Monday, February 19, 2018

Austin, TX: Keep Austin Weird!

Austin is a groovy, vibey, hip-n-happenin' city with a fantastic slogan:  Keep Austin Weird!  And in fact, Austin is indeed weird, as if there are no rules whatsoever and everyone just does what they want.  Thumbs up to that!





Their alternate slogan:  Tacos 'N' Traffic.  Also accurate!  Thousands of cars crawl by in every direction, at a snail's pace.  Luckily, our RV park was just over the river from downtown and close to a huge network of biking and hiking paths.  Score!  Who needs a car anyway?





Okay ... we mighta-rather had a car on THIS trail .... hee hee


Or if biking isn't your thing, how about floating instead!


The very few times I drag my carcass to a hip city, I want to do the hip thing.  In Austin, the hip thing is waiting in line for H.O.U.R.S. for Franklin's BBQ!


Written up in every travel/foodie/hipster/lifestyle magazine in the country, it is the holy grail of BBQ, named "Best Brisket in the History of the World," which while perhaps hyperbole, also marketing gold.


Franklin's opens at 11 (people start lining up at 9:30) and close when they run out of meat.  Meaning, you could finally reach the beginning of the line, and .... "NO SOUP FOR YOU"!!!  (Seinfeld reference)  It's just the chance you take!


The proprietors of this fine establishment take pity upon the back half of the line (not the front half, who presumably will survive).  They brought each of us a single slice of white bread stuffed with BBQ chopped beef and wrapped in wax paper, a little baby sandwich just enough to keep us the "hangries" away, the equivalent of chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant, but standing up.



Now keep in mind, there is excellent BBQ on every four-way stop in Austin.  So was it truly going to be worth waiting in this line for 2+ hours at Franklin's?


I hate to say it, but YES IT WAS.  It was mind-blowingly delicious, the perfect blend of smoky, meaty lusciousness.  We had beef brisket, sausage, and pork ribs and exceeded our daily calorie allotment by about 400% in one meal ... again, totally worth it.


Also on every corner?  Food trucks.  Mostly weird food trucks, because Keep Austin Weird.  I would never cook if I lived in Austin, just run to any food truck at any hour of the day or night, and BAM, you're eating!  There were 1,265 registered trucks in 2016, and I swear that must have doubled since then.


And not just hot dogs.  Columbian arepas.  Halal plates and wraps. Thai ice cream.  Indian masala.  Nigerian cuisine.  Lebanese crepes.  Double-brined free-range chicken.  Non-chicken vegan chicken.  Kosher shawarma.  Stoner fare.  It goes on and on, each in an artsy, clever, unique, WEIRD exterior.  Fantastic!  This is not a food truck, it was parked in our campground -- but it certainly COULD have been a food truck as we saw others like it!


I sound like a food-obsessed gastronome, a foodie epicure in training, or maybe I was just really hungry for four straight days.  But I cannot neglect to also mention a homemade Austin ice cream shop with the most unique flavors ever.  It was called "LICK" (I know, I know) - actually Lick Honest Ice Cream - but I've never known any dishonest lickers so I am not really sure about the origin of that name.


Here are just a few of their flavors.  I cannot stress enough how delicious they were.  Philip settled on Orange Caramel Brandy (tasted like a Harvey Wallbanger cocktail) and I fell madly in love with Pink Peppercorn Lemon Twist (tasted like .... like .... um ..... I have no words to describe.  Truly no words.  Just so good.)


Artsy also describes the Austin public art scene, with over 200 fabulous installations throughout the city.  Guess which one was Philip's favorite?  Of course this one!



That's not a blurry photo .... it's 1,254 bicycles!


Made by famed Chinese artist and political dissident/slash/government provoker/slash/human rights advocate, Ai Weiwei, this work "alludes to the Forever brand of bicycles that flooded China's streets during the artist's childhood but remained financially out of reach for many."



Or how about a breathtaking set of murals made solely from broken colored tiles.  Such gorgeousness is around every corner in Austin.




The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum is in Austin (his wife Lady Bird was from here).



It was an excellent gathering of mementos from his presidency, and more importantly, from that era.  (We will also be visiting the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Arkansas during this trip.)


It was once noted that Johnson was "a tornado in pants."  I think that's a description we can all aspire to!  He was also known to be moody, lecherous and lusty ... but perhaps that applies to many Presidents we know.



Behind the glass wall, the archives include 46 million (!) pages of documents from his presidency.  This is just the first row ... there are 16 more duplicate rows behind it!  They are trying to scan them all to digital, but it's taking a little while.  Damn interns.


Other artifacts to be filed under "Really Cool" included a phone in a drawer ...


...and the limousine he used around Austin after his presidency, neither armored nor bulletproof nor bombproof, definitely signs of being from another time, another place, another era.


While bopping around town, we visited the Boggy Creek Farm Stand in East Austin ....


and enjoyed tequila shots and excellent live country music on Sixth Street (Austin's equivalent of New Orleans' Bourbon Street, slightly classier but more homeless people) ...


Austin is such a hub of live music that they have trademarked "Live Music Capital of the World®" primarily because it has more live music venues per capita than anywhere else in the nation. Which also means it has a ton of musicians, which is helpful because somebody's gotta support all those food trucks!  They also have some of the biggest music festivals in the world, and musicians even get their own loading zones in the streets.



On our last night, we took a drive out to Oasis at Lake Travis, a multi-tiered-balconied, 30,000 square foot delight set 450 feet above the lake.  Since everything is "bigger in Texas," this restaurant seats 2,800 people and is one of the largest restaurants in the world.



People love to go there for their sunsets, although it was cloudy the day we went, but still beautiful views of Lake Travis.


It was quirky and weird (Austin!) with unique decorations around every turn and every level (and there were LOTS of turns and levels).





This is the first time the Lucky Charm has been to Texas, and we've been waiting five long years to fill that h-u-u-u-ge empty spot on her map!




It was a momentous occasion, almost (but not quite) enough to let us overlook the fact that local news and weather people generally look like this.


The fun of being in a great city like Austin was greatly overshadowed by the illness and subsequent passing of our beloved 11-year-old dog and co-pilot, Bella, while on the road.  She's been along on all Lucky Charm adventures since Day One, but the first week of this trip was to be her last adventure.


A mass in her spleen was causing her to bleed into her abdomen, and her body just couldn't fight off the attack to her immune system.  We were blessed to have excellent veterinary care from vets in both Deming, NM and Austin, TX, but we said our final "see you down the road" to her on February 15.


Sprinkles watched over her in her final days; and she passed with us by her side, in one of the most dog-friendly cities in the nation, at almost age 12, and that's all a pup could really ever want!


Her collar is now on the rear-view mirror of the Lucky Charm, and she will guide us on the rest of this adventure and many more, being always with us in spirit.


Next up:  we visit Galveston Island on the Gulf of Mexico, our furthest southern point, not on only this trip, but EVER in the Lucky Charm!