On a Saturday, after a rough week, I need to do something to feel better. I make myself a Denver omelet: eggs, ham, bell pepper, lots of cheddar. It’s so good that I make blueberry pancakes as an encore. In the home stretch of flipping cakes, I get a text from Mike, who happens to be visiting Austin:
Hey we are going out to South Congress I guess!?!? If you want to meet us there 🙂
What times and whereabouts? I ask.
We are there now!
Mike is a legendary old friend. I can’t pass this up. Today I was supposed to…oh well. I toss the day’s schedule aside, eat pancakes while I dress, and head out on my bicycle, already breathless.
South Congress is the Austin strip, a tourist magnet. It’s lined with funky, punky shops and restaurants; places you have to stand in line to get into. It’s also on top of a hill, with about ten thousand more hills between me and it.
I discover this the hard way.
Halfway there, I’m struggling to haul my bike and full stomach uphill on the narrow shoulder, my stomach complaining that this had better be worth it and legs saying it probably isn’t and we should stop now. Fortunately, the next turn puts me on a road with a posh two-way bike lane that shoots into the perpetual carnival that is South Congress. I fall in with tourists and students drawn by the dynamic food offerings and kinky shops sporting local wares.
Mike and friends find me loitering outside a pizza joint comprised of two different buildings and a food truck, people queued at every door and window, and we wander away and into a store whose name implies wearable industrial creativity. In a burst of enthusiasm I buy a bright green shirt with a dinosaur that says ‘The Saurus knows all the words.’ I am not a writer if I don’t get this shirt.
After we stand bewildered outside the store holding paper bags of clothes and oddities, wondering where to eat, we head away from the center of South Congress to Torchy’s Tacos. I’m still full from my epic breakfast and opt for just sparkling water, nibbling at Mike’s nachos but really wanting just water to sip.
We sit all together outside in a fenced-in gravel yard and eat tacos and discuss little-known aspects of Torchy’s menu with a waiter who looks faintly like Jeremy (and is from Wisconsin, in fact). He tells us goodbye, because it’s the end of his shift and he’s going home, which happens to be next door. It’s like eating at someone’s house instead of a restaurant. Most of us in the group are from Reno, or lived there at some point, so we have things in common. We talk and talk about the familiar, surrounded by foreign things, the conversation stopping only while our mouths are full.
I’m glad to be here, hills notwithstanding.