43. Probably one of the most irrelevant and insignificant ages in a person’s life. It’s right up there with 22 and 37; but, any birthday, any year is GREAT when you live in Austin, Texas.
Ever since I was old enough to say “I’m not going to work on my birthday”, I haven’t worked on my birthday, and this year was no different. I threw my kick ass Crumpler camera bag over my shoulder and decided to explore my city while I waited on my friends from Lubbock and Houston to arrive in town. Let’s just say… “Not all Texas cities are created equal” and leave it at that.
If your travel plans involve an Excel spreadsheet of what you’re doing each day, each hour, where you’re eating, what time you’re having coffee, and how long you’re going to stand in front of X statue, or visit Y museum, then you and I my friend will have some “challenges” as travel partners. I think I’ve mentioned multiple times… I just need to know WHERE I’m sleeping each night. 2 words… MADRID. Yeah, I know that’s just one word. Add !@#$%&! in front of it, and you’ll get the idea. It was 2003, and I really need to let it go; But, I digress. I needed COFFEE and Jo’s Coffee was my 1st stop.
So once again… my plan for the day… I’m going to act like a tourist and SEE the city of Austin! Yeah, I pretty much made it to Jo’s Coffee Shop on South Congress Ave (SoCo). If you want to waste away a morning with no care in the world… SoCo is your place. Reminds me of a story (here comes the random irrelevant travel tangent). My wife Anna and I accidentally stumbled into a little Italian run coffee shop in the beautiful town of Füssen, Bavaria (aka Germany) a few years ago, and almost didn’t make it to Neuschwanstein Castle. OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration and partially my fault. Actually, it was ALL of my fault. I accidentally put Falkenstein Castle in the GPS instead of Neuschwanstein Castle, and next thing you know… we’re lost in the middle of the Bavarian Alps (which was AWESOME by the way!). We eventually saw the castle that inspired Walt Disney; but, between the town of Füssen and my GPS incompetence, we kinda got sidetracked by more than a few hours that day. Which was perfectly cool, because that’s how great unexpected travel stories are created. Wrote a blog about it which you can read here: BAVARIA. Get Lost! Besides… We knew we were sleeping in Salzburg that night. That’s all I needed to know.
Wait… How the heck did I get off on a tangent about Bavaria? OK, back to Austin. 68 F and Sunny (the weather, not me). I’m sitting on an outdoor bench at Jo’s Coffee, sippin’ on a perfectly crafted mocha, legs kicked up on the chair across from me, reading my Facebook birthday greetings and trying to “like” and/or respond to every single one of them. Finally, I did what every smart person should do at least one day per week, and I put away my iPhone and decided to be still. calm. quiet. And appreciate the world of South Congress Avenue passing in front of me. What a magnificent birthday treat!
I’m telling you people… If “People Watching” was an Olympic sport, I’d be a 5 time reigning Olympic Gold Medalist. Some people call it lazy… I call it observant and patient. I couldn’t tell you how long I was sitting at Jo’s “People Watching”; however, without a purpose or cue, I removed myself from my perch, and decided to capture my SoCo surroundings on camera. ONE CITY BLOCK my friends! That’s how much of my city I saw that morning, and it was fantastic! Thanks Jo’s Coffee!
Something as simple as the green side wall infused with red spray paint at Jo’s that says… “I Love You So Much”. My first thought… These punk kids with their graffiti!!! Just kidding. My first thought… Anna (my wife). I snapped a photo and sent it to her via text. Her response: “Did you write that?”. It crossed my mind ever so briefly to take credit for this simplistic and beautiful message; but, I gave the fine folks at Jo’s all the credit.
Right next door to Jo’s… Snack Bar Diner – Lounge. Even the sign is cool! “Food! We’ve Got It!”. Yes they do! Organic local produce all wrapped into a cool vibe. A piece of art mounted on the back wall of the parking lot shows favor to the quirkiness of Austin’s SoCo. I’m also a sucker for vehicles that look like they shouldn’t be running; yet, somehow their soul is revived as a reminder of how things used to be. And I like that.
Look up, and you can’t help but see the landmark Austin Motel in front of you. “No Additives. No Preservatives. Corporate Free Since 1938”. Yeah, there’s also NO VACANCY. Hit the end of the block and turn back, and there’s a 2nd message from Austin Motel. “So Close. Yet So Far Out”. It’s South Congress baby!
The block was lined with unique storefronts filled with quirky artifacts, clothing, boots, and furniture. Not that I was out to shop; but, more or less to proudly appreciate the focus on supporting local businesses. Places like El Tezontle Gallery, Heritage Boot Company (handmade fancy boots), Stella Blue Boutique & Salon, and Blackmail Boutique and Atelier. Just cool. VERY cool.
As I made my way back towards Jo’s, I thought I heard live music. We’re living in the Music Capitol of The World, so of course you’re going to hear music; But, how often do you hear live music from a guy named “Guitar Shawn” rockin’ out on the top of his van on South Congress Ave in front of the Austin famous Continental Club? Well… probably more often than one would think. CLASSIC! I tipped brother Shawn, he gestured a “Thank You Brother!” and just kept on jammin’ with his circa 1987 hair and Texas Lone Star State flag blowin’ in the wind. Right on! #Guitar_Shawn
I just had coffee. Listened to Guitar Shawn. And now, I’m sitting on yet another bench, moderating a conversation (albeit argument) between 3 young ladies trying to figure out has the best ice cream in Austin, which then escalated quickly to the State of Texas. Did I mention I was right outside Amy’s Ice Cream? Look no further young ladies! AMY’S ICE CREAM is the answer! Is it the best ice cream in town? Perhaps. How about the best in Texas? It’s debatable. I’m a true Texas fan of Blue Bell Ice Cream (Brenham, TX); however, last time I bought a pint of homemade vanilla at HEB Grocery Store, I don’t recall any servers performing a magic show as they infuse gummy bears and half a Snicker’s Bar into a delicious mound of Belgian Chocolate ice cream that is then flipped into a waffle bowl. Amy’s is about the entertainment and the delivery! These dudes (and fabulous ladies) are like Wizards of Frozen Dairy! And oh yeah… it’s that goooooood!
As I was making my way back to the car, I found myself stopping outside of Hotel San Jose. A great place for date night, friends in town, afternoon or late night drink; but, although I live here in Austin… it’s a goal of mine to actually STAY a night at Hotel San Jose. Just an iconic hotel residence to call your home for a night (or two) in Austin, Texas.
My friends called. Lubbock and Houston had arrived. That was my 43rd Birthday morning. Unscripted. No purpose or cause. And it was spectacular! Maybe next time I’ll try to do more than just peruse ONE CITY BLOCK. Perhaps see 2 or 3 blocks of South Congress Avenue, or even venture (dare I say) to OTHER cool and hip parts of A U S T I N. Like I said… Not all Texas cities are created equal.