July 1, 2016: The Lone Star State
My friend David moved to Austin a few months ago. He has visited me a few times in LA, so it was my turn to return the favor. The flight was a mere 2 ½ hours. Immediately walking out of the jetbridge, I was greeted with a giant orange neon longhorn. Welcome to Texas.
David picked me up from the airport. Despite it being midnight, it was still hotter than the high in LA. Since it was Friday, we went out to the bars with David and his two friends. The first bar was called Garage Bar and it was underneath a ramp in a parking garage. The drinks were really good and relatively cheap! It was only $8 for a cocktail- I had an Old Fashioned.
From there, we went to another bar on West 6th Street. This one was a weird combination of arcade, cowboy bar, and steampunk bar. The vibe was definitely off. I didn’t get a drink here, but did enjoy playing the giant Connect 4 outside (giant things is a recurring theme of the weekend). We closed out the bar and went home around 2am. Before going to bed, we decided to rally tomorrow for Franklin BBQ, Austin’s most famous BBQ joint and considered the best bbq restaurant in America according to many sources.
July 2, 2016: The Long Wait for BBQ
Somehow we woke up at 6:15 AM and after quickly getting ready, drove to Franklin BBQ in East Austin. There, we saw a line of at least 50 people sitting in lawn chairs. We got in line and waited in our lawn chairs. We waited.
And we waited.
Finally at 11AM, we were told that the restaurant was opening. Everyone put their lawn chairs in their cars or away and moved towards the door. After another hour and a half of standing in line, we got up to the counter to order at around 12:30. All the meats were listed by the pound. I ordered a half-pound of brisket, 4 ribs, and a t-shirt. The total cost was about $60… Then we sat down and indulged.
The hype was real, the food was incredible. The meats, unflavored by sauces, were unbelievably smoky and had the perfect soft texture. Am I glad I went? 100%. Would I wait 6 hours again for BBQ? Probably not.
As a lover of visiting state capitol buildings, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the Texas State Capitol in the middle of downtown Austin. Unlike most state capitols which are only open 40 hours/week during normal business hours, the Texas capitol is open 7 days a week and closes very late- 10 or 11pm. It is also a huge tourist destination and was packed with people.
We waited close to 10 minutes to go through the metal detector to get into the building. There, we saw the start of a guided tour of the building. She mentioned that the Texas capitol is slightly taller than the US Capitol in DC- a statement about Texas’ pride and its independence.
We did not have time to stay around for the rest of the tour, so we quickly walked through the buildings. On every floor, there were swarms of tourists and people taking pictures for special occasions including weddings and quinceañeras. It is very cool how Austin is proud of its capitol building (much like Madison, Wisconsin). I would encourage other states to follow Texas’ lead and incorporate the capitols more into the cities by keeping them open for longer and holding more events.
At this point in the day, it was getting hot and David wanted to do what many Texans do in the summer, hang out in the pool at their apartment building. We went to a luxury apartment building in the middle of downtown Austin and went up to the 4th floor. There, we saw a bunch of people hanging out by a pool that’s too narrow and shallow to do anything except stand. Most of the people in the pool were wearing hats and sunglasses clearly trying to flirt and look cool. Everyone was drinking beer. Not knowing anybody except David, I floated around essentially eavesdropping on various hilarious conversations. A few notable lines:
“Y’all I just read this book [The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemmingway] about a guy who can’t fuck. It’s like Forest Gump, but worse.”
“That guy over there has a huge dick. It’s like a tripod, y’all. I don’t know from experience because he’s my friend, but I’ve heard from multiple sources”
“I wanted to move to a city where there are things to do.
Where do you live now?
One interesting thing I noticed about the pool was that everyone was white, in their 20’s-30’s and from places in Texas that were not Austin. A lot of people were from Houston and Dallas, but there were people from other Texas cities too. Austin is known for having a unique vibe in the state, and I was definitely not getting that here. I’m not really a fan of these apartment pools because you can’t actually swim. It’s just basically a place to flirt with your neighbors in swimsuits. I clearly do not fit in at all with this culture.
We hung out at the pool for about 2 hours before deciding to go for a hike. David picked an area called the Barton Creek Green Belt, a 12-mile-long river-canyon park going through the southern part of the city. The park was largely in its natural state, save for a few hiking trails and signs. Austin is incredibly dog-friendly, so we brought along his dog Nellie. After parking on the side of the road next to about a hundred other cars (secret’s out), we found the trail and hiked down about a half-mile to the creek. There, we discovered that all the people (and dozens of dogs) were swimming in the creek. There were small waterfalls and a small cliff jump. The water was bathtub warm. It was glorious.
Demographics-wise, this was a stark contrast to the fancy pool. Most people were Hispanic, although it was a diverse crowd. There were families, groups of young people, and lot and lots of dogs. One lady brought 4 dogs with her including a miniature schnauzer named Oliver. The dogs even did the cliff jump. Due to the unusual trailhead, I am willing to bet most people here are locals. I felt that this place was 10,000 times better than the pool. The one big negative about the creek is that it is seasonal- there needs to be the right amount of rain for the creek to flow. The past few years, there’s been a drought.
Continuing along the trail, we hiked for another 3 miles through the woods to another waterfall. Along the way, we ran into one of David’s coworkers and her teacher friend who has lived in Austin for well over a decade. The teacher friend was very tapped into the local scene and had a very different set of “things to do in Austin” from everyone else I had asked so far. Rather than the main touristy things, she suggested BYOB mini-golf, an old bowling alley, and dive bars as a way to understand the old-school Austin culture. She lamented how Austin was becoming such a popular destination for people from other parts of Texas and out of state. This has caused the prices of things to skyrocket in Austin. People from California have been willing to pay above market-price for things because the prices in Austin are so much cheaper than California. She said that the authentic Austin culture has not disappeared, but is now not mainstream as it once was.
That night we went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant on South Congress before heading to bed early.
Austin is an unbelievably cool town surrounded by a lot of cool places. I will definitely be back soon.