In an email last week (which I still haven’t replied to – bear with me Roger) I was asked “...you are making quite a big detour to visit Texas. Apart from oil and cows what is there?”. In the planning stage I didn’t see it as a detour, although at that point I didn’t know where I’d be going next – other than I’d eventually end up at Boston. As I type this, I don’t have an answer to Roger’s question. I just know I’d heard enough about Austin to think it would be somewhere worth visiting. And here I am.
So far it’s too early to tell if the ‘detour’ was worth it. Anyway, here’s the story of my day…
Last night, not long after I’d typed “...the storms – all seemingly well away from Downtown Denver” … the storm hit. I didn’t venture out, but the sound of the hail was pretty loud and the lightening was of a similar frequency to a disco strobe. Quite the violent weather event.
In the morning it was hot, sunny and, of course, bone dry.
I was up before the alarm and packed, breakfasted & checked out in good time for the arrival of the van – a mere five minutes after it they said it would arrive. Five passengers were on board already and there was one further pick-up, but were soon on the road to the Airport; 55 minutes hotel-to-terminal which isn’t bad. It would be very good if in a rush, but with 2hrs 45 min to flight time I wasn’t in any hurry.
I checked in and went airside, with a double security screening thanks to a typically inflexible approach by a TSA agent (the tray containing my shoes hadn’t been pushed through the x-ray so they were one side of the screener and I was the other – so I had to go back and through again with my stuff). The trek to the “B” Gates used by United at DEN involves a (free) train ride, and on finally getting there, I set up camp in Caribou Coffee. The time passed quickly enough and I set off on the further long walk to Gate B90. There, a mass of humanity awaited various flights to destinations all around these United States.
Boarding commenced for my flight, though got held up for five minutes while the single gate agent dealt with a ticketing issue. I got on board soon enough to find myself in 17C, the very back row, right hand side aisle, of the fully occupied Bombardier CRJ700. For whatever reason, there was no cabin cooling while on the ground, so it was a real sweat box. As a token gesture, the cabin window shades were kept down while the aircraft was on the ground, but that made little difference. Once off the ground, within ten minutes of an on time push-back, the situation improved a little.
A boring and uneventful flight is of course a good thing, and we were on the ground at Austin 100 minutes later, and at the gate in only a further five minutes. Quite impressive. The brief period on the air bridge, between cabin and air-conditioned terminal, gave a hint of what was ahead. Once I’d battled my way through another very busy terminal to the baggage carousel, I retrieved my checked bag (for which I’d had to spring $25 as apparently my ticket didn’t include a baggage allowance) which was last off, not that many bags seemed to have been checked onto the flight.
Then, the bargain of the trip: I’d spent part of my time waiting at Denver researching transport options at Austin. Imagine my delight when I discovered there was a Capital Metro city bus service to Downtown (with a stop right outside the hotel), and that it was a 30 minute frequency, and — get this — the fare was $1 (“exact change only, please”). One. Dollar. Fantastic.
I only had a ten minute wait for the bus, and whilst it was in the shade with a a bit of a breeze, it was still 106 degrees. The bus, almost as a matter of basic human rights, was air conditioned, and as I mentioned, the walk from the stop when I alighted was brief. I was still dripping when I checked in, however. The room is another fabulous suite – the Residence Inn and the Courtyard are kind of twin hotels on the same plot… semi-detached if you like.
I dropped my bags and spent a few minutes getting myself sorted in the room, before venturing back outside to explore Downtown Austin. Now, before I go any further, I want to address the hot water I landed myself in about Denver, as the same applies here… I’m sure if I tag this post ‘Austin’, one or more local bloggers will pick up on it — which is how blogs and tags are supposed to work, of course. As with Denver, and for that matter every town & city I have talked about, I simply describe things as I see them — through uninformed, but always unbiased, eyes. It is my unique perspective and never scientific or representative. Caveat Emptor. The last thing I ever want to do, however, is insult anyone’s home town. To use a local expression… “I’m jus’ sayin’…”.
I spent about an hour of the late afternoon (I’d lost an hour in the time zone change, by the way) exploring a few blocks around the hotel. The first thing I came across was the Downtown Metro Train station — little more than a tram stop, actually on 4th St. I was quite surprised, therefore, when I saw a full blown “heavy rail” diesel train arrive in the street.
Left two blocks and I was on “Sixth”. This is obviously the nightlife centre of the city (but from what I saw, by no means the only one). On a hot Saturday late afternoon, the place wasn’t exactly buzzing, but I bet it will be later. The bars seem to come in all ranges of “weirdness”. I haven’t seen the source of the phrase yet, but I gather the tagline “Keep Austin Weird” is a popular mantra around here (and later adopted by Portland, of course). I looked at the menus of several places (I hadn’t had lunch) and I know this is where I’m going to hack-off any locals who read this, but as someone whose stomach would literally explode if it encountered a jalapeño, I thought there’s a good chance I’ll starve here. I hope Texans (and in fact most residents of the Southern States) will at least agree that many of their day-to-day food dishes are an acquired taste?
I had a good walk, but after an hour I couldn’t stand it any more and scurried back to the sanctuary of my air-conditioned room, literally peeling off my clothes (if that isn’t in the category of Too Much Information?) and diving into the shower. Bliss! I lingered in the room for a while (watching the Red Sox lose to the Blue Jays – D’oh!).
After an hour or so, I decided to venture back out to see if it had cooled down any. It hadn’t – it was by then 108 degrees (that’s 42 degrees in Celsius!). It has never been anything like that hot anywhere in the UK.
I stuck to my guns though [Oops, bad choice of phrase – this is Texas]. I stuck with my plan though. I’d done what I should have done before and carried out some research. Of the options, the one I decided to aim for was The Jackalope on 6th St. It had (only a) little to do with the scantily ladies portrayed on their web site, and a lot to do with the list of local craft beers – and the fact that it was happy hour so they would be a mere $1.75/pt. Even allowing for smaller US pints and tax, that still works out at about £1.30/imp. pt. The deciding factor was the mega-burger on the menu for a mere $11. That’s a lot of beef and beer for not much money. Which is why I gave the (not all that) scantily clad lady who served me a good tip. It was an experience, but paled compared with the previous night in Denver. I won’t need to eat for a week though.
It was still daylight and still very hot when I emerged from The Jackalope. None of the nearby watering holes appealed so even though it was still very early on a Saturday night, I decided to return to the room and investigate the television. As I type Cincinnati and Texas are tied at four in the top of the eighth on Fox Sunday Night Baseball.