A whistle-stop tour of the Lone Star State. Where are all the people?
Rain and grey sky saw me off in Maui as I boarded the overnight flight to Dallas. I had been keen to visit Texas before, Austin and San Antonio in particular, and had a few days before I had to head home (and back to work). So, why not?
The overnight flight landed in Dallas at around 5.30am. I had a quick shower at the airport then was off. The muggy atmosphere, even this early in the morning, hit me as soon as I left the terminal building. Not pleasant at all. It was really a flying visit to Dallas, the main purpose being to get into the city and then catch the bus to Austin. But I stopped off for a few hours.
Dallas turned out to be one of the strangest cities I have visited. It was almost deserted. Even at normal commuter time, downtown had so few people, so few… things. There was a Starbucks, the only place I could see that was open within a few blocks.
I visited the Grassy Knoll and Memorial Plaza, had a decent wander around other areas of downtown, and then to the bus station. So few people, all over.
I knew before visiting that cities in Texas are not particularly walkable and that public transport is lacking. The Greyhound station in Austin is well out of town and a decent walk from the nearest MetroLine station. Eventually making my way into the city, Austin, oddly, also seemed really quiet. Not just east of downtown, which was nothing like I had expected (but really good), but even in and around the main parts of the city, so few people.
Accommodation was a basic Airbnb in East Austin. It was right next to a cafe, a fairly busy but laid back one which seemed to be filled with students. That pretty much set the scene for most bars and restaurants I visited in Austin – laid back.
Craft Pride is an excellent bar, with a fantastic beer menu and hearty pub grub. It was busy, with an entirely mixed crowd, and had absolutely no airs and graces about it. Incidentally, I saw beers from a lot of Texas breweries I had never heard of or seen elsewhere in the US. “We don’t need to distribute, if you want Texas beer, you come to Texas” was the blunt justification. Fair enough. Wright Bros. Brew and Brew is another worth mentioning – really fantastic tap list, more modern inside. But in this case, everyone in there was sitting with a laptop, quietly typing away as three people – me, a chap next to me at the bar who turned out to be a beer distributor, and one of the bar staff – had a chat. It felt like we were disturbing the peace.
Then there was East 6th. Now, on a busy night, and if you’re with a crowd, I expect this would be fantastic. But where were all the people? The bars were open, one had a handful of folks but East 6th was quiet both nights.
I’m very conscious that, like Dallas (and Houston, to come), I was mainly in and around downtown Austin, and that there is a lot more to see. Austin was a really nice, friendly city, just so quiet at the time.
I wanted to visit San Antonio for two reasons: food and history. It delivered. The first day and night I spent mostly around the River Walk, which is a fantastic idea and nicely done. So, it’s touristy, it’s not natural and it’s busy, but it’s a nice focus for the downtown area and provides good choice.
The Missions are interesting places, and the Alamo is an obvious focus. It was there I saw a t-shirt for sale: “Texas: The greatest country in the world.”
It was in San Antonio that I really started to struggle with the heat. Dry, scorching, itching heat, up to almost 40C. Another reason I liked the River Walk was the shade it provided when getting around. But at times in San Antonio I was having to get good at finding any shade available. And on one day I gave up and went back to the hotel until it cooled down a little in the late afternoon. Hot weather and being Scottish: a terrible mix.
Okay, hands up, I only spent about 14 hours in Houston and that included sleep. Any opinion which follows is based on a ridiculously small amount of time in the city and can be deemed entirely unfair. Feel free to have a go in the comments.
The journey from San Antonio to New Orleans is a long one, by bus or by train. In fact, by train it’s bizarrely slow. I know Amtrak isn’t that great outside the Northeast Corridor but the journey time on the Sunset Limited seems ridiculous. So I went by bus and stopped off in Houston for a night to break up the journey.
Leaving the Greyhound station, walking through the underpass which stank of piss and weed, the ten blocks to my hotel, right in downtown Houston, showed another major city which was strangely empty. This was on a Saturday night, too. A handful of bars and restaurants were open, all filled with people, but the streets were empty and there seemed to be so few places to choose from.
My aim for Houston, given I was arriving at 9pm, was to get food and have a beer. So I did just that. I tried a couple of bars, stayed longer at the second one which had free WiFi to catch up on all that oh-so-important stuff that we all do on our mobiles. But I kept myself to myself and didn’t chat with anyone.
The following morning I had a decent wander. A Sunday morning in any city can be a quiet one; nothing open, little reason for people to be around. Houston was exactly that. There is something fascinating in seeing a major city deserted, but at the same time I managed to walk several blocks without finding a coffee shop of any kind, and that’s a bit odd. Discovery Green had some people walking their dogs. That was the busiest part of Houston I saw.
So there we go. That was my whistle-stop tour of Texas. It was only ever going to be a short trip and my intention was to see Austin and San Antonio, with Dallas and Houston only being intended as short stops. Texas was entirely different from what I had expected but in (mostly) a good way. The food was spot on, the beer was excellent, and the weather far, far too hot.