Sunday, March 25, 2012


One of the nice things about my job is its fairly stable schedule. I'm definitely a creature of habit and appreciate the normality of it all. But every so often, it's nice to shake things up. This week, I flew to Texas for a quick business trip. Unlike most of my trips, this wasn't to attend a conference, but to meet with some of my company's consultants for some work stuff that I'm not going to go into here.

But the meeting was in Austin, a city I hadn't visited in almost exactly 12 years, when I went to South By Southwest 2000 as part of the Webnoize crew. We had a booth there and while I was working a lot of the time during the day, we definitely made the most of the trip and saw a bunch of bands and ate much BBQ. Prior to that, I had been to Austin a few times to visit my brother when he was attending law school in town at UT.

This time around, I was on my own and didn't have a car, which limited what I could do, but I still had fun. Fortunately, my hotel was two blocks from 6th Street, where much of the clubs and bars are located, so I was able to walk over quickly. None of the great BBQ joints are located in that area; indeed, the County Line, where we consumed legendary quantities of ribs and other items in 2000, is located well out of the city center. I arrived in Austin Tuesday evening and after settling in at my hotel, I ventured out to 6th to get some dinner and ended up at the Iron Cactus, a Mexican restaurant and bar. I had some tacos at the bar and a couple of Shiner Bocks before wandering the street a little bit.

One of the great things about Austin is the music scene, which is non-stop. There are tons of clubs with bands playing rock, blues, country, whatever. Of course, SXSW was the week before, so there weren't a lot of name acts in town. I checked out a blues band for a little while Tuesday night before deciding to head back to the hotel.

On Wednesday, I had a little leeway with my day because I was supposed to meet with someone in the morning and had nothing else on my agenda. My meeting was done by 11 and I headed over to the Casino El Camino, a cool little dive bar on 6th, to grab some lunch. The decor was pretty great, as was the jukebox, which was chock full of punk and Latin lounge music. I heard some Minor Threat, Stooges and other cool stuff while hanging out there. The bartender was a heavily tattooed guy from Vancouver (come to think of it, EVERYBODY was heavily tattooed in Austin. I felt out of place for being such a normie) who said he was probably going to move soon because the place was getting too crowded. He had moved to Seattle in the early '90s but said that heroin and the grunge explosion made it too much to take. The bar was playing an old Star Trek episode, the one where Bones, Spock and Kirk go back to the '30s and meet up with a young (and ridiculously gorgeous) Joan Collins. Oh, and the burger was both HUGE (3/4 pounder) and delicious. I was totally stuffed for hours.

I headed back to the hotel and did some work for a few hours and then started thinking about what I'd do that night. My old friend Joanne had recommended the Alamo Drafthouse as a good place to catch a movie, drink beer and eat a meal, so I checked the listings and saw that the downtown location was showing Harold and Maude at 7 and a trashy '70s classic called Bonnie's Kids at 10. I headed over and caught Harold and Maude, which I'd never seen all the way through but knew was considered a classic; sure enough, it was terrific. The theater has two screens; on the other was Mike Birbiglia's Sleepwalk With Me, which I actually may have gone to had I known it was showing at the same time. Once I sat down in the mostly empty theater (it filled up a little bit), a server came over and explained the deal: There was a menu from which you could order beer, snacks and full meals. During the movie, you're not supposed to talk, but you can order stuff by writing your order down on a piece of paper and sticking it in a little stand that the server will spot as he or she walks by. I wasn't that hungry so I just had a Lagunitas IPA.

The movie was over by 8:45 and I figured I'd go grab a beer at a nearby establishment called Lovejoys that Rock Piantigini recommended and then come back in an hour or so for Bonnie's Kids. Lovejoys was a dingy little dive bar (even divier than Casino El Camino), but it had a cool vibe and the Rangers-Red Wings game was on the TV, so I just watched the end of that and drank an IPA. I decided to have another and was wrapping it up, fully prepared to leave when a guy walked up to the small stage area and announced that it was trivia night. Suddenly I started helping this group of people next to me who were competing as a team. My knack for useless knowledge came in handy and I helped them to finish in second for the night, and had a couple more beers in the process. Of course, by this point I abandoned any plans to go back to the Alamo. After midnight, I headed back to the hotel since I had to get up fairly early since I was going to be listening to presentations all day Thursday.

Indeed, that's what I did, slightly fuzzy at first but just bummed that I was stuck inside on the nicest day of the trip (sunny, 80s). There was a group of folks there and they were all going to a nice Mexican restaurant that evening, but I had one thing on my mind: BBQ. I couldn't visit Austin without getting BBQ at least once. I had heard about a place called Franklin's that I was considering cabbing it to, but one of the guys I played trivia with the previous night had recommended a new place called Live Oak on the Eastside. It was too far to walk, so I decided to take a cab over. The place was so new that even my cabbie was unfamiliar with the name, although he knew the place once I described it. He even decided to go in and get some takeout. Turns out it's located right in the middle of a neighborhood. I walk in and the place is totally empty except for the dude working there; they close at 8 and all they had left was brisket and sausage, so that's what I ordered. When he asked if it was for there or to go, I was going to say yes, but then I realized that I'd have to hail another cab anyway; since my cabbie was still there, I decided to get the food to go and just have him bring me back to the hotel. It wasn't my ideal BBQ experience, but I was by myself and that seemed to make the most sense. I got a quarter pound of each and some potato salad and a glass bottle Coke, all of which cost under $10. So I head back and the food was damn delicious; my only regret was I didn't order more.

After eating, I watched Rock 'N Roll High School on Netflix streaming via my laptop, and then went to the Alamo for its "Skinemax" showing of Night Eyes, an uber-cheesy erotic thriller from 1990 starring Andrew Stevens (son of Stella and ex-hubby of Kate Jackson) and Tanya Roberts (of Charlie's Angels fame). There were six other people in the theater, and surprisingly four of them were women. The theater host (at both films I saw at the Alamo, a staffer came out to introduce the movie) noted that the film was being shown on VHS and as such looked pretty crappy, but that was part of its charm. He also told us to watch for Roberts' cringe-inducing moment when she tells Stevens to "rape me" right before they have consensual sex, and he recommended we drink whenever there was scene featuring tearaway panties. And then there was the cheesy sax solo that would play whenever a sex scene was about to happen. Hilarious. In addition, the movie had an Indian connection: It was directed by Jag Mundhra, who apparently had directly similarly cheesy flicks in the late '80s and early '90s, and was produced by Ashok Amritraj, the former pro tennis player who went on to become a big-time Hollywood producer (this movie was obviously well before he worked on "big time" movies).

I walked out after the movie onto 6th Street and the place was packed with people, a la Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Guess they close down the streets to traffic and let folks walk on 6th Street after hours on the weekends. Looked like a good time, but I had to get up at 5 and head to the airport to catch a 7:40 a.m. flight back home. Actually it was quick flight to Dallas, and then connecting to a jam-packed flight to Boston. Felt like a sardine on that one, but at least I got to see The Muppets, which was pretty cool.

Although I didn't have enough BBQ, I certainly packed a lot into three nights in Austin. Next time, I'm definitely getting ribs.

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