All of our previous trips have been via car, but Austin, TX is way too far to drive from Rochester, NY. This one deserved a couple plane tickets. We hopped on a plane Friday afternoon and arrived in Austin by midnight. It was still 100 degrees at night, by the way.
Why go to Austin? A very special family reunion, that’s why. My family! I don’t usually go to these things. I’ve never been very close to my family. And honestly, being caged up with a bunch of them in a foreign area sounds less like a vacation and more like a nightmare, or at least a plot proposal for a new sequel in the Saw movie franchise.
But as it turns out, not all of my family is as crazy as the ones who raised me. More on that later.
Oh my god, the food. When I returned from Austin, all I wanted to talk about was the food. Still, all I want to talk about is the food. That Tex Mex is something else. Ughhh, I can’t find the words. Instead, I’ll just make stomach noises: euuuuuoooooo ggaaaraaahhhh vrrrruuuuuuuu euuhhooahhh.
Got it? Yeah, that’s how great it was. Here’s a place (Joe’s Mexican Bakery) we randomly found, right off the highway. The parking lot was bustling which we felt was as good a sign as any.
The best Mexican food is simple and without pointless frills (here’s some other checks). To be honest, simplicity is the main thing everyone gets wrong. We don’t need thrills! We just need the food to taste good. Speaking of tasting good, the coffee at Joe’s was surprisingly outrageous. I’m not sure if “outrageous” is an approved word for coffee aficionados, but I’m using it.
After the meal, we headed downtown and traversed the area.
Appropriately, Austin’s town slogan is Keep Austin Weird, which is endearing. And it is true. Austin is strange in many ways. For instance, in the middle of America’s most Republican, most conservative, most cowboy-Good ol’ boy-state (i.e., Texas), you find a progressive, hip & young city filled with just about every type of person.
Besides the South Congress strip (more on that later), I had a hard time taking pictures of the city. The scenery is just kind of understated. It is just there. I get the feeling that in Texas, towns were established due to their fresh water supply, and not because of any natural beauty.
That said, Austin is an incredible town. It is a food town. It is a music town. It is a progressive town. All these things I love. Here’s my attempt at capturing the city.
We tracked down a record shop called Waterloo (record stores are always a favorite stop in a new town), an amazing book store called Book People, and we shopped in the first ever Whole Foods location. Pretty great. Within a couple hours, I decided that I could live in Austin. The heat was a bit much, but really, I think I could handle it. Especially during winter, when temperatures are not in negative-Rochester degrees.
So we met the family. I was happy to throw in Megan because she had done this to me, and that’s what marriage is all about.
In my head, I was worried. I didn’t really know this side of family all too well. When I was a child, my then-immediate (highly dysfunctional) family separated from the pack and moved around like a herd of gypsies. So when the family would get together, I never knew about it, nor did I really care. As soon as I learned how to ride a bike, my primary concern was getting out of the house and making friends through which I could plan an escape route.
As it turns out, I actually do like my family. Even the dysfunctional side. I guess that’s part of getting older. Anyway, this group was amazing (and surprisingly normal…). When we planned the trip, I thought a weekend would be too long and by the end of it I would be yelling for a coyote taxi. But as we left, I wished we could’ve stayed the entire week. I felt like I was just getting to know them.
The reunion was held in a cabin on Lake Lyndon B Johnson, an hour west of Austin. Besides my initial worries, I was actually desperately looking forward to the relaxation. After a summer of endless travel, a moving of apartments, and a writing of one terribly long, no-good, very bad trade-magazine article, I had decided that spending time on a lake sounded great.
Unfortunately, the “lake” was less like a swimming lake and more like an inlet. And this inlet, was less like a swimming inlet and more like an uncultivated, non-circulated pool of death. But we made the best of it; finding kayaks in the garage, some of the fam and I hit the lake; we rowed out of the inlet, and found our way into the middle of Lake LBJ. No pictures though, sorry. Kayaks are just too risky.
But the time there was great. I never had a family cabin before! Pretty neat. We had BBQ, board games, and bonfires. And the whole family banded together when I lost my cell phone; I guess being trapped with family has its perks! Anyway, simply catching up with people who I only knew as foggy sights in my memory bank, or (more often) Facebook accounts, was a real treat. I hope to do it again.
Back to the (candy) shack
We left just a smidgen early on Monday afternoon. Our hope was to tour Austin a bit more before we left; unfortunately, we just didn’t get out in time. It’s okay though, I’m happy everything went the way it did.
We did, however, spend about a half an hour on South Congress, a shopping district unique to Austin. I could’ve probably spent a whole day there (i.e., unless I were to die of sun stroke). Anyway, this was place was great. With limited time we prioritized a candy shop, because candy. We also had our final lunch at a place called Chuy’s (pronouced “chewies”). It was recommended to us by my Austin based family, and it was incredible.
Welp, that’s about it. Here’s to family, food, and the heat of Texas!
Until next time.