Posted: July 16, 2007 in The Roper Files

The last couple of weeks I don’t think I’ll be forgetting about anytime soon. Haven’t been to work in a couple of weeks; gotta go back today. Drat! But that’s OK; had to happen eventually. The state lottery called the wrong six numbers again Saturday night. But that’s OK too. 

My friend Baird and his dog Shelby dropped by Thursday night and spent the night, then Friday morning Tom Finn drops by with a co-worker from his job and we begin to caravan down to Austin. I’ve been recovering from surgery; the week has been anything but fun. I need a break.  Roky Erickson is doing a rare public appearance in celebration of his 60th birthday and we’re going to be there as well. 

In two vehicles we go down 377 through Benbrook, then Granbury, and then we stop at Stephenville to eat at the Hard Eight Barbeque. Huge pits are outside the restaurant where you pick out which meat you want then you go inside to get your sides and eat. They even have the famous Dublin Dr. Pepper at the soda fountain. Sweet! The cute little blonde teenage girl behind the register smiles and gives us that you-guys-aren’t-from-around-here-are-you look we always seem to get in these middle-of-nowhere burgs when we walk in with our ponytails and sunglasses on. 

After eating, we roll. Down scenic highways Bonnie  and Clyde must have explored. Past green rolling fields with rusting farm equipment. Two-lane and one-lane highways that date back to who-knows-when. We are tailgated by speeding 4X4s with the cow-catcher mounted on the grill. Past countless Dairy Queens, Valero gas stations and fried chicken stands. Down highway 281. Connect to 183. Approaching Austin, we hit the infamously slow-moving MoPac highway. We get stuck behind one car after another driven by some inattentive dipshit talking on the phone and oblivious to the traffic around them.  Yeah, we’re back in Austin alright. Finally we get to Bairds’ house.  Bairds’ wife Susannah is with her mother in Illinois so we’re having a “guys’ weekend. We can belch and fart out loud to our hearts content.

Still full from lunch, we decide to put off dinner until after the show. We cruise to downtown Austin and the beautiful Paramount theater which is a really old opera-house type venue. First they showed the excellent new film YOU’RE GONNA MISS ME which documents the turbulent life story of Roky Erickson. Afterwards Roky and the Explosives performed to a very appreciative audience. Can’t really criticize the show too hard; Rokys’ voice was showing a little strain from touring (they had just gotten back from Europe) and he would turn his back to the audience when he played guitar. But it was still a great show; they did all the songs I wanted to hear and then some. He left all the small talk in between songs to his lead guitar player. Considering how badly Roky deteriorated during the last couple of decades, it was nothing short of miraculous just to see him performing again.  After the show, I notice a credit card and a drivers license on the floor of the auditorium, which I turn in to an usher. As tempting as it is to begin a new life as Melissa SoAndSo, identity theft isn’t my forte. Can’t do wrong by doing right and all that.

Later we attempt to get into the Magnolia Cafe, but it was packed with a half-hour waiting list. So we adjourn to a late-night Mexican restaurant instead for tacos, enchiladas and in my case, a melanesa torta.

Saturday started out weird and got even more so during the day. I sleep lightly and then get up before everyone else. After getting a pot of coffee going, I borrow Baird’s acoustic guitar and step out into the backyard. While strumming his Fender, I notice something moving in the corner of my eye. In the corner of his backyard there is a tree with a cow skull hung on the trunk. Sitting on top of the skull are two identical gray owls, each of them about six-eight inches tall. Their heads are bobbing in a circular motion; almost looking as if they were dancing to my guitar playing. There’s never a camcorder going during episodes like this. Couldn’t help but laugh; they looked like something from a Disney cartoon. They sat there for a long time, then finally they fly up to a safer, higher tree limb where they sit and stare at me. A truly magic moment.

Lunchtime: Baird knows I miss drugstore lunch counters and found a drugstore in Austin that still actually has one. After meeting with friends we sit down and order cheeseburgers at Naus Pharmacy. I look through my fanny pack and discover to my horror I don’t have my wallet. Shit! I’ve got my drivers license, my Social Security card and just enough money to hurt in it. Panic sets in. Here I am, out of town and broke. Why didn’t I get Travelers Checks? Tom re-traces our steps and comes back to the table shaking his head. Somehow I manage to eat. We go back outside afterwards and I look and there is my wallet plain as day next to the car. Much to my dis-belief, everything is still in it. Miracles DO happen! I am hard-pressed to think of the last time I’ve been this happy. Even sitting here now, 50-odd hours later, I still can’t believe it. A nightmare with a happy ending; I think about the credit card and drivers license I found at the theater and turned in the previous night. Karma IS real, dammit; I know it now.

We spend Saturday afternoon rooting through vinyl in a hot, non air-conditioned record store and an adjacent retro store where I purchase several postcards and a colorful tip tray with an old picture of San Franciscos’ Lombard Street on it. Then it’s off to yet another Mexican restaurant where we pig out like starving men.

Sunday morning we go and visit Mack White ( ) and his wife Dianne, something no visit to Austin would be complete without.  He treats us to a sneak peek at his new artwork for Fantagraphics HOTWIRE #2, we drink coffee and discuss many things for a few hours and then we realize we are running out of weekend. Tom, his friend Mike and I pile in Toms car and begin the dreaded journey up I-35 back to Fort Worth.

We cruise like kings of the road until we get past Waco and then I-35 turns into a parking lot. We detour through Hillsboro and eventually spill back onto I-35. We zoom past one blank billboard after another, obvious victims of the Internet. Past one “all-ratings” video rental store after another. And finally Fort Worth. We’re back, dammit.

Oh well, Austin’s not going anywhere. I’ll be back.



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