I think I’m done whining about Austin’s winter weather. No one should whine about Austin’s winter weather when they know for a fact that it is minus 2000 and snowing flakes shaped like bullets in Minneapolis. But my neck hurts from the routine whiplash of temperatures—33 degrees at dawn to near 80 by three o’clock in the afternoon—and newsworthy sunshine on the heels of flash flood-level rains. But like I said, I’m done complaining about it. I’m going to change things up and go exploring, in what may become a new feature of Steal Just One Day: Broad-Ranging Local.
After many years and miles journeying around the world, I am enjoying the chance to use those same skills toward roaming closer to home. Have to keep those travel talents sharp, right? In the few months since we moved here, Brian and I immersed ourselves in the sea of music that Austin is justifiably famous for: Guy Forsyth, James McMurtry, Toni Price and Joe Ely playing at places like the Saxon Pub, StrangeBrew lounge, and the Continental Club. You can enjoy some of Austin’s best music within 10 minutes of our place. It would be tough to swing a dead nine-banded armadillo without hitting a quality musician upside the head around here. You’d probably get busted if you tried, because the nine-banded armadillo has been the official state small mammal of Texas since 1995.
I decided to put my nine-banded armadillo back in its holster, slip on my cowboy boots and go looking for a few other things to do in Austin. Partly, this will expand my repertoire of activities on offer the next time friends or family come knocking. Also, it allows for one more week to occupy my time before I am forced to dive into tax preparation, which every year threatens to prove conclusively that evil really has triumphed over what passes for good. I said that I’m done grumbling about the weather, but you’ve gotta give me taxes, okay?
Anyway, to help me broaden my range locally, I harnessed the power of a couple of people who aren’t local to Austin either, and whom I didn’t even know until about a minute ago. This is where connections come in.
Sitting at breakfast awhile ago I got a message from a woman who is a life-long friend of my exceptional friend, Mary, asking “Want a new friend?”
A bonafide day stealer would say, “Why not?”
Turns out that, while not local, Kelly has lived in Austin long enough to know better and then stayed anyway. She reached out to me, figuring (correctly) that I hadn’t had much time to make new friends yet, and invited me to go eat barbecue with her and her husband. Barbecue is a major food group in Texas, which is just fine with me, but I had made only half-hearted attempts at finding a place that I cared to return, so I was excited about getting in on some local knowledge.
I met Kelly and Mitch at Live Oak Barbecue & Beer on Austin’s east side for what turned out to be the very last day of Live Oak’s existence. The word had gone out and the LOB&B faithful had gathered in the squat building on East 2nd street to say goodbye to the crew and eat the final bit of brisket. The line snaked around the tables, leading out the back door and as we inched closer to the order counter, strips of masking tape began to cover up the items no longer available for lunch. First to go: the brisket. My heart fell. It surged again with the pulled pork, until the tape covered the pork as well. Meat after meat, potato salad after grits was lost to us as masking tape took over the board. When we were still about 30 people out from ordering with only two items left on the board, Mitch called it: we would head over to the Micklethwait Craft Meat food truck.
Despite the pouring rain and no indoor seating, Micklethwait’s was exactly what I was looking for in a barbecue joint, except for a roof. The service was excellent and the guys in the truck were serious about the ‘cue and witty about pretty much everything else. I ordered a two-meat plate with brisket (because this is Texas and barbecue means brisket here) and something called barbacoa. Barbacoa is of Caribbean Taino origin and refers to a style of cooking meat. At Micklethwait’s, at least that day, it meant beef cheeks. I kid you not. I rounded off my plate with jalapeño cheese grits and borracho beans. The guy asked my name; when I said “Barbara”, he laughed and said, “Barbara-coa!” which may be the coolest nickname I have ever been given.
A few succulent-smelling moments later, I heard my new nickname shouted over the patter of the rain on my umbrella. Seldom is eating with one hand while the other is holding an umbrella worth it, unless you are slurping phở bắc hunkered down on a Hanoi street. Mickelthwait’s food is worth the effort, and the company of Kelly and Mitch made it even better. We discovered stuff we had in common, one of which is that Kelly and I had worked for Windjammer Cruises many years ago, which made us members of a small club of people, several of whom remain my friends. It’s always great when you can make those connections with people you meet and I will be seeing more of my new friends soon, as we get back to exploring the music scene and also return to Micklethwait’s. I was too stuffed with brisket and barbacoa to even contemplate a home-made moon pie, but I won’t make that mistake a second time.
For my second non-music outing, I chose the Alamo Drafthouse cinema, where I saw a movie about…music. Whiplash has been on my to-see list for several months but had disappeared until this weekend when it made a comeback after being nominated in several categories for film awards. The film is about a young jazz drummer and his exacting and cruel teacher. It’s an intense viewing experience and I thought it was great. The Drafthouse is now my new best thing in movie theaters. With locations around the USA from Austin to Kalamazoo and San Francisco to Yonkers, check to see if there is one near you and have a go. There is wait-staff in each theater, so you never have to miss the critical part of the film while you’re getting a refill. You can eat brunch while you’re watching a movie. With the proper beverage. They will bring you freshly baked chocolate chip cookies! Never before have warm cookies been my go-to movie snack, but I may change my mind. I’ll have to try them one more time to know for certain. Alamo Drafthouse has strict rules that are perfectly reasonable: Don’t talk during the movie, and don’t even think about using your cell phone. In fact, don’t even look at your cell phone. When I heard that Madonna was banned from Alamo’s theaters for texting during a showing of 12 Years a Slave, I knew that this was the place for me.
Next up for my broad-ranging local experience? Comedy.
I met Mike E. Winfield through twitter, in the random way many of us get connected via social media. He followed me, so I checked out his twitter feed and realized that the Sacramento-based, Baltimore-born comic has been on Letterman, The Office, and Comedy Central. Better yet, this week, February 4-8 he will be headlining at Cap City Comedy Club here in Austin. Connections, people! Here’s a short video of Mike:
Mike and I messaged back and forth a bit and he invited me and my husband to his show this Friday night. I love this about people. Even through social media, which can feel pretty impersonal, we have a knack for taking what might be a tenuous connection, just a thread really, and weaving that until it is strong enough to hold us.
On Friday, I will grab onto that thread and spin it until I wind up at Cap City and meet Mike E. Winfield in person. If you’re around Austin, stop by and make some connections of your own; it would be fantastic to meet you. I know a great barbecue joint now, thanks to new friends.
Here are some links to help you explore if you plan to be a Broad-Ranging Local: