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Everything gets bigger

January 2, 2010

An early start put us back on the road with a long drive to Dallas in front of us. A good seven hours later we arrived at the start of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, a sprawling two-city complex stretching 30 miles linked by several freeways that weave around one another. We drove on to downtown Dallas but found little in the way of accommodation. We stopped at a bar for a break and used their internet to find a hostel in Irving, 10 miles out of town. With very little in the way of directions or a map we were soon hopelessly lost in some sort of housing estate. We got directions from a 7-11 that turned out to be wrong, but by a fluke chance of deciding to turn down a random street we found ourselves on 6th Street, our destination.

The hostel turned out to be a house run by a space cadet called Carlos. “It’s a Saturday night, what are you doing in Dallas?” he asked us upon our arrival. He told us we should go to Austin, which has better nightlife, but was a further four hours down the road. We’d been in the car for seven hours already, so another four was hardly appealing. But Carlos’ insistence won us over eventually. And so we once again boarded Miguel and set off for Austin, arriving a bit after 9pm. After a brief rest we stepped into the night for the fabled 6th Street, a four block stretch of bars, clubs and restaurants that is closed to traffic after 8pm. We arrived to find a scene of chaos: people were everywhere, roaming the streets from bar to bar while Lycra-clad policemen on bicycles watched on.

We found a bar and ordered a pint of beer with the most appealing name: Magic Hat #9. The result was a brew that had a distinctly fruity taste, and brought to mind Fruity Bix in liquid form. We had a couple before heading in search of another watering hole. We ended up at something of a dive bar featuring a wandering midget, and a dog that roamed around ignoring our attempts to call it over. A jagerbomb later and things were starting to get interesting. We stumbled on to a couple more bars, one of which was something of a ghetto bar where we attracted all sorts of stares before quickly leaving.

We arrived at the final bar and drank on the balcony upstairs overlooking the Austin skyline. At 2am the bars all closed and we watched the chaos below as people erupted into the streets. We soon joined them and after a stop at a pizza place caught a cab. As a testament to the incompetence of taxi drivers the world over, the driver didn’t know where the hostel was so I navigated the way through a city I’d been in for six hours while Rusty passed out in the back seat.

The next day we wandered up to the Capitol building, which has the distinct feature of being taller than the one in Washington D.C. (it is Texas after all). The crest still refers to it as “Republic of Texas”. We wandered the houses and glared at the portrait of Bush before heading up to South Congress in the sunshine, which is like Fitzroy on speed. Vintage clothing stores, antique shops, art markets and funky little cafes make up SoCo, and confirmed Austin as being completely anti-Texas.

For dinner we set off in search of Salt Lick Bar-b-que, a famous BBQ joint 20 miles out of town. 20 miles later there was no sign of it so we stopped at a service station for directions where I found out we had gone too far and Brittany Murphy had died. We set off again and turned off onto a road that wound its way past a bunch of housing estates. By now it was after 8 and there was still nothing coming out of the dark. Finally, a sign materialised out of the gloom and we had arrived. The smell of BBQ hung in the air as we entered to find an enormous pit swathed in meat by the door, where cooks used what looked like mops to brush on the tangy sauce. We got a table and ordered three kinds of meat, which was brought to us on huge plates. Completely full and unable to finish, we headed back to SoCo to The Continental Club, and watched a rockabilly band called Heybale as the locals danced around, including one old guy who put the rest of them to shame with some silky footwork.

In the morning we headed back to Dallas for a night, feeling we owed Carlos as much. As luck would have it, the frat boys from Houston who had trashed the place had checked out that morning so we had the entire house to ourselves. On the advice of a colleague back home, Rusty drove us to Greenville Street, the closest thing Dallas has to nightlife. We found the indicated bar and went up and talked to the barmaid and a guy called Antoine, who was amazed we didn’t own guns (“But what if someone breaks into your house?”).

On hearing we’d been to Tijuana, the barmaid told us something of a horror story. Her friend, his girlfriend and four others went down to Tijuana for a weekend trip. At some point out on the town, the girlfriend got separated from the group and they lost her. She didn’t show up at the hotel the next day, or the day they were due to return, so they put out a missing persons report in Mexico, and then also in the US when they got back home. A couple of weeks went by before US border authorities found her. She’d been murdered, had her internal organs removed and been stuffed with bags of cocaine before being dressed and placed in the passenger seat of a car trying to enter the US.

A few drinks later we decided to move on so we went to a place a few doors down. I was in a rather merry mood by now, but Rusty was designated driver and so tolerated my rather loud criticisms of the country and western singer rather badly. I went off to the bathroom and met two French guys, who upon hearing I knew French launched into a wholehearted rendition of La Marseillaise, complete with hands on hearts. Back outside Rusty had been joined by three guys, only two of whom introduced themselves to me: the poet and the musician.

Chris the poet and I talked about writing before he gave me his email address and told me to buy his poetry anthology on Amazon. He also introduced me to Andonia, the singer I had previously criticised so I told her how much I enjoyed the set and woke up the next morning to find her business card listing her as “musician, model, free spirit” in the back pocket of my jeans with no memory of how it got there. Rusty received an EP the other guy had made with his band so we listened to it on the way back home. I stumbled around the house eating Count Chocula before crashing into bed.

The next day we set off to see the JFK museum, which was a sobering experience. All the more eerie were the seemingly innocuous comments made in the lead up to November 22: JFK joking about something going wrong, or the Dallas police chief assuring the press there was no chance of an incident. Like September 11, for those who lived through it November 22 is a moment frozen in time, in that you know exactly where you were when you heard. Clearly 1963 still has a profound effect on people: many of those I watched the old news tapes of the funeral and aftermath with were visibly moved.

Once outside, we walked to the infamous grassy knoll and stood by the X on the road that marks the spot where the lethal bullet struck. The silence and calm made the whole thing seem surreal. It was a pensive drive south as we headed on to San Antonio.

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