My heart pulled me to the city of outlaws.
Five years ago, I drove through Austin Texas with a fake I.D. and my college boyfriend. We were halfway through a romantic cross-country adventure, and stopped in Austin to visit his cousin, her girlfriend, and their backyard chicken coop. All three were great; open and welcoming and finding ways to entertain us even though they were days away from in vitro-fertilization. The night before Kelly was to become a Baby Mama, we ate nachos at Shady Grove, smashed Hey Cupcake treats into our mouths, and danced on Coyote Ugly tabletops.
My interactions with Texas have always been romantic, even when I’ve been alone. I’ve fallen into my Cormac McCarthy alter-ego, fantasizing about cowboys eating tacos. I like to think that Texas is painted in dust and bullhorns, that all of the drinks are served in mason jars. A little bit of Mexico, a little bit of California, a little bit of Virginia. I pretend the state is not dominated by Republicans.
Other than this mental erotica, I’ve traveled to Texas with my dad, alone, and with former lovers. I’ve stayed in Amarillo, Tyler, Austin, and Houston, eaten steak and jerky and Chuy’s and it still isn’t enough. Last November, the urge was overwhelming, and I began plotting an escape route.
I’ll admit that I meditated over the decision as to whether or not to go. Plane tickets and care rentals and the amount of money I’d surely spend on tacos required some thought. (I also realized that debating whether or not to go on vacation is the definition of champagne problems, but I’m the kind of person who freaks out when a quarter rolls under the washing machine, so spending huge sums of money is the kind of thing I don’t take lightly.)
So here’s what I did. I googled “decision making meditation” and found a bunch of videos that told me they would be able to help. I spent the night with my headphones in, listening to a wispy-voiced women lead me through a series of relaxing instructions. It worked (REALLY!). The next morning I bought the tickets and rented the car and made a taco vision board on Pinterest.
Traveling alone (with the exception of my shoestring budget) offered an immense wave of freedom. I had couchsurfing hosts lined up, a few places that I was determined to hit up for tacos, etc. On my first night, my host Jesse took me to Whisler’s. When I heard the name I imagined rolling desert hills and tumbleweeds, the “whistles” being the eerie wind that haunts a Western horizon.
Whislers was like that, if the Western horizon also possessed Asian-fusion food trucks, $10 manhattans, and men who I assumed who were drastically out of my league. While ten bucks is pretty average in LA and New York, it was unfathomable in Austin. Even so, my host offered to pay for the first round, and then a whiskey shot (and another and then one more?) later that evening.
“Austin is essentially one big party,” Jesse said. She is tiny, a little thing only made smaller when she dons herself in a parka and beanie.
The next morning we walked alongside the train tracks as the BBQ shacks begin unfolding their picnic tables. She lives in East Austin, a neighborhood predominantly populated with Hispanic families and twenty-somethings who like living walking distance to dive bars and taquerias. For breakfast we ate migyas tacos and drank horchata, all while complaining about 26-year-old boys (and 34-year-old men) who didn’t know how to respond to a text message.
Later that day, she drove an hour north to her mother’s in order to do her laundry. I explored my surroundings, taking a free Bollywood dance class and visiting the graffiti gardens, and after that I was looking to get my drink on. I mean that in the lamest way possible; my ideal bar scene is one where I can sit in the back with a book or my journal and sip something while eavesdropping on the conversations around me.
Luckily, Austin is literally one giant party. There is no such thing as dark days, and something is constantly going on. I went to Rainey Street, where Sunday Funday-ers were roaming the bars in cowboy boots and leather jackets. I wandered into Lydia unshowered, with my hair wild atop my head and a Northface backpack on my shoulders. My vagabond appearance was a gift rather than a hindrance, however, as it prompted a conversation between myself and the bartender. I left that around 7pm, after consuming two free Manhattans. (Side note: Austinians love to concoct their own Maraschino cherries!!)
Is it just me, or is it easier to be brave when you’re traveling? Striking up a conversation with a stranger in a bar seems easier, maybe because we’ve got nothing to lose. It could have also been because I was in Austin, a land that I had fantasized like a child mentally concocting Neverland. Every inhabitant fascinated me. I wanted to ask them questions about what they did for a living, why they lived there, if they thought San Antonio was cool, and if there were such thing as taco happy hour.
I want this to come across honestly: every moment in that city felt special, like it was painted in a dusty faux gold. Dancing on a dirty floor, I briefly remembered that time in front of my computer, only two months prior, and the feeling of certainty that told me to come to the city of outlaws.
When you have those moments of mental clarity, whether it be to pursue a story, launch a project, or explore a new place: listen to that voice. I know that not everyone has the means to act on every whim they have, but when we nurture the ideas that grow inside our hearts, we venture into a space of ourselves that we are meant to understand.
My trip to Austin didn’t lead to any broad life insights, or meeting my soulmate or landing a dream job, but it lend to new friends, poetry, and my first taste of Torchy’s tacos. It led to reflective walks and long stares in the Mexican horizon. It led to random roadside cleanup, a motorcyle ride, a donut caked in Captain Crunch, dancing with an old man. It gave attention to artists (creativity deserves just as much), and the realization that you can make your that quiet voice inside myself become a reality.
(!!! Before I tell you to stay cozy, I’m going to tell you to go to Veracruz. Eat the migyas. There are crushed up tortilla chips in there. Also go to White Horse. And definitely couch surf because as far as I’m concerned it’s the BEST way to travel.)