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The Dawn Daily

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Boot Scootin’ & Horseshoe Throwin’

Mornin’ ya’ll,

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.

Boot Scootin 2

Deep in the heart of Texas

Thursday afternoon, one week since we arrived. I`ve got way too much to say as per usual so here goes…..

Flight uneventful but so damn long. Longest single flight in the world. Nearly 16 hours of wake, sleep, drink from the bar, cramp, walk, repeat, repeat. Then good afternoon Dallas! And what’s more we arrive the same day we left; I know, it’s weird.

My research has told me that the only good thing to come out of Dallas was the demise of JR Ewing, so we just planned a night at an airport hotel to allow the body clock to sync in with the local time. It didn’t – for either of us.

The next morning a quick flight to Austin, capital of the great state of Texas and more importantly THE LIVE MUSIC CAPITAL OF THE WORLD. The cities motto is ‘Keep Austin Weird’.  We love it already.

I have a syndrome which I like to call The Empathy Dialect. If I’m in, let’s say, a Vietnamese restaurant, I find that within the first minute I sit down and start to order I find myself speaking with a marked Viet accent. It happens all the time, and with most accents; much to my family’s embarrassment. There is no malice or ‘take the piss’ intended. I was born with it.

Here in Texas I am excelling at it. I love in particular the ‘ya’ll. Such a friendly greeting and can be used in the plural or the singular. It can also be used to attract someone’s attention (as in ‘hey ya’ll), to start a conversation (as in ya’ll be coming from Australia?), as well as an informal or formal greeting. So I’m using it. And let’s be honest, it’s much nicer than Australia’s ‘youse’.

How good is an Australian passport? As soon as we open our mouth people are interested in us. We are exotic. And it’s probably not just us. I have never met such friendly people. If we are sitting in a bar, someone will inevitably ask ‘where ya’ll from?’ And 2 hours later, we have the name and phone number of their cousin who will show us  good time in Memphis. They are a warm and generous people and I need to wash my mouth out with soap for ever having said a bad word against them.

But back to the itinerary, the reason for the trip was to see as much music as possible and this was THE best place to start. Our hotel was right next to 6th street, block after block of little and not so little bars and eateries that have live music every night and day of the week. All different kinds of music, acoustic, country, old swing, new and old rock and just about everything in-between.

I was thinking maybe it was a young ones street, a la King St Melbourne, but I couldn’t be more wrong. The whole area was jumping with a huge cross section of people. Some venues have a token cover charge or some just tips for the band. So many great artists started here. Janis Joplin for one. Willie Nelson and oh, by the way, Matthew McConaughey lives here too. So does Robert Plant, apparently he drinks at one of the local Irish pubs. We tried a bit of celebrity spotting, but nothing to report as yet.

We bar hopped the first night. How many margaritas can a person drink in one night? Well, quite a few in would seem. And for $4 a pop it would be a shame not to help out the economy. Speaking of which, Austin is the fastest growing city in all the USA. 135 people per day move there and the unemployment is only around 3%.

You know how when you are travelling somewhere and you think, now what will I pack? You want functional, smart and casual clothes that can take you pretty much anywhere. Right? No need to worry in Texas. Casual and cool is the name of the game here. Shorts and T shirt will take you anywhere.

I wouldn’t say Austin was the prettiest place I’ve ever seen. It reminds me a little of Canberra, functional, a bit boring, boxy buildings with the exception of the capital building. Absolutely stunning. Call me a troglodyte but some modern buildings are just pain ugly. The streets are wide and tree lined and its very pedestrian friendly and absolutely no graffiti. It may not have the architecture of some cities but it sure makes up for it with the vibe of the place. Another place where I want to live.

But back to the music. The one place that all people need to go is The Continental Club on South Congress. The area is called So Co. It’s a cross between St Kilda and Brunswick St. Food trucks everywhere, selling mainly Mexican inspired food but oh so original, cool shops and small bars.

The Continental Club was fabulous. We saw a band that that played on Dale Hawkins record Suzi Q. He wrote the song. His cousin Ron Hawkins was on drums. This was 4pm in the afternoon. Had the best time.

On Sunday, friends of friends picked us up from our Hotel and took us to Stubbs, a very famous Texas BBQ and music venue. Had BBQ brisket. We need this in Melbourne. I need to know how to cook this. It looks like the biggest piece of roast rump I’ve ever seen, blackened on the outside and manna of the gods to eat. Tender and tasty. Also ate biscuits, a bit like our scones. Good too.

The band was a local gospel band. Look, there is so much talent here, words cannot do it justice. You can’t imagine how good they were.

We have had a few issues with the food. 1. It’s too sweet, I’m hanging out for a bit of sour dough bread. 2. The portions are way too big. 3. Every place from up market fine dining to divey little joints have a hamburger on their menu. Really, what’s with minced beef and accompaniments that you can’t last a day without?

Sorry my letters a bit ordinary, cant got my rhythm yet.

Talk later, Dawn.

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