After Media Pass Day Wayne took me to Austin and hosted me in his home for two nights and one day. For over 40 hours we worked together like one of the classic all-time duos: he was the Robin to my Batman, the Affleck to my Damon, the Obélix to my Astérix, the C3PO to my R2D2, the Hobbes to my Calvin. He showed me around town, we ate together, we watched basketball together - it was downright disgusting.
It only felt right that we wrote about that day together. The result of that decision is the following post.
I added some of my photos to Wayne's text. The rest is all his fault. Enjoy.
Day 6 - Wayne's Take
Ah yes, Thursday. It seems so long ago. I clearly remember this about it though. David got up at noon. Yes, noon. I guess that explains why they eat lunch at 5:00 and dinner at 11:00. I mean, hell, I got it half a work day before he drug his sorry self out of bed. By the time he had showered and checked email, it was 1:30 and I was starving. So I made the call, and we headed to Rudy's. For breakfast.
Now, I know that Rudy's probably isn't considered the best BBQ place in Austin and you might be thinking "Rudy's? Really?". Yes. It was close and I was hungry. Here's what we ordered:
- 1/2 lb brisket, cutter's choice
- 1/2 lb sausage
- 1/2 lb chopped beef
- 1/2 lb pork ribs
- 1/2 chicken (as in one half of a whole chicken)
- small cole slaw
- small beans
- small potato salad
- half loaf of white bread
- 2 Lone Stars (heh, for breakfast!)
- 1 IBC Root Beer, for me. David wasn't going back to that well again.
- 1 IBC Cream Soda. I had to sell it to him and tell him it was the PtR traditional drink of SiMA and JRW.
That is one hell of a breakfast platter. And David preceded to eat like a damn bird. I should have taken him to Whole Foods to get him a cup of soup and some bean sprouts. I chowed down. I wouldn't be surprised if I ate all my half except for the chicken.
Once we finished the meat buffet, we headed to Best Buy to look for a camera for David's friend. Of course, they were sold out and we couldn't get the one we wanted. The Best Buy is in a shopping center with a lot of other chain stores: Old Navy, Star Furniture, Marie Callendar's, Linens and Things, REI, and Smith Hawken. But the one that caught David's eye was The Container Store. He just had to go check it out. So we did. Along with Crate and Barrel. Then we concluded that shopping center adventure with a stop in REI for an espresso and a cookie. I had to have dessert. I also proved to David that just because I was cultured and from a civilized first world country, it didn't mean I couldn't slum like a third worlder. Point of fact, I know what Mate is, as I told him Monday, and I drink it all the time. David almost fell out of his chair. Honestly, I'm not sure he has stopped laughing yet.
Next stop, Wonderland. High on David's list of things to do on this trip was buying books. Apparently, it is very difficult to get modern English books in Argentina. You can get the classics, but anything newer is very difficult. Therefore, I took him to the Half Price Books. This is the Half Price Books superstore. It's in an old Randall's and is just mammoth. We spent a good 45-60 minutes in the store. I finally forced David into making his purchases. I was on clock management and we had to get downtown through rush hour traffic for our pre Toros get together at Buenos Aires Cafe at 6:00.
David had a flan and nothing else. I swear, the guy eats like he's got a photo shoot in an hour. I had 3 empanadas, 2 glasses of wine, and 1 chocolate alfajor. Also in attendance were Mrs ATS, Matthew Powell, Jane Ann, Lauri, and a host of Lauri's friends. I think we totalled 9. The food was great. The performing musician, a Richard Gere look-alike (the Pretty Woman Richard Gere, not the Chicago Richard Gere) started talking to David and they had a great exchange. I think David enjoyed speaking some Spanish.
7:15 rolled around and it was Toros time. We only lost one from our dinner party on the way to the game which was only a few blocks away. The Toros game bordered on the surreal. First off, the LA D-Fenders are just a poor basketball team. The Toros are just far more talented, yet as you can tell from Andrew McNeill's recap, they didn't exactly whip them. Second, Chucky Brown is their "coach". Yeah, I used the quotes. I went there. The cool thing about the Toros game is that they sell 4 seats between the visitor's bench and the scorer's table. Chucky Brown spent the entire game with his butt against the scorer's table and his hands on his hips just watching the game. A large part of it, he spent talking to the four beer drinking guys to his right. A very small part of it was spent "coaching". I think I'd have to write for three hours to capture the absurdity of it.
LD and I spent the first part of the game over behind the scorer's table. After a foul call on the Toros, Curtis Jerrells was talking to the ref. The one that stands near mid-court in front of the scorer's table as a team shoots free throws. Coach Snyder was yelling instructions to Jerrells who continued to talk to the ref and not acknowledge the coach. Finally, Snyder yells, "CJ! CJ!! His name is George. Invite him to tea. Now play." I really like Coach Snyder. Funny guy. RC Buford and Dell Demps were in attendance. One day after Tony goes down with an injury. I have to think they were paying a little attention to Jerrells. Ian was also in attendance. He recognized me from Summer League and we chatted. He was out supporting his man Malik. He asked me if I saw his big game against the Nets. I told him I did. I also told him I saw him miss his two free throws the night before. He laughed and gave me the "man, why do you have to bring that up" at which point I said, "Hey, at least you didn't have the triple bumble." I'm such a nice guy, aren't I?
We went off to the stands where the avatar king himself, metalandganja, introduced himself. He and his buddy were hilarious and they hung out with us for the second half. Oh, the Toros won pulling away late. I had one beer.
After a little post game chatting with various folks, LD and I headed out to get us a taste of the Austin nightlife. First stop, the Broken Spoke. Now, I have to tell you, some things just don't translate and "honkytonk" is one of those things. Try as I may, I wasn't able to explain it. He'd just have to experience it. A little data before LD tells you his thoughts. The Broken Spoke is OLD. It used to be on the outskirts of town and now it is WAY in town. It's a weird blend of old school country and hipster Austin. You see the real work-for-a-living blue collar cowboy types and the dorky birkenstock geek with a cowboy hat on. You see guys in shirtsleeves and ties. It's a true cultural melting pot of Austin weirdness. They only have one beer on tap. Lone Star. I had two Shiner Blondes and David had one.
We closed that place down and headed to the Continent Club. The Continental Club is the other end of the Austin cultural weirdness. Lots of tats, lots of piercings, but still a wide range of ages. I just wasn't prepared for the act. They usually have something pretty energetic and quite often fairly heavy. Thursday was juuuuusssssssssssttt a little bit different. All I can say is that those who know who Jonathan Richman is know that it isn't an act for somebody speaking English as a second language. For those that don't, um, I'll hand the mic to LD.
Best part of the night was that as we started to open the door to the Continental Club, the doorwoman asked us for our id's. Since I was the first one at the door, I have to think it is because I look so young. I started laughing and handed her my id. Her response, "Really? I never would have guessed." Boo-yeah!!!! I did a little dance. We each had two Fireman 4's and for the first and only time LD said, "you want another beer?" as if I wasn't pushing them on him. Score one up for acclimating the foreigner to beer drinking.
We rolled in to the house a little before 2:00. LD kicked off his big Friday day by getting up at 10:30 when I knocked on his door to wake him up.
Day 6 - David's Take
The Light Burns Mine Eyes
The bed Wayne had pointed me to was comfortable - too comfortable. I had fallen asleep midway through checking my e-mail, with my WadderrrrBurrrgerrr heavy in my stomach, and laid in that bed completely dressed until about 4 AM, when thankfully I regained consciousness long enough to get undressed and beneath the covers. Despite being a man that loves sleeping in with a passion, I had woken up early in the morning every day so far in my vacations. The reasons for my uncharasteristic behaviour were basically two: first, I didn't want to waste precious hours in a new, unknown country sleeping, when there was so much to see; second, the foreigners ate so early that trying to get breakfast at 11:00 PM automatically condemned to getting some explosive beef tacos from hell. However, that day we had the morning free, so I indulged myself and didn't set the alarm clock.
I was awoken by Wayne's voice as he chatted with someone on the phone. I'll have to talk about his symbiosis with his iPhone at some point, but right now I prefer to focus on the walls. Wayne has a lovely home - I won't describe it because I imagine that he prefer it private, though. It is, however, like 99.9% of all the houses I've seen in my trip, made of wood. And wood, unless suplemented with additional sound-absorbing materials, is particularly permeable to sounds. What's wrong with brick, I wonder? Old-fashioned, trustworthy brick? They like brick in Europe, and they like brick in South America. In the US it's a wanted criminal, though, and if you ever think you see brick in a house, chances are it's only a cheap imitation of brick that is glued to the walls. It's a mystery, (Another missing old friend? Ceramic tiles.)
A shower and a big cup of coffee game me back a semblance of humanity, thankfully, and I was ready to face the wonderful city of Austin.
First Things First
There's something you need to know about Wayne: his stomach and entire digestive tract develops its size in 6 dimensions, instead of the usual 3. His body is compact, succint, but he's able to eat and drink copious amounts of food that would leave DeJuan begging for mercy. The only remnant of his once human-sized organs is his tiny bladder, which forces him to visit the restroom after each sip of a drink. When I woke up he was ravenous, so I was informed that we were going to go have some brunch.
Argentines don't like meat - they _are_ meat. Meat is one of the pillars of our society, and I firmly believe that a cow-killing virus that forced us to eat soy hamburgers might send us into complete chaos. Barbecues are social events that bring families and friends together, and there are unspoken traditions observed in each of them. There's a covenant between the cook and the slobbering masses, there are techniques passed from fathers to sons and never recorded in books. Barbecues in Argentina are serious business, and they are spectacular.
Knowing this, Wayne still took me to Rudy's. I know I'm about to get a lot of angry responses, because Rudy's supporters are plentiful in this site, but I owe myself to write honestly. Rudy's is a fast food barbecue restaurant, and as far as fast food places go, it was pretty good. My problem is not the execution, but the concept itself: why does a fast food barbecue restaurant _even exist_? Why, FSM, why? Don't people have an extra 20 minutes to wait for his meat to be cooked properly? Where did this eat-n-run mentality come from?
The night before Wayne had gone to the drive-through of What-a-Burger, talked to a little speaker to order our burgers, and then eaten his while talking on the phone and driving to Austin. I found it impersonal and unnecessary - it was already a _FAST_ food restaurant, so did we really need to make the process even speedier? Didn't we have 10 minutes to sit down and eat while chatting? I was rarely prouder of my country that when drive-throughs failed to catch on.
Whatever. We were there, and I was actually curious about the execution of such a wild premise: even in stake houses that served meat continuously and kept precooked meat in slow heat cycles, there usually was a waiting period that didn't seem to match the fast food times. I couldn't crack that enigma, but the food looked steam-cooked, and well done. The paper plate was odd, logical, and interesting; the brisket was tasty, and quickly turned into my favorite; the sausage looked artificial, but had a reasonably good taste; the chopped beef was too spicy for me, the pork ribs were okay. We didn't touch the chicken, and the cream soda was even sweeter than the root beer, downright treacly. Never again. I ate more than Wayne suggests, and left Rudy's with a full belly despite my dislike for the restaurant's concept.
We went next to a Best Buy, looking for a camera a friend had asked me to buy. We found it on display, but unfortunately they didn't have it in stock. Why keep it on display, then? Beats me. The Best Buy store was part of a large shopping mall that had many others, so we set out to explore.
I'm still somewhat shocked at the many sizes and shapes of shopping stores in the United States, really. There are specialty stores with such a miniscule target that I honestly can't understand how they succeeded; there are small multipurpose stores, and medium-sized multipurpose stores, and big and huge multipurpose stores. There are closed shopping malls where you can only access the story from within, and others where you enter from outside. Wayne even showed me a store that sold boats, and had created an artificial lake next to their building so that they can teach water skying in it. The US seems to have transformed shopping into an art form, a way of living, and you can't throw a rock in San Antonio or Austin without hitting some sort of store. I wonder how it is possible for all of them to be in the green, though - especially under the current crisis.
The specialized stores are the ones that really catch my eye: one that sells only restaurant-related products; one that has magic shows products; one that sells vending machines; whatever you can think of, it probably exists. Thus, when I saw "The Container Store", I just had to take a look. As we walked in I made a joke about how a story with such a name had better have a mamushka, but Wayne didn't know the term and the explanation killed what little humor it had. Inside it was... boxes. All kind of boxes: for your kitchen, your bedroom, your office. It even had an aisle of boxes described only as boxes. Wayne checked to see if there were any he might need, we looked around a little more, and then we left.
Next stop: REI. As I enjoyed my espresso and my half of the huge cookie Wayne had bought, he proudly brought back what in his twisted mind he called "mate". Now, before I start ripping on Wayne, here's some background information: mate is an infusion very popular in Argentina and Uruguay, and it's drunk by pouring very hot water into a cup with a herb called "yerba mate" in it, and then sucking the excess water from the herbs using a holey straw called "bombilla". Got the picture? Well, what Wayne brought before my disbelieving eyes was a bottle of _COLD_ colored liquid with a "mate" sticker on the side. A travesty.
A Sea of Books
We were on a schedule, so I tried to put the MateGate behind me and Wayne started driving towards a bookstore Lauri had recommended. As Wayne said, it's called Half Price Books, and as I stepped onto its parking lot... it was love at first sight. Much as the name suggests, it's a massive story for used books, and they are all half-price. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Inside I encountered rows after rows of bookshelves, full with books of many shapes, sizes and genres, so many I honestly didn't know where to start. You see, it's quite difficult to find good English books in Buenos Aires. The classics are there, of course, but if you want to read anything beyond Hamlet or Moby Dick, you're forced to import the books at a high cost. Science fiction, my favorite genre, was particularly difficult to find, so what I saw before my eyes was a veritable trove of literature.
I did my best in the time available - I think I left the store with 12, 15 books, maybe more. We did agree we'd return the following morning, with more time.
janieannie was already waiting for us at the Buenos Aires Cafe when we got there. It was a small place, with about 10 tables, but the decorations gave it a cozy feel I like. The menus had a genuine feel to it, and the tables were adorned with Argentinian newspaper cut outs and photos of famous Argentines - janieannie mentioned that she'd seen Manu in one of them. We sat down at out table and one by one the people trickled in: Mrs. ATS showed up, and Wayne and she ordered wine and empanadas right away; none other than Matthew Powell would come next, but thankfully I had been forewarned, or my heart might've just given up; last but not least, Lauri showed up, bringing with her a retinue of three people. Food and drinks were ordered and consumed, but I settled for dessert: the classic flan with dulce de leche. After all, I had eaten only 4, 5 hours ago. The foreigners looked at me like I was crazy.
At some point during out time in the cafe the topic of Wayne's fake mate bottles turned up, and my impassioned defense of real, traditional mate brought us some attentionF First a man, who I'm guessing was one of the owners, excuse-med us into a pause and started agreeing with me, giving additional descriptions and grabbing a sample mate from behind the counter. Then another guy walked up to me and introduced himself as Daniel. He was a musician, and after a short chat I found out he was from Mendoza and had been working in Austin and San Antonio for a few years now. He gave me his card, told me I was welcome to join him and his Argentine friends if I didn't have anything to do in town, and settled down to play some up-beat tango. Nice guy, even though it actually felt odd to speak Castillian after 6 days of straight would-be English. It's always fun to confirm the fact that we Argentines are a world-wide plague.
(Daniel looked nothing like Richard Gere, by the way. I guess that's just a random codeword employed by Austin women that means "damn, that's one serious piece of hunk beef".)
How About That D-League?
We left the cafe en masse, and one of Lauri's friends ditched us. The rest of us quickly drove towards the gym that acts as the Toros' home court. The empanadas and wine had been popular in our table, and we were running a little late.
Upon arrival, Wayne and I split from the group and talked to a PR employee that gave us our media passes. We basically used that new power for two things: not pay for an entrance ticket and seat behind the scorers' table. Exciting! We sat next to 48 Minutes of Hell's Andrew McNeill - Andrew is young, professional and at approximately 6'4'' looks like he could step into the court and give Malik a run for his money. Wayne did that talking thing he does with Andrew, and instead I started looking around the gym. It wasn't large, but it was fairly full - there were even many families with their kids, which was kind of surprising on a Thursday and so late. Most would leave at halftime, though, and only a handfull of people stayed to cheer the Toros by the time the game finished.
So let's start some controversy: the D-League is fundamentally flawed.
As I watched the game the first thing that I noticed was that Malik Hairston was taller than all but two or three of the players, or at least he seemed so. It was a marked difference from the NBA, where Malik was easily overshadowed by most of his teammates. In basketball, size matters, so I couldn't help but wonder about the possibilities of the majority of those players to ever make it to the NBA. The game was played with very little attention to defense, even by the Snyder-coached Toros, but no one seemed to mind (and especially not that ghost of a coach, Chucky Brown, who seemed content with the irony of his team being called "D-Fenders") - in fact, Lauri mentioned at one point that it was the lack of defense and high scoring games what people enjoyed about the D-League.
Halftime rolled around, and the cheerleaders came out. They were pretty, they could dance - just not as pretty, not as coordinated as the Silver Dancers. Then the mascot, Da Bull, started performing tricks, and in my mind I kept comparing him unfavorably to the Coyote, of whom I was a big fan after only two games. With my very, very limited experience of just one night, the D-League looked to me as a watered down version of the NBA in just about every aspect. Looking at the Toros was like watching the Spurs through a distorting, gray-tinted glass.
It's probably my fault, because I assumed it would be another NBA-like experience. I'm sure that if you lowered your expectations you could get to enjoy the D-League - the thing is, how many of the people that went to the game that night shared those expectations? D-League fans will invariably be NBA fans, used to consuming a certain product.
I wish the D-League tried something different to attract the fans' attention, much like the ABA did in its time. If scoring sells, the make it really fun: shorten the 3-point line, fasten the pace with an 18 seconds shot clock. I understand its role as a stepping stone in the players' way to the NBA limits the ability of the league to make rule changes, and that's a pity, but maybe they could change the show that accompanies the games - get rid of the silly music, the cheerleaders; find something else, experiment. I have no solutions, really, I just thought it was sad to see all the empty seats during the third quarter.
And that's the end of that rant. You're welcome to tell me to shut the hell up, foreigner, especially if you write for Ridiculous Upside and really like the D-League.
Wayne and me hung around after the game, talking to Andrew and one of the Toros PR bosses, a lady with enough energy to power a small city. Apparently we were allowed to enter the locker room, but honestly no one seemed particularly interested in doing it. At some point Ian Mahinmi, who had been walking around for most of the game, showed up. I shamelessly used his friendliness towards Wayne to steal a photo with the big fella. He may be as brittle as a Ming vase, but he sure is tall.
Eventually we had enough Toros, and Wayne felt it was time to show me what Austin was really about.
Roll Call #2
Three more PTRers were introduced in this post, and I feel I would be neglecting my duty if I didn't perform some quick character assassination. I hope they don't mind.
ATUWTFTFISN - 8/10. Hmm, this is a tought one. Before I met her, and based only on her posts, I would've described Lauri as intelectual, smart, challenging. And she was all that - what I didn't expect was her ethereal nature, her everpresent smile, or how gregarious she is. You can tell she loves talking to people, and she kept going from person to person during the game, changing seats with a drink on her hand.
The minute we met Lauri gave me a stuffed toy: the boy from the children's tale "Where the Wild Things Are". Now, I haven't read it yet, but Queness told me it was about a spoiled child sent to a magical world. What does that say about me? I have no idea, and I'm not sure I want to ask.
Last but not least, when my back started hurting she gave me sweet medicine. I love this woman.
ATUWTFTFISN - ?/10. I honestly couldn't chat much with him, because he and Wayne developed some sort of information loop no one could enter. The conversation went fast and furious between them (and metalandganja's friend), fueled by their technogeek energy, and it only stopped when the game finished. Still, I could tell he was a very nice, hyper guy, and I really liked meeting him. When we were saying goodbye I told him that he ought to post more often, so that we could all learn more about what he's up to these days, but I believe he took it as chastisement.
Matthew Powell, AKA sungo:
ATUWTFTFISN - 6/10. Poor Matthew couldn't really handle the Argentine-flavored English, but despite that we had some nice chats (only with some repetitions and clarifications). I don't know what I was expecting, not really, but my mental image of Matthew definitinely involved more sarcasm and less open, honest smiles. He said he now felt the blog was worth it, because it had become the vehicle that allowed Wayne and I to experience such incredible moments. What can you say to that?
Matthew is sharp, funny, serene. I told him he was the reason I ever bothered to join PTR, him and Michael, and thanked him for that. I also did my best to convince him to write once more, whenever he finds the time. I hope he listens to me, because he's a brilliant writer.
Austin Two Step
Wayne was determined to show me the Austin nightlife, and I'm a flexible type of tourist. His first pick was a country club called "Broken Spoke", and that janieannie had recommended at some point for some real Texan chicken friend stake. I'm definitely not confident in my ability to describe that place, but I'll do my best: Broken Spoke was a Western mix of bar, restaurant and live music club. Everything was old and storied, as if no matter where you stood or what you looked at or did, thousands upon thousands of people had done it before. I like that kind of places, with wrinkles and scars.
A band was playing when we got our beers and found a table, and the singer had a good voice for country. His accent made it impossible for me to understand the lyrics, so Wayne had to translate into real English - still, the melodies were catchy, and I started following the rhythm with my feet. Around us couples walked to and from the dance floor, and Wayne explained the local tradition: men asked women for a dance, and they rarely refused them. It made for some odd, odd couples, but I still thought it was fun. I was this close to jumping into the fray myself, but unfortunately I didn't know the Texan Two Step (or Two Step, period) and Wayne can't dance his way out of a paperbag. I thought about going anyway, but everyone seemed very coordinated, twisting around the center of the dance floor and spinning their partners until they were dizzy.
I can't recommend this place enough. If I ever come back, I'll do my best to become a regular feature, picking a seat between all the stains and old paintings.
Of course, we couldn't finish our night on such a high note. Wayne led me to the famous Continental Club, a trendy bar in an area of restaurants and shops. When we entered, instead of music we were greeted by a whiny voice talking about the seasons. Huh? Yeah, I didn't understand either, but Wayne just called it performance art. The name of the artist was Jonathan Richman, and the 80 people between us and the stage sure thought the world of him. He proceeded to alternate bad singing, silly jokes, awful covers and for a thankfully short stretch, terrible Castillian. Wayne kept telling me that it was all hilarious if English was your native language, but I didn't buy it. Two beers and some chuckles later, we left, never to return.
Oh, and while it's true that Wayne got carded, I still think it was my youthful place which made it happen in the first place. Sorry to burst your bubble, old timer.