Monday, February 11, 2013

Austin ~ Even Weirder in 2013

Another fun Austin T-Shirt in honor of Mr. Nelson
I recently visited Austin, Texas for the second time. On my last visit, I learned that one of Austin's slogans is "Keep Austin Weird." Last year, we stayed outside of downtown, and I didn't really think the city was all that weird. This year, however, we stayed in the heart of the city. The half-mile walk to and from the convention center every day gave me plenty of opportunities to see the real Austin and learn that it is, indeed, pretty weird. 

I love going to conventions - seeing new places, meeting new people, etc. There's not a lot of downtime during the shows. It is a GRIND. Pretty much 8+ hours on your feet, either standing at the booth talking (SO much talking!) or walking around the exhibit hall for a break from talking (and standing). I try to take full advantage of what little free time I have and experience as much as I can of the city I'm visiting (before 9 p.m., of course). ;)

Taken from the middle of Congress Avenue
Day One in Austin - after setting up our booth at the convention center and practically inhaling a delicious pulled pork sandwich to the sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd, I needed some Tums, so I used my phone to locate a CVS on Congress Avenue, the main drag through Austin. Head south on Congress, and you'll cross the river and the infamous Congress Avenue "Bat" Bridge. Head north on Congress and you'll run right into the majestic Texas Capitol Building. Walk along Congress Avenue, and you'll see a whole lot of "weird." On that day, I saw a homeless man whose feet were covered with either bird feathers or Swiffer Duster refills. I'm not sure which and I'm even less sure why. I doubt he was sure either. On my last day in Austin, I saw a person dressed up as a chicken walking down Congress, a homeless man who had sculpted a beautiful two-foot-tall angel out of aluminum foil, and a crazy woman with her pants down below her butt doing some weird dance on the side of the road (reminded me a bit of the African dancing in Lionel Richie's "All Night Long" video), and mumbling incoherently to herself. She scared me a little bit.

Too bad it didn't open 'til after my bedtime!
There were bats in the hotel that we stayed in last year, which was located on the river, right next to the Congress Avenue Bridge. I didn't see any bats this year (lucky for Bob), but I did get quite an education about the Austin bats from an unlikely source - the most well-dressed, polite cab driver I've ever encountered seemed to be an expert on the local bats. That was a little weird, but enjoyable.

As the editor of several travel reference books, I knew a little bit about Austin's reputation as the "Live Music Capital of the World" and about the city's legendary Sixth Street, lined with bar after bar featuring live music. Our hotel was located just two blocks from Sixth, and it was on the way to the convention center, so I enjoyed "taking it all in" (from the sidewalk - I never actually stopped in any of the bars, as I had imposed a strict one-drink limit on myself after my Doomsday experience). 

Be sure to read "The Rules"
Strolling down Sixth Street at night is quite an experience. Neon everywhere and the sounds of live music filtering out into the street. Bars with names like "Chuggin' Monkey," "Mooseknuckle," "The Dizzy Rooster," and my personal favorite, "Peckerheads." Most feature signs out front with ummm...interesting sayings like, "Bend over and spell 'RUN'". Some signs clearly stating that if you take a picture of the sign and don't come in for a shot, you're cheating. The Jackalope features a larger-than-life jackalope (jack rabbit/antelope hybrid) with a saddle that patron's can ride, provided they have a drink in hand. Rules state that "no male nudity" is allowed. No rules prohibiting female nudity, mind you. Yeah, a little weird. 

Though I never actually sat in on any of the sessions, the live music coming out of the bars was great. I heard amazing renditions of the Gin Blossoms, "Found Out About You" and Matchbox 20's "3 A.M.". I also saw a talented young lady strumming her guitar and singing "Take it Easy" by the Eagles while standing on the corner of 6th and Trinity (in Austin, not Winslow, Arizona) with her guitar case open to collect spare change. It was kind of weird to hear a girl sing about having "seven women on my mind," but it was Austin, and she had some mad vocal (and guitar) skills! 

Austin-style toilet seats at "Wild About Music"
Oddly enough, Sixth Street proved to be even weirder in the daytime than it did at night. The bars aren't nearly as lively, but the people are still pretty weird. On my last minute stroll through Austin before leaving, after being scared off Congress by the dancing woman, I decided to head down Sixth Street. There were a couple of shops I wanted to hit before heading out,  like "Wild About Music" - an incredible music store/gift shop that featured a resident kitty on the counter. I also stopped into the "Austin Visitor's Center" on Sixth, which was kind of a let-down, and even had a misused homophone blazing in neon. Austin is a city, not a building, people! [Yes, I am a nerd.] When exiting the Visitor's Center, I heard a very loud catcall from down the block, followed immediately by a (equally loud) "Shut the f**k up!" which was responded to with "That's what your mama told me last night! Why don't you come down here and shut me the f**k up." At that point, I decided I had enough weirdness, and headed back to the hotel to catch a cab to the airport.

In case your hometown isn't
weird enough for you.
I was ready to leave the weirdness behind me and return home to my family. My trip home was an adventure in itself, thanks to Delta. But, that's for another blog post. Travel troubles aside, my trip to Austin (business-wise) was a huge success. I got to meet and spend time with some great people, eat some delicious (though not-at-all healthy) food, and to experience some interesting things that made me thankful that I live where I do! Keep Austin Weird? I don't think it's in any danger of changing any time soon! ;)

With Love and Aloha ~ Nancy


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