The ride through the center of town to my destination starts slightly downhill. Its easy and hardly requires braking or much exertion to pedal the single-speed cruiser I’ve rented. The day has started bright and warm, even in these early morning hours. Many people say hello with friendly smiles as I pass by. My route is taking me along trail that runs beside a creek dotted with big trees and construction cranes building the future. At the halfway point to my destination, I cross one of the town's lakes and begin heading slightly uphill. These "lakes" are actually parts of the Colorado River, only dammed to stillness, and to my delight, I learn the bridge I used to cross over provides home to 1.5 million bats. Easy ride, nice people, tall trees - I could be in Boise except this city is much bigger.
Arriving at the recommended coffee shop, the attitude of the baristas, the aroma of delicious coffee and subsequent quality of my americano are comfortingly familiar. The place is packed with men and women, nearly all who are adorned with tattoos. In addition to tattoos, the men's uniform includes scruffy beards, tight, worn-in black jeans and tight often black, sometimes pink t-shirts, many with classic band logos on them. The women's includes thick, Wayfarer-style glassesand with a slightly messy but highly intentional, multi-colored, layered clothing system of tank under tee under cardigan over skirt with Dora-like shoes or flip flops.
Flipping through the local weekly to see what live music will be playing during the weekend, I can't help overhearing conversations around me. A man and woman to my left discuss plusses and minuses of life changes like moving cross country and she mentions the psychic she consulted for insight and maybe he ought to go see them too? Behind me, a group of college girls bounce from topic to topic competing for audible space with the couple: “It was so good and, like, my friend was, like, so grossed out”…”what’s interesting is the connection in Tennessee with the Cherokee and the Chauktaw” …"and then suck in your stomach and hold for like 20 seconds and if you do that every day you’ll have a flat stomach”...“This is where the career has been kicking my ass." I might just as well be in Seattle at Solstice near the UW or at Zeitgeist in Pioneer Square.
Then there is the pandemonium of birds; bold and incessant though not entirely unpleasant they hit a decibel that could nearly cause ear damage. Larger birds make a loud, sustained “squweeee” sound and the other littler birds a light, tinkling “chir chir chir.” They nestle in the flowering trees that shade coffee drinkers and hold on to branches as if they are surfing the light breeze. To my relief the air is not still and movement offers some relief from the heat. The humidity is so thick, my high-desert-of-Idaho-tamed mane into a voluminous look straight out of the Lion King. This place is so familiar, it could be Hawaii if there was an ocean nearby.
The night before, I had stepped off the plane and immediately started to sweat. The air, even at nearly midnight, was sticky. My initial impressions: hot, humid, big. Arriving so late, I had little visual perspective in the dark but had started building a human impression first from the two drunk men who’d been on my flight and kept asking where I was going to party that night as I dodged them on my way to baggage claim (luckily, I am highly trained in concourse navigation and have the speed of cheetah even when toting luggage). Then there was the very kind, award-winning travel guide on my shuttle with a big smile and gentle handshake who offered endless tips on where to go and what to do for anyone seeing his city for the first time. And, also the shuttle driver who went the wrong way down a freeway onramp to the unexpected excitement of all of us passengers.The morning bike ride had finally revealed a visual of this city with traffic and panhandlers and construction noise that added to the impression of “big”. Even the people seemed louder, talking boldly of personal things in public. Maybe 6 months of living in a small city/big town has already changed me or maybe I’m just now learning that I’m just how private and quiet and cautious I actually am.
Which is what I’m thinking sitting at Jo’s, unintentionally eavesdropping on that couple next to me – is it a date?, just friends? – not that it matters. In their minds, they are in a private bubble and are comfortably sharing and being inspired to dig into meaty topics here at this busy outdoor coffee shop.
The birds mix with conversations and the sounds of trucks and cars rumbling up the street. Asphalt mixes with the scrubby trees and shrubs creating a natural feel in this urban hot spot. This city is a mashup of natural and manufactured with bubbles of stillness every now and then that echo in the bustling city shuffle. I feel like I should already know this place but I keep getting lost.
Its not quite Boise, nor Seattle, Portland, or Hawaii, but a little of each. Familiar in so many ways but built by its own formula its also not. This is Austin, where the tattoos are plentiful, the biking easy and they make a damn fine cup of coffee. And food trucks. I forgot to mention the food trucks...