Thursday, March 4, 2010

Chicken Shit Bingo, and Other Stories

I know:  I abandoned all you lovely public-defender types last week.  In my defense, I'd like to say:  I didn't mean to; I couldn't help it; and, it was Austin, man.

I started my Austin trip wide-eyed and brimming with good intentions. I arrived a day early to catch some of the Texas Indigent Defense Summit on Wednesday, the 23rd. My agenda for the week envisioned inspiring and informative seminars during the day followed by quiet evenings in my hotel room.  I planned on having a couple of pleasant dinners with old friends from The Daily Texan (I went to undergrad and law school at UT), but mostly I planned on spending my evenings holed up in my hotel room, reading and writing. Reading and writing are what I like to do.

Regarding my friends from college, only two are left in Austin: Lee Nichols, who writes about local politics for the Austin Chronicle and Scott Henson of Grits for Breakfast.  Scott isn't featured much in this story, except that I did have a fantastic dinner at his house--not only are Scott and his wife my heroes in terms of the criminal justice reform legislation they have spearheaded in Texas, but also because Scott makes a fine vegetarian lasagna.  

Lee, though, is a prime example of how Texans can fool you. On first glance (and second, third, and maybe fourth), Lee may seem an ignorant redneck--he has all the earmarks: a drawl so slow it says, "I moved to Austin from a very small town"; a penchant for cowboy boots and Western shirts; 

(This is a picture of Lee and his purely platonic friend Bret on the morning after Lee's birthday in 1993, the year I graduated from law school.  Notice the cat.)

and a pithy way of expressing himself ("The first thing I noticed about my wife when I met her was her tits"). Lee is also one of the happiest people I know--he knows what he likes--Austin music, beer, and writing; he pursues the things he loves with zeal (please check out his blog; he is an ardent supporter of public transportation; he obviously adores his wife (and her, um, tits) and she him; and he managed to produce children with burnt orange hair:

Lee covers local politics for the Chronicle, but was its music critic for 12 years until marriage and children made staying out until 2:00 a.m. every night a bad idea for kids' schedules and his own survival in the adorable marriage.  

Also joining me was another lawyer from Spokane, Tim, who I didn't know that well before this trip, but who had been to Austin five years ago and sufficiently impressed me with his love for Austin music (and beer) that I thought maybe he should meet Lee.

But back on Wednesday, my first day in Austin, I went to the capitol and took a few pictures of things that interested me, and attended the tail-end of the Indigent Defense Summit (more on that later).  

What was worth taking a picture of at the capitol?  Ann Richards, of course, smiling in the Gallery of Otherwise White Males (which reminded me, in a small way, of my first felony lawyer meeting, many years ago, when I noticed that not only was I the only woman at the meeting, I was also the only one who was pregnant and wearing a plaid jumper with a velvet bow on my belly--naturally, I began singing, "One of These Things is not Like the Others!")

My modest plans to attend, relax, and read, were intact until I got a text to meet Lee at a bar called the Gingerman, known for having about 100,000 microbrews on tap.

I also got a text from Tim, who I invited to join us, because as much as I love Lee, I don't have that much to say about beer, especially since I don't drink it any more. I don't know if it was the 7 types of beers they drank or the colliding of soul mates, but Lee and Tim launched what I anticipate will be a life-long Bromance. Aren't they cute together?

(This picture is from later, at Chicken Shit Bingo, but I wanted you to see them)

I also have to say about Tim, that my plans for more studious endeavors might have been safe if he had managed to be a little more annoying. Tim, though, turned out to be not only an Austin-nut, but also the perfect travel companion: he was unflaggingly chipper (even after Lee abandoned us the first night somewhere in the middle of Austin at 1:00 a.m. (running out of the bar, "Oh shit, I've gotta catch my bus!" (remember how he loves public transportation?  I am starting to hate it)) whereby Tim and I ended up walking three miles back to our hotels, giggling all the way back about the absurdity of our abandonment; Tim was also always hungry for good food; would go anywhere to hear live music; and never once made a pass at me (for which I'm sure his wife is grateful, but let me tell you that all married guys are not so well-behaved).

That walk back was probably where the tide turned. I got a few hours sleep, but made it to the seminar bright and early, but with a fuzzy headedness (even though I don't drink anymore) that reminded me vividly of college. And I thought to myself: If I just go back to my room at lunch, I can get in a solid two hours of writing, and be all caught up.  It was a great plan.  I was resolved to follow it.

My resolve lasted until Tim said, "How about some BBQ for lunch?  You know any place good?"  Do I know any place good?? Of course I know a place good, and that place is Sam's--on the wrong side of the highway, owned and operated by the same African-American family since the 1980's, and by another family before that.  I'd be damned if I'd let Tim, Kari and Renee (also from Spokane) go to Sam's without me!

And so we went to Sam's.

We were unfortunately too early for the ribs, which did momentarily threaten Tim's chipper demeanor, but he soon discovered Brisket, and all was good.

The bags of water keep flies away.

After the BBQ,  I gave up.  Something about the brisket, coleslaw, a liter of iced tea and banana pudding stuffed on top of all that lead me to say: Screw blogging. After an afternoon CLE session spent mainly in food coma--OK, I am lying, After a nap, the next stop was the Continental Club, where the Mother Truckers were playing.  

The Continental Club is old-school cool, and everything I love about the Austin Music scene. If you don't know what you are looking at, you will misjudge it--it is tiny, dark and dank, the bathrooms are gross, and it is one of my favorite places on earth. Ages range from 21 (ish) to 100, dress is laid-back, and if you didn't know better you might just think it was a crappy hick bar.  

But if you do know better, you'll know that the Continental Club caters to a crowd as sophisticated in its music appreciation as it is informal in its presentation of the music. That's what I love: the casual presentation of outstanding music and the ultra cool vibe, but also the way you can stand right next to the stage, you can dance or move around, and basically transition that food coma into a music trance.

About the Mother Truckers, Tim and I are still in a fight about who loves the lead singer, Teal Collins, more; I say I win, because I do love her more, and Tim doesn't have a blog. Lee persuaded her to pose for a picture, saying, "My wife would love that dress! It would really show off her (me sending by telepathy: please don't say 'tits,' please don't say 'tits') figure. Can I take your picture?"

So sweet in her little sun dress, but, man, that girl can rock:

In fact, my lame iphone photos aren't getting her full deliciousness across, so here is a YouTube video of the Mother Truckers Love Me Like a Man (oh, yes) filmed at the Continental Club, pretty much from the same place we were standing, right by the bathroom doors:

And here they are again, because I can't help myself, singing Save My Soul (this clip is from Seattle, but the deliciousness factor was too high to pass this one over)

As a freshman at UT, I stumbled into the Daily Texan offices, much the same way I stumbled, years later, into a public defender office. I had initially planned on majoring in Studio Art, so I chose the Arts and Entertainment department of the Texan. My first assignment? To write an article about Happy Hours near campus. No one seemed to care that I was 19 years old. Bret, the guy passed out on the bed with Lee in the first picture, who took to calling me "Winky" that day because my last name was a challenge, pushed me out the door, and told me to start with the Hole in the Wall, which is right across the street from the Daily Texan offices.

I remember walking by its door at least 10 times before screwing up the courage to go in. And it was probably another 30 minutes before I convinced myself to talk to the bartender. A few years later, the Hole in the Wall was my regular hang out.

Of course, there was a stage for live music, and the venue has now doubled in size.

Look at how cool their juke box is. It used to be free, but really, who cares? The selection is outstanding.

There was a kid taking our pictures while we flipped through the pages on the juke box, his attention probably attracted by me jumping up and down and clapping my hands whenever I found a song that had been there 20 years ago. The photographer was from The Texan, writing a story about the Hole in the Wall, and was sweet enough to act like he cared that I had once worked there.

But then a picture of Doug Sahm caught Lee's eye, and Omigod, Tim didn't know Doug Sahm, and I just danced by myself while Lee and Tim were all Doug Sahm, bla bla bla greatest ever, bla bla bla ...  Did I mention that Doug Sahm is the official Patron Saint of the Hole in the Wall?

Here's a funny game to play with Lee. Give him about 4 large beers, and ask him who Doug Sahm is. And then wait until he stops talking, about 2 days later.

The final full day, Sunday, promised Chicken Shit Bingo, held at Ginny's Little Longhorn every Sunday afternoon around 4:00.

As Lee explained it, "You just can't beat a bunch of drunk people yelling at a chicken. That's just good entertainment in these parts." For me, the good entertainment was in the pre-show: again, live music at 3:00 p.m. on a Sunday! dancing, picture taking, and even a tailgating party in the parking lot. Here's Two Hoots and a Holler playing at Chicken Shit Bingo last Sunday:

And here is the anticlimactic video of chicken-shit Bingo, featuring a cameo of Ginny, the bar's owner, and her low-key management style:

All of this just goes to show--if you know how to have fun, you can make anything fun, even watching a chicken that apparently does not need to poop.

Do you like the way I casually mentioned that I stopped drinking alcohol at the beginning of this travelogue? This post isn't about me not drinking, except maybe it is.  I drank too much, even back in college, and it only got worse as the years as a public defender wore on me.  I know a lot of you out there are like I was, because I work with all of you.  I know how it is, and I know what it's like. I used to think I couldn't stop, or I could never want to stop enough, or life would suck once I stopped.

I'm not going to lie:  the first year kind of sucked.  But it is the best thing I ever did.  Look at me in this picture with Lee--I can even tell by that picture that I was having a great time.  Because even without a lovely beer to smooth things out, if you know how to have fun, you can make anything fun, and you can even remember it the next day.


As penance for abandoning all ya'll, I hereby offer the following contest to win this beautiful Johnny Cash action figure, purchased at Waterloo records, the best record store in the world (casing slightly crushed from travel, doll unscathed): Johnny will go to the best submission of an Overheard at the Public Defenders' Office story (for examples of these stories, see here, here, and here, or here for the original overheard in New York site). Deadline: Friday, March 12th at midnight.  250 words or less. I'll announce the winner on Monday, and post as many submissions as I can. I reserve the right to edit for style, content, or my personal whim.


Anonymous said...

RAD!! I'm flattered! Love, Teal

Lee said...

You're both wrong, I love Teal more than either of you. And yes, Bret and I are STRICTLY platonic. :-)

Carol, I demand you return sometime sooner than 2027.

Lee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee said...

And BTW, Hole in the Wall is where I first saw my wife, and where we had our first date.

carol d said...

Don't you mean, Hole in the Wall is where you first saw your wife's tits?

Who is Doug Sahm again?

Anonymous said...

I know a story about a technical word for oral sex performed upon a male that might win the overheard at the pd's contest, but you would know that I lifted it.

bad glasses

Anonymous said...

Awesome post, however Carol failed to mention that she is also a pool shark and killed me in two successive rounds. If Carol ever decides to give up fighting the good fight for those who are the most in need, she can easily support herself as a pool hustler.

carol d said...

Another benefit to not drinking beer: You can kick everyone else's ass at pool!