Now for some driving. There’s a little place between Austin and San Antonio (or San Antone as the locals and all song writers call it) called Gruene (pronounced Green). The only way we were going to get there was by car. To say I was nervous was to say I was curled up in the foetal position with my thumb in my mouth. We had to taxi back to the airport in Austin to pick up the car, a serviceable mid size sedan and because we had bought a (borrowed) GPS from home with fully updated USA maps, what could go wrong ? The tom-tom even responds to voice commands too. Very state-of-the-art. Full of bravado and confidence I say ‘address’. Sarcastically she says ‘do you want a dentist’. Sorry lady, you had your chance, I’ll be taking over from now on.
As you leave the airport you have a choice of half a dozen 5 lane flyovers to choose from. As first navigator, it is my job to pick the right one. This is not easy to do when your head is in your hands, eyes closed and softly whimpering…..lawd help us.
But back to Gruene.
The area around here was settled by the Germans in the late 1800’s. Texas itself has been governed by the French and the Spanish. In fact, Texas was part of Mexico until the 1840’s. This Mexican influence is seen in the food, buildings and of course the millions of Mexicans who live here.
We are making our way to the Gruene dance hall, oldest one in Texas. Every night during summer they have live music, and every Tuesday they have swing classes followed by the band Two Tons Of Steele. Look them up on youtube, great rockabilly. Getting our priorities right we book into the swing classes then look for somewhere to stay.
We weren’t prepared for how busy the little town would be. Reminds me of Port Fairy/Handorf. Lots of antique shops and quaint little stores. But really old, not just tarted up to look old. Old man Gruene showed great foresight when he built this little town. I think of all the little dance halls of my childhood, Sandford, Pigeon Ponds and Edenhope. Combined they would only hold 1000 people. This Hall could seat 2000. If you build it, they will come.
We book into the Mansion House. All the old wooden outbuildings converted to accommodation.
Could be a set from any old cowdie movie. With a little imagination, I could see Walter Brennan ridin’ in on his horse, dusty and dirty from his 3 week ride from El Paso paying his 2 bits for a bath and a shave in the old bath house.
Although, I have to say this part of Texas is green and lush and not at all what I had assumed. Its the middle of summer and yet the Gaudeloupe river that runs though Gruene is nearly bursting it’s banks.
For $8 a person we line up with 100 others for the swing class. Its a kinda swing/ rock and roll and I’m not too coy to say we were damned good at it (well for the first half hour). Then my hip and knee went and Rays lungs were heaving so we retired hurt to the beer garden for a refreshing sangria and smoke.
And that’s where we met John, the horseshoe throwing cowboy and his trusted buddy Miguel, the non English speaking Mexican. So an hour later, Rays worked out the finer points of chucking a horseshoe the length of a cricket pitch to hit or land on a metal spike. He’s a natural. John now wants to come to Australia so together they can start a professional competition that will not only be super popular but also yield enormous profits for the both of them.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to buy trusty Miguel”s friendship by grinning like an idiot offering my cigarettes and buying the beers, all the while trying desperately to ignore his face and neck tattoos and, more importantly, the bulge on his right hip.
By this time the place is chokka. Maybe 500 people. Lots of young ones 15 to 18 dressed to the nines in their cowboy boots, hats and buckles. The band starts and its a race to the dance floor. Everyone is dancing, the young, the old, and everyone in between. No need for a partner either. Just get up then someone will take you by the hand and whip you around the floor, you don’t even need rhythm, just a will to have fun. I wouldnt want to own the bar here though. A few beers here and there but i never saw anyone even half tipsy. We hadn’t danced that much since circa 1979 Pigeon Ponds hall. Suffered like decrepit old people the next day, but so worth it.
So we spent 2 days in Gruene, then off to San Antone.
Now I want you to reread this post in a slow Texan drawl; it’ll sound so much better.
Till next time, so long.