"I have seen personally what is the only beneficial and appropriate course of action for people: to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in all their hard work on earth during the few days of their life which God has given them, for this is their reward." (Ecclesiastes 5:18, NET)

April 14, 2013


With six brothers, I'm doing good to remember their birthdays with an email or a phone call, sometimes even a day or two late at that. But my youngest brother, Rex, wanted to go to Austin for his birthday, so the two of us hit the road last Sunday afternoon.

Rex isn't married, and Robert understands that I still like to hang out with my brothers. Besides, I think he enjoys the perks of me being gone for a night. For one thing, he can watch action movies into the early morning hours with the surround-sound speakers loud enough to crack the foundation—free from dreading the moment when a sleep-deprived banshee stumbles into the living room, shutting down the racket and the vibrating walls.

Anyway, it's the perfect time of year for a little road trip. The temperatures are mild, and beautiful Texas bluebonnets line stretches of the highway. And Sunday turned out to be a better time to visit 6th Street than a Friday or Saturday would have been. The clubs weren't crowded, which was a bonus since listening to live music was the top item on our agenda. Plus, the weird people we saw walking around on Sunday and Monday probably would have been even weirder on Friday and Saturday.

For dinner, Rex and I enjoyed Latin cuisine as we sat at an outside table, people watching while we ate. Gloria's menu boasts of entrees "cooked to perfection," and I must say, my carne asada was pretty darn good. But "perfection" best describes the tortilla chips. Their texture and flavor were better than any other I've had. And I've had tons of tortilla chips with salsa in my time.

We did a lot of walking around and ended up at the Dizzy Rooster, where we listened to two sets of blues rock by the Jo Hell Band (my ears heard "Joe Hill"). Jo is an amazing guitarist, and the three-man band put on an excellent show. During their break, I thought about the great rock concerts I went to back in the day—like Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, Eric Clapton when he was in Cream, then Blind Faith, then Derek & the Dominos—to name just a few. Jo Hell had to be good to get me thinking like that.

Rex and I made a couple of trips each to the band's tip jar. I noticed a guy with long gray hair dropping in some money too. Most of the young folk, however, seemed to stay clear of it. Even worse, they barely applauded. Rex and I were slapping our palms together so hard it hurt. On the walk back to the hotel, we lamented over the youngsters' apparent lack of empathy for the musicians and appreciation for the music. (Are we old, or what.)

Around 10:00 the next morning, we strolled into the 1886 Cafe & Bakery at the historic Driskill hotel and had the most lovely, leisurely breakfast. Charming ambiance. Corner booth. Superb coffee. Delicious food. Good company and conversation. That breakfast had it all. It was Rex's big day, so I raised my coffee mug for a toast and wished him a happy birthday.

Now about that coffee ... It was strong, rich illy brand (Starbucks should be embarrassed), served in nice mugs at the perfect temperature. The fresh brew was so hot that when it first hit my mouth, I thought my tongue was going to get scorched, but it didn't. And that, my friends, is precisely the right temperature for coffee—1° below scorching. We had five big cups full and were blessed with a waitress who didn't rush us.

I love studying menus and the whole selection process, no matter how long it takes. But as soon as I read about the Hippie Hollow signature dish, I knew it was the one. Not a bite was left on my plate of the eggs scrambled with fresh spinach, topped with goat cheese, and served over thick-sliced grilled tomatoes with a side of country potatoes. When the waitress asked if we saved room for pastries, I said, "No, but that's not going to stop us."

Rex and I split a huge cinnamon roll with not-too-sweet icing and a buttery croissant with creamy chocolate filling. Exquisite. That's what those warm fresh-baked pastries were. About halfway through, Rex sat back to let things settle before he could continue eating. I was afraid if I stopped, I wouldn't be able to finish, and it was a situation where not committing gluttony seemed to be the greater sin. So I powered through and got it done.

We walked off some of the calories with a visit to the Texas State Capitol. I discovered something about my brother there—he carries and wears a lot of metal. Yep, it took Rex three attempts to make it past the metal detector. But fittingly, those state employees had only admiration for his Bowie knife with the 6-inch blade.

Thanks for the trip, Rex, and for not letting me get away with my usual email or phone call. I really enjoyed your birthday.

Barely making it in the self-portrait

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