Thursday, March 23, 2006

Rachel Says "Austin Is Cute"

Austin Haiku #12

Honky tonk music
Feet tappin', women twirlin':
city lights at night.

South By

Daytime: the music
calls out from each open door--
punk, country, and rock.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Austin Rocks, List #1

Things I Love About Austin:
(in no particular order)

1. Bike paths everywhere, and the buses are cheap and on-time. Downtown even supports free bus routes on the 'Dillo.

2. The Club DeVille.
Qunitessential Austin, down on Red River. Everything in this district is red inside (and I have the fear of red, though I managed). This club is set back from the street with a concrete wall, the top set in broken glass. Inside is a nice building with a small bar. Leather chairs and padded leather walls, all lit in candles. But the outside is what really got me going. The patio area is adorned in gravel, with mismatched tables and chairs everywhere. A small stage adorns the corner, and behind is a gigantic rock wall cut into the hill. Despite the crowd, it was easy to talk, and great for the watching.

3. Town Lake, aka the Colorado River
There are trails and trails down by the river. They cut into the bluff above and go right down to the water. And people use them. Mothers jogging with strollers, people walking dogs, families, hipsters out for a walk. The water is crystal clear as kayaks glide over it. Turtles hang out on fallen branches, lazing in the sun.

4. The Broken Spoke
This place is Austin, and much more the Texas we all might think. An old two-steppin' saloon with a huge dancefloor in back. Outside, there's an old, broken down tourbus lit up with Christmas lights, a la City Museum style. A sign says they serve "Ladies AND gentlemen". The men's room was a trough, the ladies' covered in George Strait pics. A giant room called the "Tourist" trap stands across from the bar. Inside, hundreds of photos, letters and memorabilia. Folks, everyone who is anyone has been to the Spoke, and apparently the country fried steak is a favorite of Willie's. There are pool tables and large round tables with lazy susans for dining. A sign inside read "no tank tops or halter tops", which I have yet to figure out. Suffice to say the Spoke is old school.

5. The Ladies' Room at Donn's Depot
Made of old train cars, this place harkens back to the day. An old wooden bar (again done in red) with a dancefloor and several levels. When we were there, there was a creepy piano guy that kept eyeing James and I, but there was also a great classic country lookin' fiddle player, and an old man in a suit who brought in his sax and joined for a few songs. Donn's is a piano bar, western style (think Hideaway meets Wild West), but the best part was the Women's Room. Tucked away in the back, it's a red caboose. Not something that looks like a caboose, but a REAL caboose. I went inside and forgot how much I needed to pee. My mouth stood open. I wanted pictures, but had to wait until everyone left so I wouldn't look like a pervy tourist.

I Heart Austin

Everything's bigger in Texas, and if Texas is its own country, then Austin is a Nation-State within. This is a city so propelled by music that it literally floods out of every open doorway. Those dive bars and saloons, the bad shot clubs, and the cool outdoor eateries. Music: honky tonk, rock n' roll, punk, metal, country, rockabilly, even hip hop. Bumper stickers say "Keep Austin Weird" and tell us to elect Kinky for Governor. Old gas stations have been turned into bars, taco stands, and nurseries. Even the grafitti in the bathrooms is distinctly Austin. (In Beerland, during South by Southwest, I saw love letters to Austin, and my favorite: "Have you fueled the music today?") Independent businesses thrive and everything is painted brightly-- no proliferation of Southwest colors here. This city is alive.

And yet it's Texas, even though it can read differently. There are cowboy hats and hipsters, the streets opening up like an Urban Outfitters ad gone wild. The street names are all in spanish, though with a Texas/American spin, where Manchaca is prounounced "Man-Shack" and Blanco becomes "Blank-o". The river is called Town Lake. Breakfast tacos are advertised alongside slick sushi joints, and in Austin the Jewish Cowboy is the prophetical antithesis to Dubya. It's Texas all right, but not the gun-toting, football playing stereotype you might think.

Austin is borne of strangeness, music, contradiction, and independence. It's both the two-steppin' saloon and the iPod streaming sound on the streets. And Austin for me was simply this: a city that rocks, a city that knows what's going on and who it is. Austin is a city that doesn't care about what fits, it just cares about what's real. And man, that city breathes. It's impossible not to feel it, or to see it in the people.

So this is my love letter to Austin, and the following posts will give you the Austin I saw, as well as what I think that can mean for St. Louis. And there is a lot of meaning. I'd hate to think we can go experience a place and not think about the place where we spend our everyday. I'd hate to think we can't end up loving both, even though we eventually always leave one to live in the other.