Posted: May 27, 2006 in The Roper Files

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THURSDAY MAY 18….My stress levels have risen and my anxiety swells like an infected pimple. Car troubles, plumbing problems at home, I keep going to work and there’s nothing to do because of my boss hiring everyone who’s walked in the door for the last five months. I want to dig a hole and crawl into it and hide from this world. I can feel myself slowly losing my appetite for life; I don’t even want to get out of bed anymore. My friend Baird is in town and orders me to ride back to Austin with him for the weekend when he sees how frazzled I am.

What the hell. I con my next-door neighbor (hello Amanda; and thanks!) into feeding my ever-growing family of cats, throw a few odds and ends into a backpack and we’re off. I’ve never gone anywhere before so impulsively and without a suitcase; this is a first for me. Screw Fort Worth; I’m outta here!

FRIDAY MAY 19… We head South on I-35 past the numerous “gentlemens” clubs, even more numerous RV sales lots and an infinite number of antiques/ collectibles junk shops. Past endless look-alike strip malls with their TGIFs, their Bennigans, their Chilis etc. Having watched my SLINGBLADE dvd the night before, we have great fun re-naming the armpit suburbs south of Fort Worth after Dwight Yoakums’ character Doyle Hargrove. Doyleville, Hargrove Hills, Doyle County etc. If you’ve never cruised this area, you have no idea how appropriate this is. Once you hit bummer burgs like Burleson, you’re surrounded by Doyles; they’re everywhere. Roll down the window and you can smell the ether from the speed labs.  This here’s Doyle country.

We stop only twice before Austin, once for gas and a brief stop in Waco for sandwiches. Bairds’ IPod keeps us from having to listen to North Texas radio (the WORST!) and unlike the sub-moronic dreck my co-workers at my menial job insist on listening to, we never hear the same song twice. Otherwise, it’s a pretty boring drive; I can see why Baird wanted me to ride with him. Three hours later we hit Georgetown, north of Austin and traffic degenerates into stop-and-go bullshit for what seems like forever. Inch by inch we slowly creep into Austin.I would find all this annoying if not for the cute brunette in the black BMW who gives me a lovely smile as she drives by; hello to you, too! Having lived in Los Angeles for fifteen years, Baird seems to take the shitty traffic in stride. He’s used to this and swears it’s nothing. I’m starting to wonder if LA has diverted the 405 traffic through here; my bladder begins to protest. Baird hits an exit which takes us right into downtown Austin. However, there’s road construction on every other street and we get detoured around what seems to be the same block over and over like the background on a Hanna-Barbara cartoon. I see Emos, Esther’s Follies, the Continental Club and a few other familiar names since my next-to-last visit in 1984 and everything that doesn’t move plastered with band fliers. We’re in Austin, alright.

We cross the Congress Avenue bridge over the river, take a few zigs and zags and we finally arrive at Baird and Susannahs house.

Anticipating our arrival Susannah has thoughtfully fixed jambalaya. After dinner, we cruise over to Cheapo Discs and spend much time rooting through their semi-organized piles of DVDs and CD’s. I get the latest Wayne Kramer CD “Adult World” and afterward we sit in front of a Starbucks, drink frozen mocha coffees and watch the Congress Avenue traffic cruise by. The sky is clear enough to see the stars, and there’s a cool breeze coming from the South. The Capitol building is lit up to our north.

Somethings bugging me, then it dawns on me that I’ve shaken my all-too-familiar depression. And I was just getting used to it, too. This is the closest I’ve been to relaxed in six months. The sudden lack of stress is disorienting; the hairs on my arm stand up. What’s happening to me?

I look over and see a red DALLAS MORNING NEWS vending machine a few feet away from where we’re sitting. Thinking about the traffic between Georgetown and Austin (not to mention the brunette in the BMW) I try to picture to poor guy who has to drive those papers down I-35 everyday. Now THERE’S a shitty job.

SATURDAY MAY 20…We get up and go to Austin Books, where we both purchase HOTWIRE #1 (Fantagraphics) and you should too. If you remember WEIRDO or ARCADE back in the 80’s, prepare for a flashback; it’s that good. Our good friend Mack White has a most excellent story in it and I was privileged enough to see the original artwork on his drawing board during my last Austin visit in October 2005. Susannah e-mailed Mack and his wife Dianne and informed them I was in town and they join us for lunch after a delay in (surprise!) I-35 traffic. The five of go to a Mexican restaurant whose name I’ve already forgotten and pig out on massive amounts of enchiladas and tacos floating in hot sauce. After lunch the ladies head back for the house while we menfolk get our cheap thrills at a snowcone stand which is staffed by cute college girls. And consequently there’s a 25-minute wait involved here for some reason. Despite the broiling Texas sun, there’s a long line. Like good customers, we stand in line and wait patiently.

Back at the house we watch a bootleg copy of EMPEROR OF THE NORTH Baird found on E-Bay. I hadn’t seen this since I was fifteen and am totally glued to it.

Later that evening, after massive amounts of coffee our stomachs begin growling again despite the huge lunch. We go to Sixth Street and visit Katz’s Deli. Sticker shock sets in when we get the bill. $27 for two sandwiches and a couple of iced teas! We could have eaten steaks at the original Hoffbrau Steakhouse across the street for that much, if we weren’t still half-bloated from lunch. Oh well, we’re dining in the heart of the Tourist Quarter, what did we expect?

SUNDAY MAY 21…We get up and eat breakfast and then race to the Amtrak station to catch the one and only daily train that goes back to Fort Worth. Who says you can’t go home? I read my HOTWIRE, wish I had bought more stuff to read afterward and stare out the window at a horizontal rolling image of abandoned refrigerators, rusty car fenders, tree limbs, doublewide trailers, and all the other sights of Appalachia County, Texas. I’m amazed at the number of people I see standing on the porches of ramshackle houses waving at the train as it goes by; this is obviously the highlight of their day. Five hours later as we rumble through the barrio of South Fort Worth and seeing building after building covered in Hispanic gang grafitti, I know I’m home.

It seems as if it’s easier to get out of Austin than it is to get into it. But I’ll be back; it’s an interesting place to visit. It’s sort of a cultural island in Texas; it has a large music and art-minded scene that most cities talk about but don’t support. Maybe someday in my lifetime they’ll finish the I-35 road construction and getting back there will be easier.


May 2006


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