"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 11, 2014

Austin redux

Last weekend was the second annual road trip to Austin for my brother Rex's birthday. Here's a quick rundown of how this one compared to the inaugural trip:
  • The company: Even better since our brother Dale went too
  • Bluebonnets along the highway: Even more abundant and enchanting
  • Food: Less abundant and not as tasty
  • Hotel room: 400 times better (the dollar amount Rex paid for it)
  • Music: Even better since we got to hear the fantastic John Evans Band
So the food was the only thing that didn't measure up, and even though food is very important to me, this trip was the clear winner.

Our first meal was a late lunch in the lobby of the grand historic Driskill Hotel. The ambiance is late 19th century, but the hotel guests are a stark reminder of the present. I'm pretty sure those genteel ladies of the past never schlepped through the lobby in leggings and tight, low-cut tops, nor any of the fellas in a cash-patterned sport coat with a rhinestone collar. Isn't people-watching fun?

Lunch at the DriskillWe had sandwiches made of turkey, bacon, avocado, green tomatoes, and chipotle mayonnaise on freshly baked croissants with some delicious pickles that clearly weren't store bought. Nice.

The best part of lunch, though, was reminiscing about growing up in our little three-bedroom home. I shared a room with Randy and Dale when we were little, but after our three older brothers moved out, I got my own room since I was the only girl. Dale always had to share a room with Randy, and when Randy finally moved out, Rex moved out of the dining room into Dale's room. I asked Dale if he ever resented me because I had my own room. He wadded up his big cloth napkin and hurled it in my face. It was one of the many times I burst out laughing that weekend.

We strolled around after lunch, then dragged Dale to the Capitol since he couldn't remember whether he'd ever been. After our pathetic attempts of a selfie in front of the Capitol, I was thankful when a nice young lady offered to take our photo if we'd return the favor. Thanks to her, everyone is visible in this year's selfie. (I called it a self-portrait last year because I apparently wasn't cool then.)

Rex, Paula, Dale

Returning to the hotel, we were still full from lunch, so we had to kill time while waiting for our appetites to return. I suggested playing a little game of "How many [blank] can you name?" Sometimes when my mind is idle, I challenge myself to name as many of a certain thing as I can just in case I'm ever in such a contest. Lately, I've been practicing naming country singers, so it was the first category I suggested. Crushed my brothers in that round.

Next was "How many rock bands from the '60s and '70s can you name?" (The weekend was about music after all.) We later expanded it to include bands from the '80s, then the '90s, and finally bands from any decade and any genre. By the time we were mentally tapped out, we were ready for dinner. Throughout the rest of the trip, one of us would occasionally blurt out a name that we couldn't believe we forgot, like "Josh Turner!" or "Fleetwood Mac!"

I had gotten recommendations from friends for good restaurants in downtown Austin. None of them included Mexican food, though, and I decided that I'd be in the mood for it Saturday night, so I did an exhaustive search on the web and read tons of reviews. At the top of my list was Michelada’s Cafe y Cantina. Rave reviews, tableside guacamole, patio seating—it seemingly had it all.

Do not go there. It was huge, deserted, and downright spooky. Through the window, we saw only a couple of people at one table, probably relatives of the owners or the owners themselves. So much for my research.

We came across a place called Uncle Julio's Fine Mexican Food. It was packed, which is usually a good sign, but the name was suspect. I vaguely remembered an Uncle Julio's in my online search, and there had to be a good reason it didn't make the cut. But it was getting late, so we decided to check it out. If they didn't have good chips and salsa, we were out of there.

Uncle Julio's has the worst salsa ever. It was watery, flavorless, and tasted like it came from a can. So after having dry chips and a drink, we told the waiter that we just weren't feeling it and asked for the check. He was nice enough to give us directions to another Mexican restaurant where he said the food was actually good. By the time we got outside, however, Rex said the chips were enough for him and suggested we just go listen to music. Since it was his birthday celebration, that's what we did.

Our first stop was a crowded place called Friends. The band was playing some good music, but they sure weren't big on lyrics. I can tell you one thing, though. The lead singer really loves his baby. He really loves his baby. Oh yeah, he really loves his baby.

The next stop was the Dizzy Rooster. We liked that band a lot better, especially when they covered Steve Miller's "The Joker." Over the years, I've sang along about the "pompatus of love" without a clue as to what it means. But I still enjoy singing it.

What I continue to find disconcerting is that many of the young'uns at these places seem oblivious to the music—almost as if it's background noise for them to just drink and get silly. I remember being young and silly myself, but I also remember being really into the music.

Our final stop was Shotgun. Surprisingly, as crowded as 6th Street and the other clubs were, only a few people were there, either sitting at the bar or at tables away from the band. Although nobody seemed engaged with the performance, the rockabilly music immediately caught our ears. We sat at the table in front of the stage and within minutes were fully engaged. Then at the first few bars of "Ring of Fire," we instantly became enthusiastic fans.

Through two stellar sets of the John Evans Band, we heard some excellent original songs and many classic covers. In addition to Johnny Cash, there were standouts like Elvis Presley's "That's All Right (Mama)" and Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman." I don't know if they were pandering to the old folks at the front table, but it worked. We sang along (loudly), drummed the table, hollered, clapped until it hurt, and tossed cash in the tip jar.

John Evans Band
John Evans Band
John took a quick break while the band kept going. He stopped by our table and thanked us for "getting it started." I must have looked puzzled because he added, "Look around." I turned and saw that the club had become packed with people enjoying the music, so I guess our enthusiasm was contagious. Even though I was aware that the applause had been growing louder with each song, I hadn't given it much thought. Later, the guitarist who sang while John was away (fantastic job as well) thanked us too. Nice guys. Great musicians. The total package.

Toward the end of the show, a few people were country-western dancing in front of the stage. One couple was doing professional moves like lifts and flips. They were very entertaining to watch, and it was nice to see people giving the band the attention they deserved. Now, here's a simple to-do list for the young'uns who tend to ignore the musicians: 1) Listen; 2) Applaud; 3) Cheer; 4) Sing if you know the words; 5) Dance if you can; 6) Tip!

When we finally stepped back out onto the street, which had been barricaded to prevent vehicles from entering, I was amazed at the endless sea of people. It was the most notable difference from our Sunday night visit last year. Rex announced that it was 2:30 a.m., and my stomach, which had been lying dormant, woke up with a vengeance. But after deciding it was too much trouble to find food at that point, we made our way back to the hotel and ordered room service from the limited late-night menu.

It took a long time for the food to arrive, and the late-night chef is definitely the second string, so we had some mediocre food before going to sleep at 3:30. The only thing that got us up at 8:30 was knowing we had breakfast reservations and had to get downstairs before they gave away our coveted corner booth by the window. I was sure I'd at least get a really good breakfast again this year. But maybe the late-night chef was still on duty because it just wasn't all that great. At least the coffee, I'm happy to report, was every bit as good as I remembered.

On the rainy ride home, the bluebonnets looked even more lush, the entertaining conversation continued, and the music kept playing in my head. I'm so blessed to have brothers who are such great friends and to live in Texas where there's so much great live music.

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