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This last weekend, Sweetie and I went to Austin, Texas, to help a friend celebrate his 40th birthday. He didn't know it, though.
I worked at IBM in Austin as a
co-op employee the during the fall of 1991 and the summer and fall of 1992. It was an interesting experience; professionally, I lucked into the TCP/IP support group, so I learned a lot about networking; personally, it was the first time I'd ever lived outside of Las Cruces, and I feel I grew emotionally quite a lot in that time.
My roommate for two of those sessions was E, a fellow CS major from NMSU. We got along reasonably well, and we had shared friends back at college. He ended up staying in Austin, continuing on at IBM for a while then switching to Sun Microsystems. In the mean time, I'd stayed in contact with a core group of friends loosely based out of Las Cruces. This group eventually started referring to themselves as
the horde; the name stuck, and got attached to an IRC channel, a mailing list, etc. Some of the Extended Horde are on LJ: shechemist, nirikrss, brotherkurt.
Friday, June 29th
Sweetie and I made it to the airport without any serious issues. A bit later than intended (of course), and feeling chaotic and pressed for time (also of course). Getting dogs to the kennel, then little K dropped off with her grandma, took longer than we thought. We did still have time for a departing glass of 1554 before heading to the gate. (Didn't manage to get the lappy to talk to the airport wireless, though. Wonder if I should hang out there and see if I can figure out what's going wrong...)
The flight out left a bit late, although we got to our midpoint just about on time -- only to be stuck on the ground for an hour while they did maintenance. Being stuck in an airport sucks; being stuck on an airplane sucks harder.
We finally got into Austin at about 8p local time, and picked up the rental car (a Subaru Forester, and my first time as an Avis Preferred renter...). I'd gotten Sweetie a Garmin Nüvi 660 for her birthday last year, and it was pretty helpful on this trip. (It wasn't the same as the navigation system in the Prius, and that hurt my head more than once, but it was still a huge help as I slowly reacquainted myself with the Austin streets.)
The Habitat Suites is an interesting little hotel; I really approve of their overall mission and vision, but I think that their execution has been hampered by the airport move and just old age. Not a bad place, and we got a decent rate.
We called a few of our co-conspirators, but they had already had dinner and were visiting an old friend elsewhere in town. Sweetie was in the mood for good beer and
pub grub; I vaguely remembered a nifty low-key place that I'd visited in 2001, and I drove around north Austin for an hour looking for it. Turns out I was only three blocks short of the Draught House (or
Draught Horse, depending on the year). We ended up at a Bennigan's, instead. Sigh.
From there we tried to get something to drink back at the hotel room, only to be thwarted by the stupid Austin liquor laws; the best we could find at 11:30p on Friday was some beer and wine. Having duly acquired such, we retired to the hotel and met up with some of our friends for a while. They'd been going all day as well, though, so it was a short evening.
Saturday, June 30th
After a slow morning (punctuated by a rules-breaking pod of loud kids in the pool right outside our bedroom window at nine in the morning), Sweetie and I drove around Austin.
Our first stop was Highland Mall, right next to where we were staying. Sweetie was remembering what humidity does to her hair (makes it scary big!) and she wanted to stop by the Aveda store there. Which would have been painless, except that we walked past a Discovery Channel Store ... which was having a going-out-of-business sale. (Apparently they all are. If you're looking for gifts for geeky folks in your life, it might be worth a visit...) We picked up some videos for the whole family, as well as more individual gifts. After we spent a fair chunk of change there, we spent more at the Aveda outlet.
After that, we went looking for breakfast in the traditional sense:
I just woke up, gimme food NOW. I was torn between two old favorites: the hippie joint (Kerbey Lane Cafe, which has a shockingly functional and informative web site); and the old college hangout (Conan's Pizza). Sanity won, and we had a delicious lunch at the former. Sweetie informed me that she was very very sad that we didn't have a branch of that restaurant here in Albuquerque.
We also wanted to grab a few CDs to listen to while we were driving around. While I spent most of my time (and far too much of my money) at the late and lamented Tower Records on Guadalupe, I remembered Waterloo Records -- and it's still there, as amazing as always. We picked up a nice handful of music: some Depeche Mode singles; Nuages du Monde, the latest Delerium release; some Einstuzende Neubauten that Sweetie was ecstatic to find; and some Coheed & Cambria as a bit of an experiment. Then we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the party.
We headed towards the surprise party just a bit later than intended; we had to stop at the nearby liquor store on the way out (since we wouldn't be back before they closed, and we didn't want to be stuck without any good booze for later in the evening!). We arrived early enough to be officially one of the
surprisers, so that worked out.
The victim of honor was suitably overwhelmed at the surprise factor. He later shared that he'd been expecting some coworkers to pounce, but not the extended friend network: VT and his lovely girlfriend from NYC; shechemist with her hubby MC and sprog N, from Chicago; nirikrss from Denver; Sweetie and I from Albuquerque.; B from Fort Worth
There were more than a few of the old NMSU crowd around, as well: E, his wife T, and son T; S, his wife A and two kids; F and his wife D. Add in the expected coworkers, and it was a good-sized party. We hung out for quite a while. Sweetie found a new friend, with a shared appreciation for cute puppies and being very silly drunks.
Add in some good local beer and even local vodka, some intertaining neighbors, and we mostly closed down the party, and wandered back to the hotel in the wee hours of Sunday morning.
Sunday, July 1st
All the out-of-town folks gathered for brunch at Fonda San Miguel: delicious Central American fare, complete with expositions from the executive chef on the history of each item. The brunch buffet was delicious; I wish I had more room in my tummy!
Most of the other out-of-towners had to leave that afternoon, so we said our good-byes. Sweetie and I then went up to Ikea in Round Rock, since the nearest store to Albuquerque is still 7-8 hours drive away.
From there, I took Sweetie on a long, roundabout tour of the Hill Country west of Austin: from Round Rock / Georgetown to McNeil Rd, across US-183 where it becomes Spicewood Springs; then east over the old, narrow, scary Spicewood Springs (past my friends A and K's old place!), south on Loop 360 to Lakewood Dr, through the water to Bull Creek (and a quick detour to the County Line BBQ). From there, a bit further down Loop 360 to Bee Caves Road, out to Loop 620; then up the 620 to Mansfield Dam (and a pause to gawk at the huge resevoir release currently in progress, from all the rain in north Texas at the moment!). Back into town on the 2222, with the section of
suicide hill (still the fastest I've ever gone on my bicycle!), then up the 360 to the 183, and finally down to Burnet Rd.
Where we went fishing for the Playland Skate Center, where the birthday boy, his girl, and his [effective] mother-in-law were going to join us to watch a bout of Roller Derby. Hm. My take: some amazing action, but the pretension of the crowd, and the forced color commentary of the announcers, combined to make it not very enjoyable. I was also starting to suffer from a lack of sleep, and overstimulation (I'm not the most social of people, and two nights in a row of being surrounded by many people is pushing it!); put all that together, and I don't know if I'd go out of my way to attend another match. We'll see.
The five of us did finally make it to the Draught House after the skating; we were all pretty wiped out, though, so we just had a pint or two and called it a night. Sweetie and I went on a short quest for a box to ship all the Ikea and Discovery Channel Store bits home in; took us longer than expected, but we got it all boxed up and ready to go.
Monday, July 2nd
Despite appearing to have lots of time left, I was freaked out by our schedule this morning. We dropped off the box of stuff at the local FedEx location (it got here on Thursday, which is not bad for ground shipping!). We scooted over to party central, to drop off some extra bottled water and beer that we hadn't had the chance to drink over the weekend, then it was back to the airport.
Dropping the car off was a breeze, and the airport is small enough that we were only a short walk away from security and then into the gate area. The return trip was through El Paso, Texas (while the outgoing routing was through Lubbock, Texas); despite that ill portent, we made it home in good time and with no complications.
A few hours of driving around town, collecting little K and the hounds, dropping Sweetie off at lab, and things were back to normal.
It was great to visit my old stomping grounds from 15 years ago, and to see so many of my old friends in person again. I'm sorry that I didn't get to meet up with my other Austin friends, but the weekend was stupidly busy already. I hope I can make it out again soon!