(cows chillin' on the hendrix ranch)
to be fair to the fair city of austin i should retract, at least in part, the impression i registered in my last post. for one thing, it's clear that i carry certain cultural biases that prevent me from enjoying some of the town's claims to fame--in particular, its distinction as a nationally-known "live music" center. since "live music" in this case refers to alt/indie rockers and singer-songwriters--as opposed to, say, MCs and/or DJs--it's just not my kind of town. for another thing, i've had a number of experiences around town in the past couple of days that have definitely won me over.
the first good step was getting to the intersection of 6th and lamar, which boasts three great shops: waterloo records, book people, and--let me explain--whole foods. though i had been enjoying the southern bump on the radio, i began craving other sounds, and waterloo easily whet my appetite. filled with strange, not-so-strange, and plenty of local offerings, waterloo put to shame anything that harvard square has to offer (including, forgive me, twisted village--only because that lil' shop is a little too obscure sometimes). i picked up a few CDs that seemed to promise an appropriate soundtrack for the rest of our trip: a compilation of son huasteco, whose employee-scrawled recommendation-card included an entreaty to buy one of the recently reissued RCA mariachi comps (!"el mejor mariachi del mundo" for only $5.99!), which i did, and finally the new common (for the chicago leg of our trip--cheesy as it may be, i just can't resist this kind of thematic listening; i love connecting place to sound, if largely in my imagination). across the street from waterloo, the immense and well-stocked book people ("the largest book store in texas") provided no shortage of choices for reading material. bec and i have been enjoying our selections at parks and cafes during our lazy afternoons here. she picked up two old math-y favorites: norton juster's the phantom tollbooth and edwin abbott's flatland, while i grabbed a couple music books i've been meaning to read: guy ramsey's race music and carolyn cooper's sound clash (more on those in a few days).
before digging into our new tomes, we decided to put together a little picnic lunch. we couldn't have asked for a better place than whole foods. for those who don't know, whole foods actually began in austin, so this stop was more of a local experience than one might imagine. (incidentally, today we visited its local competitor, central market, which was impressive in its own right, though whole foods has clearly one-upped it.) whole foods just opened its new flagship store here in austin, and it is truly an amazing place. now, let me say that i am usually made somewhat uncomfortable by the prices and the plenty at this place. i can remember going to whole foods in cambridge the day i returned from a stint in kingston in 2003 only to be practically sickened by the stark differences in access and quality between supermarkets in the two places. globalization seemed to be bringing beautiful fruits of the world to cambridge and leaving scrawny leftovers on the shelves in jamaica. at any rate, though i try to avoid whole foods back home--largely because of the snooty cantabridgian customers who will run you down with their half-carriages without even noticing, thinking they're at the center of the world when they're only in the center of the fucking nuts aisle--i was glad we had stepped into this one, on a friend's recommendation mind you. it was huge. absolutely immense. with section upon section, and each with more variety and more food than you could possibly imagine. and even better, being so big, there was plenty of room to maneuver. no limousine-liberals to contend with, no self-righteous rich assholes to dodge. we picked up some peaches, some fresh lemonade, and a couple of sandwiches and headed over to zilker park.
zilker park was our first destination when we arrived here on saturday, as our marrying-friends had arranged a "field day" of sorts before we all got down to partying. it's large and comprises various trails, fields, gardens, streams and springs--even a museum. a nice spot to be sure. austin's green spaces are definitely one of the city's strengths. we saw lots of people exercising, lots of birds and turtles hanging around, and far fewer fat folk than one would expect in a big texan town. which is surprising not just because of my own stereotypes about texans, but because of how easy and enticing it is to eat and drink around here.
there's something to be said about the simple pleasures of sucking down a couple cold lone star beers at jo's in soco. considering how rare it is to find a place in cambridge where you can sit outside and have a drink--ah, blue laws--we appreciated the chance to chill and soak in the afternoon sun while nursing a cold one (or two). sure, one has to deal with more cigarette-smoke than back in boston, but such are the trade-offs. in terms of food, we couldn't get enough tex-mex cooking. tuesday night we went to a spot called azul tequila. a little hole in the wall (or, really, hole in the mall), the place makes a mean mole, serves a wide variety of margaritas, and apparently offers some killer live mariachi music on thursdays and fridays (the two nights of the week we won't be here). but our favorite meal may have been at chuy's (pronounced chewy's), where we lapped up the green chile stew, which is not to be missed if you swing through austin.
chuy's was recommended to us by gary hendrix, the father of one of rebecca's office-mates, who recently acquired a 700-acre ranch just outside of austin. we got a grand tour of the place yesterday and were treated to a side of texas that we didn't know existed. contrary to our previous impression of texas as a flat desert, the hill country is verdant and, yes, hilly. and quite beautiful. the ranch sits along the bank of the pedernales river, which feeds austin's reservoir, and contains meadows, woodsy areas, an area that resembles ireland's burren (though much smaller), and plenty of cacti. mr.hendrix treated us to a freshly cut slice of prickly pear, which was not unpleasant. we also saw lots of critters on our hike around the ranch: deer, cows, lizards, frogs, fish, hawks, dragonflies. apparently, there are boars and armadillos hanging around too, though we didn't see any.
(bec and i tubing on the pedernales)
after touring the ranch and going for a dip in the river, mr.hendrix took bec and me out to lunch in nearby johnson city. he said the chicken-fried steak was not to be missed at the silver k cafe, so we took him up on it. indeed, looking back, the trip wouldn't have seemed complete without it (though i definitely couldn't eat that stuff very often). on our way back to the ranch we passed LBJ's childhood home--that's right, LBJ's hometown is named johnson city (apparently named after his family before his rise to political prominence). it was a fine way to round out our trip and enrich our overall sense of this place.
so yeah, i like this town. it's got personality. and it clearly rallies around its own sense of strange self. the folks here are friendly, and they all say y'all, which oddly enough, makes me feel at home (via hip-hop via the great migration). the popularity of t-shirts and bumper stickers imploring people to "vote for pedro" and "keep austin weird" confirmed my impression that there are some good people and good vibes to be found in austin. plus, gotta support texas's democrat cities--the big blue islands in a big red state.
so thanks for a fine holiday, austin. no doubt: i'll come back now, y'ear?