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Saturday, October 08, 2011

Middlerun Does America, Days 18-22

I've gotten a bit behind on blogging so I can't remember everything else that happened in Austin. Here are the highlights:

Went out on 6th Street a lot. 6th Street has tons of good live music and is generally pretty awesome, though it gets pretty frat-boyish at certain times of the week.

Visited the Texas Capitol building. Its main claim to fame is being taller than the US Capitol. It's pretty cool because you can walk right into the House of Representatives and the Senate, though the Senate closed before I got there because it was late in the day. There's a number of monuments on the grounds, including a replica of the Statue of Liberty and a Civil War monument with a plaque talking about how the North are a bunch of jerks.

Found a place called Pete's Duelling Piano Bar, which is probably the greatest bar in the world. It was just like that Daffy Duck/Donald Duck duelling piano scene from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Two guys at grand pianos, each representing a different state, bantered with each other while playing. People would tip them, and whoever had the most tips at any given moment would sing funny stuff. It's incredibly fun to watch.

Went to the Alamo Drafthouse theatre. It's pretty cool because you can order food and drinks during the movie. I saw Drive, which is a pretty excellent movie.

Met heaps of cool people at the hostel. The hostel in Austin had the highest concentration of Australians I've seen at any hostel yet. I also met some awesome and funny Americans there. There was a duck who liked to hang around us when we were sitting outside, who the group decided was called Sam. Sam would drink beer spilled on the ground or left in a bowl.

Went to Barton Springs with some people from the hostel. Barton Springs is a cool place, there's a pool which is fed by a spring which keeps the water at 20-22 °C year round. I didn't get to swim there though, they kept closing the pool because of a thunderstorm off in the distance.

I found an Embassy Suites hotel which I assumed must be the one where Tucker Max allegedly, um, made a mess in the lobby. Though I later noticed there's more than one Embassy Suites in Austin.

Went to SoCo (South Congress Ave.), a trendy but quieter area of Austin. There's an area on Congress Avenue about a block long where food trailers congregate, offering all sorts of weird cuisine. I got some kind of spicy chicken thing served in a cone. I went to watch some band playing in an outdoor area, who did a pretty good cover of Baby Got Back. Then I went to the Continental Club, a live music venue of some note.

On my last night in Austin I went to watch the bats. The Congress Avenue Bridge is home to 1.5 million bats, where the inch-wide expansion joints inadvertently created the perfect home for them. Every night around sunset they all fly out to find food. Austin residents love them because they keep the mosquito population down, and lots of people gather by the bridge to watch them emerge. When I went, there was a few hundred people. Enough people that there was a guy selling cheap light-up toys for kids to play with.

Austin was a nice place to be. My only disappointment was that I didn't hear a lot of Texas accents. According to a guy I was talking to at the SoCo food trailers, you don't really get proper Texas accents in Austin because so many people come to Austin from elsewhere, and I can see why they would. The main downside, though, is that it's really hot. Close to 40 °C most days when I was there, and it gets even hotter in Summer. Overall I give Austin a rating of four out of five squirrels.


Middlerun Does America, Day 17: Austin

At 1 am on Sunday morning my flight left Las Vegas. The flight was OK, though the only in-flight movies available had to be bought for like six bucks. Stingy bastards.

I transferred in Houston. By the time we got to Houston it was about breakfast time, so I went looking for some food. I found a Wendy's which had a long line, and next to it there was a Mexican place with nobody waiting, so I decided to give them some business. This turned out to be a mistake - the breakfast burrito I got was the most disgusting thing I've ever eaten.

After a couple of hours of waiting and feeling like the burrito was going to come out the same way it went in, I got my connecting flight and arrived in Austin. Getting the bus into town I found some kind of festival happening. I suddenly found I had an intense craving for freshly squeezed lemonade, and within a couple of minutes I was able to locate a lemonade stand. Funny how that works.

I got another bus to the hostel. The hostel in Austin is in a great spot right on the shore of Lady Bird Lake, but for some reason everything around it is a bit iffy. Walking there from the bus stop took me past all sorts of old shut-down buildings.

After checking in and dumping by bags I went back into town to have a better look at the festival. There were all sorts of stalls selling the standard stuff stalls sell, a couple of bands playing, a petting zoo, pony rides and that sort of thing. There was also a Lego thing with big lego animals, a model town, and a few building competitions in progress. That was pretty cool. I saw a sign pointing to a climbing wall, which I assumed meant indoor rock climbing, but it turned out to be a giant flat sheet-metal wall with magnetic things to strap onto your feet and hands to climb the wall. Which would be really fun if it worked properly, but the kids doing it kept slipping because the magnets couldn't quite support them. Lame.

All this was happening on 6th Street, which is the main bar scene in Austin. Even during the day there's lots of bars open playing live music. I picked one more or less at random. The band playing there was awesome. The two guitarists both played like maniacs and the woman had an great singing voice. They played loud fast country rock and they even played Another Brick in the Wall Part 2. I really wish I could remember what they were called.

At one point two parents stood by the door with a kid, maybe two or three, holding a ukulele. The kid walked up to the stage like he wanted to join in. Someone helped him onto the stage and everyone cheered. The band started maing jokes about welcoming their newest member. The kid looked like he wasn't sure what to do but when he held the ukulele up like he was about to bust out a solo the crowd went fucking nuts, cheering louder than the band was playing. Somebody tipped him a dollar. It was hilarious.

After they finished their set I got a bus back to the hostel. Remember how I said it's in an iffy area? As I walked from the bus stop to the hostel some guy asked me for money because his "car ran out of gas", which I assumed meant he wanted beer and/or cigarettes. So what I did was, I offered to walk with him to a service station and buy some petrol. He said that wouldn't work because his car was parked elsewhere. I asked him how, if I gave him money, he would get the petrol to his car and he said he'd get a jug. Notice the logical contradiction there? Like he somehow can't use a jug if I'm the one buying the petrol. I said I didn't have any cash and he said if I bought him some cigarettes he could sell them to someone for petrol money. At this point I was pretty sick of it so I suddenly "remembered" that I still had a bit of cash on me, gave him a few bucks and got out of there. It's amazing how persistent people can be.