Miles Traveled: 10 minutes down the road, Current Location: Austin, TX

You know how sometimes when it’s really hot outside, people will emphasize the heat by exaggerating that it’s “like 100 degrees out there?”  Yeah.  Well, it actually is 100 degrees out here.  I’m not going to say that I mind though.  I grew up in this kind of weather, so to me, it signifies a summer season that 75 degrees, even on the beautiful beaches of the Pacific Ocean, never really lived up to.  Still though, it’s really freaking hot here.  And it’s only the beginning of June…

When I reviewed my itinerary with a few others before I left, Austin was the place, across the board, that drew the most enthusiasm.  Even among people who claim not to be fans of Texas in general, I’ve been told that Austin is the diamond in the rough.  In fact, one of my friends suggested that I not come here at all because I probably wouldn’t ever want to leave.  If today is a typical day in Austin, I can say that not only is my friend correct, but God did in fact “bless Texas with His own hands.”

Since I’ve only been here one day and have only seen about fifteen square miles of Austin, I’ll try not to get too carried away, but so far to me, it feels like a small town within a big city.  Small town in the sense that I saw an actual sign that read, “book your next party at the trailer park,” but big city in that it’s the capital of Texas with actual infrastructure, and beyond that, I get the overwhelming feeling that they’re in on the joke with me.  Unlike some of the other places that I have seen on my journey (and truly no judgment here, just an observation), the people of Austin seem to understand that it’s funny to have a store called “Trailer Park & Eatery.”  Which it is, and that’s why I like it here.

Of course, Austin is still a part of Texas, and Texas pride runs deep.  As I mentioned yesterday, my car has Massachusetts license plates.  This distinction comes with the territory in LA. At one time or another while living there, I saw a license plate for every single other state in America – including Hawaii, including North Dakota, including Canada.  I saw them all.  Here, though, things are different.  During the ten minute drive that I took from my friend’s apartment to meet her at work, I was acutely aware that I was the only non-Texan on the road.  And though, as always, I was blasting country music, I knew that any sudden lane changes or perceptions of driving too slowly would be pinned down on the belief that I had come from the North and the fact that “I aint from around here.”

I managed to get through the ten minute drive unscathed (all the while thinking in the back of my mind that it would be pretty ironic if something did go wrong considering I made it ten hours through a giant field yesterday without any problems) and then we headed off for lunch.  The food is one of the things that I love most about this region of the country, and the restaurant that we selected, Shady Grove, didn’t disappoint.  I was happy to scarf down half a plate of their famous Green Chili Cheese Fries and to see all of my favorite staples on their menu, including “the best” fried catfish in town.  I opted though instead to go down what must have been a much healthier route by selecting the Country Fried Chicken Salad.  After all, you can’t go wrong with the word “salad,” even when the peppers in it are fried.  That’s what I mean about Austin still being a part of Texas.  Yes, there is a “hippie sandwich” on the menu, but yes, the peppers on your salad will still come fried.

After lunch, we went to Barton Springs, a popular swimming hole in town.  I’ve seen Man In the Moon enough times to know that I love the idea of a swimming hole, and the experience really was like reliving one of the best days of childhood.  Barton Springs is three acres in size and fed by natural springs, including the main spring which pumps more than 27 million gallons of water per day.  The energy of everyone at Barton Springs is overwhelmingly cheerful, and I was anxious to put my old swimming skills to good use.  As soon as I got in though, I understood the drawbacks to a “swimming hole” as opposed to a “friend’s backyard pool.”  The water was absolutely frigid, and I fell over more than once as a result of walking on remarkably slippery algae.  It wasn’t until we were leaving that we saw a sign that read, “the pool bottom is a natural surface and may be slippery.” Uh, you think?  There was no “may be” about it.  I felt like I should tell someone so, but no one else seemed bothered. I guess that’s the mark of a real Texan.

As if the swimming hole adventure wasn’t idyllic enough, we followed that up by getting snow cones at a nearby stand.  Hot day, swimming hole, snow cones.  I felt like Kevin Costner when he asked, “Is this Heaven?” and received the answer, “No. It’s Iowa.”  Only today, in my scenario, it’s Austin.

Tonight we are headed to a concert in the park, and then tomorrow will be another full day for me here. Thank you for following my trip and for all of your words of encouragement.  I really appreciate it, and I feel very lucky to be on this amazing adventure.  Now, back to the heat!