I like to see a city on foot or on a bike – both is even better. It’s easier to stop and see what a city is about if you don’t have to hassle with parking. Plus my trips tend to involve a fair amount of eating and other consumption, so maximizing exercise becomes super important. And I wasn’t at all upset to find this little gem a 5-minute walk from my house
I’ll get back to actually using the bike share (called Austin B-Cycle) in a minute, for now, just note the opportunity. I tend to be an early riser, so on my first full morning I joined my very close friend Alex (another early riser) and set out on foot to explore Austin on an early Friday morning. Twenty minutes later we were opening the door to Dominican Joe
This was my kind of place. The owners set up shop as a means of helping fund education for extremely poor kids in the Dominican Republic (read more about that HERE). Dominican Joe was the best kind of stereotype, in my opinion, right down to the Peter, Paul and Mary on the radio as I walked through the door. Hippie music, hippie causes, hippie vibe at every turn. If a person wasn’t inclined to love their fellow man and woman before entering this place, the early morning lovefest on Pandora coupled with the photos of smiling Dominican kids and posters about general good-doing would soften a person’s heart.
I took the photo above to remind myself about the experience and the importance of supporting coffee shops like this one. When I was googling coffee shops before we left, I read the story of Dominican Joe and was sold. Then I had the coffee and a little breakfast taco and was plenty glad we came. The coffee was really, really good. And I don’t have a palate that is overly refined when it comes to this stuff, but I like a coffee that is rich enough to pull a couple flavors out when softened with a little cream and this dark blend was on the money. Plus, there was this
Yep, that’s right, a real life Bitcoin ATM in the main sitting area. Bitcoin is virtual currency that works a lot like regular currency in terms of what you can purchase but is not recognized as money by the U.S. Treasury and isn’t exactly traceable to its origin. This leads to some occasional challenges for lawlessness (read THIS) but in general is just an easy way for some people to purchase stuff. I’m no expert, but had read enough about it in Wired over the years to know that it was a pretty quirky thing to find in a coffee shop. Yep, definitely keeping Austin weird (LINK TO HISTORY OF SLOGAN).
We left Dominican Joe filled with a sense that our $10 spent did just a bit more than it would have at some other store and headed towards downtown Austin. The photo above was at the bat bridge. Apparently in Austin under the Congress street bridge millions of bats who have made the long trek up from Mexico fly into the night sky out from under the bridge each night from roughly March to some time in the fall.
LINK – Ten Tips for seeing the bats
I didn’t actually go and watch the bats, which I’ll explain in a bit. But first, I think it’s worth noting that the Congress Street bridge was a bridge over Lady Bird “Lake.” I put this in quotes because it is one of the more odd things I found while in Austin. First, here’s a link to an aerial photo I found of the “lake.”
You notice anything odd about that photo? No? Well let’s revisit the definition of a lake (LINK). See where I’m going with this? I asked several locals why Austin refers to its river as a lake. I never got a good answer. Come to think of it, I never got any answer. Oh well, I guess the naming convention is part of how Austin maintains its weirdness. We moved quickly across the bridge, traversed the rather empty for 8:00 a.m. on a Friday morning downtown and headed to the Capitol building.
Well now this is curious. I saw this monument and wondered so many things at one time that I wasn’t really sure where to start. Did the citizens of Texas pay for this display? Was it privately funded? Did having this overtly Christian monument send a signal to other religions that they were implicitly unworthy of such placement? How would I feel if I were a Muslim or a Sikh or an atheist? Is it really a big deal (or any deal at all)? I don’t have any answers to these questions, but I remembered that the United States Supreme Court took up the issue (though kind of didn’t) in some other state a few years back, you can read about that here. The Supreme Court is the entity that tells the rest of us what the U.S. Constitution means, so I guess if there was any source for the meaning of the “free exercise” clause (This: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) it would be them. I found it interesting enough to note so thought I’d mention it. Austin also seems to have quite the love affair with the Second Amendment (LINK), which states “a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” I know food and travel blogs aren’t supposed to be about civics, but we talk about these things so much and hear about them on the news enough that I thought it was worth printing the actual text. I went to an indoor range on this trip, so it should be clear I’m not against responsible firearm usage, but what exactly do we think the “well-regulated militia” part of the Second Amendment means? Moving right along…BIKES!
I mentioned earlier that there was a bike share right next to our house. That meant I was sure I could hop on these bikes and take them to a convenient location. That strikes me as the big challenge with bike shares – knowing where the end points are, especially in an unfamiliar city. I know there’s an app and an online map and probably a number to call, but in the moment who really has time to figure all that out? Austin would do well to publicize its bike share a bit better I think. Still, we hopped on and were headed the couple miles back to the house.
I’d also point out something that’s pretty important here. Austin created segregated lanes on several places along the route. That is, there was an actual physical barrier between bike riders and cars. This makes a HUGE difference. And as the photo above suggests, it’s not THAT hard. Here the curb already existed, they just put a bike lane where the sidewalk would be. And – bestill my heart – cyclists and pedestrians have figured out how to navigate it just fine. You listening, San Diego?!? Also, let’s be clear, I’m not saying everything that works in one town will work in another. Nor even that bikes should be prioritized over cars–wait, maybe I kind of am. Okay, I guess I’d be content to say in some parts of some cities it does make sense to make things much more friendly for bikes and pedestrians. I believe San Diego’s urban core is a good example.
This is getting long and I haven’t even gotten to Wanderlust Yoga in downtown Austin.
You know those “this is what XYZ age looks like” threads that make their way around the Internets? Well this was a trip with a bunch of guys who met in our early-to-mid 20’s and we are all now in our late-30’s to early 40’s. As a result, I thought I’d incorporate some age-appropriate fun. What better fun than a little hot yoga!? What, pray tell, is hot yoga?
In the lead up to the trip, I found this delightful woman named Jo who owned a Yoga studio in downtown Austin. Perfect. As some of you know, I’m a big fan of supporting small, independent businesses. Characteristic of the good small businesses I try to find, Jo was extremely helpful while I was selecting a package appropriate for our motley crew of varying flexibilities and skill levels. She helped us customize a package, made payment really easy and was ready to go with a private instruction when we got to town. Top notch service.
We did about a 70-ish minute class of warm Yoga (she correctly surmised we were not the crowd to thrust immediately into the 104-degree room) led by Jo. It was just the six of us (one guy stayed back to work) and Jo, which was incredibly important because, well, it was a bit more like what I picture an all adolescent boy summer camp being than typical Yoga class. Lots of inappropriate humor, loudness and falling down. But Jo took it in stride and really helped us get a nice introduction to the world of Yoga. I have it on good authority that a couple of my friends who’d never tried it enjoyed the experience so much they’ve taken it up. Nice. Plus there was this in the lobby.
A little smoothie bar run by a sub-tenant or something allowed us to re-hydrate and relax a bit after the experience. I want to share our bike tour and the delicious meal we had at Odd Duck, but time is running short. Suffice it to say that our first full day in Austin was off to a tremendous start. If the city weren’t so hot I could see why so many people are flocking there. Thanks for reading. Click here to return to the index for my four days in Austin.