US Road Trip Travelog: 12th March 2005

Saturday morning and the thrill that is laundry time. I like using the Drury Hotels as they always have decent laundry facilities, but there's only one washer and one drier for the whole place so I set the alarm for an early start to make sure I get there first. The laundry room is next door to the gym area, and I think I may have found the answer to my question of where most Americans do their walking - on machines whilst watching TV. Not my thing, but it's better than doing nothing I guess.

Texas pickup
Everything is bigger in Texas, including the pickup trucks.

When I checked-in yesterday I was told that I couldn't walk to downtown. Well, that sounds like a challenge so after 4 hours stuck in the laundry room I set off out.

I-35 in Austin
Part of the I-35 in Austin. What you can't see in this photo is that there's actually another road running underneath this lot as well.

The Interstate that runs through Austin, the I-35, was obviously designed by someone who'd forgotten to take his medication that day. It was horrible to drive up yesterday, with the road splitting, running parallel, and rejoining all without any apparent rhyme or reason. Because it's so badly designed, there are cars accelerating hard to move over lanes then stamping on the brakes to make a sharp turn. The obvious result of this is a lot of accidents, which only makes the whole sorry mess even worse.

My motel is on the wrong side of the Interstate for downtown, and there doesn't seem to be any way for a pedestrian to get from one side to the other. There is a sidewalk down the side of the slip roads but it's not a fun place to be, with the traffic hurtling past next to you and making sudden turns across at speed with little or no warning. Maybe the guy working in the lobby of the motel was right when he said it couldn't be walked.

Eventually I find a road with a sidewalk to get me to the other side and, away from the Interstate, the whole walk suddenly changes. These are nice leafy suburbs a few miles from downtown and, on a beautiful sunny day, it's a real pleasure to be out. Then I start seeing something unprecedented. I'd noticed a few cyclists and joggers but am shocked to see other people out walking. I almost want to take a photo of them whenever I see some. Austin has a reputation for weirdness, and this just proves it.

Older houses in Austin
Downtown Austin isn't just skyscrapers. These lovely houses, though I think now they may be offices, are quite close to the centre.

The other odd thing I've noticed about Austin is that there are a lot more older cars around. I've been surprised so far driving around the US how few 60's cars (and none from the 70's) that I've seen - only a handful in Florida come to mind. In Austin, however, there are plenty. Not all are immaculate and restored, either, though I do see a lovely 50's Cadillac convertible, a mean black 70's Boss Mustang and even a 70's Cadillac Eldorado convertible in use a taxi. Great weather, nice houses, a thriving music scene and a car culture - I can see why Austin is regarded as a desirable place to live.

6th Street in Austin
6th Street in Austin.

It was a long walk but a - mostly - enjoyable one. After a few beers downtown, and an interesting chat with a bar owner about why he decided to move to Austin (basically, because of its friendliness), I catch a cab back to my motel to rest my legs and get something to eat.

Later that evening I get another cab downtown. Through my Riviera OA contact Jim I've been in contact with another Riviera owner, Geno, who's a musician and lives in Austin. Geno recommends the Continental Club for live music that night, a mile or so south of 6th Street on the other side of the river. Though we don't manage to meet up, he's absolutely right about it being a great venue.

As I arrive, around 11 p.m., Patricia Vonne is getting towards the end of her set. Shame, because it sounds really good. Some of her band look like they should be enjoying their retirement, but they play up a storm. From her website I've seen that she tours Europe sometimes and I think I'll have to try and catch her again.

Next band up are Barfield, who play their own style of music they call 'Texas funk'. Great sound, tight band (I especially like the the swirling 60's Farfisa-type organ) and they're very funny as well.

Last on the bill is James McMurtry. He's obviously a local hero, judging by the reaction he gets and the fact that plenty of people seem to know the words to his songs. I have to admit that I'm not overly impressed. One of his songs sounds like a straight copy of Dylan's 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue', another steals Churchill's "But tomorrow I shall be sober" quotation for its lyrics and a few others are almost embarrassingly trite. He's also strangely unlikable, but that could just be me - I certainly seem to be in a minority of one in the audience anyway.

Despite the above it's been a great night out, and as I leave in the early hours I think I'm fortunate to find a cab almost immediately. I'm not. Unlike other cabbies in Austin, who've been interesting to talk to and safe but fast, this guy is a incomprehensible lunatic. Not only is he swerving around all over the road at speed, whilst trying to eat a taco at the same time, but he can't read the roadsigns and I end up having to shout them at him from the back as we approach junctions. It's like being caught in some kind of surreal computer game. I'm relieved to get back to the motel without incident and, no, he doesn't get a tip.

US Road Trip Travelog: 13th March 2005 >