This is a song called Maria También, by a band named Khruangbin, from Houston. I heard about them a couple of years ago and use them for background grooves when I’m working on projects; I heard this tune in Austin while waiting for coffee and it’s stuck in my head ever since. This is just a monster jam.
I think we all had a great time in Texas, even if it was an unorthodox vacation for us. Normally we go someplace and there’s a mission or an activity to be accomplished; this can be anything as stupid as get to the beach before noon or as complex as be in the lobby by 8 for the bus to St. Peter’s Square. There’s a plan, and we try to follow the plan. For this vacation, we had a destination, we had friends to see, and we had a vague notion of things to do, but most of the enjoyment for me was just coasting from day to day. As such, this review is going to wander all over the place, because I don’t remember exactly what happened when, and that’s kind of a good thing.
The house Jen found for us was absolutely perfect. Set on the east side of the city, we rented a mod little cottage set back from the road in a stand of trees. It was cool, quiet, decorated tastefully, and within walking distance of several restaurants that served great coffee. I made it my job to rise early and bring back breakfast for the three of us to slowly get our days started. We had the luxury of having the house to relax in, and actually spent a fair bit of time there just enjoying the cool quiet by ourselves. It was clear they’d spent time designing it with sunlight in mind; each wall was sprinkled with small windows set high off the ground for maximum privacy. All the surfaces were reclaimed wood, and the floor was poured concrete.
Jen had ideas sketched out for each day. Our first day on the ground, we pulled beach towels and swimsuits out of our suitcases and drove to Deep Eddy, a cold spring-fed community pool that was very quiet for such a hot day. We lucked out and found a parking spot right out front, paid our tickets, and were able to immediately wade into refreshing water with a very slippery bottom. Being spring-fed, it took me a while to get up to my waist, but it was worth it to see Finn wade right in and make some new friends.
We spent Friday hitting some of Austin’s best thrift/vintage stores; they take their thrifting seriously down there. We started at a place called the Leopard Exchange, where I found a vintage Budweiser delivery shirt that fit like a glove. Around that shop were about five others, each with their own vibe. The level of curation at these places is beyond anything I’ve seen in Baltimore—there are a few vintage clothing stores I’ve been to here but nothing like the selection and pricing we found there. I looked long and hard for a good western pearlsnap shirt but came away empty handed—the closest I got was made of heavy polyester and wouldn’t be comfortable for a day’s wear. Finn took us to an alternative store and picked out a corset with Jen’s help; she found a way to relace it and wore it for the next couple of days.
On Friday I posted a picture of a Scout I saw on Congress Street to Instagram and the local IH community said hello; I’ll write more about that elsewhere. We walked the length of the street and found some great artwork, as well as spending time in a store called Lucy In Disguise with Diamonds, which was full to the rafters with interesting costumes for Halloween and from feature films. After stopping at Guero’s Taco Bar for some dinner, we hiked down the hill to the Congress Street Bridge, where a crowd had gathered to watch the bats fly out to hunt at dusk. It was incredible; thousands of bats following in trail down the river and out over the city, enough to show up as a dark blot on the horizon.
When the main swarm had left, we rented scooters and rode them back up the hill to our car, which was one of the better ideas we had all week.
We spent Saturday and Sunday hanging out with Linda and Cam at their house, and they took us to a couple of their favorite restaurants in the area. It was great to catch up with them and relax.
Monday we drove to Barton Springs, another naturally-fed community pool, and spent a good bit of the day swimming in the cool water under the skyline of the city. It was a perfect way to spend the day—just wading in and out of the water, with noplace to get to and nothing else to do. When we started getting hungry, we reluctantly dried off and drove to a restaurant called Chi’lantro, where Jen and I ordered Kimchi Fries, a dish Linda has been talking about for years. We were not disappointed. Then we checked out some more stores featuring local art, hoping we’d find something good. It was hit and miss.
On Tuesday we did some shopping for our neighbors, who helped us with housesitting, and who always bring back interesting things from their travels. We hit a store called Uncommon Objects, which featured an incredible collection of curated antiques and oddities, including some artwork we loved but couldn’t afford.
We don’t have an Alamo Drafthouse by us, so we thought we’d take in Thor: Love and Thunder on our last night in town. We had a lot of fun, and Finn loved the movie. I think the thing I remember most about that experience was a music video they played before the show which was equally disturbing and hilarious.
Wednesday morning we hustled back to the airport, turned in our little Buick (review: nice little car, but abysmal visibility past the B-pillar) and sailed through security in record time. The flight was uneventful, and we got back to our house by 4PM. All of the pets were happy to greet us except for Bella, who remained asleep on my pillow, and we collapsed into chairs, tired from the trip.
I would happily return to Austin anytime as long as they can stave off Gilead; it was a great city filled with great people and a vibe I remember from the early 90’s in Baltimore when it was weird and full of artists. I’d love to transplant a bunch of that energy here.
On our way down Congress Street in Austin last week, I was looking up at the beautiful neon signage when Finley said, “Look, there’s a Scout.” She was right: a red Scout II sat out on the street with the words Hotel San Jose on the side; apprently it’s pretty famous there but hasn’t moved much lately by the looks of the dried leaves on the front seats. I posted a picture on Instagram and one of the local Scout owners I follow liked it and asked if I was in town on Monday; she was going to be at a car meetup and would put the word out to the other Scout friends in town.
Sheepishly, I parked our rental Buick around back; lined up in front of the bar were a ’65 Chevy pickup, a ’70 Ford pickup, Lydia’s beautiful Scout II, an absolutely evil-looking early 70’s Nova, a ’56 or ’57 Belair sedan, and a mid 60’s Ranchero. After I grabbed a beer, I got to talking with Lydia and she told me about how she found her Scout; presently a couple of Scout 800’s rolled in, followed by a third she’d never seen before, and then a huge lifted Traveler. I met a bunch of new folks—atxscout800, seatruckn, and a couple of other folks not on the ‘Gram.
We talked trucks and Austin and music and other stuff and generally had a great time. At one point I looked around and a blown El Camino had arrived, several customized vans, a first-gen Mustang, an absolutely spotless ’68 Pontiac Tempest, a beautiful ’60 Chevy Sport Coupe, and other beautiful cars. I hung around until about 10, when the crowd started thinning, and left with a sweet ATXScouts T-shirt, a couple of stickers, and a big wide grin on my face. Thanks, Austin!
I’m sipping coffee and sitting in a mod chair in our beautiful AirBnB on the second morning of our stay, thinking that I should have brought warmer clothes. It’s already 81 degrees (feels like 87) outside and the high yesterday was 102, but the most uncomfortable I’ve been is inside where the Texans chill everything off around the Meat Locker setting. Jen warned me, and I took her seriously, but I didn’t pack warm enough PJ’s to cope.
We landed on Wednesday afternoon, got our little Buick Enclave (review: perfectly fine for our needs but terrible visibility out the back, which is crucial for merging on and off Austin’s many feeder roads. At least we could pipe Jen’s phone into the dashboard display) and then checked into our rental. What a beautiful little house. It’s designed perfectly for a family of three, laid out in an L shape with Finley on one side and us on the other. It’s mid century modern all the way through, filled with thoughtful touches, and situated in East Central Austin, walking distance to a bunch of awesome restaurants.
Austin is beautiful, definitely weird, eclectic, and interesting. The architecture is amazing everywhere we look. They spend so much time on signage and textures and buildings made of unusual shapes it makes Catonsville look like an old gray dish towel. There’s functional neon everywhere we look. There’s garish graffiti all over the place. There are hand painted signs and metal signs and old weathered signs on every corner. Welded steel is everywhere. It’s a festival of the senses for design.
File this one under Direct-To-My-Pleasure-Center: a guy produced a 25-minute video about the AMC Pacer for his senior college project, and it was received very well. He decided to expand that out into a documentary about American Motors Corporation, and started the research and production several years ago. He’s self-financing but has an agreement with Maryland Public Television to distribute it. There’s a GoFundMe set up to help with the costs; I threw $50 at it this morning.
I read a retrospective review of an an odd album called Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots on Friday that got the song Fight Test stuck in my head. It was a strange album 20 years ago and it still sounds like nothing else out there today, but the melody here is catchy and the lyrics are really quite perfect.
My good friend Matt sent me a text asking if I’d been to a Soul Coughing show at Bohagers with him back in ’97, and I said, Yes! I was there! They were throwing board games out into the audience! Turns out there’s a recording of the show on the Internet Archive. It’s not recorded through the board, but the sound is good enough. Bohager’s is long gone now; it got razed and developed into a parking garage about five years after that show. And, here’s the inspiration for the name of this website.
Jen and I took some well-deserved time together to watch the new season of Stranger Things and Obi-Wan Kenobi, and while we had some problems with each of them, I enjoyed them both very much.
Stranger Things took a long time to get things going over the first bunch of episodes, and there were several plotlines I could easily have done without. Everytime the action moved to Russia I looked at my watch and reached for my beer. My irrational dislike of Matthew Modine continues—how did that guy get cast by Kubrick? Oh, right, he’s a blank piece of wallpaper. They sidelined Maya Hawke into a caricature of anxieties, when she was the deepest character from last season. But the last two episodes paid off handsomely, and just to have a character play Master of Puppets on a trailer roof in the middle of Hell was worth the wait. When the other characters were bumbling around in the dark, Max took center stage and carried most of the show—and it worked. P.S. I’ve had enough Kate Bush, thank you.
Obi Wan Kenobi was also a fun ride, if you’re willing to look past the obvious plot holes (and as a superfan of the original Star Wars, I knew they would be Death Star-sized.) Yeah, it’s another “save the kid” setup—this, after the Mandalorian spent two seasons showing us how it’s done properly—but it was great to see these characters in a different, non-Lucas situation where a director understands how to engage with people. Ewan McGregor killed it. There’s a scene where he’s got to bust out the lightsaber and take out some Stormtroopers in a hallway, and after he’s dropped the last one, he does the badass twirl-lightsaber-and-return-to-ready-position thing from the Phantom Menace, and that’s when we know Shit Just Got Real. I about fell off the couch. The duel he has with Vader is probably one of the best swordfights in the whole series—Rey and Kylo going through the Red Guards might be the top of that list—but it had me on the edge of my seat, even though I know how the whole thing is going to end. My guess is that Ewan McGregor was thrilled to return to this simply for the opportunity to revisit the character and show what could have been possible twenty years ago. It’s not often in life we are offered a do-over; I’d say he made the best of it.