Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Day in Austin. There's Nothing About Books Here, but I Should Note I was Reading Amy Tan the Whole Trip. Sometimes While I Was Walking...

Sometimes the only way to dig your way out of a blog hole is with a tiny shovel. And that's why I'm going back and finishing the posts that weren't done in my recent slew of 12 hours days and crazy events. My fallow period started with my trip to Austin. I'm not good at using electronics on flights, though we did get an email newsletter out during that period. I really, really like to read, and actually finished two books over the trip, which was much needed. And of course when you go to a conference, you're there to pick up ideas that you wouldn't get if you wouldn't attend. That means paying attention and not writing. So here we are, a bit of a mess.

No, this is not a book blog, though I can tell you that my soundtrack for the whole visit was Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement. She's coming to Alverno's Pitman Theater on Monday, November 11, 7 pm. Buy tickets here.

Now you might say that I had a free day and why didn't I just sit in my hotel room or at a coffee shop and write, write, write? I'd never been to Austin and had no idea when I'd visit again. I just don't expect to speak at an SXSW conference, whether it's for music, film, or technology. They are all outside my wheelhouse, alas. So I got up that Sunday and walked around. Here are some things I saw of interest.

1. I collect capital cities, but when I started sorting it out, I've still been to less than half of them, and there were three where I visited the town and forgot to locate the building. I last did that in Des Moines, but admittedly, we were just passing through and decided to take the bypass. We did at least visit Beaverdale Books.

2. Due to a convention of funeral directors (not a joke), our hotel was a bit off the beaten path, but it was a short walk to Manor (pronounce with a long A) Road in East Austin, where there were a number of interesting places to eat. I wound up trying Hoover's, a soul food place, and as I do with this kind of joint, I went with an assortment of sides--fried okra, yams, green beans, and potatoes.

3. For my free day, I decided to walk to South Austin, as there seemed to be a lot happening on Congress. I headed down Martin Luther King Drive, which gave me a good tour of the government area, the State Capitol (of course), and some of the old and new downtown. Austin's one of those cities that grew tremendously; the old infrastructure doesn't look that much different from how I remember Lafayette, Indiana back when my sister taught at Purdue. But the new construction makes it look more like Denver. Sometimes the new and old mash together--it's an interesting mix.

4. Everywhere I went,  I saw interesting public art. I am not a fan of the bronze sculptures of pioneer children I saw outside the State Capitol, but I dug this flower street lamp in South Austin and a buttered bread mural made me smile in East Austin. In one neighborhood, they took a cement wall and covered it with a mosaic of found glass. Art is good!

5. I wound up wandering through the food courts in the South Austin neighborhood. It wasn't quite like Milwaukee, where most of the food trucks move around to find customers, but more like Portland, where parking lots all over the city rented space to food trucks, which then became the destination. In Portland, however, it was more concentrated, whereas Austin's scene was more sprawly. I guess that's just Texas. Everything that was open had a long line, and that can be said for just about every eating venue I passed. If it was open and it had customers, it had a long wait. One of my friends said that some food trucks are purposely slow to make the line look longer. I withhold judgment on that one.

6. I almost had a donut at Gordough's. I was intrigued by the concept, but then decided the donuts might be too overwhelming, and I wasn't sure I liked the concept. I love donuts, but it seemed like this was one conceptual donut to which you added frippery. I am more of a Top Pot (Seattle) fan than Voodoo (Portland). I want the concept to start in the dough not just in the crazy stuff you put on top. I must say, though, I like the infusion concept that Donut Plant (New York) pushes. Yes, I think about this a lot.

7. The problem was that I was already full. I had just had two empanadas at the Fair Bean on 1st Avenue. I cut over to First as that seemed to be the street with all the coffee shops. At that point, I just needed the wifi to process our bestseller lists. But an empanada had just won the Top Chef challenge that week and I couldn't resist. I guess South First can be called Austin's coffee district; here's Yelp's list of the top zillion places to get coffee in Austin. I feel like the one with the longest line was Dominican Joe's. There were a lot of long lines--did I already mention that?

8. After meetings the next day, the suggestion was made to go to the river and see the bats. I guess 750,000 bats live under the Congress Avenue bridge, with more in summer. That evening, the bridge was several rows deep in tourists. Had I known this, I would have led gawkers through our college radio station, which also had bats. Alas, the photo didn't come out well, and it started pouring just before the witching hour when the bats come out, but you get the idea. Though this post was originally for October 23, it didn't get posted until Halloween. It all comes together, right?

9. I'm not going to tell you how great the hotel food was, because it wasn't, but we did have a very nice dinner at Swift's Attic, just a few blocks from our bat viewing. I thought it was great, though I think if you do a chef's choice menu, my advice is to be slightly more specific about how many dishes you want! Because we had vegetarians and pescatarians among us, the menu choices drifted to the veg and fish, but I'm sure the meat dishes were also good. I wish I'd been writing everything down, but I do particularly remember liking the albacore tataki.

10. I didn't visit a single music venue. I get tired at night! I walked down Sixth Street during the day. There was a lot of buzz about the female bicyclist riding topless.

11. It looks like I'll have to save my visit to Bookpeople for another blog post. But I will thank Bookpeople for being great hosts, and especially to Elizabeth, who led us to a great lunch spot, Salt and Time, back in East Austin. This butcher/salumeria made up for the lack of meat at our Swift's Attic dinner. I think salumeria translates as "salami store" but I wound up having a pulled pork sandwich. It was very exciting to see Sprecher root beer in the cooler.

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