The double decker Mega Bus beats down the Texan highway with a busload of eerily silent passengers. It’s Valentine’s Day, so perhaps these fellow Houstonians are too busy contemplating their lover’s lips to strike up a conversation. All efforts to communicate have failed, so I lean back in my seat perplexed. I’m not used to traveling like this. I’m not used to anything anymore.
After two years of living and traveling abroad, a 3 hour bus ride from Houston to Austin seems like it would be simple enough, but for the past several months reverse culture shock has gripped me everywhere I go. My small French town sensibilities and instincts have turned up mostly useless since returning to Houston, the 4th largest city in the United States, leaving me in search of my place in this cowboy land. When Tom, an old high school buddy, invites me to Austin on a whim, I oblige with nothing to lose, and only my past Texanhood to rediscover.
I have little excuse to not come. It has been 6 years since a was last in the illustrious capital, and Austin seems to be a great way begin a taste of my former Texanhood. The insanely cheap (5$-15$ one way) Mega Bus ticket helps ease my anxiety, but I’m not sure what to expect from Austin, or Tom for that matter. He’s a student at the University of Texas Law School, which is ranked the 15th best in the country by US News, and the entire ride I imagine that meeting his friends would be some cross professional culture clash. I’d prefer we skip the awkwardness and head to 6th street.
We arrive at the bus stop. Lovers grasp at their flowers and boxes of chocolates, and rush out the door to embrace their better halves almost before the bus can even fully stop. I creep out into the sunlight before noticing Tom.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, dude. Sorry, I didn’t bring you a big teddy bear,” I say.
“Haha. Uhhh. Yeah, I’ll get over it. Great to see you, man!”
He informs me that we’re going to one of his law school mate’s house. I tell him how my imagination has conjured a huge social barrier between the artist and the attorneys, but he assures me there will be no problem.
“Don’t worry. We’re having a ‘Fried-Day’.”
“Yes, I know it is Friday.”
“No, a ‘Fried-Day’. It’s something we do every now and then. We take all types of different foods and fry ‘em up. You’ll see. It’s disgustingly delicious.”
The smell of frying whatnots and whatever strikes me as I step out of the car. We trek through the house. We arrive on the back porch to find the students living up to event’s name. I am greeted with plates of fried mushrooms, strawberries, mini-sausages, and pretty much whatever these future litigators could get their hands on.
“Hey, wanna fry this cookie?” says Andrew.
“Yeah! Sure toss it on over,” replies David, who stands poised over the crackling popping grease bucket.
I taste several of the delicacies and chase them with whatever micro-brewed beer I’m handed. To my surprise the food is great , and I suddenly remember how fun a decadent off brand Texan cook-out could be. Furthermore, I was more intrigued that this group of students were no where as buttoned down as I imagined. Sure, they toss around a few legal expressions, but it’s only in reference to declaring their academic disdain, which in turn makes them all the more ready to unwind on the weekend.
“You see, Brad, work hard and play hard,” says Tom.
“We spend so much time stressing and studying that we have no choice but to drink on the weekends. Welcome!” says David.
We eat as much fried goodies as our consciousness will allow us too, and recline in our chairs under the moonlight. It’s full, bright, and beautiful.
Colin de Los Santos and I used to pass Tuesday nights making melodies for patrons at the Lizard’s Open Mic Night in Huntsville, Texas. He hosted the event every week inviting a slew of newcomers and seasoned performers to flex their musical muscles. By day, we were prospective students and college newspaper writers, but by night we transformed into budding college town superstars.
He moved to Austin after graduating to continue the grooves in a city which has over 250 live concert halls, and which holds the title of Live Music Capital of the World. Colin, “The Host With The Most” invites us to the ABGB. He says ABGB like we’re supposed to know what it means, and only when Tom and I arrive do we realize that it stands for Austin Beer Garden Brewery.
The ABGB serves a mixture of artisan local beers ranging from the lights lagers to the darkest of ales. Patrons have a choice sampling 5 different brews served in small glasses, and can order everything from gluten free pizzas to muffaletta sandwiches. We arrive to a packed parking lot, which is to be expected as the springtime Texan sun arrives for the weekend. Immediately, I recognize Colin standing at a huge industrial wire spool which has been turned on its side to serve as a table. The yard is littered with them and barrels. The makeshift round table is perfect for meeting strangers, because anyone can come and grab an open place to eat, chat, and drink. We hug our heartfelt greetings. His wedding ring gleams in the sunlight.
“Man, congratulations. I know I’ve said it before online, but seeing your wedding band makes this too real.”
“Why thank ya, brother! Congrats to you too. Mr. World Traveler. How is it being back in the south?”
“I’m adjusting slowly...Seeing old faces like yours and Tom’s certainly helps.”
“I see...Well how about another round to make this transition go down smoother.”
Colin has always been smooth, and obviously still is. He had befriended a slew of brewery goers at our table before we ever arrived, and they are just as invigorated by his persona as I was all those years ago. Throughout the afternoon these people come and go from whatever walk of life they claim, but things become most interesting when two middle aged couples arrive. Out of pure southern hospitality we make friends.
One kind word leads to the next, and we realize we have more to talk about than sunny skies and the train that passes by every 15 minutes. It turns out one of them worked in the travel industry for over 15 years. She is more than eager to hear about my adventures, experiences, and travel projects, and I am more than ready to share. While we chatted about Parisian adventures, I could overhear her boyfriend, Steve. He’s an old school guitarist, with finely feathered gray hair, glasses, and a tie-die shirt, is knee deep in recounting his old stories to Colin.
“The scene had changed, my man. Yep. I was down there in ol’ Galveston. Had me a band down there. But things changed. One day someone says come on up to Austin to make some music, so I packed up the gear and hit the road, man. Never looked back.”
Eventually, he migrates to my part of the table and we begin to swap stories about our old guitars and favorite performance memories.
“I got me 11 of ‘em hangin’ round the house. They’re like my babies, ya know?” he says.
“I feel ya, boss. I don’t have a woman. Sure as heaven don’t have a kid; that I know of. But I do have my axes,” I reply.
He places his hand on my shoulder and smiles. He’s so pleased that he kept the rounds of fine IPA Superliners coming. A late Saturday afternoon. Strangers become the friends you never knew I had. The sun soothes itself down the horizon, while the train has not failed to annoy from passing so frequently. Finally, Colin says it’s time to go. He’s got to meet the wife. I wish him all the best and we pose for a candid photo.
He turns to say goodbye to our new friends.
“Ok guys, great to meet ya!”
“You haulin?” says Steve.
“No, no. My name is Colin.”
Maybe it was the loud clamor of the trains and patrons that caused Colin to hear him improperly. I instantly understood what Fred had meant, though this form of Texan slang was new to me. I’ve known of people needing to “haul ass” out of a dangerous situation, but never heard it used this way. Fred said it so casually and eloquently. It must be one of those sayings from 'way back when'.
“No, Colin. He asked of are you haulin',” I say.
We all had a good laugh once after breaching the verbal generation gap, and such a healthy misunderstanding was a good cue to call it quits. Tom and I said goodbye to our new friends and drive into the sunset.