In this installment, I take a dip in an ice-cold natural springs pool, eat dinner in a trailer park and spend $5 for quite possibly the strangest performance I will ever see, making this my most peculiar Friday night to date. (Read part one of my Texas travels here.)
Friday, July 14th
If Thursday revealed the nature of Texas, Friday gives me a true taste of the unique flavor that is Austin. The capital city is anything but Texan, with its own flair and eccentricity that makes it a city unlike any other. After another day of ISA activities and professional development, we finish up early and head to a local spot for a dip in a natural springs pool.
Barton Springs is a beautiful pool of natural spring water where the sunlight sparkles off blue water that flows at a constant 68° any time of the year. Swimmers and sunbathers swarm the area on stifling summer afternoons like this one, and the giant community pool vibe could make you forget the body of water is natural, not man-made.
On this particular 90+° day, the frigid water feels refreshing as a group of us jumps in together; we each come up coughing and squealing from the drastic shock of cold. I close my eyes and tip my face up to the bright afternoon sun, feeling the cool water rushing around me while heat kisses my cheeks, and for a moment I feel utter bliss.
That evening, my roommates and I get a late dinner at a “trailer park” on Rainey Street. This diverse assortment of food trucks that are all the rage here offers everything from Indian to Greek to fried chicken. Austin is a foodie’s paradise of a city, known for its unique dishes and crazy flavors from all over the world. I order a Thai peanut chicken rice bowl from a truck called “White Girl Asian Food” and am not disappointed by the rich, spicy chicken and veggies, even though the heat from the dish is amplified by the muggy evening and my lack of water (dumb move on my part, I realize two bites in).
A few hours of walking later, we find ourselves on 6th Street (known as Dirty Six, which should have told us everything we needed to know right there). The whole length of the area, maybe three blocks, is crowded with people and the streets are even closed off, allowing pedestrians to dance through them, crossing and yelling to each other like a Mardi Gras parade. It’s a cool scene to observe, and being under 21, that was about all I could do.
Fortunately (or maybe not, jury’s still out), we find an 18+ club that promises a “great show” and an earlybird price if we pay the entry fee then and there.
I should disclose that I never have been good with split decisions.
No sooner do we pay and step through the door do I want to turn right around and leave. The band on the stage is an eye sore of a crew: three slender, David Bowie-looking characters in outlandish clothing and more stage makeup than necessary (which is none, in my opinion). Behind them, a psychedelic background spins to the sounds the trio is producing on stage.
I can’t even call it music, this cacophony of sounds like a piano having a seizure with the occasional honk of a saxophone here and there. It is not the type of music that resonates in your soul but rather sticks in your brain, reverberating in your head without making its way to the heart. I can’t dance to it—can’t even try, so in true wallflower fashion, I hang back and observe the strange crowd in attendance.
In the city whose tagline is “Keep Austin Weird,” I should have expected nothing less.
The crew of hipster twenty-somethings in the front, gyrating robotically and wearing thrift store rags that hang loosely off their bony frames comes as no surprise. But then there are others: two women in flowy skirts and garish makeup who look more suited for a salsa club; a long-haired man with a full beard, circle sunglasses and neck scarf over a tie-dye t-shirt epitomizes Austin in one individual; two middle-aged men trying to mimic the hipsters’ dance moves (poorly, I might add); one body-builder, couples, singles and 3 college girls from ISA standing uncomfortably on the wall. Ironically, in this motley assortment of people where everyone looks a little like they don’t belong, together no one looks out of place at all.
It suddenly feels as if I am abroad all over again, this foreign culture both intriguing and frightening me, a reminder that I have stepped into something far out of my comfort zone. My friends and I give the place a solid chance, waiting 35 minutes for the “great show” we were promised.
Finally, after what feels like ages, the warm-up band finishes its last “song” and two men with somewhat horrified expressions that mirror our own turn around and ask if that was not just the weirdest thing we’d ever seen. Obviously, we nod.
“Yeah, I saw this band once,” the blonde says. “But I was on acid so I didn’t realize how messed up they actually were.”
Not sure how to respond to that, I explain that we are visitors who sort of just ended up here without knowing the type of, um, crowd we were joining. He laughs with the air of an older brother who knows something you don’t.
“Well, congratulations,” he snorts with a sidelong glance to his buddy. “You’ve just found yourself in the weirdest [expletive] bar in Austin.”
As if we didn’t already know.
Luckily, our two new friends take a liking to us (or maybe that’s just pity) and advise us where to go for a night that’s more our speed. This is not, however, before one of the aforementioned hipsters (disguised as a normal-looking human) enters our conversation uninvited. I can’t hear what he says because I am too focused on his eyes, which are black pits of pupil and darting quickly like a snake’s tongue around the room as he speaks.
“Oh yeah, see? He’s on acid. Look, you can tell by his eyes,” the blonde whispers to me casually. Figuring he of all people would know, I immediately go on high defense as this guy steps closer with every word, and I begin figuring out my escape plan.
After a short conversation in which I have no clue what was said, our new friends usher us safely away and my roommates and I leave the “weirdest bar in Austin” to find something a little more our speed.
That ends up being, unsurprisingly, a donut shop a block away called VooDoo Donuts. The brightly lit pink storefront looks out of place nestled between bars and nightclubs, and as soon as we enter, the sugary sweet smell floods my nostrils. I order a ridiculously large (and ridiculously cheap) peanut butter chocolate rice crispy donut, though I have such a hard time making up my mind on the flavor that the man behind the counter throws in an extra free one just for the enjoyment of watching my indecision at its finest.
As we leave the donut shop a little before midnight on Friday night, riding a sugar high as we weave our way through throngs of drunk partiers, I don’t think any one of us has any complaints for how the night turned out. I, for one, am more than satisfied with our metaphorical and literal taste of Austin.