I got into Austin today after getting up at 2:30 in the morning to make my flight. I have barely been to sleep. I have lost the information of where to go, the address and phone number. I do, however, remember the one other person I know is going. I think there are only three of us, though I find out there are five.
I look her name up on the Internet. I find a address and phone number and call. She lives less than a mile from me. One mile. I call and she is elated I live so close. She is elated and I am surprised, not at the distance but at her elation. She knows where to go and we decide I’ll pick her up and we’ll go on our way, to meet in North Melbourne and carpool to Orlando Airport.
I am on this trip with trepidation. How well do I allow my coworkers to get to know me? What can I say and what can I not. Schools are, an ex-stockbroker, now teacher, told me, far worse than any business for backstabbing and politics. Some with me on this trip, I am told, as strident evangelists and I need be aware. I have no problem there as long as I get to be me along the way and don’t have a difficult time at work when we return. I need be careful what I say, it would seem. Rumors, rumors.
After arriving, going to the hotel and finding lunch, there is a meeting this afternoon. They wanted us to have a meeting? HA! Well, they did. Anyway, it sure wasn’t productive.
Lunch we had together. I can see how this will be now, tied, together, a group defined by where we come from, where we teach. I will be sounding the next five days with these gals.
I had two incredible meals of food I’d never had before. Marisco’s for lunch. So I probably went a bit over what I’d normally do. Fish Tacos for lunch and I tell the Spanish speaking waitress, in English, I speak no English and need a German menu. She wonders what to do and tell me, in Spanish, she will see what she can do. She brings me water, lemon and salsa with chips.
For dinner we walk over the Congress Avenue Bridge to Riverside Drive and Threadgills’s in/or is it next to, a concert venue called The Armadillo. Inside there are pictures of Janis Joplin performing there, Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, and, everywhere, Zappa. Threadgills has been here in Austin, says the sign, for 78 years. There are pictures of singers, recognized and not, covering most of the establishment. There is a stage inside and one out. A sign says not to forget to make reservations for the Sunday Gospel Sing and breakfast and to make them far in advance.
I ask what and sorts of food I can get there I can’t get anywhere else. The waiter has an accent that is light, fresh and delightful of the sort I have only heard in movies. He tells me the food, most of it, is excellent but nothing is of the sort one can’t get anywhere else. Music and atmosphere is the draw. But, he tells us, remember where we are, geographically and, therefore, keep in mind fish is not a specialty in Austin. I ask about catfish. He tells me it is gulf catfish and it is a long way from the gulf. I take the hint.
I see deep fried pickles on the appetizer menu. No, I will not be ordering these but I am curious. I’ve never seen such a thing. Why? How? Who comes up with these, I ask aloud. One of our group is from Texas and knows these well, though as slices, not spears.
I ask our waiter if we can have one, not an order but one. I say, even if it came off another plate, if it fell to the ground, just figure the five second rule or however long it laid there. I just want to try one. He laughs and says he’ll see what he can do. I believe him.
He comes back with a small plate, not more than a few minutes later, with one breaded, fried, pickle spear on it. I look at it, thank him, and slice it into five small pieces, handing them out by passing the plate. I take my own, apologizing that the only way to slice it was by actually holding it with my fingers, it being too small and delicate for the large forks.
I eat my bit, tasting of two things which seem not to go together. It is hot and delicate and tastes luxurious. A small bit is all I need and I do not dip it in the ranch dressing.
I have a plate of different vegetables for dinner, letting the waiter pick his favorites and he steers me right for all five. Texas yellow squash with habanero peppers and jack cheese, turnip greens, fried okra, green beans and cabbage. But, there was cheese and such so who knows what was hidden deep in the recesses of the small bowls. Honestly, sometime I do not trust what I don’t prepare. Yet, it was different and worth the experience.
So this evening I got some walking in. Seven miles. I spent time in the Colorado River and an hour with the worlds largest concentration of bats living in any man-made structure; the Congress Avenue Bridge Downtown Austin. So many people turn out to see them it was like a festival! Then an hour lost on the greenway system along the river through downtown at eleven at night. Getting lost in a strange city at night is FUN! Perhaps I should be wary, but all I can do is enjoy the air and novelty.
I walk toward Town Lake, a bulge in the Colorado, in the Auditorium Shores Park area. I see a way to walk up to the river and, step down. It is not a step to the river but, instead, a step in the river. It is slightly silty, not too cool. Comfortable. My shoes will dry.
All this was after the ladies I’m traveling with have gone to their rooms. Four ladies, two rooms. I lucked into my own room. If there was another guy going I’d have to share a room. I’d prefer not to. I’d not sleep well, worry, be up, be self-conscious. I mind less the prospect of sharing a room with a girl then a guy. I just don’t trust them.
Our Chorus teacher, Social Studies/Geography teacher, Seventh-Grade Gifted Social Studies teacher and the math teacher from the same team. I’m in the same team with them, but Eighth-Grade, though I have taught their kids as well in seminar and workshop classes of my own design. Next year, those will be my kids and I will include their kiddies again. I work with the last two ladies closely, one from former from Haiti and the later Guyana. That’s as much as I know. The first two ladies are religious. The second two? What can I say, how shall I act other than the norm for me? In most company, the norm for me is all that is required and more so. I tend toward the polite, the proprietous and, so I am told by my wife and others, charming. I disbelieve the last thinking myself a soicial klutz. At what distance do I keep them? How thick and high do I keep the wall?
They get hungry often. Amazing. Four young ladies always hungry. I know how to keep myself safe and I carry some boxes of raisins, some granola bars and, when they say it’s time to eat, I don’t stand in the way. BUT, they insist, anywhere we go, I like and be comfortable with. They told me it’s in thanks for putting up with them, carrying their stuff, and, as one of them put it, being the only straight ‘gentleman’ they know. A high compliment, that!
Wednesday night there is open poetry at one of the clubs/coffeehouses in the Red River district. I brought mine along. I always do. Apparently so did one of them, the Gifted Social Studies teacher. A point in common and I am surprised. How many people travel across the US and carry their poetry just in case? We’re going for sure!
It is one-fifteen in the morning Florida time and twelve-fifteen Austin time and right now I’m going for sleep. Twenty-two hours awake is enough. Twenty-two hours awake on two hours sleep is more than enough. After seven and a half miles, it’s WAY more than more than enough.