The work of Mike Varley

Texas Vacation, July 2010

August 10th, 2010 by admin

The following are some highlights from my trip to Austin, San Antonio, and the Gulf Coast of Texas, July 2010.  It was the first time I had visited Texas in two years, and only the second visit since I lived there in 2006-07.  With me as always was my girlfriend and traveling companion Erin Welch.  Note: All the following videos are available in HD.


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There were not one but two nights of karaoke on our Texas trip, one instance as spectators and another as participants.  The first, Drag-aoke, was the first thing we did as soon as we got off the plane.   There we met up with our Austin hostesses Sue and Katie and took in the performance, a primarily lesbian drag show/lip synch exhibition that goes on once a month in the city.   We witnessed outlandishly choreographed performances by Justin Bieber, Beyonce and more.  It was silly fun and a nice way to start the vacation off.

The second karaoke night was the “after-after” party of my friend Jasmine’s wedding reception, where 25 of her friends packed a room above Silhouette Japanese restaurant on Congress Avenue and sang for the next four hours.  I hadn’t had the opportunity to really talk to Jasmine all day beyond pleasantries and it was the first I had seen her in two years.  Then, without any pre-planning, we found ourselves center stage, microphones in hand, leading the room in a round of the Beatles’ “Oh Ba Di, Oh Ba Da.”   To go two years without seeing someone and then to have your first real interaction be a duet together was a unique and special experience.  I later killed with a rendition of “Piano Man,” getting most everyone in the room to lock arms and sway to the song.  Unfortunately, the only song I got on tape was when Sue and I cleared the room with “Walking my Baby Back Home.”


Swimming is a part of the Texas culture I fully embrace.  Ask any person in any part of the state where’s a good place for a dip and they can tell you ten places off the top of their head and thirty if you press them.  From springs and creeks to waterfalls and choice pools, everyone seems to have their own secret oasis.  I made it a goal to swim everyday I was there and only failed to touch water the night we arrived.  Erin and I swam in a spring, went tubing in a river, enjoyed three pools (one secretly), waded in a bay and played in the waves of the Gulf.  To pick up the amphibious lifestyle again after years of little swimming reminded me of the joys of aquatic movement.

The Gulf Coast

On Wednesday and Thursday we went to visit my friend Brett Baer on the Texas Coast in a town called Rockport.  The first day we took a short ferry to the beach town Port Aransas and spent the afternoon body surfing in the Gulf.  The beach was laid thick with spongy seaweed stirred up from a recent storm, but up past the tide line the sand was finer than flour.  The water was a bathtub compared to my Northern Atlantic; Brett explained it was rather cold for the occasion.  We waded out about a hundred yards without the water passing mid-chest and rode the waves as they came to take us, catching them at peak and unraveling with them.  If you hit it right, you’d know it.  If you hit it right, it was like entering an unfurnished apartment hidden in the wave for just a few seconds.

The Casio SA-67

In Rockport, Brett took us to a fine thrift store where I found a keyboard in the electronics section.  It was the first time I had discovered a keyboard in a thrift store since I’ve developed any talent with the instrument, so it was a new experience trying out the tones and seeing if it was worth buying.  The SA-67 has a wonderful low-fidelity sound with great beats in a nice, lap-sized package.  One pattern called “comedy” I recognized immediately as the base layer of The Russian Futurists’ song “you dot, me dot, t-dot”.

I looked all over the keyboard for the price and all I could find was ’50 cents’ written on the A/C adapter.  I thought that couldn’t be right but Brett said the price written was the price final so I took it to the cashier.   She seemed just as suspicious but I had no answers for her. “Priced to move, I guess” was my reply.  I payed my pittance and we left the store.  Not three steps outside, Brett spotted the fifteen dollar price tag on the bottom of the keyboard, written in a shade of black not visible in the florescence of the store.  I took it is as destiny and pocketed the 97% discount.


Erin and I had a wonderful Texas food experience in all respects.  There was of course the obligatory Mexican food and Barbecue, with brisket, ribs, gorditas, enchiladas and multiple days of breakfast tacos.   One highlight – or lowlight, depending on how much I value my pride – was Rosario’s of San Antonio, where I had a pan fried Jalapeño so hot I was crying uncontrollably.  I like spicy food, and I’ve had higher graded spicy peppers – Habanero, Cayenne, etc. – but there was something about pan frying the pepper that brought out the heat and sent me home crying.

In Austin, many meals are paired with live music and we were fortunate in catching many performances.  At Stubb’s, we finished our meal and went right outside to enjoy the New Pornographers concert.  At Artz’ Rib House, a local country trio did an awesome, completely impromptu rendition of “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane.  And then there was Gospel Brunch at Threadgill’s, where the focus was not the food but the entertainment.  Soul music  makes everything taste better.

But the best meal of the trip had to be Casa de Luz, the place for macrobiotic cooking in Austin.  Macrobiotics is a style of preparing food meant to aid digestion and improve quality of life, with rules like no ice in drinks, all whole grains, limited nightshade vegetables, and so on.  For twelve dollars, we got a meal so jaw-droppingly delicious that nearly all dinner conversation revolved around it.   Its beauty was in its wholesomeness.  Not once did it pluck the strings of salt, fat or sugar, all the old addictions.  Instead, it took the beans, greens and veggies and showcased their elemental qualities rather then hiding them behind the garish sensations of the tongue.  In its honesty, the meal approximated holiness.

San Antonio

Erin and I spent Monday night and Tuesday afternoon in San Antonio at the historic Saint Anthony hotel right in downtown.  Nobody had particularly good things to say about San Antonio before we got there and it met its tepid expectations.   The Alamo is a nice, city block-sized garden with a cool front door and not much more.  I respect it as a site where many people lost their life, but I find it hard to get behind it as a place of patriotism due to the dubious circumstances surrounding the larger conflict.   The solemnity of the location is not aided by Alamo Plaza, the largest concentration of tourist traps I’ve ever seen in one spot.  A wax museum, a Guinness World Records museum, an Imax theatre, a 3D adventure arcade and two Ripley’s museums, believe it or not, all in a three block strip.  I guess once you find out the Alamo only takes an hour to tour, you have to occupy the kids somehow.

A nicer surprise was the Riverwalk that runs underneath this city streets.  It’s a nicely landscaped canal with walkways on either side, decorated with mosaics and patrolled by tour boats.  The section with restaurants and shops was humming when we passed through, a start contrast to the mid-afternoon ghost town we found on a lesser traveled section.  I hold no ill will against the city of San Antonio but it seems well mastered in a day of walking.

The New Pornographers

Our first day in town we picked up a copy of The Onion to see what bands were playing that week.  That very night The New Pornographers were playing along with The Dodos and Imaad Wasif at Stubb’s.  We went there for dinner, then went around back to their outdoor venue.  The show was good to fair.   I enjoyed the opening acts very much and was fascinated by the Dodos two drummer, one guitar set-up, with one drummer playing a kit and vibes at the same time.  The New Pornographers were pro’s, perhaps too much so.  They kept complaining to the sound people about the microphone levels after nearly every song, much to the sound guy’s panic.  While they weren’t outright bitching to the audience about it, their concern seemed more for their ears than the audiences’ and that turned me off.  And to be fair to the sound guy, there were ten people up on stage, nine of them with voice mics and three lead singers alternating songs.  The main sound guy ran crouching on stage like a rat between every song.

The most interesting part of the whole night might have come during the opening act.  Erin was taking in the crowd around us, about 2,500 by rough estimate, when she noticed something.  “I don’t think there are any non-white people here,” she said.  I looked around for a counterpoint but couldn’t find one.  There was a range of age and gender that was an admirable melange but not a single ounce of color save tan bodies and tee shirts.  Counter to logic, the fact actually made me more uncomfortable and self-conscious.  Over the past few years in Brooklyn, I’ve grown used to a decent sampling of all walks of life in practically any situation, concert or crosswalk.  To have socioeconomics invade my music experience was unsettling.


Any time I’m in Austin, I of course have to stop at my old co-op to see how life is.  Fortunately my good friend Parker still lives there so I can mingle with the Sassoonies without it being too weird.  Since the last time I’ve been there, they’ve done a nice job cleaning up the property and fighting the perpetual clutter battle inside the house.  We sat out on the porch and drank quality beer till three in the morning, then snuck over to the neighboring condominium and took a dip in their pool.  It was much the same as I remembered Sasona without all the drama of living there, and I hope it goes strong for years to come.

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