I landed in Austin on a Sunday (5 June) at about 3am. It was a great feeling; to be somewhere new, to be closer to El Paso, and to be done with driving- at least for a little while. I parked downtown and figured it was a perfect chance to take my dog Luke for a run on the bike and explore the layout without any distractions or traffic.
I then found a hospital to park at and get some rest. I spent Monday kicking back and organizing the cabin and Tuesday I did some recon for more parking, places to do poetry, and more mental programming of the area so I know how to get around without thinking. In doing so, I saw a ton of people gathered over the entire bridge on Congress St. and even more on the ground below. I thought maybe it was for a band or boat race or something, so I asked somone and learned that during the summer huge swarms of bats come out from underneath the bridge to feed just after sunset, and a crowd gathers to watch. The swarm gets bigger and bigger later into the season as the babys mature and join in. Unfortunately I didn’t get around to seeing the bats, but I definitely will on my way back home.
Wednesday night was my first night doing street poetry. I set up on the corner of 6th and Trinity and wrote my first poem in Austin, and Texas for that matter, for a group of WiFi gurus in town for a conference. It wasn’t long before a cop came up and hassled me about having a table and chair set up because it breaks a “no blocking the sidewalk” law, despite the obvious fact that it wasn’t. City ordinance crap…
Anyway, he said I could sit on a tree planter that was near by which is what I did for the rest of the night. I’ve since tried a couple other spots, the best so far being South Congress directly in front of Guero’s Oak Garden (a live music venue with a bar and taco stand). It’s like a very wide, toned down version of Royal St. in New Orleans, which is to say, a pretty cool spot to stroll and hang out.
After getting my bearings, my routine was to park at the Zilker Park parking lot by Barton Springs for the night, and most of the day too, which offorded the opportunity for me and Luke to walk down to the creek and cool off. Then when the sun was going down is when I would head into town. The parking lot is completely empty all night and the location is away from the bustle, so crickets are all you hear, which made falling asleep easy. The lot itself is butted up to a huge field with trees lining the edges, and since I stayed over night, I always secured the best spot under the biggest tree, so I had the most shade all day. And of course Luke had plenty of space to run.
There was one poet I met the first night I setup on S. Congress and he goes by “Slum Pickens.” Never said his real name… So I didn’t ask. But I always wonder about people who don’t say their real names- am I supposed to call him “Slum?” Anyway, he had a typewriter, and, I can’t say any more about him since he was packing up just as I was arriving. And since he left town for a few days that night (which I later learned from a girl that works near the spot) I never saw him again. Over the next few days that I was doing poetry, I was the only one. In that time, I quickly learned that Austinites have a lot of poetry love.
I cruised down Rainey St. a couple times, which fits it’s reputation as being pretty hip and plentiful when it comes to drinks and food and music. A local told me, and as anyone will eventually notice, it’s an old residential zone, so all the bars and restauraunts are just converted houses. It gives the scene a very comfortable atmosphere. However, I didn’t stop at any places since most of my funds are reserved for gas. Plus I know I’ll be back at some point, and hope to have a companion next time, so, it didn’t bother me to decide to save the dining experiences for another visit. At least I know all the places I want to hit up and where they are now. I did manage to sample at least some of the eats around town. The very first night I arrived, I picked up a pretty tastey gyro from Hero’s food truck (there’s a lot by Trinity and 7th- even more by Red River), and, while doing poetry, I tried a serving of tacos al pastor from Guero’s, which was about 10 feet from where I sat. The al pastor was superb. Probably the best tasting, and best portion of food I’ve ever had for less than (literally) three dollars- no exaggeration. I think the closest thing would be the three dollar bahn mi (3.84 incl. tax) at Moon Wok in NOLA.
Ultimately, I really liked Austin. Ample culture abound, food, art, nature, music obviously, and I met a lot of nice people; some on 6th, some on Congress, some at the park, basically everywhere I went. One guy invited me to the Brews Cruise, (a group bike ride with free beer at the end) which, sadly, I didn’t go to; I would have had to stay an extra day so I added it to my list of things to do next time around. There was another guy- Jimmy Way- who does street performing inside an illuminated drum contraption.
He was one of only a few street performers I observed in the whole city the whole time I was there. Austin may be the live music capital of the world, but the street music scene is almost non existent. I can recall one guy playing trumpet on SoCo, a guitar player at each of the far ends of 6th, and Jimmy, who was on 6th & Congress. That was it. The French Quarter has at least five times that on any given day, save for maybe the summer months. Heck, Portland Maine even has more street performers.
My only criticisn would be that there’s way too many cops standing around in groups doing absolutely nothing (besides harassing poets and street performers) on 6th street (which is basically like Bourbon St. in NOLA- mostly smoke, neon, pizza, puke, and beligerant plastic people).
I guess it isn’t that big of a deal though in retrospect, since 6th is best to avoid- not completely mind you, but for the most part. It has some decent attractions, but it’s not where you want to go every night of the week, unless maybe you’ve just turned 21 and you’re into the loud crowd of meatheads and bimbos and a cacophonous din of music from all directions. It’s an interesting scene for sure, otherwise, S. Congress, Rainey, and Red River are the best streets for wandering. There is of course a ton of other establshments surrounding the downtown area, not to mention, all of the natural springs, state parks, scenic drives, and such. But, as LeVar Burton would say, don’t take my word for it.