"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves." --Rainer Maria Rilke (©julenisse/Fotolia)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Doing Our Best to Keep Austin Weird—Part 2
“When in Rome… er, Austin”

My Beloved used to say I was “bohemian.” I think it was because I wore clogs and was somewhat of a free spirit. Austin is definitely a throw back to my quasi hippie chick days. Who’d have thought that in the middle of Bush country, in the state that gave us Big Oil, Big Hair and J.R. Ewing, there would be such an enclave of funky weirdness? Seeing the Longhorn cheerleaders (think Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, only younger) at UT sporting events, you’d never guess they share a campus with today’s version of the Beat Generation.

Darling Daughter and I met Samantha as we strolled down The Drag (Guadalupe Street) on Friday morning. Samantha seemed to have all of her stuff with her, including her black lab, Cracker, who was snoozing in the sun on the steps of a church. Samantha rose as we passed and asked if she could read us a poem she’d written. It was really a song, she explained, but she was too shy to actually sing it for us. We listened intently to the heartbreak in every line and gave her a couple of dollars. As DD and I moved on, we noted that Samantha had some dice woven into her blond dreadlocks.

Farther down the street, some students were marketing Lyndon LaRouche to passers by. Who knew LaRouche was still alive, let alone running for President? Again. While we’re on the campaign trail… I have never seen so many Ron Paul posters in one place, as I did in Austin. Also, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many Obama and Hillary bumper stickers… There were still a couple of Suburbans on the street with “W: The President” stickers… It is still Texas, after all.

Walking through the UT campus, a young man stopped us and asked, “Would you like to fight AIDS today?” Who could say, "No"? He led us to a table, where several coeds explained an international HIV/AIDS project they were involved in (Face AIDS), and that for five dollars I could have a beaded pin, hand made by a member of an HIV/AIDS support group in Zambia. Remember in Jerry Maguire, when Renee Zellweger says to Tom Cruise, “You had me at ‘hello’?” Well, these kids mentioned that Face AIDS is associated with an organization founded by one of my heroes, Paul Farmer, who has worked tirelessly in Haiti and other Third World countries to eradicate disease. They had me at “Partners in Health” and I walked away with a pin hand beaded by Veronic.

The LBJ Presidential Library conjured up all kinds of 60s nostalgia. Poor Lyndon’s legacy of civil rights and education took an unfortunate back seat to the mess of Vietnam. It was good to be reminded of the positive things that happened in that era. The main weird thing about the Library is a robotic LBJ, dressed like a rancher, spouting cowboy wisdom and humor from behind a makeshift fence. They say Johnson kept every piece of correspondence while he was President and that it’s all in the eight or so floors of archives in the Library. I wonder if one of those boxes holds the crayoned Christmas card I sent the Johnsons back in the middle sixties…

After the Library, we headed out to Lake Travis. There’s an area there called Hippie Hollow and we wanted to check it out. As we pulled into the parking area a park ranger assessed the three of us in our rental car and said, “This isn’t what you want. This is a nudist park.” Well, we’d heard it was a nude beach, and we wanted to see for ourselves! Besides, how could he tell we weren’t nudists?

The original thrust of the Keep Austin Weird campaign is to support local businesses. And we did. No Applebee’s or Gap or Best Buy on this trip. There are lots of great vintage stores and we popped into several along The Drag. Sonny’s is great if you’re looking for reefer themed T-shirts… (we weren’t). “Sonny” was burning incense, which brought back olfactory memories of the Lake Forest record shop (Chambers) that I frequented in high school. At Cream, there was a Willie Nelson concert Tee from the eighties going for 64 dollars! DD found T-shirts there and at Blue Velvet, where she also nabbed an eighties rainbow belt and I got a Mexican peasant dress. DD and Dad also enjoyed Antone’s Records, where they chatted with local musician Eve Monsees while they browsed vintage LPs. All these neat shops sprinkled along the drag with their artsy, painted signs and whimsical windows… and smack in the middle is a huge Church of Scientology building. That’s weird in any setting.

Saturday, we rented bikes and trekked all around the lake. The folks at the Bicycle Sport Shop were incredibly helpful—just two blocks from the lake, it’s another local merchant to support if you’re committed to keeping Austin weird. There were, conservatively, about a million people out in the parks that day—the day before Easter. Families, couples, dogs… walkers, runners, bikers… swimmers, waders, boaters… The UT women’s crew was hosting its Invitational Regata.
Lot’s of good food in Austin. Kerbey Lane is the ideal spot for breakfast junkies. There are several locations and they’re open 24/7. Definitely a step up from a true greasy spoon, but without sacrificing character or short order specialties. When in Austin, try the migas, a savory scramble of eggs, peppers, onions, cheese and tortilla chips, served with salsa or queso. The previously mentioned Broken Spoke (see Part 1) is famous for its chicken fried steak… there are terrific shrimp tacos at The Oasis on Lake Travis, which is definitely worth going to just for the view, not to mention the margaritas. Now, being from Kansas City, which stakes its claim as somewhat of a BBQ mecca, I’m going out on a limb here… but the baby back ribs at Ruby’s were among the best ever!

When in Rome… or elsewhere, it’s fun to try the local brew. In KC, that has to be Boulevard. Preferably Wheat. In Boston, it’s Sam Adams. In Colorado, Fat Tire, etc. In Texas, you’re considered a turncoat if you don’t drink Lone Star. And I did until I went to Ruby’s and they were out. They recommended the Shiner Bock, brewed up the road in Shiner, Texas. Well, call me a traitor. The Shiner Bock gets my vote for best Texas beer. I suspect I’m not alone. Even if I am, I’m just doing my part to keep Austin weird.


  1. "Saturday, we rented bikes and trekked all around Lake Austin. The folks at the Bicycle Sport Shop were incredibly helpful—just two blocks from the Lake,..."

    The lake that you're referring to is Lady Bird Lake, until recently known as Town Lake. That is the lake with predominently public shores. On the other hand, upstream Lake Austin is almost completely inaccessible to the public.

  2. Anonymous6:38 AM

    OMG!!!!!!!!!!! I stand corrected.


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