Austin to Chicago pt. 2: Reflections on Such a Strange Town

Austin bathrooms.

Awake at 6:00am and only a few hours of sweaty sleep. I look out the window and see about a dozen pickup trucks lined up at the pumps and wonder how many of the drivers checked on me as I slept and wondered if I was dead. It was an odd place to sleep, after all, but it must’ve been obvious from the get-go that I was just a poor, weary traveler catching some much-needed shut-eye.

I got out of the car and stretched (autos are the worst places to sleep but the easiest insomuch as affordability but the limits to comfort are extremely taixng for both mine and the lady’s beat up bodies) and leashed the bitch so as to evacuate all the waste. After seeing her pleasure I couldn’t help myself and followed suit, onlookers be damned. I was already an alien of sorts to them so what harm could it really do? (I am of course talking about simple urination.) We got back in the car, which was better rested than us, and I checked the magic phone for a restaurant close by where I could fill my guts with something other than liquid and worry.

The highway greeted us with difficult hills and shiny gray. Next exit and a massive truck stop complete with a greasy spoon lay before me. I filled Emma’s bowls and bowels with food and water and went inside. I chose a booth next to the window where I could keep an eye on the car and the cargo and perused the menu. Biscuits and gravy, indeed.

“What’s your name?” She had a name tag that read Samantha and a face that silently offered handjobs in the bathroom of a public pool: worn eyes, eyebrows tweezered to anonymity, and an alluring look that only that kind would give to such a stranger.


“It’s part of my job to ask.” Her statement erased any sort of hospitality I felt from the question.

“Ah. I think I’ll have the biscuits and gravy.”

“We have a breakfast buffet for about the same price.”

“That’s okay. I can’t really eat that much. One plate should be fine. Can I get some fruit with that, too?”

“Tell you what…go and grab some fruit from the buffet. It’s on me.” Hospitality restored.

“Thank you so much…Samantha.”

Bloated faces looking through the sneeze guards wore the miles of the road like beat up masks from Halloweens ago. Plates heaping with comfort food, the only food, I think, these dudes eat. Their insides must be as soft as a down comforter by now, I imagine. I stopped thinking about their insides right away for the natural progression is then to think about their stool and I didn’t want to lose my appetite.

Lukewarm fruit and the sun blasting through the window in the middle of Arkansas. No music in the restaurant. The couple in the next booth talked quietly amongst themselves every so often. Being together for as long as I guess they have been makes words few and unneeded; they speak the language of ghosts and fish, telling eyes and moving, breathing mouths.

Inside this pot lives ideas, promises, and innocent laughter.

Samantha brings my plate with no smile and a warning that it is hot. She places a thermal pot of coffee in front of me and I think of my years of being a barista. Oh, how I love the thermal pot infinitely more than the overpriced, albeit well-crafted, art found in the cafes. The weak mud-water evokes only great memories of simpler times. Sitting with friends in the wee hours of the morning talking not about future plans but things more important. Like music. Like women (girls at the time). Like how we can score some booze.

The guts warm with food, I scrape the plate and remain confident that the buffet would’ve only wrecked me in the end. Leave the tip and go pay at the register next to the glass box entrance/exit. At the last minute I decide to also get a coffee to go and the kind older lady lets me simply fill a cup with the remnants of the thermal pot. I genuinely thank her and wish her well and find Emma in the car not having eaten a bite only because she was wondering where the hell I went to in such a barren landscape.

On the road and the bumps and progress are welcome. Windows still down and Slayer on the iPod I vow to only stop for bathrooms and caffeine.

In the span of time from state to state to state I am sure I thought of things but only one remains in the long-term: Texas. As stated in the first installment I already felt like I never lived there. Gone now and newness ahead a sense of relief washed over me, so much so that I nearly teared up.

Austin is a great city. To visit. That was my first mistake. I had no idea what to expect upon arrival as I had never set foot in the place, nor the state, in my life. I can’t say that I was shocked because that would be a complete lie. I can say, however, that I was disappointed, first, and bored, second.

The disappointment began with my expectations of a city so hyped by so many. I envisioned a place overrun with creativity and fresh sounds/smells. I found out quickly that besides BBQ the food was iffy at best. Couple that with the stifling weather (save for the glorious mid-50s winter) and one can barely eat. Austin has earned the Live Music Capital of the World badge ten-fold; there wasn’t a night that music wasn’t heard or enjoyed for the most part. And the enthusiastic crowds were nothing short of awe-inspiring…that is until you delve into the meaning behind everything and it is completely flip-flopped from my initial excitement. Everyone knows everyone and everyone expects everyone to be at everyone’s show. Not for the art, per se, but simply to be seen and see others. Shit-talking and bandmate swapping over petty creative differences happen to the extent that they should be taxed accordingly to fund the public transportation so as to run 24/7 therefore eliminating the need for drunk driving. Adults attempting to outdo one another in both shock value and fake interests and empty conversations chased me to the corners and away from the hubbub just to collect my thoughts and internal conflicts to the only person with real ears. The loneliness in such an outspoken, tight-knit community was both confusing to the psyche and troubling in that everything seemed plastic and breakable to the slightest hint of truth accidentally spilled out in a drunken rant. Essentially it all came down to gossip and everything that goes along with it. Living in an untaped reality show with very little reality actually happening. Needless to say the solace of my apartment was where I felt the most at home and the loneliest.

Bartending had always been some odd obsession of mine since living in Chicago and romanticizing it to no end. My opportunity came in Austin and I grabbed it. My coworkers were the core of my friend group. It was these people that kept me going as long as I did. They were from all over and from all kinds of backgrounds. Nearly every single one of them held something of interest in their hard-working hands and I identified with them right away. And it was also these people that stuck by me as I went through all sorts of moods/crises that put up with it no matter how weird and pissed that I became. It was these people that came over or met

This is the mentioned present I recieved from one of the funniest dudes in Austin.

me out and filled me in on the ins and outs of what is actually going on in this the strangest of cities. It was these people that kept my last bit of sanity intact and expressed their care and/or concern by simple gestures like a pat on the back or a tongue-in-cheek, filthy drawing scrawled on the chalkboard for me to discover the next day. It is these people that will bring me back to visit and keep that knowledge in my head that there are truly great people in any environment.

Before I knew it I missed my exit and was headed back through Memphis which, as you may or may not remember, is the bane of my driving existence. Shit. Sure enough I found my way in the same exchange that confused me so last time and, as you may have surmised in the last few seconds, it did it again. Round and round I drove until finally finding the damn slab of road I needed. Transmission be damned I floored it and got the hell out of there as fast as possible. If anyone ever suggests to me that we go to Graceland to see that fat fucker’s grave I will have to decline on principle alone. I have never cared about him, anyway.

Doing it up right.

Now back on track I venture through a few more states still reeling from the previous paragraphs’ meanderings (regarding Austin). It wasn’t just the coworkers that were there for me. Being a bartender I had my regulars and these were the ones that filled my ears with original thoughts, ponderings, and other things non-work related. A few became rather close friends in this foreign land, taking me to great local spots, having me over for dinner/parties, and just being general good hosts to a newbie in town. I had the chance to swim in the coolest pool ever, hear stories that to this day remain on top of a long list, and talk about things that I thought very few, if any, were still into (i.e. the brilliance of Steinbeck or rare maps).

Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to have a last goodbye with either these or the aforementioned coworkers before my immediate departure and that will be one of the few regrets I have in my life. Knowing them, though, I know they understand and that makes them even more precious to me than before..

Snapping out of my flashback I find myself crossing the blessed and missed Ohio River into Illinois. Mere single digit hours remain in this trek back home and I am as giddy and caffeinated as Voltaire finishing the grand Candide.

Nothing can go wrong now…


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