I got into Austin one afternoon and left a little over 48 hours later. Even in the brevity of my visit, Austin was a damn blast.
I went to UT Austin’s campus for a Southern Literature conference. I was presenting my research on Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina. While the entirety of my research will hopefully go in a journal, you can peek at my review-style post about her phenomenal book here. Dorothy Allison is, without a doubt, the most important writer we have in any semblance of canonical “white trash” literature.
Among the esteemed scholars of literature and culture pertaining to these lower thirteen states, the conference was packed with the cream of the crop. I bumped shoulders with scholars whose work has changed the way I theorize the world around me. I shook hands with my niche royalty and, hopefully, my future colleagues.
Beyond the lame networking and business vibes I had to give off at the conference, I spent the majority of my time sticking out like a young, sore thumb. The panel I presented with was terrifying: three highly esteemed and published scholars with Ph.Ds, and me, a second year MA student that mentioned both Squidbillies and “People of Walmart” in the first paragraph of my paper. I was told that I held my own and sounded semi-intelligent, so believe me, Ego. Stroked.
Shortly after landing and taking the $1.25 bus downtown, I wandered around the streets to kill time before rolling into my hotel. It was nice, but it looked just like Nashville. Nashville with a splash of Tabasco. Every hipster bar looked the same and was just as overpriced as any East Nashville haunt, and the people I ran into were just as enraptured by Austin’s uniqueness as the Nashville transplant next door. I wandered bleary-eyed into a restaurant called Pelon’s after traveling since 3AM and let me tell you: every bite of food I had in that city lit me on fire.
I live for spicy food. I go to the Thai restaurant and ask for chili sauce on the side of my level 5/Native Thai spice level food. I eat jalapenos whole. I get my hot chicken level “Damn Hot!” These people still burned my mouth off.
The salsa at Pelon’s is about a 7/5, if you’re familiar with Thai restaurant spice levels. My carnitas tacos had some chunky ass peppers that made me tear up. The breakfast tacos I picked up at a theater/coffee shop called The Hideout on my last morning were doused with a salsa that seared my eyeballs when I opened the foil. My friends took me out to a place called Whip In, a particularly eclectic Indian restaurant/convenience store/beer garden, where I ordered their special Chicken Chili. I ate half of it before I was crying too much and had to stop.
If you like spicy food and beer, there is no better place for you to live or visit than Austin, Texas.
My hotel was at the intersection of Red River and 8th Street, which put me right in the midst of a den of iniquity—which I’d have no other way. I tend to always stay at the Hotel Indigo if I’m in a city that has one because I have terrible luck with hotels. In December, I got conned at a hotel in New Orleans that tried to make me pay $100 extra for my third guest—even though I booked the room for three people (fuck you, Magnolia Mansion). I tend to stick with chains for their more reasonable cancellation policy, business center amenities, etc. Regardless, if you stay in Austin, I highly recommend booking a hotel in the heart of downtown. The bus line runs from the airport to the center of Austin for $1.25 and Ubers were $4.50 the whole time.
Being right in the center of what people referred to as Austin’s “Bourbon Street” (it ain’t), I needless to say hung around a few bars. I’m the kind of drinker that goes for dive bars with cheap drinks, decent people, and a back patio, and I go to the same bar each night of my trip. It’s just how I do things, and I always have. I chose a place called Side Bar. It met all of my requirements: a dark back patio, decent locals, and a Miller Lite and a shot of Wild Turkey ran me $8. Pretty decent considering my order costs me $12 in Nashville.
I was in a bad mood for my entire trip. A sour, no-good, go-fuck-yourself kind of mood that got worse while I was there. I still had a blast and made friends at the Indigo’s small and expensive hotel bar, and the conference alleviated some of the self-esteem induced misery I’d brought with me. But nothing made me feel better than briefly visiting The Sidewinder on Friday night and listening to some loud music after paying a cheap cover. I don’t even remember the bands, but I would’ve remembered if I hated them. It was a cool crowd and venue space that features local bands that, being so close to UT Austin, must’ve been college kids. I probably would’ve stayed longer and enjoyed them loud-assed amps if I wasn’t in such a bad mood and, perhaps, if I was still a college kid.
Then I went to the airport, got drunk on the plane’s expensive-as-shit Buffalo Trace supply, and came home.
The food is spicy and delicious. The bars are dark and beer’s cheap. Music is easy to come by and getting around is easy. Check it out if you want a cheap and fun vacation.