Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Austin - Keeping it Weird

Thanks to my job with VocabularySpellingCity  (shameless plug), I had the opportunity to visit Texas for the first time ever. More specifically, I visited the state capital, Austin. Having been a travel reference book editor, I knew a little bit about the city beforehand. One feature of Austin that always stood out in my mind was the bats that congregate under the Congress Avenue Bridge. They actually offer boat cruises where people can go underneath the bridge and watch as hundreds of thousands of these flying rodents ascend en mass from underneath this bridge on warm Spring/Summer evenings.

Photo courtesy of Capital Cruises/AAA Texas
I learned that the hotel we were staying at (the Hyatt Regency Austin) was located right on Lady Bird Lake, adjacent to the Congress Avenue Bridge. I did my research and learned that the bats normally aren't around in the winter, so I figured I was okay. Mind you, I'm not completely creeped out by a bat or two, but hundreds of THOUSANDS? No, thank you!

A couple weeks before our trip, I checked TripAdvisor for the latest reviews of the hotel (1. Because I'm anal like that, 2. Because I love to write reviews for TripAdvisor., and 3. Because I'm waiting to be "discovered" by TripAdvisor.) The latest review mentioned that there were bats INSIDE the hotel. "No WAY!" I thought. I did not tell my travel compadre, Bob, who has a intense bat-phobia, because I knew he'd try to change the reservation immediately.

View from my hotel room (right next
to the Congress Avenue Bridge)
A few days before my trip, my niece, Ashley (who lives in Texas) asked me if I had my tie-dye ready for Austin. I jokingly asked her if it was ultra-groovy and hip and she told me that they sell T-Shirts that say "Keep Austin Weird." Hmm... More about that later.

We arrived at the hotel, which had this awesome atrium lobby that went all they way up to the 16th Floor. My room was on the 11th Floor. Once I got of the elevator, as I was walking down the open corridor, a flash of black caught my eye. It looked like there were a few birds flying around high in the atrium. But they were NOT birds...they were BATS! The inner Wang in me desperately wanted to capture them on film, but those little boogers are FAST! I wondered if Bob saw them (his room was on the 12th Floor). We went out to dinner that evening and he didn't say a word. When we returned to the hotel, I could actually hear the bats twittering (or whatever you call bat sounds) as I walked in the lobby. Still, no comment from Bob. We started up the glass elevator and I got tickled. He asked me what was wrong. I told him not to look up. He acted like I had lost my mind. I got off on my floor and didn't say another word about it until the night before we checked out. (I actually didn't see the bats again after that first night.) When I told Bob, his eyes got huge and he said, "Shut UP!" It was hilarious. He swears he'll never stay at the Hyatt again.

Now for the WEIRD...Here are some weird things I observed while in Austin.

As I was waiting in line at "Downtown Burger" (a trailer located across from the convention center that sells very reasonable hamburgers and does one hell of a business considering the price of convention center food), I heard an unintelligible man's voice SHOUTING. I eventually realized it was a homeless man on a bicycle (at least he wasn't vehicleless) who was yelling gibberish to the  patrons of Downtown Burger. The woman in front of me just shrugged and said, "Well, that's Austin for ya." Weird...

The operator of Downtown Burger bore a striking resemblance to the Soup Nazi! "No beef for YOU!" Weird... (But he was a really friendly guy.) 

Bob and I passed two trailer parks on my walk to Chuy's on Barton Springs Road. Both had BMWs parked in front of trailers (according to Bob, this meant a hooker resided there). But the WEIRDEST thing I saw was a mannequin perched atop a trailer, adorned in a Santa hat, lingerie  and red Christmas lights. She was lit after dark (as I'm sure many of the residents typically are). Classy (and weird).

I believe I saw more bicycle shops on our 15-block walk to Chuy's than I have in my entire life. We must have passed at least four. Apparently Austin is a very "fit" city. Then again, even the homeless man had one!
I saw a ton of neon, plus plenty of unusual "signage" in Austin. Clearly they have different codes in place than they do around here. Drop that stuff in Lighthouse Point and the Code Inspector would be all over that like white on rice! A little weird (but I kind of liked it).

Jose Jalapeño  (on a steeeck) must have been thrilled to get out of Texas. It seems that hot peppers (particularly green chilies) are the ingredient of choice in this city. Take a gander at the menu in any given restaurant, and I'll bet you find at least five dishes that contain hot peppers. Chuy's House salsa was some of the spiciest I've ever eaten (but goooood - and the Margaritas did a great job putting out the fire). All of the cornbread I ate in Austin had jalapeños in it. At Downtown Burger, you can order your burger with (you guessed it)  jalapeños. At the airport, I even saw a dark chocolate bar laced with chipotle (which sounds pretty gross...and definitely weird).

The next bit of weirdness, I sorry to say, I didn't get to see first-hand. I spent the last afternoon in Texas hanging out with my niece and her family while Bob took a long walk around downtown. He told me that he passed by a store that he knows would have caused me to whip my camera out and snap away. It was (allegedly - I couldn't find it online, so I still don't know if he's messing with me) a men's underwear store called the "Men's Package Store." That's pretty weird (but hilarious!).

(This really has nothing to do with Austin, per se.) Prime-time television shows that normally start at 8:00 p.m. are on at 7:00 p.m. in the Central Time Zone. ( I "GET" 8/7 Central) I found this quite frustrating, as I missed both Dirty Jobs AND the Big Bang Theory. Even thought this television schedule would really suit my 9:30 bedtime, I found it quite weird.

Weird as it may have been, Austin WAS a very cool city. I wish I could have seen a little more of it. Maybe next year...

With Love and Aloha ~ Nancy

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