On several occasions while I’m making my way home from work, I wander from my bus stop on Congress and begin to make my way to the Fourth Street Warehouse District. Here is a place called Halcyon, a coffee shop complete with a full bar. In mid-evening, there’s very few people there except for a couple of students who are locked in determined staring contests with their Macbooks while chugging espresso like it’s chocolate milk. I grab myself a beer, if needed a pack of cigarettes, and make my way to the patio out front.
As I sip on my Newcastle and puff on my Parliament, I look across the street at what is commonly referred to as the “gay district” of Austin. Rain, Oil-Can Harry’s, the fairly new Castro’s Warehouse, and of course the empty space on the corner of the street that seems to have something of a business death curse attached to it. These places are interesting to me, but no matter how gay I may be, I’ve never truly felt the sense of community that everyone else seems to feel at these places. By the time I start nearing the bottom of my beer, the time has begun to creep up on eight-thirty. The sun has gone down and above the clubs in front of me, the high-rises of downtown begin to spring to life with reds, whites, and blues and I begin to get that itch… that call to just walk and see where my feet take me.
When I’m in this mode, my walk is reminiscent of a slow shamble like the way someone would move through an art museum. I head to Congress Avenue from Fourth Street. Congress is the street where everything meets; a straight line in the middle of everything that begins with a bridge stretching over Lady Bird Lake and ending with the Capital building at 11th street. This is also the street where you are most likely to see our local homeless crazies. One man is dressed completely in garments he seems to have made from various weeds and shrubbery that he’s found, another is always in a highlighter yellow T-shirt and screaming at people about how they need to “fucking find Jesus,” and another man runs around barefoot and has what he believes is a magic tiara. What does his magic tiara do? I’ve never had the courage to ask. But none will hold a candle to the legend that was the homeless “drag queen” Leslie who supposedly rode to Austin from Atlanta on nothing but a tricycle.
Then there’s Sixth Street, the place that everyone and their mother travels extreme distances to run up and down like excited children before taking turns mixing their vomit with the horse shit in the street. Charm. There have always been people with guitars, horns, drums and various other things performing in the street, though recently I’ve noticed the newcomers. Performing artists who dress as statues. I’ve seen these kinds of people before as a kid in Paris and honestly they scared the shit out of me then. But these statues will actually talk and they do look pretty cool, evoking the time worn look of a gargoyle on top of a cathedral. Another newcomer on Sixth is a woman who holds a lot of bravery points in my mind. She’s always topless, riding her bike to her preferred spot, not caring who sees. If someone makes a comment she stops, raises an eyebrow and just stares unblinkingly until they walk away. Once at her spot, she breaks out her paints and begins turning her breasts into impressive, colorful works of art that resemble nothing of breasts by the time she’s done, except for the obvious shape of course.
From here I end up hopping from one bar to another, not so much to drink but to watch people interact with each other. Creepy as it sounds, I highly recommend this. You’ll find full families taking shots together, cute couples having great dates, other couples on really bad dates, groups of guys chugging beer in their circle of bros, groups of girls usually wearing a sash for something-or-other and tiaras, occasionally I’ll see people like me who just get a cup of water or a light beer and relax. If I’m lucky, at some point in the evening I’ll stumble into a bar that’s playing some indie electronic rock or, if the gods are smiling upon me, it’ll be an 80s night. If all else fails, there’s always something playing at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. I never bother to check my watch because I know that I’ll cringe from the thought of the sleep deprivation I will suffer, but those nights are worth every minute of lost sleep. When I get home I’m sure I fall asleep with a smile on my face because my last thought is always, “I’m so glad I live here.”