Austin comes well recommended by many, with varying degrees of fervor, excitement and mention of a popular tourist destination called Sixth Street. I took all of this to heart, cached it for future reference, and left town 18 minutes after the plane landed. Cities are by definition the most interesting places in the world; what is more convincing than a collection of a million people? But sometimes, you have to leave a place to understand it.
I drove west because I wanted a vantage point - I wanted to see Texas hill country with my own eyes. It is a place so riddled by history and image that I had trouble visualizing it. I checked into a hotel on the outskirts of a German-American heritage town called Fredricksburg, in the heart of hill country. The streets were quiet and wet - nobody walking about. So I hopped into a Mexican restaurant, the only packed place in town. "All the tables are filled. Twenty minutes?"
"I just need a drink."
"The bar's packed," she said, analyzing me.
"We have a stool back there," she said, pointing to the kitchen.
"Perfect," I said, greeting the kitchen-help.
"Where you coming from?" the manager asked. "Los Angeles." "Business?" "I want to see Fredricksburg."
"Fredricksburg?" she said laughing as she left the kitchen, "Go to Austin. Sixth Street!"
The bartender asked if he could get me anything.
I said, "your best tequila." He poured a Patron for me, and one for himself. "What should I check out in Fredricksburg?" I asked. I already knew about the museums, the history, the German food.
"Go to Austin, man," he said in a heavy Mexican accent, serving me chips and Patron. The manager came back in and hit the bartender atop the head. "I don't want you touching me like that anymore," she said. He swung at her casually. "You're in America now. You can't act like that. You'll get fired."
The chef walked up and said, "You ever had any of our shrimps?" I said, "No, this is my first time here." "Make him some shrimps." He pronounced this 'shreemps.' "This is the good stuff from the Texas gulf." "Thank you," I said, "Gulf shrimp are usually Chinese 'Gulf' shrimp. How do you know these are from the Gulf of Mexico?" I said, referring to a seafood industry marketing scam.