Friday, May 29, 2015

ICPE 2015, City of Austin - Part 2

(Click here to read Part 1)

During the remainder of my stay in Austin, it never got as warm as when I arrived. It stayed a rather balmy 5-10 C for the next few days, which was beautiful as I could wander around comfortably in my shirtsleeves. I cannot say my opinion on the weather was exactly shared by the locals, most of whom were bundled up in parkas and toques (the following is translated from Canadian to English: "winter coats and woolen hats"). I think their attitude was best illustrated by a pair of women whom I stopped behind at an intersection waiting for the walk sign. I was in a t-shirt and carrying my windbreaker because I was quite comfortable, while the two of them were quite bundled up against the cold and I overheard one remark to the other "I can't believe how cold it is! I can't wait for it to warm up again, but they're saying its going to be in the 40s all week." For some reason they abruptly switched to a different topic when I passed them by.

As I alluded to in part 1 of this post, I have never been anywhere that is green in February. Now plenty of the trees had bare branches, and there patches of brown in the grass that spoke of it being winter, but it was still green. But besides that there were two things that struck me plainly on my first day in Austin.

The first was parking.

In the area of San Jancinto Blvd between 3rd and 6th, and east towards 290, downtown Austin is dotted with low and high-rise condo complexes, and if I might digress for a moment downtown Austin is a lovely place. It is open, populated, there are people out and about walking around throughout the day and well into the evening which may have something to do with 6th street. But people live in downtown Austin and it has a very friendly, clean, comfortable atmosphere to it from the short experience I had. I could easily picture living there, right in the heart of the city - something that I would be less inclined to do in my own city (Winnipeg). Now, I live near downtown Winnipeg and I have for nearly a decade, but always just outside of the true core area. In Austin I could easily live right in the core without a second thought.

What struck me though, was that every single parking garage or pad that I passed was locked up. There were no arms to block entrance, every one was locked behind a 6-foot metal fence and gate. Ok, there were a few public-access surface lots, but every private lot was fenced, gated, and monitored. Perhaps it was the section of the city I was in, but in my experience it was something to note.

The second just about scared the living bejeezus out of me.

The first evening that I was walking back to my hotel, the sun was setting and night was drawing close. Have you ever been suddenly accosted by a pack of wild demons from hell screeching in a chorus and hungry for your flesh? No? Are you sure? As I passed by a tree-lined side street on my walk, the entire line of them began shaking violently with an incredible cacophony of noise. After recovering from my unexpected heart attack I realized they were birds, an enormous flock of them that filled the trees in numbers unlike anything I've seen before. I later learned that I had a close encounter with what was likely an annoyance of grackles. If there has ever been a more appropriate name for a group of creatures, I haven't heard it.

My conference was being hosted at the Hilton Garden Inn Austin Downtown which I wasn't actually staying at, because of timing and funding it had no vacancy when I was booking a room. The hotel was a nice enough facility, but had one particularly unique feature.

And that would be the canal and walking paths that ran through it. The windows just on the left side of the photograph is the dining room where we had lunch which afforded a fantastic view of the canal and the paths that run along side it,

During the few days that I stayed I managed to dine at two of the most iconic... or should I say representative institutions in Austin. The first was of my own doing, I couldn't pass up visiting a gem of Texas history while I was here: The Driskill Hotel. The lobby is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and the restaurant/bar is about as truly upper-crust Texas as any visitor could hope for from the beautifully polished woodwork, to the leather seating, and the bust of a steer that graces the wall above the mantle. It doesn't hurt that the food and drinks were fantastic as well, and though it was quiet (it was a Monday evening after all) a musician was busy plying his trade, singing sweet country songs on the small stage. I didn't take any pictures of the building while I was there, but a quick search will give you a good feel for it.

The second place was with all of the attendees at ICPE 2015 where we were treated to dinner and a show at a place that is true to the spirit of Austin: Esther's Follies. The show combining satire, political commentary, music, and magic was up-tempo and enormously entertaining. I gather that the edition that we saw was more international in appeal than previous ones as one of the local patrons made a comment that there was a lot less Austin-specific material than previous times they had been there. But, considering that our group of more than 100-odd people contained a majority of non-Americans (largely European, but it was very much a group that hailed from across the globe) the show was very well received, though I believe a few Rick Perry references went over their heads. The liberal leaning of the show's writers also seemed to agree quite well with our European friends.

(Part 3 will be coming soon!)