I made a discovery today. South Congress and 4th Street. In a small Mexican café, Las Manitas, at seven am, I discovered tacos actually are eaten for breakfast and are not a creation of the frozen/fast food industry. Go figure! It was great, filling, healthy and inexpensive. Egg, cheese, lettuce, and a patio.
It looks to be a small place and I stepped in on my way to the convention center the day before. I had consumed nothing more than a can of V8. Others say they could have had a V8 but there are times I fairly live on them. I walked by at 7:15 and it was half full. I stepped in to find quick, small, dark-haired waitresses, a scent that told me I could have done better than V8 and, upon picking up a menu from a yet-to-be-bussed table, prices that told me my vegetable juice was not the bargain I had thought. One does not buy from a hotel gift-shop expecting a bargain. I told the ladies about this during lunch. They had breakfasted on overpriced Starbucks coffee and muffins and we decided Las Manitas would be tomorrow’s first stop.
There is a before-bed discussion about the time to meet. Bus-ladies say it is a five minute walk. Someone other than me responds that it would not take that long even on hands and knees and when the ladies trade barbs I back up. Bus-ladies win because it is easier and we agree to meet at five minutes to seven to be there as they open.
The day started at six as I went out to stand over the Congress Ave Bridge crossing the Colorado to watch the bats and the sun return.
Every day the sun rises and part of me thinks it’s a new sun each day. Each day a new day, a new sun and a new chance to start over. It also seems, despite the sun’s slow arc across the sky, the sun in Florida may not be the sun here and, so, I rose to watch a new sun start a new day.
And the bats slowly flitted home to sleep, nestle and hang under the bridge and await a new dusk.
It is five to seven the next morning when I arrive in the lobby to see Shammeeza and Judy waiting for me. No bus-ladies. They called and said they’d be late. They’d meet us. We walk to Las Manitas and arrive just as the doors have been opened. Entering, we are ushered though the room to the kitchen. We stop and the waitress motions for us to keep walking. Perhaps this is a do-it-yourself café?
We walk through the narrow kitchen into a lush courtyard with leaf and flower everywhere, benches, tables and laughter.
Coffee is brought, tacos chosen food comes and the bu-ladies follow. Their food arrives as we are ready to leave and I walk out full, happy, with coffee renewed in a to-go cup and I have spent five dollars including a healthy tip.
My cup of coffee in hand, a bottle of sugarfree mountain dew in my backpack (from the hotel store) and I was ready for the second half of my walk to the conference.
For lunch we headed North to the Red River District. We want pizza. No such luck and find pizza places closed that open only at night. But, we found a coffeehouse and sandwiches where I could have espresso and a vegetable sub. No complaints. Time spent in the Red River District is worth the walk. A new sugarfree mountain dew in my backpack and I headed off again to the conference, me and my buddies but, wait… what is that?
I see stairs heading down and hear the quiet murmur of water. I run down the stairs, backpack on and to the sound of Shammeeza exclaiming “That’s why I love him. He’s ten again.”
Down the steps, there are, in the river, platforms to skip across and I do, of course, and, in the river, a bed.
A creek, really; Waller Creek. It is a creek winding its way under arches, between steps, though alleys – all the way looking at first glance to be filled with brilliant billowing foam.
On a second look, it is white stone, seemingly bubbled and convoluted. I imagine, in times of rain, this is underwater but Austin has over 300 sunny days a year and today is no exception. Today, it seems solid stone foam is suddenly formed; petrified suds. In it, set central, a bed.
Then to head back to the conference, stopping at stores along the way – music stores, hat shops, Mexican art galleries – and purchasing what I have been all week; not a blessed thing.
The afternoon comes and we explore. The sour member of our troop is left at the hotel and we are off. Art Galleries, shops, over the First Ave. Bridge to enjoy the creative stenciled graffiti. Dinner of Moroccan food and mint tea, vegetables and couscous.
Our waiter is tall, thin, slow and altogether reminding me far too much of a Looney Toons character. He is nice enough but seems to be lacking an essential ingredient and I suggest he must be a son of the owner. He brings the ladies their appetizers. Mine he forgets. We renew our singing of “Mr. Cellophane.”
He forgets one thing after another. He faces away watching TV. It isn’t been the World Cup, which I could understand. It is prime time TV and he cannot see us.
Couscous, lamb, pita, vegetables. Do I want desert? He asks me specifically. Is the Halva fresh? No, it comes from a small plastic-wrapped package like from he grocery store. I answer no and he walks away to bring us the bill ten minutes later.
I follow, explaining a lady did desire desert and I did not suggest I spoke for her. Is the baklava made here? No. Is it store-bought? No, it comes from a bakery a block away. One baklava please. Four cups of mint tea.
We pay our bill. My tip is a note stating “Slow and steady wins the race.”
And, now, back to our walk.
The Driskill Hotel is a glorious edifice of an era which is fast going away to be replaced with the expedient. But then money can buy patience if it pays well enough. People staying at The Driskill can afford it.
I played, by request, Rhett Butler at the bottom of a carpeted, wide staircase to the wafting decent of Scarlet O’Hara, played by Judy, now transformed into a Nubian Queen. An audience gathered and suddenly, every lady was Scarlet.
We wandered the guest floors singing “Money” by Pink Floyd, “Money” by The Beatles and “Money” from Cabaret in four-part harmony. From the Piano bar we heard “Hey Big Spender” as the patrons played stump the pianist.
We wandered up the road further after exiting The Driskill and relieving their cafe of a bit of chocolate cake; small triangular pieces arranged on a plate by the café door. Up the road, we found The Iron Cactus and a band in front playing an array of strange instruments and a few not so strange. Busman’s Holiday was the name the four lads went by, ages sixteen through twenty-one, from Bloomington, on tour and a night off, and we stayed and sang with them for nearly an hour.
I purchased a CD for three dollars, turned around a few minutes later and tossed in another seven, exchanging the five song CD with the full collection. Pass it on, they tell us. Copy it, put it on the Internet. Anything so people hear us. I agree.
Music was everywhere, the streets were crowded with people, musicians, peddlers. It was 10:30.
I purchased another CD from them, the one I had just given back and, as the second set ended, we moved on full of song again.
We were told to go the Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar and we did, as it was next door. “Bring your out-of-town guests to Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar to embarrass them” the ads said. Inside was a crowd which made movement, once we settled near the stage, impossible.
“Joy to the World” was being sung, pianos high on the stage beside us, and the crowd was being taught rather off-coulor hand gestures for the words. This is new territory for me.
It was a bridal shower crowding the bar and, as the bride was brought on stage to sing and be gestured over, the massed ladies became restless for the few males in the crowd. My male butt was save by the presence of The Nubian Queen and the Indian Princess, Judith and Shemeeza. One cannot say I don’t travel in style and good company.
Once out, I told them I had not intended on letting my co-workers get to know me quite this well.
On to the hotel. It is late and there is packing to do. We sang “On the Street where you live.” “I have often walked/on this street before.” Several times a day this week, as a matter of fact.
“When I fall in Love,” “Mona Lisa” and the Nubian Queen and I in “Unforgettable” which we sang in harmony as we entered the hotel grounds in a way, I imagined, that paid tribute to Cole. The doorman held his ears, then the door, closed, laughing. We pointed out the sign that said, “Radisson: Express Yourself” and he opened the door. We were just following the directions, after all.
He asked where we’d been drinking and I told him about the mint tea and he looked unbelieving.
“Were you singing earlier with the cashier in the giftshop?”
“Yes, I was.”
And I’m still singing now, even as I type these last lines.
Tomorrow, breakfast, out by seven, conference and out by ten (leaving early) and heading back to the airport.