Wednesday, January 03, 2007


How was your New Years? Do anything fun? Me neither. Okay, that's a lie. G and I took a little trip and had a blast. If you think I'm going to waste my precious time telling you all about it, you know me pretty well...

I took a trip to Austin, Texas to visit some close friends and ring in 2007 with one of my favorite musical artists, and hometown favorite, Bob Schneider (whose link is in the sidebar). That dude jams, y'all. If you get a chance to catch him live, I highly recommend it. As for Austin, it's pretty damn hard to beat 72 degrees in late I had a hot time on the merit of the weather alone.

This was my first visit to the Lone Star state capital, so we did all of the touristy things to do: took a tour of the Capitol building, snapped a bunch of pictures that didn't turn out, wandered the streets of Austin's historic downtown, stuffed our bellies with local cuisine (mostly barbecue and chipotle-infused you-name-it), investigated shopping boutiques in various districts, got lost, got drunk, and got arrested.

Arrested? No. Not really. We tried - but they don't arrest folks for just anything down there. Ask Dick Cheney. He shot a man in the face last year and the authorities responded like Texans shoot people in the face all the time. What they ARE serious about down there in Texas is drinking and driving. I got the impression it was a BIG problem from all of the signs and radio ads warning against it. It seemed every on-ramp to every major highway around Austin's city limits has a massive electronic light board threatening jail time for drinking and driving. We decided it would be in our best interest not to test them on this.

A couple things about Austin. Our trip was fantastic - but largely because we were visiting a number of good friends who helped make our stay a special one. Had we been on our own, I'm not certain Austin would have been as exciting a destination as we had anticipated. You've heard the expression, "Nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there." For me, Austin is probably the opposite: seemed to be GREAT place to live, but not exactly the best place to go on holiday. Unless you've got friends there, of course - which we did. And that made this New Years adventure a memorable one. At least the part of it I can actually remember. I'll know more about my New Years Eve once everyone uploads their digital pics and I can see what I was doing.

They like thinking of themselves as "weird" down there in Austin - but I didn't see a whole lot that was truly out of the ordinary. There were t-shirts, hats, stickers, and buttons everywhere we went that read: "Keep Austin Weird." I guess the locals don't like all the new blood spilling in and watering down their "cool" pool, so they promote "weirdness" almost as a branded heritage that's uniquely theirs. In truth, I see weirder every day right here in Chicago. I guess it all depends on what you're used to. Austin isn't "weird" so much as it is different from the rest of Texas. And that might be explained by its more liberal leanings. As a younger, hipper "college" town, it's ideologically out of synch with the rest of the state.

Here's something else you should know about Austin. Their baked beans are WAY different. I ordered them as a side several times and they're relatively dry and taste like chili seasoning. I was expecting sweet molasses gravy with sliced onions and thick bacon I'm used to here in the midwest. I have to say, I didn't much care for the beans, which I'm sure my hosts were just fine with. Me and baked beans don't always agree with one another, and it's the folks nearby who always end up suffering. I actually unleashed a real doozy at the Whole Foods grocery store down there that had shoppers gsping and hacking in the aisles. It was brutal. A long, slow leaker that I had to work out of my jeans by taking long strides and patting out the trapped air between steps. When I sensed it was following me, we departed in a hurry. As we were pulling out of the parking lot, I'm pretty sure I saw a fleet of fire engines screaming their way down 5th toward ground zero. Nasty.

Speaking of the Whole Foods, I have to tell you, WOW. Austin's flagship store is simply amazing. I actually made the comment that it was almost worth moving down to Austin simply to be near it. It was THAT kick ass. Chicago has a couple of Whole Foods grocery stores. They're a little pricier than the other local chains because, in theory, a lot of the stuff there is better for you. Organic. All natural. Steroid and insecticide free. So it's earned a reputation as being the "health food" grocery store, which to me has always meant "flavor free food." But that is not the case with Whole Foods. In fact, a lot of their stuff actually tastes BETTER. And if you take the time to look at the labels, it's not all that healthy for you, either. At least not the stuff I'd actually pay money to eat.

Por ejemplo, our hosts insisted we purchase some of their "cowboy burger" patties. They were, simply put, the best burgers I'd ever tasted. Yes, even better than Fuddruckers. I know - hard to believe...but TRUE. I think the fact that they were pan-fried in a half stick of butter may have had something to do with that, but they were still damn tasty of their own accord. Loaded with jalapenos, bacon, garlic, onion, and cheese, every bite was a juicy taste explosion. Heavenly.

And that was just one food item. The entire store was magnificent. First off, it was ENORMOUS. They had winding aisles that weaved charmingly in and out of larger corridors. There were food stations and mountains of displays everywhere. Everything was cooked, packaged, stacked, and presented in excess. I saw a column of holiday pies so large they would never all be purchased - displayed entirely for effect. It was like visiting a museum celebrating America as the land of plenty. The produce section was so vibrant and colorful it looked like the Partridge Family bus had plowed into a farmer's market. There were manned stations everywhere offering more varieties of food than I knew existed. They had a sushi bar. A bakery. A butcher shop. It was almost too much for a food lover like me to handle. But that's when I felt a massive fart coming on and had to plan my impromtu exit strategy. I easily could have spent all day in there whipping my salivary glands into an anticipatory frenzy.

All in all, our trip to Austin was fabulous. Although if I go again it will be to see my friends, not the city. Oh yeah, and we saw a mullet. That, naturally, made the whole journey instantly worthwhile.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year Terry! I missed you!
You were here and didn't let me know?!! Try the Salt Lick over
this way next time. Nice atmosphere. Dang, mullet watch
has been slacking off. Muuahh
& Yeehaw Ü