Editor’s note: a visit to Austin is always a treat, even when Murphy’s law hits you hard, as it did on Reina’s recent trip. I hope you enjoy the humor she approaches the situation with as much as I did! (For more on Austin, click here to read our full guide.) For more of Reina’s awesome narrative style, click here to visit her index page.
I arrived in my Lyft to LAX right on schedule. After three years, this was my first flight, and I was giddy. In a few hours I would be on the way to my next great road trip adventure, this time with my college buddy Jeffrey, making our way from Houston to Austin. Everything was perfect. But Murphy and his law (whatever can go wrong will) would soon catch up to me.
The past few months had been a whirlwind. Around this time, Jeffrey came out to California, saying how we were overdue for our road trip, originally planned for September 2021 but put indefinitely on hold after a COVID surge. Finally, COVID numbers were down and this seemed like the most logical time: one more mini-vacation before busy season at work.
I went through TSA without a hitch, heading to gate 52E. I had never been in Terminal 5, and half an hour before the flight I went to the gate indicated for it to check in… only to realize 52E was only accessible by ground transport, something I didn’t think LAX even had. As a result I was the last one on the flight, running through the gate to board, my carry-on being checked due to a lack of space on the plane.
The flight took off on time. However, about 20 minutes in, an announcement came over the speakers: “Attention passengers: if there is any medical personnel on the flight, please contact your flight attendant.” About 10 minutes after, the captain announces that, due to a flight attendant having an irregular heartbeat, we would be returning to LAX and needed to get another. We landed, and an hour later they had one… only for the other flight attendant to clock out, leading us to wait for yet another hour. Two hours after our emergency we were finally back on our three-hour flight to Houston. I arrived at Jeffrey’s condo at 10pm, after which it was time for dinner and sleep before waking up early to begin our drive to Austin before traffic hit.
The road to Austin was a quiet two-lane highway, which Jeffrey filled with country music. I learned all about The Chicks and Chris Stapelton as we drove over the Colorado River multiple times (apparently it winds quite a bit) and stopped for fudge and pecans on the roadside. After getting into Austin and sampling some Detroit-style pizza, Jeffrey called the Airbnb to see if we could check in early. The help line told us the place was still dirty and to call back, so we headed to South Congress, a funky street of boutiques and vintage markets, alongside poets and their typewriters on the sidewalk offering poems to passersby based on their preferred topic.
We waited two hours to call back to the Airbnb, an hour before scheduled check-in time. They said it was still dirty, so Jeffrey asked pointedly if it would be ready by check-in. “Oh sure, if you don’t receive a text from us beforehand it’ll be ready!” This was far from accurate, as we followed their highly detailed directions to get into the lockbox they did not give us a code for. We texted for the code, which took them 15 minutes to send, and didn’t work. As we fussed, a short, stout woman came up to us. She was a cleaner with the rental company for the AirBnb, a corporate entity based out of Wisconsin – a little far from Austin. When we mentioned we had called at 1pm, she exclaimed, “If they had told me, I would have prioritized your unit!” Murphy apparently has a sense of humor as well.
She darted off while we headed to a nearby coffee shop, as we were near the Austin City College campus. Within 30 minutes she called back; although the key fob for the parking garage didn’t work, the apartment was already clean. The reservation before us hadn’t come because several days before Austin had been in a deep freeze, so they must have cancelled and not told the cleaning service.
We settled into the two-bedroom apartment and relaxed for an hour before dinner. Jeffrey suggested Matt’s El Rancho, a famous queso place most noted for its appearance in the Richard Linklater movie “Boyhood” – fitting, given how much of our friendship has been dedicated to us watching indie movies together. We got ourselves a Lyft so we could drink, with Jeffrey saying, “It’ll probably be a little bit of a wait, maybe an hour max. But it’ll be worth it!”
We arrived at the overflowing parking lot and headed inside to ask about the wait – two hours as opposed to Jeffrey’s estimate of one. We Googled like crazy as we called another Lyft to take us to another local spot, Trudy’s. We arrived and began gorging ourselves on queso and other Tex-Mex treats, including a huge margarita for each of us, his regular, mine a strawberry cucumber. Since Jeffrey covered lunch, I slapped my card down for dinner before calling a Lyft to take us back for a well-deserved sleep.
The next morning we woke up early to head to the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, located on the campus of UT Austin. Jeffrey grabbed a cup of coffee from the local coffee shop while I dined on another Texas delicacy: breakfast tacos, black bean and nopales with egg. We took the 15-minute drive to the campus, following our GPS diligently while avoiding crazy Austin drivers. We got to campus and there were absolutely no signs to guide us. We even saw a lady on the sidewalk and asked her for directions to the library; she asked us the same thing.
We found the library soon enough, and it was worth the effort, a spectacular building filled not only with all of the former president’s papers, but also exhibits on his contributions as a member of congress, vice president, and then president. It was amazing to learn about the spearhead of such progressive policies, who happened to come from the heart of Texas.
We began the drive to our barbecue lunch at Terry Black’s Barbecue, which our Lyft driver to Trudy’s recommended. However, I checked for my credit card, and it had gone missing. I went into the library and ask, but they shrugged. I headed back to the car, and Jeffrey told me to cancel the card through my banking app and they’ll send me a new one back in Los Angeles, which I did as we drove off. As my panic calmed down, Jeffrey and I talked about the night before; perhaps I left it at Trudy’s? I called there, and sure enough they had the card, 10 minutes after I cancelled it. However, they were sweet, even cutting it up for me while we were on the phone.
We arrived at Terry Black’s, and with the lack of parking and the line out the door, we switched gears and headed over to Stiles Switch, located outside the city center. From the local 4 beer and sweet corn casserole to the cool coleslaw and melt-in-your-mouth brisket, it didn’t disappoint; however, I forgot that this was Texas and everything was bigger here, so I really should have only ordered one meat instead of two.
After a quick siesta back in our AirBnb, we met my friend David, who a year previous decided to relocate from his LA home to the suburbs of Austin. He was the same guy I remembered, on the phone with our mutual friend Jeremy back in the San Fernando Valley – except this time wearing a cowboy hat. After we found David’s favorite barbecue joint closed (because hi Murphy!), David, his friend Chelsea, her teenage kids, Jeffrey, and I headed to Georgetown, a small historic town outside of Austin. It may have been small, but it was filled with shops, restaurants, and wine bars featuring bottles from the burgeoning Texas wine country, not to mention live music. As a joke I got some musicians to play “California Dreaming,” which surprisingly didn’t get me into as much trouble as I thought it would in Texas.
David suggested the next morning that we hit up the Harry Ransom Center, a photography museum on the UT Austin campus, and he would join us. Little did I know, there was an exhibit of film storyboards, courtesy of Robert DeNiro, featuring “Raging Bull,” “E.T.,” “Labyrinth,” and more. My film buff heart was smitten, studying the frames and realizing that I understood this more than I thought I would, given that I never went to film school. Murphy could never stop my creative brain from formulating potential new projects.
After more breakfast tacos at Juan in a Million and another afternoon siesta, Jeffrey suggested Rainey Street, one of the live music hubs of Austin. We took a Lyft and were dropped off in a corridor full of life – patrons milling about, musicians making their instruments sing, bartenders slinging drinks alongside various food offerings. I decided, since I was less than 24 hours from my flight back to Los Angeles, to check in. I scrolled through emails, looking for my check-in for Delta. However, it didn’t appear. Upon looking further, I noticed my booking was for Friday. I needed to be back at work by Tuesday. Murphy was cackling loudly.
After some back and forth, Delta offered me a $99 fee to reschedule my flight; however, there was no guarantee I would be able to get out the next day. I bit the bullet and booked a Southwest flight while sitting in a hotel bar. By this point I felt defeated by Murphy, so we grabbed some food and headed back so I could pack, soak in a tub, and get some sleep.
The next morning, Jeffrey indulged me by returning to South Congress, this time for some kolaches, another Austin delicacy. We roamed the shops before he took me to the Austin airport, dropping me off with a brief hug. By the time I walked through security, I was exhausted, and all I knew was that I needed to get to Gate 15.
However, just as I approached Gate 14, I noticed a gate with an infinity symbol. A listing on the wall had a slew of flights, but not to anywhere nearby. Rather they were to Fraggle Rock, Pemberley, Gallifrey, and more. Announcements over the loudspeakers were given for each world, from San Junipero to Peyton Place. Even beaten down by Murphy, I couldn’t help but to smile, settling in to do some writing as the announcer told us not to bring back vibranium souvenirs from Wakanda.
This trip may have been filled with mishaps, but even in the mishaps there was something beautiful and honest. I hadn’t flown in three years, it was bound to not be smooth sailing, and not meant to be perfect. After all, travel is about visiting somewhere new and strange, and in the process discovering a bit more about yourself. The rest is just details.
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