A regular feature at The New York Times advises readers on how to spend 36 hours in various cities: Chicago! Panama City! Singapore! Every time I see these items their intended appeal takes effect. I imagine jetting off to survey the streets of some unfamiliar place. Sampling its cuisine. Grabbing a drink with that one friend, assuming he or she still lives there after all these years.
I've just returned from a weekend trip of that sort. My girlfriend and I spent somewhat longer than "36 hours in Austin, Tex," attending a wedding and exploring a cityscape we'd rushed through on a prior road trip. We're blessed to travel well together, and agreed that we had a great time: I give to the Lone Star state's capitol the official label, "good destination to visit." But I'll level with you: there's a lot about quick weekenders that other travel writers gloss over. As a counterbalance, I present the good and bad of this trip with the normal emphasis exactly reversed.
Curse the fact that you're due at the airport in eight hours, but haven't slept or even packed yet due to completing work tasks you won't be able to access on plane. Briefly consider just staying up and sleeping for duration of flight, until extreme fatigue sets in 45 minutes later. Finally lay down to bed exhausted but unable to fall asleep due to knowledge of how awful you'll feel "in the morning" if you don't immediately fall asleep. Conceive excellent idea for blog post. Fumble around for iPhone, type it into notes. Return to tossing, turning, even less able to fall asleep than before.
Nod off in aisle seat. Awake with crick in neck. Try to rest head on girlfriend's shoulder. Fail. Wish you'd chosen a window so you could lean against side of cabin. Awake again with vague need to use bathroom, but aversion to shuffling through crowded cabin. Attempt to read long magazine article since you paid $8 for newsstand copy in terminal, only to discover you already read all the best stories online. Ponder fetching head phones from the overhead bin, but decide it's more trouble than it's worth. Again fail to fall asleep. Stare drowsily at tv screen on back of seat in front of you, trying to discern plot of The Nanny from facial gestures of characters.
Drive economy rental car, an "or equivalent," down highway, navigating by Google map on iPhone because it seems unfathomable to spend $55 to rent a GPS, especially since you've got one at home you should've thought to pack. Driving away from airport, see landmark that gives first impression of city, a "gentleman's club" called "The Landing Strip." Groan to self at pun.
Sit in room at Super 8 motel wondering with growing frustration how an establishment can have six separate wifi networks, none of which work when the password written on the room key-card envelope is entered. Spend 35 minutes trying each network in succession. Fail to get online, despite surfeit of bars indicating that you're at full strength. Call the front desk inquiring about whether they can fix the problem. Listen as clerk tells you she'll turn the router off and then on again. Hang up. Sit impatiently. Notice in surprise that laptop has finally connected to the Internet. Realize in horror that front desk clerk is about to reset the suddenly functional system.
Pick up phone to cal - too late.
Sit in lobby, having finally connected to a wifi network that isn't accessible from room. Check clock on laptop. See that it's only 8:05, and conclude that you've got time to get more work done before returning upstairs so you can go out for a nice dinner with girlfriend. Get text from her wondering what's taking you so long, and worrying that all restaurants are going to close. Suddenly realize that it is in fact after ten o'clock. Time zones! Hurry upstairs, feeling guilty for having kept her waiting so long. Jump in car, drive toward downtown Austin, and consult Yelp iPhone ap for restaurants that are still open. Feel guilty when selections don't include any on list of places girlfriend wanted to try. Get bailed out by good food and salsa bar at Mexican joint where at adjacent table sits a hipster cowboy: flannel shirt, skinny jeans, and exactly the boots you'd imagine.
Back in hotel lobby finishing up work for evening. Witness long, faintly absurd conversation between likely escort locked out of room upon going downstairs to get Coke from vending machine, and dutiful motel clerk, who is firm in insisting that he can't give her a key, even if likely John is passed out and isn't answering knocks or his cell phone, unless she can show identification. Think that she has a solid point when she insists that her leopard print halter top and hot pants don't have any pockets for ID, which she could show if he'd just let her back into the room, but see his predicament too.
Go upstairs glad you don't have to resolve.
Conclude five hours of work, 45 minutes of which consisted of being kicked off wifi and trying to get back on. Depart for rehearsal dinner on I35. Observe that on sides of highway something remarkable has been achieved: someone has built a living museum of every chain store and chain restaurant in America. So lifelike. Maybe the Colonial Williamsburg people did it? Despite this, find it surprisingly difficult to pop into a WalMart or Target to buy Band-Aids to place strategically so that new dress shoes don't cut more deeply into heels. Experience new-found appreciation for sunken highways, and growing disdain for frontage roads and turnarounds.
Thrill in revelation that rehearsal dinner hosts required to cover a $4000 drink minimum to rent patio at upscale Mexican restaurant, and you are being strongly encouraged to order top shelf tequilas. Feel sorry for girlfriend, who is only eligible driver on "or equivalent" rental car due to absurd American culture of liability. Feel stress of travel melt away and work week recede with third margarita.
Gleefully check out of Super 8 and into more expensive Hilton Garden Inn, where wedding party is staying. Observe tastefully decorated lobby with enough extra copies of USA Today to supply fish market for a month. Find self favorably impressed by efficiency of stern but friendly front desk clerk. In elevator, think fondly of Mad Men and remark out loud, "This place. What a concept! That Connie Hilton has done it again!" Muse silently on extraordinary luck of finding girlfriend who puts up with bizarre sense of humor.
En route to wedding, scan roadside for armadillos, recently shown to cause a significant number of U.S. leprosy cases. Inform girlfriend that if she pets one her hand may fall off. Arrive at church:
Resolve to refrain from writing anything about wedding save that it was lovely - which it was! - to guard against blacklist from future wedding hosts averse to unexpected publicity. Thrill at how short Lutheran weddings are compared to Catholic analogues.
Assure girlfriend that Connie Hilton wouldn't think of denying call to front desk for late checkout, so sleeping a bit longer is totally viable.
Praise girlfriend for exceptional Web skills finding exquisitely appointed, convenient to downtown hotel for impressively low price. Escape heat for four or five hours of work in climatized room where wifi works perfectly. Think that Connie Hilton has some competition on his hands, and lament likely inability of his progeny to bring chain into next generation. Amuse self with sudden idea of what would happen if Paris Hilton and Ivanca Trump competed on hotel themed reality show. Start to tell girlfriend about this, but notice she is immersed in work on laptop. Spend 15 minutes tweaking first two sentence of blog item, but keep getting distracted by possibilities for Hilton Versus Trump challenge tasks. Try and fail to render them in top ten list.
Conceive this item.
Depart for dinner at excellent gastropub (details withheld to preserve exclusivity of future item). Walk to recently opened craft cocktail bar for after dinner drink. Wonder if phone is actually vibrating or if it's one of those bizarre ghost buzzes. Receive text from mom with news that Osama bin Laden is dead.
Finish drink and head back to hotel to dutifully write up item on bin Laden death. See possibly newsworthy sign en route. Stop like good journalist to document Austin's only visible reaction to the news:
Check out of hotel, find coffee shop for day of work.
Get through uneventful plane trip home, readjust easily to Pacific Daylight - it's always easier to fly west.
Pondering your own trip to Austin? Read the NY Times and my item side-by-side, then decide: Worth the hassle? In my case, the answer was emphatically yes, but I also had excellent company.
Image credits: Conor Friedersdorf
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