I am a native Los Angelino. As such, walking is just not in my DNA. It’s not that I am not fit. I love to run—for exercise, not to get anywhere. To get somewhere, my preferred mode of transportation is the car. I am not alone. The rest of the world is well aware of Los Angelinos’ aversion to pedestrianism. Steve Martin highlighted it in LA Story by having the characters drive one block to dinner. Missing Persons sang Walking in LA, a song that makes it abundantly clear that nobody walks in LA.
Pam is also a native Los Angelino, but somehow her DNA mutated. She loves to walk—not for exercise, just to get somewhere. She also likes to walk fast. I have almost no ability to walk, and, despite my height advantage, I struggle to keep up with her. When I complain and ask her to slow down, it lands on deaf ears, as her usual response is, “If I go any slower, I will fall over!”
As I begin to write this, it is mid-day Sunday, and I am feeling a modicum of pain while seated on a plane heading back to LA from Austin. Ironically, the pain is not from the plane, which is unusual, as pretty much all planes are a pain. Instead, I have a dull ache emanating from both legs, the result of taking fifty thousand and two steps in Austin over the past three days. Steps I would have never taken on my own, But I was not on my own. Pam and I spent the past three days vacationing there.
We were excited to go to Austin. Austin is a cool town. It is the hippie part of Texas. It has been voted one of the best cities in which to live a number of times. It has a ton of history, including Lyndon Johnson, Sam Houston and the real Steve Austin (Stephen F. to be precise), It is damn close to the Alamo and Davy Crockett. It has music, culture, music, BBQ, music, boots, music, University of Texas with throngs of college kids and the Johnson Library, music, bats, music, Formula 1, music, Tex-Mex cuisine, including queso and Mexican Martinis, and more music. We wanted to experience it all, except for Formula 1, as the race was not scheduled during our trip, and the Alamo, as it was not within walking distance. Git Along, Little Dogies!
Before the trip Pam was focused on planning. She knows me, and if she does not have a list of things to do while we are on vacation, there is a high likelihood that I will want to hang out at the hotel, sitting on my butt watching television. So she scoured the internet and asked friends for recommendations for things to see, places to go and stuff to eat. Then she focused on music. We knew Austin had a great music scene. The city motto is the “Live Music Capital of the World.” The city is known for a wide range of music, especially the blues and outlaw country. In my mostly misguided opinion, it’s musical renaissance began in the 70s when the outlaw country artists, including Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker, Steve Earle and Ray Wiley Hubbard, took up roots there. At first, Pam focused on bars with live music, as we really enjoy just sitting in bars drinking beer and listening to music, especially in the afternoon. But we really have only done that in Nashville, and she quickly realized that Sixth Street did not have the same country vibe as Lower Broadway in Nashville. Unfazed, she persevered and found a show at Antones featuring Shooter Jennings, Waylon’s kid, which was most likely more than enough country for us, as we would still be checking out the bars on Sixth Street throughout our stay.
Our plan was simple. It only had one fixed element. We had to be at Antones at eight pm on Friday night. Everything else was fluid. We landed on Thursday morning, went to the hotel, checked our bags and planned our day. We decided that we would eat BBQ at Iron Works, buy boots at Allen’s, watch the bats leave from under the Congress Bridge at dusk, and then check out the food and live music on Rainey Street at night. I assumed that we would get it all done with some walking and a handful of Uber rides. Pam thought differently. 17,000 steps later and lots of time spent standing waiting for the bats to emerge, we got it all done sans Uber. We had really good BBQ and Shiner Bocks at iron Works. We had fun buying cowboy boots, which neither of us really needed, as we had just bought some about 18 months ago on our last trip to Nashville. I had an especially good time, as I tried on a pair of Alligator (AKA Cayman) boots, but they were just too expensive. I did get to meet a fellow Porsche Club member and Cayman owner while in the store. Small world. We spent an hour waiting almost in vain for the bats to emerge from under the bridge, and when they did, they did so on the other side of the river, making for a less than spectacular view. We ate killer grilled cheese sandwiches from a food truck for dinner. Our only let down was the lack of quality live country music at the bars on Rainey Street. Maybe it just was the wrong night or maybe it was just not the venue for us. We did have fun, though, people watching and drinking Texas beer, which we would later learn was going to be the recurring theme of our trip. Pam had a really good draft Thirsty Goat amber ale, which was funny because she bought goat leather boots, and I had an amazing draft (512) Nitro Pecan Porter.
Friday, we decided to visit the local landmarks, including the Capitol, University of Texas and the Johnson Library, check out Voodoo Doughnuts and the afternoon Sixth Street bar scene, eat queso and Tex-Mex and drink a Mexican Martini before heading to Antones for the show. Again my Uber dreams were scuttled. 18,000 steps and even more standing later, we arrived at Antones.
Despite the walking and standing, Friday was a great day. I am not a huge fan of visiting Capitol buildings, finding them less than thrilling. But the history of Texas is cool from the perspective of the United States. Besides being a regal building with a great rotunda, the building is filled with dark art featuring Davy Crockett, the Siege of the Alamo, and the Battle of San Jacinto. Very sobering stuff, but I really liked the paintings. To top it off, while we were in the building, we were treated to the Ukulele strumming and vocal prowess of a bunch of grade school kids, who, among other things, treated us to a rousing rendition of Deep in the Heart of Texas.
From there it was off to UT, its football stadium and the Johnson Library. We are essentially inept navigators, though collectively we have a decent sense of direction. Just to be safe,we were relying on Google to provide directions. While Google works pretty well when driving or when walking on city streets, it does not always work in less developed areas like river banks and college campuses. We found that out in spades while visiting UT. Google apparently has access to facts, like street names, that are not apparent or visible to pedestrians, causing us to second guess the directions and backtrack a ton, adding yet more steps to our journey. Oh joy!
The campus is huge and really nice. We made our way to the Johnson Library. Before we went, I was nonplussed, about seeing it. Though I lived through the Johnson era, I was too young to have formed any real opinion about him. All I really knew was that my mother, a devout Kennedy supporter and conspiracy theorist, dissed him most of the time, and that he escalated the Vietnam War, something at the time I dreaded more than anything else. The tour of the Johnson library was very impressive. I was mesmerized by the memorabilia. I was almost brought to tears by reading the timeline, as it recounted Johnson’s role in the civil rights fights of the 60s as well as other critical events of those years. I was fascinated by his ability to intimidate and strong arm his political foes to achieve his, mostly admirable, goals. I was saddened to think about how far our political system has devolved from a government which enabled decision making despite differences to one which is mired in gridlock.
We left UT with Sixth Street on our minds—mainly doughnuts, but music and beer, too. We arrived at Voodoo Doughnuts and got in line. The place is part of a small chain that began in Portland, Oregon, and is known for its uniquely crafted doughnuts that would have made Andy Warhol proud. I learned most of this from the people standing in line in front of us—college kids from Arizona State University. One of them was from Portland, and we got a complete Voodoo education. We also got a good laugh when I asked them why they were in Austin. They replied, “We are competing in a Quidditch tournament!” Hermoine would be so proud.
We ordered a huge box of doughnuts and ate a few of them for lunch. Of course, we way over ordered, even as we over ate, though we did take what was left back to the hotel and picked at them over the next two days. It turns out that there is a Voodoo Doughnut location in LA, but thankfully it is in Universal City, which is pretty inconvenient. Otherwise, I think I would frequent it way too often.
We then checked out a few bars, needing a beer chaser to wash down the doughnuts. We settled into the San Jac Bar, which is pretty highly rated on the internet. Pam ordered some more Thirsty Goat ale and I ordered some other beer, and we listened to some old school acoustic county. Then we walked back to the hotel.
We walked, what else, in our new boots to dinner at the Cedar Door and ordered Mexican Martinis, essentially Margaritas served from a shaker and poured into a martini glass. When the waitress delivered them, she said there were two rules, “First, hold the top of the shaker when you pour, and second, there is a limit of two per person.” Pam and I looked at the size of the shaker, and, while wondering if we could finish one and still walk, nodded and said, “No problem!” The Mexican Martinis were great. For dinner we ordered an appetizer of queso and entrees of Tex-Mex tacos. Pam and I were both a little leery of queso, which is just a boatload of melted white cheese, but we soon realized why it is so popular.
We decided to go to Antones because of the act that was playing. Not because we knew squat about Antones. It turned out that Antones, which is sort of like a smaller version of the El Rey in Los Angeles, holds a hallowed place in the musical history of Austin, It is generally known as being a house of blues, not country, and is one of the top rated music venues in the city. Apparently, many legends, including Stevie Ray Vaughan, played there often.
We knew none of that when we arrived. All we could think about was getting a place to sit, as neither of us relished the thought of standing for the duration of the show. As we entered and looked around, we quickly realized that all the tables were occupied. Pam noticed that two people were sitting at a table for four and it appeared that two seats were unused. We walked up and asked if we could join them. They said yes, and we had a lovely time learning about them and the history of Antones. They were a unique couple. She was a Texas girl who grew up in the area, hated country music and moved to Southern California for work. He was an ex-Dead Head from Santa Cruz who had moved to Southern California for work. They married, and as they can work remotely, moved to Austin. While they are not country fans, they love Shooter Jennings, who it turns was not as country as we thought. Thankfully, the opening act was country, and fortuitously, Shooter Jennings played a lot of new material from his soon to be released album, and all of that was country. Yee-Haw!
Saturday, we decided, was nature day. Naturally, we walked. Another 17.000 steps or so. I did not even utter the word Uber, except when enjoying the scenery. Our destination, which was a botanical garden, was not as important as the route we walked, which was on the river. We walked the river, made it to he botanical gardens and then walked back. On the way back we detoured back through Barton Springs, which was a delightful area filled with Tex-Mex and food trucks. On the way, Pam said, “Let’s check out the bars on Sixth Street some more.” We did, but we were not impressed with the musical options. As we started back to the hotel, Pam, in a completely out of character, but spot on, comment said, “Let’s go back to the Cedar Door and have beer and queso!” What a brilliant suggestion. Pam had another Shiner Bock, and I had another Pecan Porter. That really wet our whistle!
Saturday night we ate at the hotel. I was stoked, not because of dinner, which was good, but because we were done walking—for the day, the night, and the entire trip. I only had Two Steps to go, Texas style. And it was finally time to call Uber. Hallelujah!
Our destination that night was the Broken Spoke, a vintage 60s honky-tonk, where we would be learning to Texas Two Step and listening to Two Tons of Steel, a regional Texas rockabilly, Americana and country band. When we first got there, we were a little underwhelmed. The place is on the rundown side, a little scary and a whole lot kitschy. At that time we did not know that Garth Brooks loved playing there. When we first walked in, all we could see was a little dining area and a tiny bar. All we could hear was a pretty pathetic band playing old time country. We did not see a dance floor anywhere. That changed a couple of minutes later when we were ushered into a pretty good sized concert area with tables surrounding a dance floor. We had fun learning to Two Step, though I have to admit that I am a better walker than a two-stepper, despite the Scamper Juice (AKA whiskey) I drank, which is somewhat disheartening. We loved Two Tons of Steel. They put on a great show. We tried out our Two Step skills. Mostly though, we sat back and relaxed, listening to the band and watching the people, all the while wondering if the lead singer would hit is hat covered head on the ridiculously low ceiling. We Uberred back to the hotel feeling really good about the evening and the entire trip. Yippee Ki-Yay!