man from Maine call me Dear (pronounced Dee-Yah), and I melt. Or somebody from the mid-Atlantic states calling me Hon. For some reason, those terms of endearment make me blush and smile. Anywhere else in the country, I’m ready to lecture you about misogyny and/or spit in your face. It makes no sense. I listened to a busker play the “Last Thing I Needed First Thing in the Morning” on my way back from the bats fly from the bridge show, and so now I’ll always think of those bats when I hear this sweet sad song from Willie:
I gave the guitarist a buck, and he said, “Thank you, baby” and he winked at me. Tipped his cowboy hat. I smiled, and blushed. What the hell is your problem screamed my inner feminist? Shut up, he played me a sweet Willie song and he has a southern accent, I tried to tell her. Eye roll and gag sounds, responded my inner feminist. It makes no sense, I pleaded. We ducked into a bar to drink away our fighting words. We made up. It’s cool.
Observation 7: There was no evidence of Lance Armstrong pride anywhere. No place. Nada. De rein. Zilch. I went into three bike shops to find a souvenir for the mister, and there were posters of Iban Basso, Richard Virenque, Marco Pantani (rest in peace, Il Pirata) and of course, Tyler Hamilton (my own personal heartbreak because he was a rising star just as I discovered the joy of the sport). All of whom have admitted to or tested positive for doping. Why have posters of those folks yet scorn Lance? Those former dopers, I guess, unlike Lance, did not mess with the reputation of Texas.
I understand the level of hatred that people have for Lance, but I didn’t find the unveiling of truth surprising; he’s always been kind of a dick. Unlike a lot of people I know, I still respect what he did for cancer research and awareness. I can forgive that he’d go on mountain bike rides with George Bush the younger and not elbow him off a cliff. I can forgive that he lied and went on Oprah to confess his shame. I can forgive that his entire career was a lie. For every terrible fib he told during his career, I think his work with cancer foundations was sincere. He gave a lot of people hope. His story taught a lot people about cancer. Ever seen that commercial when he rides his bike by a cancer ward and a small bald child waves to him? I cried every time I saw that Nike commercial during one of the Tours de France. We’re all deeply flawed in some way. Some of us are just more flawed in public.
Observation 7: There is an entrepreneurial spirit about the under-30 crowd that is inspiring in Austin. No job but you like to ride bikes? Join the Pedicab crew. Want to open a bar but you can’t afford a food license? Open the bar and find food truck friends who park outside. Have a badass etoufee recipe from your mom? Open a creole food truck! Want to play music at night but you need to pay the rent? Rent a seriously dilapidated house and let people park their traveling vans in the driveway while they’re on tour. There’s a real DIY spirit happening there that used to exist in Seattle and Portland, that’s slowly getting killed by gentrification. See also San Francisco. When The Swells move in, the DIY artist folks can’t afford the rent. The same thing seems to be on the horizon for Austin, but for now it’s still funky and weird.
Observation 8: I miss people from the East Coast and The South (US), and I need to get back across the Mississippi River more. I have some amazingly cool friends who grew up in the NW, so not all folks are strange, so don’t be offended, my PNW besties. If you’re my friend, you don’t fall into this category. But generally, people who grew up in the West are not as friendly as my East Coast kin. Kind of judgmental. Insular. Quiet. Odd in a way I don’t get. Hard to talk to talk to. Can’t seem to figure out the ins and outs of geeking out.
Case in point: I had many conversations with people in Austin who ascribe to a certain fashion look and if we were in the PNW, they would have never ever talked to me. Ever. Example: I paused to take pictures of these clouds, and this dude stopped to do the same. He had a Joey Ramone meets Tom Waits kind of look to him. Maybe 25 or 28. Facial hair but no chest hair (a signifier of the millennial male). He said, “This is what the End Times must look like, for sure, right?”
I said, “Maybe. I’ve never seen clouds like this, it’s truly cool. This light in the sky is glorious.”
He said, “Well, my mom taught me that when the weather turns bad you should hole up with a bottle of liquor. Where you from?” (hold pronounced like hole).
“I live north of Seattle,” and he said, “Oh man, I fell in love with a girl from Bellingham once. Damn, I love that town. I’d never leave if I lived there. Why come to a shit hole like this?”
Turns out, that’s where I live. Bellingham. Austin is far from a shit hole, in my eyes. We talked for like a half an hour. Random people say hello and good morning. Austin felt neighborly and sweet in a way that I miss. That guy’s doppelgänger in Seattle would have been too cool to talk to an unhip lady like me. What would his friends think?
Observation 9: We need more public parks and sidewalks in our communities. There were these public xylophones in a park near a popular swimming hole. I noticed some folks playing a riff over and over again. I recognized the tune but couldn’t place it. I could see they were dancing. There was beer. Kids hula-hooping. As I rode my bike closer, I could hear they were streaming Book of Love’s “Boy” and I noticed it was two men with their children. The kids with two Daddies were singing along. Dad and Dad smooched. The kids yelled for them to play again. One dad had better dance moves than the other. Their eyes sparkled when they looked at their kids. Love.
Thank you, Daddies, for reminding me of the Book of Love. Circa 1987, I had that hair of the first keyboardist with the pearls. And oh, those dance moves!
It’s not my fault that I’m not a boy. Magic from the mid-80s!
Observation 10: When the rivers started to rise, people had parties on bridges! They literally made a party out of watching the river rise. My people! I decided to go for a run because I had no more dry clothes to ruin on a bike. I got so much mud on the back of my dress from riding that I’m hoping the dry cleaners can do wonders to save a staple of my work drag. Despite the fenders on the bike, the mud went from my ankles to my hair. Exercise and sight-seeing by running is my usual MO while I’m on a trip, but this was special. What a sight-seeing treat.
Drinking on the bridges? Yes! One side was flooded, so the cars couldn’t get across so it filled up with people and their coolers on wheels. People drank and literally watched the river rise. I stood there dripping with sweat, and took in the sights of what a true community of people making the best of Mother Nature’s chaos looks like. When The Public gathers for a bit of celebration and holiday. There are many sad stories to this weather event, to be sure, but I was unaware of them as I was witnessing the river rise in my corner of Austin. All I could see was joy and wonder. I was lucky.
Although the humid climate is not for me, I really do hope Austin stays a bit weird until I get back again.