Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Day 33: Lone Star

When I rolled into Austin, I had about 20 hours before I could check into my motel. I made the decision that rather than trying to sleep in my car somewhere, I'd just stay awake until Monday afternoon when I could check into my room and take a nap then. For the last few weeks I'd been getting plenty of good sleep, shouldn't be a problem to pull an all nighter once in a while right? I'd done it before in college, I could do it again.

I parked near the downtown area near the University of Texas campus. While I still had daylight I took a stroll around. The campus is pretty large and quite beautiful, I was only able to see a small portion of it but what I did see was pleasant. Even the squirrels are very friendly, one nearly climbed up my leg while I watched it (insert requisite joke about gathering nuts). I also learned that carrying around a backpack with my laptop and camera on my back in 90+ degree heat and humidity 1) makes me very thirsty and 2) results in my back being completely saturated. Time for some water.

It seems once again I proved my ability to show up in the right place at the right time, for some given random event. While trying to cross the street from the campus to a CVS, I found my path blocked by a stream of red. To be more specific, a stream of red shirts. To be slightly more specific, thousands of participants in what I later found out to be the Nike Humanrace 10k. I waited for a few minutes for a break in the crowd, and when none came I performed a diagonal run across the street, trying to match their speed with a lateral vector included.

Members of the Humanrace.
Since both I and the human stream of red were heading towards downtown, I walked parallel to the race for a while. In many ways, it seemed similar to the Nike 10k that Scott and I did a couple of summers ago; particularly with respect to having bands perform at spots along the course. I stopped to watch one of these bands in the downtown area. I think they were local (and maybe not even "officially" invited to play there), they had all of their equipment set up in a bank parking lot with a couple of speakers hooked up to mics. They sounded a bit Muse-ish, but a little more indie leaning; they were quite good actually. I felt sorry for the runners, since they couldn't really enjoy much more than 30 seconds of the music before they were round the corner.

I followed the race until it turned east, running parallel to the river which I was heading towards. I didn't have much of a plan yet for the evening; I had read a bit about Austin and what to do, but had yet to decide what I was going to do next. Sixth street was mentioned as a good place to hear music, having a decent bar scene. As I passed Sixth, I looked up and down. Seemed a bit quiet, but then again it was still pretty early (not yet 8 pm). I walked past and eventually ended up at the river. This is when I remembered another fact about Austin: under the Congress Street bridge lives a colony of 1.5 million bats, and at dusk each night they come out. Brilliant. I'll watch bats, I thought. Well, being a Sunday on Labor Day weekend, it seems I wasn't the only one with this idea, as there were literally hundreds (thousands?) of people lining the bridge and the waterfront waiting for dusk. I took my place on the bank and waited.

Lots of dark.
Here's the thing about dusk: it's dark, and getting darker fairly fast. And the thing about bats is that they are black, and pretty small. As a consequence, when the bats did actually begin coming out, I had a pretty hard time seeing anything. The best place to see them, it seems, is on one of the boats or kayaks that crowded the river near the bridge. Note taken for the next time I'm in Austin.

I now had about 15 hours until check in time, so I started to think of ways I could spend this time to a) see what Austin had to offer and b) stay awake. I headed up Congress street (which, fittingly enough, heads straight to the capitol building). A little ways up I realized that the finish line for the 10k was up in front of me, and that there was a giant stage with some kind of concert happening. Being the curios type, I walked with the stragglers towards the finish.

Down in front!
After threading my way through the throngs of runners, family members, volunteers, and various city folk, I got close enough to the stage to actually see the performers. The setting was pretty stunning; the stage had been set up right at the intersection in front of the capitol building, which was lighted and provided an amazing backdrop to the events below. I didn't recognize the band, but I had a suspicion they were famous since quite a lot of people seemed to know the lyrics and were singing along. Later, I found a schedule of events for the run and discovered that I had seen Ben Harper perform. Neat.

I'd been walking around for the better part of six hours or so, in ungodly heat and and humidity, with a heavy backpack. It was well past beer thirty. I found Sixth street again, and chose a direction to walk (west, for those interested). I eventually happened upon what I took to be the "scene", and wandered into a bar that seemed pretty laid back and had a sufficient number of beers on tap. Bonus: Sunday is cheap beer night, every pint is $2.50, with the exception of the Texas lager "Lone Star", which is $2.

Now, remember that my overall goal for the night was to stay awake. Unfortunately, drinking three pints of beer after walking around all day DNE a good way to not be sleepy. In fact, it produces quite the opposite effect of what I intended. But I wanted to try me some Texas beer. A breakdown:
  1. Lone Star Lager: your typical lager, probably a bit better than the mass produced American classics, but in the end it is what it is. Fairly refreshing, though, on a hot day (which I'm led to believe happens in Texas on a mostly regular basis).
  2. Shiner Bock: per Graham's suggestion. Impressive, I'm not usually one for Bocks, but this one was very flavorful and tasty, but without being heavy.
  3. Austin Amber: my least favorite, although this may be due to the fact that it is a heavier beer (after I'd been drinking lighter varieties), and I'm not really much of an amber fan in general anymore. Still, I think in the future I'll avoid this one.

I left having spent $7 on three pints of beer (not including tip); not half bad.

The walk back towards the campus was a bit brutal: I hadn't noticed the slight hill I had walked down while following the race, and even though it was 11pm the temperature was still in the upper 80s. I needed caffeine if I was to stay awake, and I realized I hadn't really eaten since the drive from Houston to Austin. The solution: Kerbey Lane Cafe, a 24 hour diner located in the University district. The place was packed, mostly with runners and students. I sat at the counter (the advantage of going to a restaurant by yourself, you usually don't have to wait for a table). The food was good; I had a turkey and avocado sandwich with what they called home fries, but anyone else would call quarters of baby potatoes. I read the Onion, trying to take my time and enjoy the air conditioning as long as possible. I was never asked to leave, but I could tell from the crowd waiting to get in that the staff would prefer if I didn't loiter and take up valuable seating space.

I left and walked back to where I had parked my car. Luckily, I had parked next to a bakery with wifi, so I sat in my car for an hour or so using the internet for what it's best at: wasting time. Around 1am I packed up the laptop, and took a drive around Austin. The city has a pretty large suburban area surrounding it. The interesting thing is that it is all considered Austin, and not separate cities (think if Hillsboro, Beaverton, Tigard, and Gresham were all instead just Portland). I stopped in a deserted parking lot to play guitar for a while, but the mosquitoes are still determined to ruin my trip. After accumulating approximately ten bites on my arms, three on my back, and one on my right cafe, I'd had enough. I think from now on, as part of my morning routine, I am going to cover myself in bug spray just in case I ever head outside.

I still had nine hours or so to go. I needed something to do. I found a 24-hour Wal-Mart. If played right, you can spend hours in a 24 hour mega-store without spending a dime.

Sidenote: I discovered a way to extend the time between needing to do laundry on this trip. While in the Wal-Mart, I purchased a pack of boxers and white undershirts. That's an extra week of clean clothes! Genius.

Unfortunately, I wasn't going to make it. I realized this around 4:30, and decided that I could afford just a couple hours of sleep before the sun rose. I parked again next to the wifi bakery, kicked my seat back, and failed miserably to get any kind of restful sleep. It was too hot, and too humid, as well as being too uncomfortable to start with.

Around 7:30, I gave up and headed to IHOP for breakfast and coffee.

I'll have to finish this tale tonight. I need to get on the road if I have any hope of seeing Carlsbad Caverns today. More to follow...

Car status: nothing terribly bad has happened since Montana. I've noticed one or two new scratches I never used to have, and I have an ever growing collection of plastic bottles in the back seat (I refuse to just throw them out, I need to recycle!), but all in all it is holding up well.
Miles on the trip: nearly 9000.
Recent music:
Ray Charles - Genius Loves Company
Damien Rice - O and 9
Green Day - Insomniac
The Early November The Room's Too Cold and the other album I can't remember the name of
Punk Goes 90's and the Spawn Soundtrack
The Crystal Method - Vegas


g said...

glad the shiner bock was tasty.

you bought something from walmart!?! haha. oh well. target is supposed to be worse anyway. i try not to pay attention to store ethics anymore...

matt said...

we used to pull all-nighters all the time back in the day. but every time i try it these days it always ends badly. i think its the first sign we are getting old.

I like how you always show up to a party where ever you go.

Graham said...

ok, so! having just visited austin, i can add some thoughts.

1. i rather liked the Lone Star Beer, I thought it was a pretty tasty lager. Then again, I am liking lagers more these days.

2. Super jealous that you saw the bats!

3. We didn't get to your diner, but thanks for the suggestion!