Jonathan Field - Maker of Random Stuff

I like Austin

I started the day with some aimless driving around and ended up at the Spiderhouse Cafe where I enjoyed chili and wifi, followed by a brownie and iced latte. Aside from having a great homey atmosphere, they featured an excellent whole-album approach to music selection which went from The Sugarcubes to the hitless Women and Children First by Van Halen, which I love and which happens to be the first respectable rock album I ever got into. Before that I had only listened to Weird Al and Huey Lewis.

I also went to the Texas state capital today. It’s a lovely building much in the style of other captial buildings, except it’s finished in red Texas granite, so it has a neat salmon color.

There was a civil war memorial out front that honored those who died in the fight for “constitutionally guaranteed states rights”. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. Though I understand that the reasons for any war are enormously complex, and the convictions of anyone who gives their life for a cause are as varied as each person, I’m going to say that “states rights” is a poor characterization of the motivation for the American civil war.

I think the most obvious evidence of this is the fact that the confederate constitution prohibited its member states from outlawing slavery. In other news, Japan annexed Korea for its own good. Sigh. Admit your shit. Admit your shit and move on.

I liked the building though, and respect very much the challenge of governance that plays out in the chambers, which were empty during my visit. The place is very open, allowing anyone to walk through just about the whole building with nary a search or metal detector. Just a handful of cowboy hat wearing troopers patrolling the grounds.

As I was looking over the building and noticing its beauty and its similarity with other capitol buildings, the Richard Dawkins idea of extended phenotype occurred to me. I tried to get my head around the possibility that these buildings are on some level in our genes — like a termite mound or a beaver dam, this is the long throw result of our DNA and the environment in which it exists.

Another unrelated thought occured to me while I looked over the chambers: if we cannot accept personally flawed politicians, then we are doomed to get dishonest and/or delusional politicians.

Heading down to South Austin on a whim I watched the city open up a bit and drove until I got to the pawn shop and check cashing district, which still seemed about as nice as such an area can seem. A little further out and it was more like suburbs so I drove back into an artsy section of south congress ave that I has passed.

There I checked out a couple local stores… one inparticular captured my heart. A fairly large place called “Uncommon Objects”. It was a used everything store, and had a seemingly endless collection of charming old junk. Some of it commercial items, like old company signs and home furninshings, some of it artistic creations from the past, and even personal items like people’s personal photographs from long ago. What made it special, in comparison to other similarly themed stores I’ve come across, was the arrangement: whoever laid out the store made the entire place a piece of art. Mainly this was achieved by giving it a labyrinth quality with nooks and pathways, but also by arranging the stuff in groupings that had some common theme. It wasn’t always apparent what the theme was, but certainly the little groupings seemed to me to go together. Maybe color palette, maybe era, or maybe something else I couldn’t put my finger on, but it worked well. Seemed almost like a softspoken museum of American day-to-day life history.

Again the idea of extended phenotype occurred to me, and again I looked around at the product of our collective human genes prodruding into the world as artifcats.

I didn’t want to buy any of it… not sure that any of it on it’s own would be that interesting. But I sort of wanted to just live there in the store, doing all my daily things surrounded by adorable bits of historical junk.

So there’s another item to add to the list of things I have found I enjoy seeing when travelling: old churches, cemetaries, ancient ruins, and now, well organized junk shops.

I headed over to Ironworks BBQ for their famous beef ribs, but got sidetracked as I passed the Congress St. Bridge and saw hundreds of people gathered looking over the edge. Luckily it so happens that Lisa had told me about this: there are some famous bats that live under a bridge in Austin who come out nightly en masse. I hadn’t made a plan to see them, but here I was running right into it.

I parked, went out on to the bridge, and then watched 1.5 million bats swarming around underneath and off down the river. It was pretty cool. They made a neat chittering sound that must not have been the sonar, as that’s supposed to be supersonic, and they flew densley in tight loops very near to the railing where I stood. I was impressed that they weren’t constantly crashing into each other at such high speeds.

As it got dark I headed back to get BBQ… but missed it by just a few minutes. They closed at 9. The fellow there directed me to Green Mesquite BBQ instead. It was very good and cheap. However after this next statement I may be disallowed from returning to Austin: I did not find it to be eye-opening good. In fact I think Kojacks in Florida is slightly better, if also more expensive.

After the food I was tired and full, but I figured I should at least walk Sixth street before I go. So I took a stroll there and listened to a couple bands for a few songs. It was a Monday night, and so I imagine relatively quiet. Still, there was some live music and a handful of people out and about at each bar. It would probably be pretty sweet on the weekends.

Tomorrow I head off to Albuquerque. Twelve hours on the road — longest single stretch of the trip. I should really be asleep already, but I find that I like to write these experiences down quickly, or I start to forget them!

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5 Responses to I like Austin

  1. It was interesting reading about what was written on the Civil War memorial! Texans have balls.

    I wish we’d seen the bats in Austin. Oh wells. Guadeloupe (The Loop) near the campus is nice, but it’s your typical hipster street near a university. You could have gone to the U of T clocktower and reinacted the sniper massacre from the mid 70s. What, too soon?

    • Ha ha. Too bad I missed Rudy’s, but I think I got a feel for the city. I forgot about the clocktower thing. Them Texans do love their guns, I hear.

      • Early lunch? It’s worth it…

        • I’m already in Albuquerque. I suppose I could zip back tomorrow morning though if it’s really that good.

          • Do it. Albuquerque ain’t goin’ nowhere.

            (Man it’s surprisingly hard to type “street”. At first I was like, “Albuquerque ain’t goin’ anywhere,” but then I was like, “No, that looks wrong– because it’s not wrong enough!” How paradoxical.)

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