The More Things Change…

As I mentioned in my previous post, Sheila and I ventured to Austin, TX last week to visit some friends and get the fuck out of Dodge (that is to say, Bloomington) for a while. A good time was had by all, and as is the case with vacations, it wasn’t nearly long enough. Big thanks to our homeboy Sal for putting us up for the week, and for driving us all over town and entertaining my nostalgic whims. I still plan to write more about my time living in Austin at some point, hopefully sooner than later, but for now, a brief debriefing of our trip.

This place was across the street from where we parked for lunch that first day in town. I don’t know what it is, but it sure looks cool.

We landed in ATX more or less right on time, and were quickly carted away for lunch through some terrifying traffic at a really great vegetarian/vegan spot called Bouldin Creek Cafe, located on the south side of the sprawling city. After lunch, we went on a brief driving tour of some southside landmarks (I was pleased to see Peter Pan Mini-Golf appeared unchanged in my 13+ year absence) and found ourselves at the Broken Spoke for a mid-afternoon vacation libation.

Dr. Frank-N-Furter, in leiu of a mirror in the men’s room of the Bouldin Creek Cafe.

I went to the Broken Spoke once during my time living in Austin, and it was like walking into a time capsule then. I recall very few buildings in the immediate vicinity of the gravel parking lot when I visited in early 2006, but the mostly paved parking lot now sits in the midst of 3-4 towering high rise buildings that I assume are condos, but what they are is irrelevant; they’re an eyesore no matter who spends time in them, and for what reason. Progress is often such a regression.

An abundance of cars in the parking lot hinted that they were open for business, and we walked in to find the bartender cutting limes at a table, with a few other people (and a couple of dogs) sitting together on the left side of the room. She asked if she could help us, Sal said we were hoping to get a beer, and she got up and walked behind the bar (where an older gentleman who we soon realized was the owner) was already standing, previously unnoticed by us. We perused the beer list for a moment before he said “if you’re drinkin in Texas, you gotta have a Shiner or a Lone Star”, and considering the other best options were Budweiser and Dos Equis, we obliged.

We wandered around and checked out the impressive collection of memorabilia placed all around the legendary honky-tonk (which is how we figured out the nice older fella was the owner), and it made me happy to see that in spite of all the “progress” surrounding it, the Broken Spoke, like Peter Pan Mini-Golf, hasn’t changed either (except for the beer prices). And by that, I mean that I don’t think they’ve even dusted since I was last in there, sometime in early 2006. It was truly a beautiful thing.

The group sitting on the left side of the main room seemed to be shooting a music video, or perhaps a promotional spot – a lady was wearing a fancy flowered dress with bow on her head, playing an upright bass, and she sang a little, and someone took pictures and video inside as well as out in front of the building. No idea what was going on, but it was an interesting thing to accidentally be a part of.

As we were finishing our beers, a guy came in and stood at the bar, where the bartender was nowhere to be found. He wandered around briefly before asking us if anyone was working. We told him someone was, but we didn’t know where she’d gone. I heard a sound from the direction of the kitchen and told him as much. He went to the kitchen and asked about getting a beer only to be told that they didn’t open until 5:00. I’m really not sure why they didn’t tell us the same (or why there were so many cars in the parking lot) but if they had, I suppose I wouldn’t have a story, however boring, to relate. At any rate, I’m pleased to announce that walking into the Broken Spoke is still like walking into a time capsule.

Next we headed up “The Drag”, which is the portion of Guadalupe Street that runs along the western edge of the University of Texas campus. The biggest change I noticed there is that the signage on the front of the Church of Scientology building is covered by black trash bags, which is where that shitty, ridiculous fraud of a “religion” belongs – in the trash. I don’t know if they’re closed forever (I’ve since read that they’re renovating), but a girl can dream, right? We stopped at the Amy’s Ice Cream on Guadalupe, which I’m pretty sure is the first Amy’s I ever ate ice cream in, and where I promply got my fix of their unbelievably good coffee ice cream. Seriously, I’ve been thinking about that coffee ice cream since I moved away from Austin, and it was every bit as good as I remembered.

Dinner that night was at a place called Licha’s Cantina (they refer to their cuisine as “Mexico City Soul Food”, whatever that means), located a bit east of I-35, on the eastern edge of downtown; that whole area is way more fancypants than it was when I lived there. The restaurant was packed to the rafters with shitty hipsters, but the service staff was top notch, and the food was good. We went for drinks after at Yellow Jacket Social Club, where a bunch of guys did a bunch of cocaine in the men’s room. It was a cool place other than those douchers – top notch country music playing, (relatively) cheap drink prices, and lots of entertaining graffiti on the picnic tables outside, as well as in the men’s room.

Poor Danny’s having a rough go of things.
This one was not there when I sat down.

We moseyed back to Sal’s place to finish off the night and slept the restless sleep that is slept by people who overindulged in food and drink. We awoke the next morning to varying intensities of rain, drank some coffee, and broke our fast at Torchy’s Tacos, where I had a really fucking good fried avocado taco and a really fucking good migas taco and some really fucking good (but strong!) coffee. Sal then drove us to see my last workplace (the building is still standing, but no longer houses the same business), my last residence, and my first residence, all of which are in the north-northwest part of town. It was pretty surreal to see places I used to live, and that I thought I’d likely never see again. Both apartments looked pretty much the same, like maybe they’d been powerwashed and had a fresh coat of paint at some point, but otherwise, if I hadn’t known better, I might think I was still living and working in all three places. I do wish it hadn’t been raining so hard at this point in the day, as I would’ve liked to’ve snapped some pictures of the places, but such is life. I’m pretty sure I have pictures of both apartments somewhere in my closet. Maybe I’ll share them here some day.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon checking out some local breweries, namely Austin Beerworks, Celis Brewery, and 4th Tap Brewing Co-op. I love visiting breweries, in part because I love beer, but also because it’s really cool to see how different they all are from one another while ostensibly offering the same product. Each location clearly reflects the vision of its owners and/or brewers, and I like that very much. From my journal: “AB was my fave, flava-wise, but Celis had the best “vibe” to me.” 4th Tap seemed very cool as well, but by the time we got there, I was too full to properly appreciate their beer. They’re worker-owned, which I love, and they had video and board games, so I imagine it’s a pretty fun place to hang out.

Men’s room sign at Austin Beerworks. The one on the left reminds me of Mr. Lahey from Trailer Park Boys, may he rest in peace.
Celis offered these, and they were indeed “so gut”! I love a good/dumb pun, but seeing a good/dumb pun involving multiple languages is like winning the World Series.

Our friend Adam met up with us at 4th Tap, and Sal and I disembarked to Sal’s house to drop off the car and get a Lyft to meet Sheila and Adam for dinner. Sal chose a place called Vivo, and it was mind-blowingly fucking good. The tortilla chips were clearly made with sorcery, all buttery and warm and just seriously the best tortilla chips I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat. The salsa and queso were top notch as well, and my spinach & mushroom enchiladas with poblano cream sauce were some of the finest enchiladas I’ve eaten, and I have eaten a lot of enchiladas. I also got a very good “puffy taco” with tofu and a bunch of other stuff in it, and from a strictly gastrointestinal standpoint, that was a mistake. I used to be able to eat an unholy amount of food (22 slices of pizza at a Mr. Gatti’s once, when I was in high school, but that’s a story for another time), but I just can’t eat Tex-Mex no more like I used to could. All in all, I’d easily rate that meal one of the 20 Best Meals I’ve Ever Eaten, Ever.

Karaoke followed at a place called The Common Interest, and it was fun. I sang “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath, which is one of my go-to karaoke jamz, and the crowd was very laid back and supportive. I also witnessed a guy sing a Slayer song,which was definitely a karaoke first for me.

Next morning we all awoke a bit rougher for the wear, and made the wise decision to eat homemade oatmeal for breakfast. We then ventured south, to visit Waterloo Records (where I scored some pretty sweet stuff), eat more Amy’s Ice Cream (a scoop each of coffee and Irish cream for me this time), lunch at Magnolia Cafe, dig Barton Springs, and check out SoCo, not necessarily in that order. We then paid a visit my old southside apartment (the one in the bougie ghetto), which, like the northside haunts, looks no different aside from the exterior paint. We then met up with our friend Luc, who Sheila and I hadn’t seen in a whole lot of years, and had dinner at Home Slice Pizza. New York style pizza is definitely not my preferred style, but Home Slice does it well. A little tip, though: if you think yourself and your dining partner should each get a house salad along with a medium pizza (which is the smallest whole pizza they offer), fuckin think again. That house salad is monstrously large for a 7 dollar salad.

We finished that evening off with beers at the Draught House Pub & Brewery, and it was a very cool place (aside from the restroom nearest us, which was maybe the hottest place on Earth). The bartender was playing the Supersuckers, which was extra fun considering they were playing in town that night. I didn’t bother to find out if they were playing the Supersuckers because they were sad they couldn’t go, or if it was a coincidence, but either way, I always dig the Supersuckers.

You should dig them, too.
Holy shit.

Our last day in town included a very good brunch with Sal and Adam at the original Kerby Lane Cafe, followed by a brief visit to the lovely and scenic Mt. Bonnell, sans Adam, who said “I’ve seen it”. I’d seen it once before, in 2002, at which time I left some graffiti that I’m 99% certain I managed to find, although I did not take a picture of it this time for some reason. Probably because I’m a dingus.

On top of Mt. Bonnell, looking whichever direction that is (east-ish?) toward what, if memory serves, is the Loop 360 bridge, whatever that’s called. It was really hard to not throw a rock toward those expensive-ass houses down there.
On top of Mt. Bonnell, looking whichever direction that is (south, probably!), toward downtown ATX.
Facing downtown from atop Mt. Bonnell again, from a slightly different angle this time.
Cacti are fucking neat. This was also taken on Mt. Bonnell (obviously?).

We followed this excursion with a terrible drive to the south side of town (every drive to or from the south side of Austin to or from the north side of Austin is terrible) to visit Luc again, this time at his place of employment, which is a small local coffee roaster. He gave us a glass of nitro cold brew coffee and a tour, and that was a very cool thing to get to do, plus we got to shoot the shit with Luc a bit longer. Also, if you like coffee and you’ve never had nitro cold brew, do yourself a favor and figure out a way to change that.

We left there and high-tailed it back to North Lamar Boulevard so I could finally set foot back inside Austin Books and Comics. I was able to fill a few holes in my G.I. Joe collection for a very reasonable price, and I got some good info about their back-issue program, which ships to out-of-towners. We dined at Vivo again, because I just couldn’t stop thinking about those cursed/blessed tortilla chips, and this time I got the calabacitas, and it was absolutely the right decision. We ended that day’s (mis)adventures with a punk show at the Sahara Lounge (first band who we missed, Utin Utin, Poizon, and The Ka-nives), and a good time was had by all, even if they were charging $8.25 for a pour of Bulleit.

There are bleachers directly behind where I was standing when I took this picture.

Had one last pretty dang good breakfast taco at the airport, in a lounge area where live music apparently sometimes occurs (see above photo), then we were back in the air, eventually landing in cold, gray, shitty Indianapolis, where cold, gray, shitty real life awaited us the next day. But I kid; a vacation is never long enough, but then if it went on too long, it would no longer be a vacation.

Sign outside a dumpster near Vivo. Humanity could learn a thing or two from that dumpster.

Thanks for reading. See you next time.

I Be Trippin’

I recently said to my buddy Marcus (as wise a man as I’ve ever known) that I wasn’t writing much lately because I had too many thoughts in my head and I couldn’t decide what to write about, to which he replied “isn’t that what writing is for?” And so here I am on a cold, rainy Saturday, remembering that I started this particular blog with no preconceived notions about what it should be, which means that the fact that I can’t decide what to write about should actually be a benefit to this blog, if not necessarily a benefit to you good people.

Mrs. Circle Pit and I are headed south next week, to visit some friends in Austin, Texas, and I’m extremely excited about that. I lived in Austin from late May 2003 until mid-August 2006, when my first marriage fell apart for a variety of reasons (namely that I married the wrong person), and I haven’t been back since I left, also for a variety of reasons. My time there is well documented in my journals, and I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about re-visiting those days in my writing, and this seems like as good a time as any.

A little background: in my early twenties, I decided I wanted/needed to move away from the area I’d lived my entire life. I’d recently watched Twin Peaks for the first time, which went a long way toward instilling a sense of both wonderlust and wanderlust, and I decided to visit my friend Kara in Seattle, in part because I missed her, but also so I could make her drive me to North Bend, where much of the fictional town of Twin Peaks is located in real life.

Everything about the trip was amazing and perfect, and I returned home determined to move there. Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen. If you know me at all, you know that I’m both indecisive and lazy, two things that are not good companions to determination. Instead I continued living in my parents’ house, delivering pizza part time, and saving approximately $0.00 toward any kind of life change.

Then one fateful day, my friend Matt got married. Well, the fateful day was actually the day before, when I arrived about 30 minutes early to the rehearsal. There I met Tara, best friend of the bride-to-be, bridesmaid, and all-around cool chick. I sweated my way through some long since forgotten conversation with her (and with the minister, whose conversational skills made mine seem good), and the next day at the reception, I slammed down two rum and cokes so I could work up the nerve to ask her to dance. She accepted my sweaty offer, and we had a nice time, and the next day I sweatily returned to delivering pizza part time while I lived in my parents’ house, where I continued to sweat.

A couple weeks later, fresh off his honeymoon, Matt called me up while I was working and dropped a knowledge bomb on me in a way that is so perfectly Matt. Our conversation – or at least my recollection of it – went something like this:

Matt: “Did you have a nice time at the reception?”

Me: “I did.”

Matt: “Tara had a nice time, too.”

Me: “Oh, cool.”

Matt: “Is that all?”

Me: “Should there be more?”

Matt: “No, I guess not. I’ll just tell Katherine to let Tara know you’re not interested.”

Matt is very good at talking in circles and speaking in riddles; it’s part of what I love about him. And while unrelated this particular conversation, he also likes to argue. I shouldn’t have been surprised when he decided to go to law school. Anyhoo…

Moving the story along: Tara and I started talking on the phone, pretty much every night, and we started making plans for me to visit her in Austin ASAP. Her involvement in grad school got me excited about college for the first time in a long time, and I decided to go back in school for something like the 300th time . I flew down to visit her shortly after the fall semester began, missing a few days of classes in the process, but I had an amazing time, and I fell in love with both the girl and the city. Suddenly, my wanderlust had a real and specific destination.

We spent time together over our Christmas break, and I flew back down to visit her over my spring break the following March. We attended the Bloodshot Records showcase at SXSW while I was there, and it was fucking awesome, and I also spent some time finding an apartment, finally settling on a one-bedroom place one block away from Tara’s apartment.

I had the most enjoyable and successful semester of my long and wasteful state university career (3 A’s and a B+), and moved to Austin less than one month after the semester ended. My dad, my brother, my cousin, and my nephew all helped with the move, which was an exhausting and miserable 18-20 hour experience that I wouldn’t change for the world. They left the next day, and just like that, I was 1,000 miles from home, seemingly forever.

I found a job at an H-E-B, stocking the grocery shelves overnight. It was awful, and it remains the only job I’ve ever quit via the hated “no-call/no-show”. I also decided on a whim (after seeing a commercial on TV) to visit the local culinary school and see what they had to offer, as I’d long had in interest in cooking. Approximately 90 minutes later, they had me signed up to start classes in two weeks.

I won’t go into my experiences at school all that much, except to say that it was not a very good school (they’re actually no longer in business, as they were one of those shady for-profit schools that preys on people like the person I was in 2003), and the bulk of what I learned there was only indirectly related to cooking (Chef Leichter’s stories of cooking in New York City were hilarious and fascinating). I did gain a few things of note, however.

First, I got a job through the school, working full time at a cafeteria (the Harcourt Cafe) in a corporate office building (the Harcourt Building), making coffee, then going on to cook breakfast and lunch for the employees of a company that publishes textbooks for elementary, junior-high, and high school classes. I met some cool people there – both co-workers and customers (I also met some real assholes there) – and I have enough stories from my two-ish years there for at least one more full blog post, but I also learned a lot about cooking while I was there (way more than I learned in culinary school).

Second, I made some friends at school that I’m still friends with today. I’ve lost touch with/completely forgotten about way more of my classmates, but I’m still in contact with a few of them, and they’re good people, and I’m glad that I know them.

The third thing of note that happened to me at culinary school was meeting Alison. She was in my class, and I’d noticed her early on, thinking offhandedly that she seemed funny and was cute, but that was that. We continued on with our schooling, finishing out our year by working together for six weeks in the school’s short-order style cafe. Next thing I know, I’m breaking up with Tara one week before we’re scheduled to move in together. I didn’t handle it well, but in my defense, I’d never broken up with anyone before. Tara was my first girlfriend, which I didn’t mention earlier only because it didn’t fit the flow earlier. I obviously should’ve broken up with her sooner, but I legitimately had no idea how to go about it.

I still feel kinda bad about the whole thing, and I don’t know if she ever thinks about me anymore, but if she does, I’m sure it’s directly related to what an asshole I am, and if that’s the case, she is not wrong about that.

Without a place to live, I ended up moving in with Alison right away, doing little to quell Tara’s suspicions of my infidelity (which for the record were unfounded, at least in a physical sense, though I’d certainly checked out of that relationship emotionally at least a month prior to the breakup). She drunkenly proposed to me on her birthday that August, and I stonededly accepted, and we were joined in unholy matrimony the following January.

In retrospect, I think that’s where we went wrong.

My family and my friends Kara and Katie all traveled down to attend the ceremony and reception, and a good time was had by most. I probably should’ve taken the raging migraine I endured on our short honeymoon as a sign of things to come, but I was too swept up in love and lust.

We kept on keepin on, me working full time at the Harcourt Cafe, her looking for work part of the time and doing who knows what the other part. Her employment status certainly added some strain to our marriage, but I believed in us, or I wanted to, anyway.

When our lease ended, we moved to the south side of town, into what I soon realized was a Section 8 apartment complex (when something seems too good to be true, it probably is). Many shitty adventures awaited us there, but there was a silver lining – Alison got a job! And it was close-ish to my workplace, so we could carpool!

Some of the shitty adventures involved Fred, our downstairs neighbor. Fred was unemployed and on disability, and spent most of his days and nights leaning on the stair railing drinking and smoking, making it nearly impossible for us to enjoy the out-of-doors, as he simply couldn’t not talk to us, or more accurately, at us. The memory of his drunken laugh still makes my skin crawl. His wife, Tammy, was friendly enough, but interacting with her always bummed me out; I could sense the sadness and regret in her eyes and in her voice.

Fred had a shitty mid-90’s Mercury Sable that he outfitted, bafflingly enough, with an alarm. It was a shitty car, owned by a shitty person, so naturally the alarm was shitty. Fred’s goddamn car alarm went off ALL THE DAMN TIME.

Neighborhood kid rides his skatebard down the sidewalk? There goes Fred’s car alarm.

Thundershower rolls through? There goes Fred’s goddamn car alarm.

Garbage truck collects the trash at 5 in the morning? There goes Fred’s motherfucking car alarm. And naturally, Fred was always passed the fuck out when that would happen.

There are many more stories about our year living in the ghetto, but I’ll save them for another time, because I don’t have all day. Suffice to say, the stress of living there (along with with stress of our 20 minute commute to work taking over an hour on the return trip because of the goddamn ridiculous traffic in Austin) definitely added more cracks to the foundation of our union. When that lease ended, we moved back north.

Our new place was much nicer, and it was located such that I could ride my bike to work, which was nice/essential when my car (my beloved 1994 Kia Sephia that I’d driven down there, as well as all over the midwest before I moved to Texas) wouldn’t pass the mandatory state inspection for registration. Alison got a new job somewhere around that time as well, and things were looking up. We moved in on a cold, drizzly February day, and the next morning, I walked out the front door and down the stairs to look around the parking lot, only to slip on some ice on the bottom step, bust my ass, and spill my coffee. Like that honeymoon headache, the incident should’ve set off warning alarms.

Time marched on, and Alison started talking about this new friend from work who she thought would be a good match for our friend Leah. She arranged for the two of them to come over and hang out one night, and there was no obvious chemistry between them, but looking back with that perfect 20/20 vision afforded by hindsight, I can see the faintest beginnings of what eventually culminated in Alison leaving our house to stay with him while I spent my last two weeks in town packing up my stuff and waiting for my dad and my cousin to drive back down and help me move back home, because she and I now resided in Splitsville, USA.

I wrote a poem about us:

You never changed your maiden name

I never got that matching tattoo

Neither of us ever did a goddamn thing

We said we were gonna do

I spent my last week there staying with my buddy Steve, who also let me keep all my shit in his garage while I worked out my notice at my job. In the early evening hours of August 18, 2006, my dad and cousin arrived in a rented van, we loaded up all my worldly possessions (aside from some junk I left behind on purpose, in part so she’d have to deal with throwing it away or otherwise figuring out what to do with it), and drove up to Waco, where we stopped to stay for the night. Next morning we lit out for home, taking a very long, not-even-remotely-on-the-way detour to Springfield, Missouri, so they could see the Bass Pro Shops National Headquarters. Given the situation, I was in no position to protest their decision, but to say I was unhappy about adding at least an hour of drive time to what already seemed like a 15,000 hour trip would be putting it mildly.

At any rate, we arrived at my parents’ house very late on August 19th (or possibly very early on August 20th), and Dad drove me to Bloomington the following afternoon and helped me unload the van into my new place, and a brand new chapter of my life began just as quickly as the last one had ended. That chapter may or may not be related here another time.

Long story short, I’m now happily married to the love of my life (going on 10 years!), and in just a little under 68 hours, I’ll be back in Austin for the first time in 13 1/2 years, and as I mentioned previously, I’m very excited. I’m gonna visit Austin Books and Comics and Waterloo Records and Amy’s Ice Cream and maybe Magnolia Cafe and I’M SO EXCITED! Also, I won’t be at work, and that’s definitely a bonus.

I do hope I don’t run into Tara or Alison, but it is a possibility, because as far as I know, all my ex’s do, in fact, live in Texas.

Thanks for reading, y’all. Until next time…