What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Day 6: Bethlehem, PA

After a busy weekend full of social activity and sight-seeing, I take it easy for the next few days at my parents’ house.  I spend my first morning back just putzing around the house and going through the books I had packed up four years ago (surprise, there are more that I can bear to part with!), and then I drive to Lost River Caverns to catch up with my old boss and coworkers and do some shopping. It’s busy, at least compared to what I would have expected mid-August, so my old boss tells me to just help myself. I must give off “I work here” vibes still; people ask me questions about how to get to the bathrooms or where things are.

The inside is all done up and it looks fabulous—so much better than when I was still working there—and I linger a while to talk to my old bosses and coworkers and some of the new shop ladies and guides. Everything is familiar despite the fabulous makeover and once again I miss my weirdo minimum wage retail job.

Next stop on the agenda is the Bethlehem library. I don’t bother driving in during Musikfest; I just wait for the bus (have I gone full European native?) and meander towards the library from the parking/bus hub. There’s no Amerikaplatz next to the library anymore, which I don’t like (fond memories of Tea Leaf Green and Royal Noise Brigade at that stage), but I suppose the library employees appreciate the new-found quiet. I pick out a book—Murder in Retrospect, or Five Little Pigs, which is my Facebook book club’s August choice—and sit down and read, and alternate my reading with checking Facebook and talking with friends on gchat.

A cover of Agatha Christie's "Five Little Pigs" featuring a small blue bottle, an artist's palette, and a glass of beer next to a brown beer bottle.

After I finish the book, I wander through Musikfest, grab a “Marga-mead-a,” and head down to Volksplatz to wait for The Skatalites. I sit through The Hillbenders, a bluegrass act, and enjoy them enough to buy an album as roadtrip soundtrack/thank-you gift for my ride up to Maine. I totally sneak a preview listen later and the album is way more straight country, and kind of worse, than their live performance. 🙁 For me, the highlight of that show was probably a high-energy cover of MGMT’s “Kids.” I had spent the whole day being sad and moody over leaving Austin, and that moment was the point where I started to maybe feel like not everything was a total garbage fire.

Then, after time to change sets and move the first rows of chairs out of the way, The Skatalites come on, and I dance my heart out. They do their cover of the James Bond theme and I get a powerful hit of high school nostalgia. I had listened to their version of the incomparable movie theme a lot in high school, but this was in the days of Napster and people being really ignorant and slapdash with labeling artists (“Wish You Were Here” by Oasis? Really?), so I was never sure if it was actually The Skatalites. I went into the show with zero expectations I’d hear that song, so it’s a nice surprise to hear that opening bass riff.

Later in the set they also do the theme from “From Russia With Love” and I wonder: is that a coincidence or a political statement? Other covers include “A Message To You, Rudy” and “Three Little Birds.”

I ducked out in the middle of an encore to make sure I could get a bus home, only: surprise! The late bus I thought was running wasn’t, so I dropped in at a friend’s instead. Not the most gracious way to make an entrance from across the ocean (“I can’t read bus schedules, Tesia, can I crash your guest bed?”) but friendship is magic! And I’m stopping by home to celebrate Tesia’s PhD, after all.  It’s not super late, but I still conk right out.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Day 5: Austin, TX to Bethlehem, PA

The weather for my Monday flight out is appropriately dour and unpleasant: overcast, drizzly, and just plain “blah.” It matches my mood.

I’m up half an hour before everyone else, so after I triple-check what small amount of luggage I have, I sit out in the living room with the cats and read some more James Tiptree, Jr. while the rest of the household wakes up and does their thing around me. Things move quietly and efficiently until Noah gets the text alert that my ride to the airport’s arrived. I say my goodbyes at the door, but then an idea hits Noah.

“I’ll come out with you. I just realized that the driver will probably be looking for me, since I called for the ride.”

I’m reminded of our goodbye in NYC last October, when it was Noah disappearing into an Uber to the airport and I was the one left behind. On that equally gray morning, after hugging out our goodbyes, I had hung by the open door and watched him disappear down the stairs with our host, only for him to dart back at the last minute for a last hug. This time it’s me vanishing into an Uber for the airport.

We meet my ride at the curb, a cheerful woman in early middle age. I swing my larger bag in the back of the car. Noah pulls me in for one hug then, and then the “one more hug” trick again right before I step in the back passenger seat. After that, he lets me go for real, and I get in the car.

It’s the price you pay to pull up stakes and move to another country. Facebook and Skype and email help, but they’re not the same. And some people translate better online than others. Noah is markedly worse than others. That’s probably what makes our goodbyes so heavy.

On the plus side, I have a pleasant ride to the airport. It’s weird talking to human beings for no reason again; it’s weird how comfortable I am doing it (after stony silences in cabs and Ubers in Stockholm and NYC). Is this my inner American coming out? Is this who I’ve been all along?

No, it’s probably just being in Texas. Extroversion acquired via osmosis.

We talk about music festivals: how much money people can make off of SXSW, how busy it can get, how small Musikfest (on my to-do list during this trip) is by comparison, even though both festivals have been running for about as many years.

Musikfest 2013. Image courtesy the official Lehigh Valley Flickr account.

I check in at the airport without a problem and see again that I’ll be among the last board. Whatever. I make it on board and text Noah and my mom to let them know that everything went according to plan.

The weather in Newark is equally crummy and I’m convinced that we’re going to hydroplane into the back of a tractor trailer or get sideswiped or anything else on the way home. I’m no longer used to car rides on the highway in inclement weather; is this a small sign of my own de-Americanization?

Obviously we make it home just fine. I get Priscilla, my indestructible-except-for-her-hinges laptop, up and running (how many months of updates do I need to install? too many), check in with my sambo on Google Hangouts, and then begin the long work of culling my library yet again. I work on the project off-and-on for the next few days; eventually I’ll have five(!!) boxes of books for the Riegelsville library.

Riegelsville library

I take a break for Jeopardy!, because I’m a nerd, and then decide on my course of action for tomorrow: library and ‘fest.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Austin, TX, Day 4

It’s my last full day in Austin and I try really hard not to be sad about it. Fortunately that’s easy, because today’s the day we go to Natural Bridge Caverns in San Antonio and see the bats!

Everyone sleeps in and I’m the first up, again. I’ve finished Stories of Your Life and Others by now (I finished it while I was waiting for the bus to/at Book People yesterday); my eye catches a James Tiptree, Jr. collection and picks that up.

“Take that with you,” Elizabeth says when they wake up. “I’m basically holding on to those books to give away to people.”

Noah and Elizabeth decide to take advantage of the rental car and do the grocery shopping for all of the heavy things (read as: kitty litter). I follow along, because I really do genuinely like wandering around grocery stores, even if (like my trip with Elizabeth yesterday) there’s no giddy quality of planning and anticipation involved.

After we bring the groceries back (and make a quick run to the store to find a misplaced “bag of bags”), we decide to try to get lunch in town before the drive out to San Antonio. The places we check have incredibly long waits, though, so instead we get some macarons and a turkey and cheese sandwich (for me and Noah to split) and head straight to San Antonio and decide to eat there. Noah consults with a friend via text about the best tacos in San Antonio, and he responds: “Rolando’s Super Tacos, Jesus is Lord.”

A podcast interview with Eddie Izzard fills the silence on the long drive; a Texas state lawmaker (who both Noah and Elizabeth recognize, since they both work in the Capitol) drives very aggressively, ultimately passing us on the right, and Elizabeth and Noah both shriek in inchoate rage. (Apparently she’s a garbage politician in addition to a garbage driver.)

We get to Rolando’s Super Taco without incident. We took the “Jesus is Lord” part of the text to mean that really, they’re awesome tacos, but then when we arrive we see it: bold text, professionally painted on the side of the building.

The tacos are, indeed, super. And the water glasses are comically oversized. (“Welcome back to America,” either Elizabeth or Noah says when a “Jesus, this is huge” reflexively escapes my lips.)

Stuffed to the gills, we continue to the cave, which is a jaw-dropping tourist trap of truly American proportions. I suppose when your cave is in the middle of uninhabited ranch land, you can spread out as much as you like; there are two different gift shops, some kind of zip line attraction, a maze, gem panning, and even a cafeteria.

The next tour leaves in about five minutes, giving us enough time to stroll over to the tour holding pen. This cave opts for the “tour guide at every station” model, which I like less than the “have a new friend and personal cave psychopomp for an hour” model, but given some of the hairpin turns in the path, I see why it’s run the way it is. I don’t fall, thankfully, though Noah almost does.

They have an obligatory photo spot, which Noah and Elizabeth resent—”even if they don’t sell your picture to you, they can use it in promotional material”—and so they strive to look as awful as possible when the flash goes off.

I shrug. “Joke’s on them. I’m not photogenic at all!”

The cave itself is spectacular and miracle of miracles, my camera phone manages to capture some of the magic. I lose my mind repeatedly on the tour.

“Thank you for indulging my weirdo nerdy interests,” I say as we follow the walkway back to the main tourist campus of shops and food. I still have OMG CAVE HIGH thrumming through my veins.

“You’d do the same for me,” Noah replies.

“What would be the equivalent? That Eugene O’Neill play, I guess.”

“Oh, yeah. Which one was that?” He stops to think and we both say, together, “‘The Hairy Ape.'”

We wait in the cafeteria for the bat tour to begin. There’s some short paperwork to sign, a waiver for something or other, and then we’re out on the patio for a short lecture on bats. The bat colony here are Mexican free tail bats; they don’t hibernate, so they haven’t been devastated by White Nose Syndrome like the little brown bats in PA. But the BCI volunteer touches on WNS, and other kinds of bats as well. She brings up the flying fox: “Do I have anyone here who’s six foot?”

“This guy is,” Elizabeth says, pointing at Noah. The BCI volunteer asks him to stand and hold his arms to demonstrate the wingspan of a flying fox. Elizabeth and I both crack up, and she snaps a picture of his demonstration. The volunteer moves on to other bat species and Noah sits down.

As we’re caravaning out to the cave where the bats will emerge, Elizabeth tells Noah, “I volunteered you to stand up because I knew you would love it. Everyone watching you? Perfect.”

The drive to the cave is surprisingly long, though we can’t be driving more than 20 mph, so that’s part of it.

“They could just be really efficient serial killers,” Elizabeth wonders as we drive. The rental car isn’t exactly made for off-roading; I think we all are fervently hoping that we don’t get a flat or suffer any other road maladies. The survives, and right away you can smell the presence of bat. Woof. It’s a short walk through the Texan scrub and then we’re at the mouth of a cave. Or not at, not entirely; we’re a few hundred feet back, separated by a gentle slope full of rocks and debris.

At ground level a few benches have been built to seat bat observers, and some artificial terraces. We make our way to the front-most ledge and sit and wait, while the BCI volunteer continues to inform us about the nearby wildlife and other bat facts.

We see a few flutters of individual bats here and there, and then eventually they’re out, like a bat vortex. They stream out and into some fields we can’t see to feed on assorted pests. After a few minutes of watching, the BCI volunteer announces that she’ll be leading people to the other side, right over the cave, so we can be right under the bats as they fly.

It’s a pretty amazing sight, though I’m mindful of the fact that we’re under animals and try to remember to not stand and gape with my mouth wide open. Don’t want to be a bat toilet!

“They look like an aurora borealis,” I say.

“There is a river-like quality to their flight,” Noah agrees.

Again, I think of Vonnegut: If this isn’t nice, what is? “Not everything is a total garbage fire,” I comment, and Noah just laughs.

On our way out, we can still see bats silhouetted against the clouds in the vanishing daylight. According to the BCI volunteer, they can hit bursts of speed up to 100 mph. With the right wind and atmospheric conditions, I guess.

We pull back on the highway and listen to a podcast Elizabeth wanted to try out, The Babysitter’s Club Club. It’s two guys reading The Babysitter’s Club books, one for the first time and one for the first time since childhood. It suffers the usual podcast problem: desperately needs more editing and/or more scripting, and much of the episode is full of only moderately funny banter. We all pick it apart a little, and then Noah puts on another podcast for the second half of the trip home: Pop Culture Happy Hour.

As we wind in to Austin, food comes up. Noah is hungry; Elizabeth isn’t. (She had a huge platter at Rolando’s Super Tacos, Jesus is Lord.) Elizabeth drops us off at the all-purpose eatery Noah and I had patronized for breakfast on Friday and goes home herself. Noah gets loaded vegetarian nachos (tofu instead of bacon!) and I get a cider. We sit and talk about everything important and nothing in particular: friendships, relationships, anxieties, veganism. There’s no postponing the inevitable, though: we finish the nachos and my cider runs out and it’s definitely time to go home.

 

“Should we wake you up, or do you have an alarm?”

“I’ll set an alarm. Have I checked in?” Weird to phrase it like that, but since Noah bought the ticket, he’s the one who keeps getting the email reminders from Southwest.

“Yes, I did that this morning.”

“Okay, great.”

A few minutes into me last-minute packing and double-checking everything, Noah drifts out of the bedroom. “Okay, so I didn’t actually check you in. I had the window open to take care of the airport cab, but I never hit the button. Should I send it to you, or…?”

I wave him way. “You can just do it yourself, it’s fine.” If my flight back is overbooked and I get bumped to a later one, I don’t really care so much.

“Okay. Night!”

“Night!”

My things are packed as best as they can be with me still in pajamas. I double-check my alarm (poor form to miss a flight someone else has paid for), and then drift off to sleep.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Austin, TX, Day 3

It’s Feminist Science Fiction Book Club day. Noah has a meeting with the alumni board of his grad school program, so Elizabeth and I get to spend quality time together. Quality time at the supermarket, even: one of my favorite places to go when visiting people. This time, though, not so much. Not because I’m with Elizabeth but because it’s no longer so early into my trip here and there’s no giddy anticipation of “oh, let’s get this!”; we’re just shopping for the essentials for book club brunch.

When we get back, I hop in the shower while Elizabeth poaches eggs in their tiny kitchen, and it smells divine when I get out. I get out the table dressings and fight the urge to use the Swedish particle verb that neatly encapsulates the meaning of “set the table” when I ask if she wants me to set the table. Maybe I’ve gone native ?

I curl up with more Ted Chiang stories until people show up. Noah is the first back, triggering a stream of other arrivals: Camille, who I met last night, and two others. The chairs come out now, including those fold-up canvas sporting event chairs with the cupholders in the armrests. Noah takes one of them between me and Elizabeth, and it’s the rare occasion where I’m taller than him—he is, easily, a foot taller than me.

“This is really freaking me out,” I comment. “I’m not used to you being so much shorter than me. Usually it’s the opposite experience.”

Discussion kicks off with the trials and tribulations of cat ownership, and then we get to Karen Memory, which everyone seems more or less equally lukewarm about for a variety of reasons, but we all agree that there’s a long stretch in the middle where nothing happens. Noah brings up that the introduction of the cast of characters feels like a diversity checklist and maybe directly in response to the Sad/Rabid Puppies debacle of however many years ago now, someone else doesn’t care for the dialect, and I make my nitpicky point about how the book makes a useless and offhanded mention of radium watch dial painting that’s maybe 30 years anachronistic, and that people didn’t well and fully realize radium was killing those women for another 10? 20? years after. The “it’s a steampunk alternate history” argument is made, to which I counterargue that yes, I’ll take that for the big stuff, but for small things that seem to serve as a signal of “I did research!” it’s jarring and frustrating because it didn’t NEED to be in there for the story and ruins the whole image of “I did research!”

Cover of Elizabeth Bear's "Karen Memory."
Image courtesy Tor

We also discuss The Dispossessed and whether or not it’s feminist, and whether or not it squares with actual anarchist experience. (One member of the book club has experience with real-life anarchists, or maybe real-life anarchist communes, and Noah wants to pick her brain.) Members drift out again, for other events, but one member (who disliked the dialect) remains and discussion unofficially continues for a few minutes more. I bring up The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage as a potential read, and we talk about how contemporary computer science treats Lovelace. The question of whether or not I think it qualifies as feminist is brought up, and I argue yes, based on the fact that the author comes down pretty explicitly in the “was Ada a genuine inspiration or just riding the coattails?” debate as being, to put it roughly, pro-Ada, which can be seen as a sort of feminist statement maybe? Other books tangentially related to feminist sci-fi come up, and then it’s time for the last member to make a graceful exit.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

The next item on the agenda is a goodbye party for grad school friends who are leaving Austin by way of Mexico City for North Carolina. It’s not for hours, though, and Noah wants to head to the gym otherwise he’ll be bouncing off the walls. I suggest visiting Book People, which was a suggestion earlier in the visit that never manifested, and who can resist a visit to a book store? This works out—they can drive to the gym and leave me at a nearby bus stop for a route that goes straight there—and away we go.

I hole up in the bookstore cafe (one of the rare, not-all-purpose fooderies I visit; there is no beer and wine menu) with a hibiscus tea that’s probably 80% ice. I read through the first two trade paperback collections of Monstress. I briefly consider buying them, but err in favor of I don’t need any more goddamn books.

Noah and Elizabeth turn up much sooner than I’d expect from going to the gym, but I suppose they had a head start versus my wait for the bus and the bus ride here. We opt to hang out a while longer at Book People, since we all have reading: I’m still working on Monstress, Noah has picked up Conscience of a Conservative, and Elizabeth is reading a dense nonfiction book about one of the kings of France.

Once we’re sufficiently book’d and sufficiently hungry, we wander off in search of dinner, by way of the Lush store. Noah grouses about how so many of the bath items look like food (“That just seems like a bad idea!”) and a clerk overhears him and stops to chat about how they sometimes find items with teethmarks in them. We gab a bit more about shouldn’t context in the store make that clear, and then I think to ask if they have any stick perfume. I love my particular Korean brand and scent, but if Lush has something comparable it would probably be cheaper to get it from them than import it from Korea. I show her the container and she nods and leads me to a display where Elizabeth is talking to another sales rep.

“In these tins. We had sticks like that before, but they got stuck a lot and customers complained about wasted product.”

I thank her and give the vanilla sample a smell, but it’s impossible to tell anything in the store. I dose up one wrist with the Korean and another with the Lush, and walk outside to compare the scents in fresh air, free from olfactory interference. No dice; the Lush one smells like ice cream, sickly sweet and not the same floral-vanilla I’ve come to love.

Treaty oak austin 2015

Elizabeth and Noah are quick to follow me out, and we continue to dinner by way of the Treaty Oak, whose story Noah relates to me as we walk. Eventually, we end up at a diner, where I do the thing I always do for lunch or dinner in a new diner and order a grilled cheese. Discussion floats around board games and mistakes our parents taught us and how good the milkshakes are here.

“They cost more than five dollars, actually,” Noah offers, when he sees me struggling.

“THANK YOU,” I reply. “And they don’t put no bourbon in it or nothing?”

“Nope.”

Now it’s finally time for the goodbye party, and to start with I feel a tiny bit miserable because it’s a large group at a picnic table that makes it hard to have a conversation with more than just a handful of people at a time. But conversations settle into place like wagon ruts; topics flit back and forth among death metal bands and bad movies and effective solutions for homelessness (since everyone at the table is some kind of policy wonk or another). Eventually the host gets ready to leave for the next stop, and Elizabeth and Noah decide to call it quits. Everyone brushes their teeth and says goodnight.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Austin, TX, Day 2

My favorite part of visiting friends, particularly friends I only see every so often, is borrowing books from their personal libraries. It keeps me from having to pack books myself, and I like to see the ways that friends have branched out and developed in my absence. So it’s not a problem that Noah is still sleeping and Elizabeth has already left for work when I wake up a little after 7:00, alert and refreshed. I use the time to sit with a collection of Ted Chiang’s short stories, Stories of Your Life and Others.

I start with “The Story of Your Life,” since I had recently seen and enjoyed Arrival,  and have just begun another before Noah wakes up and brews some of the Söder tea I brought to go with the mugs. We talk while we finish our drinks, sleepy and meandering.Making new friends in a new country can be challenging, especially for introverts (and maybe even especially in a culture that’s very introverted); I relish the chance to spend time with someone who has a history with me and who knows me well, and vice versa. The conversation continues through starting a load of laundry, walking to (and then eating at, and then walking home from) a breakfast joint, and a visit to a store that has a proper name but that Noah and Elizabeth simply call “The Magic Rock Shop.”

My reputation precedes me, I guess; anytime I visit friends somewhere, they point me towards a nearby rock and gem shop, if one exists. I worked at a cave (a literal, hole-in-the-ground cave) with a pretty hardcore mineral and lapidary selection throughout college and afterwards. As a result, I have a soft spot in my heart for rocks, even today, and I guess it’s obvious to anyone who’s known me for any length of time. This one tilts more New Age than rockhound, but there’s still plenty to enjoy (and, of course, the pallets out back with the bulk, rough-cut slabs).

I’ll never understand the appeal of amazonite.

One of my priorities in Austin was seeing the Art.Science.Gallery. in person, but they’re closed while I’m in town. Oops!

What awful timing!

It’s quite close to Zhi Tea, though: across the street, basically. I know about Zhi Tea because of another friend, originally from Austin but now based in Sacramento. Noah is also a fan and it was already on his agenda for us that long weekend without me even asking, so it works out perfectly. We jaywalk across the street (I had forgotten how much the American landscape hates pedestrians) and I make a beeline for the black tea selection to find four I want to try in the little four-cup sampler. Noah orders an iced tea and we go and sit in the garden in the back.

Pardon the unintentional photobomb behind me.

All of my editing and lesson planning runs on bottomless cups of black tea. I love a good Söder, but I’m always curious about new varieties. My Sacramento friend had sent me some other Zhi Tea, and it was good enough that I was keen to try their other blends. None of those four in front of me disappointed, either.

I remember to (mis)quote Vonnegut at one point in between sips: “If this isn’t nice, what is?” Even with on-going life anxieties, I recognize that at least in that moment I’m happy. I like to think it comes out well in that photo; as someone with chronic Resting Bitch Face my smiles come out rather forced in most photos unless I’m genuinely and really happy.

After finishing our tea, we go back into the tea shop so I can make the difficult choice about which tea to buy. I eventually settle on Fredericksburg Peach, and we head out for Korean-Mexican fusion food next because all of the caffeine has put me in hummingbird mode; I need some food to take the edge off. Miraculously, I have a huge bowl of rice for lunch without lapsing into a food coma right after.

We bus over to the Capitol building for a tour. It’s much shorter than usual, since both the state senate and the state congress are in special sessions, so we just wander around the halls a bit, with our bald, eyepatch-wearing guide. I stop in the gift shop and pick up some postcards for mailing later.

We check out the state Senate and Congress from the gallery, Noah narrating in low tones about current legislation they’re trying to pass and assorted factions within the state government and within the state-level GOP. We don’t stay long (maybe the prospect of politics is too depressing?), though, and eventually head for the library, where Elizabeth works. Her day is almost over at this point, so we just wait at a table for her. Our conversation here, influenced by the library atmosphere, is slower and hushed. I encourage him to write more.

Then it’s back home, and everyone reads for an hour or two. I sit with Elizabeth in the living room and read more from Stories of Your Life and Others while Noah retires to the bedroom, eventually falling asleep in his book. Once in a while Elizabeth and I talk about the cats, or the graphic novel she’s reading for a book club.

We stay like that until it’s time for Master Pancake, a local riff show in the spirit of Mystery Science Theater 3000, my all-time favorite TV show. Before we get to the Alamo Drafthouse, it’s pizzas, Chicago style, in a dark and dingy bar. Three different TVs have three different things on, all muted with closed captioning: there’s Young Guns, a sports game, and something else.

“They have all the Austin bases covered,” Elizabeth notes. “People nostalgic for the 80s and people who want to watch sports.”

The food is a completely opposite experience for me from yesterday with the veggie sandwich and Subtraction Soup.  I thought I was hungry when I ordered, but after the first bite of pizza I realize This is way too much. Even with Noah mooching a slice off of mine, there’s still a last slice of my personal pie left over. I would have left it, truthfully, but Elizabeth wraps it in foil and bravely carries it in her purse for the rest of the night; Noah will have it for breakfast in the morning.

Eventually it’s time to the theater for Master Pancake. We stop at another, closer bar first, in order to meet up with everyone. I get my first and only Long Island for the trip, and we go up to the roof to people watch, which quickly turns into “sitting in the air-conditioned part of the roof bar and watching the arcade.”

More of Noah’s Austin friends find us at the bar, and we all have a good time at Master Pancake. We hang around the lobby of the Alamo Drafthouse, tired but also reluctant to brave the horde of loud, drunk people. It has to happen sooner or later, though, and we squeeze into someone’s car for a ride home. When we get back, it’s late but I’m not as tired as my hosts, so I make use of their wifi and check my email and gchat and things before bed.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Austin, TX, Day 1

I get to Newark airport from King Sauna without a problem. But boarding gets a little hairy, as I quickly realize that the flight’s been overbooked and that I’m in one of the later groups to board in Southwest’s free-for-all approach when it comes to seating. I start working through contingency plans, or try to; I come up with nothing. Eventually I tell myself that my bad luck getting to the sauna is the sacrifice I made to the gods of travel luck—things will go my way now.

My luck hasn’t run out yet, it turns out, and I make it on board, as well as an elderly couple put on standby—themselves beneficiaries of someone else’s bad luck, I suppose. I wonder if I am as well.

I scribble some notes on the flight, read one of the ebooks I brought along on my phone (The Castle of Crossed Destinies, by Italo Calvino; I’m largely unimpressed), and even take a bit of a nap.

We land and I change from my traveling clothes into something more suited for Texas in August. I realize that I’ve forgotten to pack deodorant and apply liberal amounts of some stick perfume from Skin Food, hoping it’s enough to make me borderline acceptable to the public at large.

It takes forever for the shuttle bus to arrive, but I don’t mind. Noah (my host) and Elizabeth (his girlfriend) don’t finish work until 16:30 anyway; my flight arrived at around 13:30. The more time I spend waiting at the airport for transportation nonsense to sort itself, the less time I spend waiting at the recommended coffee shop by myself. That feels too much like waiting for a date.

Nonetheless, the bus eventually comes and I probably still have 45 minutes or so to wait for my hosts at The Hideout. I settle in with an iced hibiscus tea, fruit, and free wifi, then text Noah to let him know I found the coffee shop okay. The rest of my wait bounces between talking to friends on Google hangouts, reading ebooks, and doing sudoku puzzles.

Image courtesy Vintage Classics

 

Noah and Elizabeth find me without a problem. I peel myself off the cafe chair and reluctantly hug Noah (“I’m probably really gross.” “It’s fine.”). We stand around and decide what to do for food, since Noah’s hungry and I’m a low-key guest who can go along with almost anything. They decide on a basement sandwiches and beer place. (Something I notice across the weekend: every food place in Austin is an all-purpose food place, serving cafe fare as well as beer and wine.)

At the sandwiches-and-beer place, the group next to us are arguing, good-naturedly, about how far it is to one destination or another. It isn’t until I bite into my veggie sandwich that I realize I’m hungry. For the first few bites, it’s like the subtraction soup from The Phantom Tollbooth: the more I eat, the hungrier I get.

Of course I’m hungry. For the past twenty-four hours I’ve survived on beer, tea, digestive cookies, and a banana.

We finish up and return home so I can drop off my bag and so Elizabeth and Noah can change into more comfortable, less work-y attire. A poster has arrived while they’ve been gone, a gift that Elizabeth bought for Noah (a new map of the United States that is, for some reason, the best map ever; Noah tries to explain but I fail to grasp the import), and I take the opportunity to segue into their gifts, which mercifully have survived the long journey. Those mugs were easily the most fragile thing in my luggage, and I could only hope that I had been careful enough with them across an ocean and half a continent. (The accompanying tea is much less delicate, at least.) But things survived intact and I breathe a sigh of relief.

Clothes changed and gifts exchanged, we head into town for Geeks Who Drink trivia. Our team is disqualified because we have too many players, so our second-place victory (or third? enough to win some money) is only a moral one, but a win we take nonetheless.

From Geeks Who Drink

Back home, Noah and I watch Okja. (Speaking of Bong Joon-ho!) He’s genuinely unimpressed with the movie, while I’m neutral enough on it that I would watch it again.

After that, it’s midnight, and going to bed can’t be delayed any further, even if I’d like to sit up with some tea and talk for hours. I fall into bed and conk out for the first real night of sleep I’ve had in 48 hours. I have the first dream that I’ve had in weeks, though when I wake up I don’t remember any of it.