Austin snapshots, Day 1 (March 14)

In a shocker, we were a bit late picking up our steadfast friend Chuck Stark, aka Blind Charlie, at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, but he took it in stride as he always does.
We’d gotten too comfortable in Nashville, as we have a nasty habit of falling into the seductive embrace of inertia and rolling in her arms for days at a time.
Becky did most of the onerous driving on the previous evening, and running against time, we didn’t stop until the wee hours of the morning. We slept at a truck stop outside of Texarkana, and made a beeline for Dallas on Wednesday morning.
Unfortunately, owing to an utter absence of common sense, I never thought to look at the map to gauge the relation of the airport to Dallas, and relied instead on highway mileage signs to gauge our approximate arrival time. By this measurement, we seemed in good shape when we stopped about 30 miles east of Dallas to pick up some supplies.
Imagine my dismay when our faltering GPS stepped in and informed us that the airport was another 22-plus miles west and north of the Big D.
Son of a bitch.
At least it was the imperturbable Chuck Stark, and not, say, my beloved sister. (Which reminds me with no shortage of embarrassment of the time Becky and I were a half-hour late to pick up my 80-year-old mom at the Sea-Tac airport.)
But Chuck, what a mensch. Not only was he not pissed, he remembered our tabs! I slapped the sticker on the license plate and popped the registration in the glove compartment. We were street legal for the first time since Sept. 25, and we were ready for Austin.
Becky took the wheel as we headed south on I-35 toward Austin. We pulled over somewhere north of Waco, bought some tomato juice and fetched up a batch of Bloody Marys, which was the way Chuck and I kicked off our previous SXSW experience in 2006. We cooked up a piquant mixture of red peppers/onions and Morningstar Farms faux-hamburger crumbles, stirred together a bowl of guacamole and enjoyed a round of RV fajitas. Refreshed with the repast, we resumed our southward journey.

Not surprisingly, Chuck jumped all over the first opportunity to spoil Max. After getting him a copy of "The Jungle Book," Chuck treats Max to a reading somewhere between Dallas and Waco. ...

While the always reliable Becky Rhoda Morgenstern …

Gets the South by Southwest party off to a bloody good start.

We rolled into the capital city sometime after dark, and drove around looking for St. David’s Historic Sanctuary, where Todd Snider, the great Oregon troubadour with the perpetual stoner drawl, was set to play. The address was 301 E. 6th, and forgetting that Congress was the dividing line between east and west, we blundered on the east side of I-35 before getting our bearings.
We eventually made it across the freeway and pulled the behemoth into a beckoning spot on 8th Street.  Strange to find such a good parking spot, but who am I to quibble with fortuna? A lot of cops around, I noted, but impatience being the order of the day, Chuck and I bolted from the vehicle and threw ourselves into the wretched mass of humanity. We wandered, lost, inexplicably unable to locate the historic sanctuary, when Chuck’s phone rang. He wasn’t able to answer it in time, but the follow-up text wasn’t long in coming.
It was Becky, reporting that Max had alerted her to a little problem. They were in the camper, with all the blinds closed save the one over the sink, which looked out to the sidewalk on the north side of 8th Street. There was a sign clearly visible out the window, and Max wanted to have a discussion about it.
“Mommy, what does that sign say?” he inquired.
Becky was distracted, but Max was persistent. He thought he’d stumbled on a fundamental inconsistency with our choice of a parking spot.
“It says ‘No parking, They’ll tow you away,'” was the way I think he put it.
In any case, Max came up with the first big save of the festival. The sign indeed said no parking. It was, in fact, a police-only zone. And the universal image of a tow truck hauling away an illegally parked car was plain enough for even a 4-year-old to digest.
Chuck and I headed back to the car at a slow jog. We got there in time, and moved it up on 10th street, adjacent to Lavaca, across from the Capitol. Chuck and I resumed our search for Todd Snider, eventually finding him but discovering the historic sanctuary gig was an official SXSW showcase, a wristbands-only show. No hoi polloi allowed.
Devastated but unbowed, we wandered back out onto the madness of 6th Street, absorbing the crush of hipstered humanity.

Ain't he cute? That darn Chuck Stark keeps getting better looking with each passing year. How is it possible?

What to say? Sixth Street in the grip of SXSW absurdity is a place you can see a guy with a shaved head lying on his back in the middle of the street and pointing the lens of his camera up the skirts of passing women, and everyone is just too drunk or bored or cool to care.

What else it there to say?

Speaking of cool, we eventually sneaked into Stubbs’ outdoor ampitheatre, where the effusively talented Andrew Bird was finishing up the NPR Showcase. I was ignorant enough to have heard of Andrew Bird while at the same time not knowing anything about him. In any case, I took an immediate dislike to him.
I know he’s outrageously gifted, and has legions of fans the world over, but something just put me off. What’s that something?
Perhaps it’s my own musical denseness. It’s certainly possible. I’m sure I’m missing something, but it seemed as if he’s so insistent on making sure everyone is acquainted with the extreme borders of his talent that he’s duty-bound to show it off on every song. He’d start off playing the violin, looping it into those crazy spinning Victrolas. Then he’d turn to the guitar. Then he’d sling the guitar behind his back and play an arpeggio or two on the xylophone. Then he’d throw in an obligatory fucking whistle before it was all finished. Then repeated the pattern on each successive each song, and the devotees ate it all up.

In case you hadn't heard, the multitalented Andrew Bird can sing ...

I mean, Andrew, how many times can you blow my mind in 15 minutes?

... And play the guitar and whistle (at the same time, no less), and ...

I guess I should try harder to be more reasonable. OK: Andrew Bird is wonderfully talented, and clever, and his music is richly layered and complex. I guess the vast complexity of the whole experience is just not accessible to a simpleton like me.

... And play the violin? You know he was trained in the Suzuki method starting at age 4? Max is still playing superheros and guzzling chocolate milk, and he'll be 5 in August. Oh, how jealous is me!

I get it: Mirabile Dictu! How wonderful it is to know of Andrew Bird and actually hear Andrew Bird live. I was only glad he finished.
Maybe he should rename his band “Andrew Bird’s Talent.”
I guess that’s enough mean-spirited ignorance for one rant.

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