Austin, TX

I have a hankering for lamb vindaloo, and Marble Falls has no Indian restaurant, so David and I decide to spend the weekend in Austin. Our hotel, the downtown Sheraton, has been taken over by a grief recovery convention. The participants wear matching t-shirts and their motto, hanging on a banner in the lobby, is “Good Grief,” which I think is a clever play on words. Considering that it’s a grief group, there’s a lot of laughter and echoing good cheer.

“They don’t sound like they’re grieving to me,” I say with a judgmental snort.

“What does grief sound like?” is David’s response.

We get settled into the room. I’m still wearing my yoga clothes from this morning, and my hair is flat and stringy, so there is much work to be done. Though I’m aware that every restaurant in Austin is casual, I prefer not to go out looking like a wilted slob. David watches golf on television while I improve my appearance.

He has made a reservation for Saturday night at The Clay Pit. Parking is always a problem in Austin and this restaurant that holds a hundred people provides only ten parking places. We park two blocks away and it’s raining outside; but it’s a light rain, we have umbrellas, and walking is good for the soul. If we’d driven around more we would have seen the parking garage right across the street.

We’re led to our table, which is in the cellar.

“The ceilings are low,” our host warns as he leads us down. “And the stairs are rough and crooked, so be careful.” I follow just behind and above his head, which is a bald dome with puny Rasta strands hanging limply from his nape. The effect is so disastrous that it’s difficult to look away.

The beam at the base of the stairs is indeed low, but David and I aren’t overly tall, so it’s no problem. And I have the joy of being placed in the perfect spot to watch people descend and bump their heads, which many do. I chuckle every time. David asks for a martini and I ask for a glass of Malbec. After our drinks arrive, we peruse the menu. David orders Chicken Mughlia and I, as anticipated, order the Lamb Vindaloo. This turns out to be the best Indian food we’ve ever had, including actual Indian food in India. Thanks to our friend, Tere, for the recommendation. 

The place is lively, full of glowing energetic young people. This is something we miss. The majority of the citizenry of Marble Falls is old and rendered dull and slow moving by arthritic pain. But in a town populated by college students, the enthusiasm never dies.

The next morning we take a sweaty walk up Eleventh, through the grounds of the capitol, which contains monuments to represent every historical event and the three ethnic groups that influenced Texas history (Latino, Caucasian, African American; sorry, Asians, you weren’t here yet). I take a picture of the statue of the longhorns because I’m currently writing a novel about a longhorn stampede, a happy coincidence.

From there it’s down South Congress, along Lake Austin, returning to Eleventh on Trinity, and back to the hotel where we get ready for brunch at Geraldine’s, located on the fourth floor of the Hotel Van Zandt. Right away we learn something unexpected, which is that we cannot be served bloody marys before noon unless there is food on the table.

“What?” I ask the waitress. “I’ve had brunch in Austin many times and I recall always getting my bloody mary before the food came.”

She shrugs, saying, “It’s the law. But I can bring you a couple of biscuits so there’ll be food on your table and then you can have your drinks.”

We accept this solution and she walks off.

“That’s crazy,” David says, truly appalled by this astonishing rule.

“What a weird arbitrary law.” I am flummoxed. When did this law get passed? What is the thought behind it? Who told lawmakers to pass such a law?

The couple at the next table sympathizes with our confusion. Apparently they encountered the same situation and had the same reaction.

“Our tax dollars at work,” the husband says with a disapproving click of his tongue.

“But what prompted this law?” I ask.

“Maybe they don’t want people getting boozy when they should be in church.” The man smirks.

“But that’s not for them to say. And how does the order of the arrival of food and drink at the table pertain to anything?” I’m getting worked up. It’s absurd to think that people up the street in the capitol building believe they have a say in when I can drink a bloody mary—well, they obviously do have a say. I force myself to take a breath in and let it out. The biscuits arrive, along with the bloody marys. The couple at the next table wishes us a good day and departs. 

Later, on the way home on I-35, traffic slows way down.

“There’s a wreck up there,” I tell David. “This is about rubbernecking.”

Ambulances whiz by on the other side of the highway. Four frighteningly smashed-up cars block the opposite lanes. Looking at the crushed cars, I’m sure people are dead or dying from this accident. Up ahead police vehicles block trucks and cars, keeping them from entering this portion of the highway, directing them to a two-lane flyover. Unmoving traffic is backed up for miles and miles.

“Those people are going to be trapped in their cars for hours,” David says.  

The highway system in Austin is notoriously confusing.

“This was a nice little break,” I say. "Although spending an overnight in pursuit of food seems indulgent."

“First thing I’m going to do when I get home is water the plants.”

Our state capital is lovely.

Our state capital is lovely.

Longhorns on the capitol grounds!

Longhorns on the capitol grounds!

Best Indian food in the world!

Best Indian food in the world!

Don't expect a bloody mary if there's no food on the table.

Don't expect a bloody mary if there's no food on the table.

Geraldine's is so pretentious that they delivered our bill in an antique book. The food was excellent, as was the bloody mary.

Geraldine's is so pretentious that they delivered our bill in an antique book. The food was excellent, as was the bloody mary.