Day 1: Approaching Colorlessness Austin started grayly. As in it was gray/grey. And I was too. Sort of off. I'd heard how beloved the city is, how much everyone there loves it, how New Yorkers, if they were to move anywhere would move to Austin, Austin has SXSW, Austin is a liberal bastion in the midst of Big Red Tejas, Austin is maneuverable and has good weather and people are both cool and nice. I arrived in the morning, rainy and hot, my clothes were too heavy, I sweatily explored on foot.
This was the view from my window. I called my friend Annie, who was briefly a grad student at the University of Texas, and she directed me to South Congress Street and Barton Springs and all her other favorite sites in Austin. I wandered for hours. I considered taking photos but felt sort of bereft, sort of Here I Am in Austin, What Now, What Now. I was dying to have a blast, this was the city where people have blasts, but having a blast alone in a city without transportation and feeling slightly agitated, it wasn't happening. I wanted to be of use, I had no immediate obligations and that encroaching you should be writing, you should be having more fun guilt. This sticker was on a telephone pole:
Electrifying. Or something. An outlet. I needed one. I wandered in boutiques, it rained hot Texan rain. I bought colored pencils made out of branches. This is not something I would ever think to buy except when wandering aimlessly in Texas. I looked for someplace authentically Tex-Mex to eat dinner, or drink margaritas, or hear live music. There is the strange beverage they like you to try in Austin called a Mexican Martini. It tasted like a margarita, it came in a very large glass that I was meant to pour into a martini glass that contained olives and that seemed gross. Unlike in Phoenix, my attempt to have a cocktail by myself didn't seem especially hilarious, it seemed a wee bit depressing. Here is my Mexican Martini. I'm slightly depressed to even be posting this. It's a sad photo.
I'd like it to be noted that I have not been drinking wildly/depressingly, or really at all, on this tour. I have this secret dream of being an easy fixture at a hotel bar, but it's so far not proven to be in my nature. I wonder if other authors drink on "The Road." I like the idea of it, but in practice, drinking alone in strange cities seems best confined to country songs. I love a few country songs. I don't want to populate one. Is there a country song about a writer in Texas who sips a Mexican Martini at an outdoor bar where the women are wearing a lot of makeup and tee shirts with triple-strands of pearls and she colors in her notebook with little branch pencils then goes back to the hotel? I think we can all agree there should be.
Day Two: Things Get Better
Okay, still a little weirded out, I went to lunch at the hotel restaurant. I tried to capture the melancholy of this hacienda-in-a-Hyatt restaurant, but I'm not sure the photo truly does it justice.
The hostess was very excited that I was taking photos and insisted I get a picture of the longhorn mounted on the wall inside. That's an antler chandelier. She said if she ever leaves her job, she'll swing from that chandelier first. I told her she should do it before then. She was my first taste of Super-Friendly Texas. Oh wait, that's not true. Annissa, who owns Prima Dora, the shop where I got the pencils yesterday, was super-duper nice and pointed out all her favorite spots on the Austin Fun Map. Prima Dora sells cute gifty stuff, pencils made from branches, and tempur-pedic beds. I have no idea.
I got a text message from Grant that said only "Is everything bigger?" and I didn't understand what he was talking about. I may be the only person on earth who has not heard the expression "Everything Is Bigger in Texas" but after texting back "Why would it be bigger?" my lunch order arrived -- fajitas, at the passionate recommendation of my very kind waiter who insisted the Hyatt has the best fajitas in town and so I thought hey why not, let's have some fajitas, let's have Austin's best fajitas. One order of fajitas could have fed a small town. Or perhaps a large town. There were enough fajitas for about sixty people. I think there were about 30 tortillas in the little stone tortilla dish. I retexted Grant: "Yes, hell yes."
My media escort, Kristen, was beyond fun, and took me all over Austin to sign books, and we even stopped at a Sonic drive-up restaurant so I could have a Diet Cherry Limeade, which was very sweet but also very good. We met many chatty fun booksellers and I experimented with arrogance, which I'm not great at, but Kristen supported my responding braggily and over-confidently to questions about my book and seemed to think it was a good experiment. She even forgave me for not knowing what a 4-Runner is. (I know, it's a Toyota SUV, it came to me dimly after some research in my brain's TV commercial archive.)
That night, I found heaven at Book People, the very coolest bookstore I have ever been to, and, as is becoming clear, I 've been to a lot of bookstores. It's massive, it's full of gorgeously curated books and cool accessories and handpainted signs and smart displays (e.g. Birds for Spring) and nearly every book seems to have a handwritten bookseller's recommendation card. I wanted everything, book and non-book, in there. I'm salivating as I type this.
I talked with a very cool group of women about friendship and dating and feminism. They all expressed absolute disbelief that I did not have a garbage disposal. A very savvy bunch, they couldn't understand how I lived without one. I keep having these ah-ha moments about New York, how cramped and frill-free living can be in a supposedly elegant city. I was glad to be able to shock the audience by informing them that a garbage disposal was not even near the top of my list of things I'd like in my apartment. I don't have a bathroom sink; I can't even imagine what I'd do with a garbage disposal.
I asked the guy working at Book People for a book recommendation, as I have been doing in every independent bookstore I visit, and he recommended Love Is A Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield. I'd seen this book, and hazily remember Rob Sheffield being a grad student when I was an undergrad at UVA. I've been reading it in Charlottesville, which is semi-perfect as he talks a lot about different C'ville spots and I can kind of map his journey around town. They kindly gave me 20% off at Book People, so I also got The Complete Essays of Mark Twain as well as Twain's The Diaries of Adam & Eve. I'm trying to reclaim my Twain associations from multiple grade-school trudges through Huck Finn. It's going okay.
I got up the next day at 3:45 to switch my flight to Virginia, as Peter O. was reading in the Book Festival that evening and I wasn't meant to get in until 9:30pm. I got on a 6:45am flight out of town, feeling ambivalent but slightly in love with Austin.