Noon on a Saturday

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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!

Well, snap.

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.

The Saturday Night Scene

Some famous band is playing at The Rave. All the side streets are lined with cars. Young people cross the road in front of me, stand in tight groups beside their racy Hondas, turn and watch as I drive past. I note their faces: they are probably ten years younger than me but look that much older. I’m going to be social tonight, but not with anyone at The Rave. I park next door, at the Irish Cultural Center, where the Milwaukee Set Dance Club is hosting their monthly Irish set dance night.


Yep. This is my scene.

I walk into the aged, echoing room and stow my gloves and scarf and satchel on a folding chair, and change into my dancing shoes. Irish set dancing, a distant cousin to square dancing, has eight couples per set, several figures per dance, and each dance lasts twenty minutes or more. The three-piece band has us tapping our heels during their soundcheck, dancing before the night officially starts.

“Take off your jacket and stay a while,” someone says to me.

I shake my head. It’s finally spring but Wisconsin missed the memo. “Not until my hands are out of danger of frostbite.”

He pulls me out of my chair and we two-step a pseudo-waltz around the floor, dodging people who are standing still and talking. He always has stories to tell me while we dance. About the lady who made him feel like Fred Astaire on the dance floor but wouldn’t return his phone calls because “ladies don’t call men, it’s not proper.” About the time the caller said ‘pick up your lady and take her home,’ directing moves in the dance, but he literally picked up his partner and started carrying her out the door.

Everyone is in high spirits tonight. Because it’s spring. Because the band plays well and makes us dance harder. Because it’s set dancing and we don’t need another reason.

The sets are intricate and we all mess up a lot and none of us care. We try and we laugh a lot and we cheer when we get it right. We make light fun of the kids going to The Rave, that they don’t wear jackets or long pants when it’s still almost cold enough to snow. I shed my own jacket a while ago and there’s sweat trickling down the backs of my knees. I regret wearing jeans now…but I won’t when I walk to my car later.

Set dancing has an old romantic essence, like Sinatra and ballroom dancing and bow ties. It’s a little dangerous and sometimes confusing and takes some practice. Not everyone likes it, for those reasons. Modern social settings are confusing and dangerous too, but to me they lack the old charm and panache of Irish dancing, ballroom dancing, or just about any old-timey social dance. It’s an unusual thing for a young person to do, on purpose, on a Saturday night, but for me it’s perfect.