Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Keep Austin Weird

I hate my hometown's back patting slogan as much as the next person, but once in a while I'm reminded that it comes--at least a bit--from a place of truth. The past couple of weeks, insomnia has led me to some late night/early morning bike rides. I set out from central Austin usually around 2 or 3 in the morning, hanging out a big 15 to 20 mile circuit downtown, across the river, sliding over into East Austin, and back to my apartment. 

In the past week and a half, I've seen this: two men dressed in full Renaissance Faire gear hitting each other with their wooden swords. And "hitting" is putting it lightly. I was biking my way in a neighborhood by the old airport, nice old 50s era houses and home mostly to UT folks. Anyway, I turn the corner on a street that leads into a park and there they were on a tennis court, both in bright colored regalia, chain metal over their heads, just wailing away on one another other with swords, the loud *gak* *gak* of the wood echoing off the concrete tennis court. They didn't seem to be practicing anything, I didn't get a sense that it was choreographed, just two guys enjoying themselves. Had to have been three in the morning. I rode on and left them to it. 

The second surprise came a few days later. I was mixing my routes up so instead of going south, I went west, which gets hilly in Austin. I headed up a steep grade (steep for me, anyway) towards a Randall's grocery near St Andrews School. In the gravel parking lot, a full on game of cricket. I don't know the rules---but broadly, there was the wicket, there was the guy equivalent to the catcher standing behind it, there was the batsman, and spread out over the lot were the fielders. I didn't get a sense of who they were or why they were playing in a lot at 2 in the morning instead of a park during the day. Just enjoyed watching them play for a few minutes and moved on.  

Finally, and this was on a Saturday just after SXSW ended. I'd avoided the music convention like the plague, waiting until I figured the shows would have ended to start a ride that would take me downtown. I'd timed it wrong; the bars were letting out and I found myself in a traffic jam that lasted from Congress Avenue to the interstate, maybe a mile and a half. Anyway, I detoured into East Austin, past the State Cemetery, up a hill running parallel to the historically black Huston Tillitson College hill, and on a street called Chicon. And ran into what seemed to be an impromptu car show/drag race. There had to be about between 50 and 70 cars up and down the street, mostly tricked out Japanese rigs, wild paint jobs, complete with over the top rims and--my favorite--the neon under the body, glowing on the road. Heading east down Chicon is a nice straight line, so I stayed for a minute and caught a couple of races. I wished I had my camera, but as I biked away, I figured I would return the next week at the same time and get a couple of shots. So the next Saturday I returned around the same time and--I'm sure you can guess--nothing. 

So Austin retains at least a bit of its weirdness, although I find it's better to just let it surprise you as you turn a corner rather than waste breath bragging about it. 


MarkLWilliams said...

Well, I hope some of this ambiance is around for out-of-towners at DilloCon time!

Derek Johnson said...

It's funnier, still, when a formerly hick town like Round Rock or my own neck of the woods starts tweaking that bit of backpatting slogan by saying things like, "Keep Round Rock mildly interesting." And I once had a neoconservative coworker who had a bumper sticker reading "Make Austin Normal" stuck to her file cabinet.