Thursday, August 24, 2006

On the Road in Austin

I have only been here for about six hours, but so far, Austin does not seem very Texas. The wait staff in the restaurants speaks uninflected middle American and the three woman at the next table were discussing Project Runway in voices with less Texas than Dan Rather. (I <3 Project Runway.) But Bob says when we go to the IHOP for breakfast tomorrow--a ritual because it's on his way to work--the voices will be much more Texan. The wait staff at the lunch and dinner restaurants was mostly people in their twenties and Austin is a boom town and a college town. I suspect that the amount of money we are able to spend for our dinner has us floating in that strata of college-educated middle class. The IHOP, on the other hand, is cheap and filling. The tips aren't great. Blue collar rather than relentlessly middle class.

There are, I will admit, a lot of pick up trucks. A surprising number of them are white. Big, shiny white Texas pick-up trucks. Not all of them, mind you, but white just isn't a color I associate with pick-ups. In the parking garage at the airport, Bob's little rental car was hidden behind a pick-up truck that hung out beyond the parking spot, a big extended cab eye-watering white thing with a shiny black brush guard that appeared never to have come within twenty yards of an actual bush.

There's not a lot of accurate information to determine about a city in six hours, especially since Bob had to work so I got to hang around in the air conditioning at the extended stay suite while Bob went back to work. The Tex-Mex restaurant was very very fine. Hatch chilies. They have Hatch chili sauce on the menu and this is Hatch Chili Fesival Week at Chuy's Mexican Restaurant. I wanted to say to the waiter, 'Did you know Hatch is under four feet of water?! Do you know what that means to the chili harvest!' (Southern New Mexico and El Paso Texas have had rains like none ever recorded.) But I suspect that my waiter doesn't really know anything about Hatch. Has possibly never been there. I have, and other than chilies, there isn't much there. Except, now, the flooded Rio Grande. But still. I love New Mexican green.

Okay, I'm prejudiced against Texas. I have always said that since I have never followed all the rules of any religion, when I die I figure I'll end up at the Houston airport, since that's my idea of hell. Austin is 100 degrees today, but the humidity is about 30% and while it isn't exactly a dry heat, it's not unbearable.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A friend who lives in Austin said that folks prefer light-colored--white, silver--vehicles because of the heat. There are businesses there that specialize in dashboard replacement since cars can get so hot in the summer that the dash will crack over time. Windshields can crack. The rules seem to be to park in shade whenever you can, crank/open the door windows a fraction of an inch to allow the glass room to expand because it can shatter, always use one of those cloth/cardboard windshield covers when you park, and buy light-colored cars.

August 24, 2006 9:33 PM  
Blogger Jayme Lynn Blaschke said...

Maureen, you'll soon find that Austin revels in its non-conformity. The operating policy for the place is "Keep Austin Weird." If you haven't seen the bumper stickers and tee-shirts yet, you will.

You'll want to visit Half Price Books (the North Lamar location is the most impressive) as well as Book People, Lamar again, but south toward the river. And if you want to hear honest-for-true Texas twang before it goes extinct, look up Howard Waldrop. :-)

August 24, 2006 11:37 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Jayme--Howard is from Mississippi! That's no Texas twang you hear! But Howard is great and I love to listen to him talk. He tells great stories as well.

Kristine, Bob has already invested in those windshield shades and our cars aren't even down here yet. Dashboard replacement? That's pretty crazy.

August 25, 2006 9:07 AM  
Blogger Jayme Lynn Blaschke said...

Ah, meaculpa. Well, in my defense, Howard's been here long enough to become naturalized! ;-)

Okay, howzabout Joe Lansdale then? Deep East Texas accent (which is distinctly different from West Texas and South Texas). Most of Texas--particularly the urban areas--have evolved speech patterns which pretty much conform to the "midwest neutral" you get in the media. Lots of people (you for instance) are often taken aback by that, along with the fact we don't all ride horses, wear stetsons and live in Monument Valley. That last one's the biggie--John Ford westerns had a huge impact on the nation's perceptions of this place.

August 25, 2006 10:46 AM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Hey, I ride horses (although not for years) and Monument Valley is in Arizona. I've been there. (And it's gorgeous.) I haven't met Joe Lansdale so I hope to. The only person I've ever known who wore a cowboy hat was from North Carolina. But I know a lot of people who routinely wear cowboy boots. And there's a big boot store not far from here.

I don't know what I expect from Austin, Texas. I've been here before. I'm beginning to think that the Texas accent may be Spanish, like the Spanish accent of the girl who took our breakfast order this morning. I know that accents are being eradicated among the middle class. A local accent is now a strong class identifier and it indicates lower or working class in the U.S. But I also know transplanted Texans who still sound gently Texas. I guess I expected to see a little more 'Texan and proud of it.' Maybe some Texans develope that when they leave Texas? Kind of a defense mechanism?

August 25, 2006 1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

meghan brought me home a coffee mug that says "keep austin weird." i like to drink from it before I sit down to some major work...

also: who's your favorite on project runway? my top three: uli, the architect, and michael. i'm rooting for michael to win.

August 26, 2006 12:36 PM  
Blogger meredith said...

Which IHOP? I've been to the one just outside of downtown on 35, and also the one out by UT. :)

It's funny, after having never visited Austin in my life, I've been there three times since February. All three times it's been for conferences so I'm sure I haven't gotten the *true* Austin experience, but I like it a lot anyway. One of my best friends from high school just recently moved there and is getting used to it. I think if I had to live anywhere in Texas, Austin would suit me just fine for a while.

August 26, 2006 1:33 PM  

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