Austin: Day One

SPF: 45+, I just saw a tree melt!

I’m in Austin most of this week for an industry trade show. It sure is weird coming back as a visitor. For example, the airport is new, having been fully converted from the former Bergstrom Air Force Base. What hasn’t changed is the disposition of Mueller, the former airport: they’re still undecided. (History: Families moved near the airport because it was far out of town and the land was cheap. Unbeknownst to them, airplanes were taking off! Daily!! The airplanes were noisy!) Bergstrom was in the process of closing when they got the idea of converting it to a civilian facility, solving the residents’ problem and saving beau coups of money from not having to build a new airport from scratch.

While this was happening, Dell bought the rights to the former Austin Executive (3R3) airstrip, where I did my flight training. I think they converted it to a shipping facility and race track. General aviation was highly discouraged from using the new airport, and many have moved out to Georgetown. When I left, my suggestion was to dig Mueller out entirely and fill it with water, thus creating the new Lake Mueller waterfront properties.

Where was I going with this? Oh yeah. So, coming back to Austin was weird because I wasn’t sure where to stay.

My friend Elisa pointed me to a funky hotel in south Austin: concrete floors, Dr. Bronner’s mint soaps, free ethernet and wireless. It’s adjacent to Jo’s coffee shop, and across the street from an ice cream store and sushi bar. I don’t know about sushi in land-locked Austin, but two out of three is a good start.

I checked into my hotel, changed into shorts, and walked to the convention center — another building that wasn’t present when I lived here. Austinites will tell you that “it’s less humid than Houston.” While true, this doesn’t detract from how punishingly hot it feels. The ice cream lasted only three blocks.

Austin is home to the largest urban guano generation facility in North America. As I came closer to the South
Congress Avenue Bridge,
I could smell, then hear, the famous brown bats.
The bats perform nightly April through October. I hope to watch the festivities tonight… upwind.

The convention center is pretty nice as far as convention centers go, with air conditioning that was a welcome refuge from the outdoors. I set up my jiffy-booth (stored in the tall black bazooka tube I’d been hauling from the hotel — TSA inspects it often) and found the registration desk to pick up my badge.

The registration folks were pretty cool, handing me up with a pack of drink coupons and a set of tchotchkies. For this event, they’re a tote bag and … a laser pointer that also quadruples as a pen, flashlight and stylus.

I can create scathing notes, edit my PDA appoiintments and blind presenters with the same device. Sweet!

Mission for the day accomplished, I called my friend Lisa (not to be confused with Elisa (or Lisa), whose family I was to meet for dinner. She was en route, and going to meet me at Jo’s, next to the hotel. As I was walking back, it started to rain. In Seattle, “rain” is often a mild drip. Speaking collectively, we don’t usually worry about umbrellas and only don the parkas when it’s cold out. With that setup, let me tell you what rain is like here during a thunderstorm: it’s windy, with sheet-like downpours coming from a 45° angle, thunder booming in stereophonic quality. It was spectacular. As the rain crescendoed, I was getting soaked. People glancing my way had a look of horror, perhaps from the wet-T-shirt contest effect I was displaying. Water pooled up on the street corners up to six inches deep, a giant vortex around the lone sewer drain. Cars drove by and occasionally hit the pond, sending sheets of water flying up onto the sidewalk. Yet I didn’t get any wetter. Ten minutes later, the T-storm had blown past and the sticky, humid aftermath remained.

Lisa and her kids had finished parking at Jo’s and were going to get coffee before meeting me. One look, and she started apologizing for not picking me up — it didn’t even occur to me to ask — and said they’d hang out while I changed into something dry. The tote bag and its contents were saturated. However the laser pointer was shielded by its plastic sarcophagus. Avast ye seminar presenters!

She had picked out a hole-in-the-wall Mexican place in one of those ubiquitous mini malls further south of Austin than I knew existed.
The food was fantastic, with seven kinds of salsa, and a black bean chipotle that I will be dedicating my culinary skills to reverse engineering. I had enchiladas verde with a lime-cilantro rice and borracho (non-refried pinto) beans. Very, very good stuff.

kept apologizing for her kids’ behavior, which I found funny because I thought they were well-behaved. Her youngest was getting a little tired, which was to be expected for the late evening dinner. Had she said nothing, I wouldn’t have noticed. After dinner, we went to the ice cream store across the street from my hotel. The kids were tuckering out very good now.

This morning, I made some last-minute changes to the software on my demo laptop, and hoofed it to the convention center. Traffic has been light, but the contacts have been good. As a special bonus, someone has set up a wireless “cyber cafe” so I can catch up on work during idle time. (The show management offered a hardwired ethernet access for $400, surely a sucker’s bet.)

While I’m typing this, I overheard one of the local reps from another company talking about “how cool it’s been this week, down from 105°F” As the joke goes, I thought I just saw a tree melt.