This happens anytime I visit Austin these days; I am filled with love for my old place of residence and dream wistfully of all the places I wish I could go every day. (Don't worry, then I dream about getting on Mopac or having to drive downtown past 12 at night or running into certain ex-boyfriends who want to glom all over me with their gross emotional issues, and I remember why I left.) So because I'm still on an Austin high, here are my Top Ten Things I Love About Austin (to be immediately supplanted with other things as I think them up later):
10) Driving through 360/Bee Caves and looking at houses.
When I was at school, Mandy and I used to climb in my car on weekday afternoons and drive around the hills of Austin. We'd make up stories about the people who lived in the giant houses towering above the lake and plan our own lottery-winnings-funded dream houses. I don't have any made-up stories of people in houses to share with you today, but instead you can have this true story:
I was a sophomore in college and I needed a new job, having been burned out (and burned, period) at my previous 40-hour job at the hair salon. (You guys, hair is SRS BZNZ, okay?) So I decided to nanny.
I know. It's cool; I'll wait till you stop laughing at the idea of me taking care of kids for a living. I laughed too.
Anyway, so this family included a previously-divorced woman, her new husband (who I never saw in five months of working there), his 18 year old son who lived in California, and their two girls, aged 5 and 7. I was never really clear, actually, on whether the girls were the absent husband's or the first husband's, and I thought it rude to ask. To paint a picture of the mom, who was the only non-child family member I ever saw, I will just tell you that she wore designer track suits and had her makeup tattooed on her face. Tattooed. And she wasn't like Mia's grandma in The Princess Diaries, you know, 70+ years old. She was like 40.
The first time I came to the house to meet the girls, the mom had the youngest one take me on a grand tour of the home. I was charmed by little Kayla's impestuous nature, but started to realize exactly what I was getting into when she led me into the third-floor playroom. Looking out the window, she said, "This window has to stay closed all the time because of Alli." (Alli was the 7 year old.) "Oh," I say. "Did she try to climb out of it?" "No," little Kayla replied, matter-of-factly. "She got jealous because the last babysitter was braiding my hair and not hers, so she threw the cat out the window."
Yeah. Threw the cat. Out of a third story window. Because she was jealous.
Why I didn't just cut and run then is still a mystery to me, although it may have been due to the size of my bank account. But no, like the moron I usually am, I stayed. Stayed through the fights and the tantrums and the spoiled princess behavior, stayed through 6 solid weeks of going to Chuck E Cheese EVERY DAY because their mom asked me to take them, stayed through the Friday afternoon drive to the kids' psychotherapy appointments (I am not even kidding), Alli pitching a fit because she didn't want to "color some fucking house" and Kayla humming to herself like a space cadet.
Oh, it was a time. The final straw came when Kayla pitched a fit because I wouldn't let her ride her bicycle in the house, due to, you know, the priceless works of art and also the fact that it's Austin in October and it's gorgeous out. She walked over to the grand piano and started kicking it and hitting it, picking up sculptures and vases and slamming them against the keys. That was the point when their mom came home, and I explained what was going on. She said she'd handle it, and she certainly did, in her weird hippie-mom way: "Kayla, I appreciate that you're expressing your anger artistically."
That was is. That was the reprimand. "I appreciate that you're expressing your anger artistically." That was the point when I knew I just couldn't do it anymore.
I often think about little Alli and Kayla, who'd be teenagers now, and wonder if their mother has completely destroyed any hope of normalcy for them. But when I pass those big houses in the hills, I always figure that is exactly what's going on behind closed doors.
9)Dolce Vita gelato shop in Hyde Park
This is one of those Austin places that make me sad now, because it's gotten really snobby and expensive and lame, I hear. And, to be fair, it was always a little snobby and expensive, but it used to not be lame. Katherine, Mandy and I would go here late on Tuesday nights and eat gelato and drink cappucino and smoke expensive hand-rolled cigars that we bought from Mojo's (that'd top my list if it were still the real thing) and generally be pretty douchey and snobby ourselves. But I am a firm believer that everyone deserves a little luxury, even poor college kids who just want to talk about whether Leo and Greenlee are ever going to FINALLY get together.
Also, since it's an italian dessert shop, I never felt guilty about taking my Italian books there to study. I was ABSORBING CULTURE. In the form of pomegranate gelato.
8) B Side/The Showdown*
I had to list these together because they represent my two favorite bars in Austin, for two very different reasons. I lived next door to the Showdown for five freaking years, and I am not even kidding when I say that I used to drink there in my pjs. Why not? It was just next door! Jeannie and Grae's boyfriend Mel and I used to skip class and go play pool all day, drinking pitcher after pitcher of Shiner until we were so stumbling drunk that we could barely find our way home. Which was NEXT DOOR. Of course, The Showdown is now sort of Dead To Me, after they kicked us out one time after catching Mere drinking without an ID. It was my celebratory "I can drink again!" night, too, which is just uncool, Showdown.
My other favorite bar in Austin is B Side, both for its laid-back-yet-sort-of-swanky-atmosphere and the fact that it never, never checked IDs. The first time I ever went there was when I was invited to a photograper's gallery opening after-party. There I was, nineteen years old, surrounded by skinny models (he was a fashion photographer, and he dated my coworker) and tons of rich Austin people. I had no idea what I was even doing there and sort of wanted to fade into the walls, but instead I got pulled up to the bar, bought several rounds of drinks, and ended up making about 10 new friends. And then, later on in my college career, my bestie Lucas and I would always end up at B Side, because we were both unbearably posh but also sort of poor (B Side's perfect clientele!). I miss your Manhattans, B Side!
*Yes, yes, Mugshots is totally number three.
7) The Enchanted Forest
What's that you say? I can't include it on my list because I just discovered it? I don't think so! The Enchanted Forest totally deserves a place of honor. It's enchanted.
6) Whole Foods flagship store
That's sort of a cliche, but it's true, so what can I do? I'd moved away during the construction of the flagship store, and I came back to visit Austin and randomly ran into Matt at Taco Shack (more on that later). We decided to hang out for a while, and he asked if I'd been to the new Whole Foods. When he learned I hadn't, he just laid a gentle hand on my arm and said very solemly, "Erin, the cheese section. You're going to need someone to catch you when you collapse." He was so right, too. UGH, MARRY ME, CHEESEMONGERS.
This is Mozart's:
It is my number one studying/thinking/espresso-shake-consuming place in Austin. I miss being able to go there whenever I wanted and enjoy delicious baked goods in the cool breeze off Lake Austin.
4) Waterloo Records
Where else can you stock an entire esoteric record collection in a half-hour's time?
3) Mexican Martinis at Trudy's.
Look, I know Trudy's is overrun with people most of us want to avoid (i.e. all of Austin), but that does not change the fact that Mexican Martinis are possibly God's greatest gift to mankind, right after free will. They are delicious and toxic and cause everyone to love each other in all the right ways.
If you've never been to Trudy's, let me explain the rules. You are allowed two Mexican Martinis. That's it, no more. They come with the glass and the shaker, so two actually equals about 8 or 9 regular martinis. Of course, like with everything, there's a way to get around this rule. If you sit at the bar before you go eat (or eat and then sit at the bar), you can order a Mexican Martini there as well, bringing you to a grand total of three Mexican Martinis in one evening. I have prepared this simple chart of the effects of Mexican Martinis for your perusal:
Half of one Mexican Martini - stop obsessing over your Italian final which you're pretty sure you just bombed.
One Mexican Martini - start thinking you did pretty damn good on the Italian final that you maybe didn't even bomb.
One and a half Mexican Martinis - start speaking in Italian about your Italian final that you are now sure you aced. Probably you will earn some sort of award for being a genius at lo coniugazione di verbi imperfetti.
Two Mexican Martinis - Summon the nerve to ask out cute guy in your Italian class.
Two and a half Mexican Martinis - Ask out the cute girl in your Italian class, too. The more the merrier!
Three Mexican Martinis - think it's a really swell idea to dive into the shallow end of a pool, forgetting that A) you don't really know how to dive, B) you are wearing all of your clothes and C) when you slam your chin against concrete, it tends to really hurt.
Three Mexican Martinis plus one Dos Equis in the hot tub: Stop feeling chin pain altogether.
For the record, the above did happen to me, although on two different nights. The night of the Italian final, I ended up sitting on the floor of Trudy's, giggling and talking about Francesco, the hot Italian grad student. While Francesco's girlfriend was sitting right next to me (also on the floor). The pool incident also involved a trip to the steam room. SUCH A BAD IDEA.
BookPeople is my absolute, favorite store in Austin. When I first moved there, I just wanted something that would remind me of my absolute, favorite store in Houston (BookStop, natch), and I found and fell in love with BookPeople. I love that store so much. Just . . . so many books! A children's area that even I want to read in! The science section alone, people!
But the best part about BookPeople is that the people who work there love books and want everyone to love books like they do. When I was a junior at UT, I decided to read The Divine Comedy. In Italian. In the original Italian that Dante used, not a modern abridged copy. So I went to Barnes and Noble and asked the customer service person how I could go about purchasing this book.
Me: "Hi, I'm looking for a book. Dante's The Divine Comedy, but in Italian."
Her: ". . . ."
Me: "See, I've written down the title for you in Italian - just right here - I was wondering if there was some way you could order it? Because you don't have it in stock."
Her: "Who is . . . Dante? Is this a new release?"
Me: "Um, no, it's . . . The Divine Comedy? Dante? Can you just search for it?"
Her: "Oh, here we go. The Divine Comedy. It'll be 120 dollars and it'll take three months to get here because it's out of print."
Me: "Okay, never mind."
But I just couldn't get the idea out of my head, so I went to BookPeople and asked their customer service people.
Me: "Okay, this is stupid, but I'm looking for The Divine Comedy. But in Italian."
Him: "Hmm, okay. Do you have a translation of the title that I can search for?"
Me: "Sure. Here you go."
Him: "Hmm, I'm not showing it in stock . . ."
Me: "Yeah, I figured."
Him: "So we'll just order it for you. Should come in in about a week, okay? What's your number, I'll call you when it gets here."
Me: "Really? The Divine Comedy? By Dante? In Italian? You can order it and it'll be here next week?"
Him: "well, sure."
- one week later -
Me: "Hi, my name is Erin, I got a call about a book - "
Girl: "oh! The Divine Comedy, right?"
Me: "Yes! In Italian?"
Her: "Yep! Here it is, right here. We put your name on it so no one would take it. Do you want to purchase it?"
Me: "Oh, well, I sort of figured I had to at this point."
Her: "No, not unless you look at it and approve of it."
Me: (looks at book.) "Yeah, I'll buy it. Um, how much?"
Her: "Twenty-three dollars, please."
Me: "Oh! Great! Okay, here! So I was just wondering how you got it so fast?"
Her: "Oh, we just researched until we found an independant book store in Milan and ordered it from them. They were happy to ship it quickly."
So, that's my BookPeople story. I came in with a silly request, and not only did they know what I was talking about, but they found me a book from some tiny little bookstore in Milan and paid the shipping costs. ♥
1) Breakfast Tacos
Oh, sure. Other places have Breakfast Tacos. Bob's Taco Stand in my hometown of Richmond has amazing breakfast tacos. But no city has quite the proliferation of The Most Holy Of All Foods like Austin does. Everywhere you turn, there are breakfast tacos, and they're all delicious. Mmm, chorizo. Marry me.
So I don't really have a question to ask today, like "What are your favorite Austin things?" because not everyone who reads this has even been to Austin before. But I'd like to know what your favorite things are about any town you miss, so please tell me!