Friday, March 15, 2002
all fuckin’ night
I returned from Monterrey, Mexico last Friday and caught a cab to Ruta Maya just as I’d promised Ali, the barista, the Monday before. On the ride over, Karl and I saw all the young music industry scenester kids overflowing from the Austin Convention Center and other live music venues.
“Fuck. I forgot about South by Southwest,” I said.
At Ruta Maya, I saw not a familiar face save Ali. The cafe was filled with black pants-clad, Music Festival badge loosely hanging about their necks SXSW-goers. I greeted Ali, who was busy with customers, and told her I’d just returned from Mexico. I headed toward the smokeshop.
Inside the Ruta Maya Tobacco Shop, Mack sat behind the counter while another man stood in front of him with his face in his hands. I assumed he was purchasing tobacco, but as I sat down, not a word was said between he and Mack. Then, “Fuck. Shit,” burst from the man’s lips. I looked at Mack, whose face was unchanging.
“Fuck. Shit,” again from the man.
I smiled at Mack, figuring we were dealing with some crazed lunatic liked the guy who said he’d seen Osama bin Laden at Fiesta and, when questioned as to why Osama was there, replied straight-faced, “Bag lady.” Mack didn’t return my knowing smile. He was frozen in the act of lighting a cigarette, the man still standing in front of him.
“Look, is there anything I can help you with?” Mack enquired of the man.
“I work seven days a week and you guys are out of my tobacco.”
“I can’t do anything about that. Is there any where else you can go?”
“Fuck. I don’t know. I can’t believe you’re out of my tobacco. I can’t think. I don’t know what to do.” The man glanced about the room as if the tobacco had been hidden from him and he might find it stuffed away somewhere in one of the picture frames.
“That’s just the way the cookie crumbled,” said Mack, “You’re just going to have to move on.”
“Fuck. Shit,” the man said and stood there for a bit longer before leaving.
After the man passed the open window, I said, “Damn, man. They even take their vices seriously around here.”
Welcome back to the U.S.A.
Later in the evening, after dropping my luggage off at home and taking a shower, I returned to Ruta Maya. It was about 7:00 and I trusted that the usual group would be around somewhere. I’d wondered if anything spectatular had happened in my absence, and if anything had changed.
The porch of Ruta Maya was crowded, but not a single face was recognizable to me. Inside, the same applied, except for the staff behind the bar. I asked Joe for a coffee and his girlfriend, Sarah’s, phone number so that I might find someone to hang out with. I rang her up and while we talked of her plans to go to GirlbyGirl (a lesbian anti-SXSW festival), I noticed John walking west down Fourth Street with a guitar case in hand. I correctly surmised that it was Dava’s guitar and he’d been attempting to return it to her.
I hurried down Fourth Street. “John!” I yelled, but he didn’t turn around. When I was closer, I yelled, “Phelps!” and he came back around the corner he’d just passed.
“Hey, man, what are you still doing in town?” I asked. He was supposed to head to West Texas and then New Orleans at the beginning of the week.
“I’m leaving on Sunday.”
We walked across Guadalupe and then cut through the Classified Parking lot on the way to the State parking garage where we’d both parked. He needed to put Dava’s guitar back in his car since the people at Ruta Maya wouldn’t hold it for her in a secure location.
I told John that Karl, my travel companion in Mexico, had fucked with the cops and they’d beat him up in a park. He’d had to be med-evaced to a U.S. hospital.
“Karl fucked with the cops in Mexico?” he asked.
“No. Just kidding you, man.”
At the far end of the parking lot, we heard, “Hey, you fuckers!” from an open car window. It was Mike and Peter just pulling into the lot. We walked up to their car as they blocked traffic entering the lot.
We shook hands with Mike.
“How was Mexico?”
“I want to hear all about it.”
“Oh, you will. Park your fucking car, though, you’re blocking traffic.”
They pulled into the lot and I followed them to their car while John went to the garage to put away the guitar.
Back on Fourth headed east on foot, Mike asked me if I’d gotten laid in Mexico, and if I’d had to pay for it.
“No. I don’t speak the language well enough to hit on girls down there. We did find the whorehouse about seven blocks from our hotel, but by the time we got caffeinated and crazy enough at three in the morning on our last night and headed over there, the door was closed and we weren’t into it enough to knock,” I told him, truthfully.
We bypassed the scenester-filled Ruta Maya and I said, “Lets get a drink.” We walked up Lavaca and then over to Sixth.
Seated around a table at Lovejoy’s, they welcomed me back and said they’d missed me.
“I didn’t think any of you would be alive when I got back,” I said.
“We were sure you wouldn’t get back alive,” said John.
We sat around drinking Cape Cods and Guinnesses and Crown & Cokes getting decently drunk and catching up. Mike had met the girl of his dreams. John confirmed that she was a cutie, he’d seen her. Peter was still unemployed and unattached.
These things tend to start out slow. The conversation stalls a couple of times then catches its rhythm around the time our arms catch the rhythm of drink, smoke, scratch, point at girl, drink, smoke, scratch, point at girl. Drunk As A Motherfucker on the drunkenness gauge reads a bit like this: Mike starts saying, “See that girl over there in the red? She wants me.” John starts commenting on peoples’ clothes and wondering where they purchased them. I get alcohol-confident and start thinking I can kick some ass when we all know I can’t. Peter. . . Peter’s a Republican.
Mike went to use the restroom while the rest of us fell out of Lovejoy’s onto the street. Mike wanted to go to Ego’s to look for the girl he met last week. We walked the short half block down to Sixth and stood there singing along to “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay” played by a street performer in town for SXSW. When he started into a Bob Dylan tune, John, disgusted, headed back to Lovejoy’s to find Mike who hadn’t come out yet.
“Where’s Mike?” I asked.
“I don’t know. He wasn’t in Lovejoy’s. The bouncer grabbed me when I tried to go in to look for him and said, ‘You can’t come in here.’ So I grabbed him back and said, ‘I’m looking for a friend.’ I told him to touch me again. He said, ‘No way. That’s what you want me to do.'”
We headed back toward Ruta Maya, knowing Mike would end up back there looking for us and, anyway, his car was parked just down the street. The fall-back position.
At Ruta Maya we found Mike again and headed to his car. I still had the coffee I’d purchased earlier from Joe. Probably none of us were in the state to be driving but. . . fuck it. Not my ticket, just my life.
Ego’s was charging $10 cover and wouldn’t let John, who’s in his late twenties, in because he didn’t have identification on him. I “accidentally” spilled coffee on the table in their foyer on our way back out to the parking lot.
We stood around just outside their door discussing further venues for live drinking action and where Mike’s girl might possibly be on South Congress. Mike spontaneously spit a poem at a girl walking by and she did a spin for him with a smile. A guy with three heads’ worth of hair rode up on his bike and asked me for a cigarette. I obliged.
“Where you guys from?” bike boy asked.
“Here, of course. We’re not some damn idiot South by Southwester,” I replied.
Mike started making fun of him, calling him bicycle boy and the like. When Mike turned his back to look at a girl getting out of her van, the guy leaned forward with the lit cigarette I’d given him and acted as if he were going to put it out on Mike’s bald spot.
“Oh, you are asking for it,” I said.
“What kind of cigarette is that that you’re smoking?” asked John, as he reached toward the guy’s hand to take it away.
Bike Boy, knowing what was happening, took evasive action and, putting the cigarette in his mouth, bent away and pushed John away with his arms. John quickly swooped down and took the cigarette from his lips. While he squeezed the cherry from the cigarette and stomped it underfoot, Bike Boy took John’s cigarette, in a very rough, heated, and ungraceful manner. Very Austin-ish.
“Lets get out of here,” Mike said. We started to walk away as John and Peter offered the guy new cigarettes and lit it for him.
Back at Mike’s car, I said, “Wow. That guy was an idiot. Starting something with four drunk guys. Jesus.” Even with John behind the car directing, it took Mike five minutes to back out of a parking space that should have only taken thirty seconds to clear.
As we pulled into the gas station at Riverside and South Congress, Mike asked me if I remembered the poem he’d said to that girl at Ego’s.
“You said a poem?”
“Yes, I said a poem, you little shit. You can’t fuckin’ remember it?”
“No. I’m not your fuckin’ typist.”
We bought cigarettes and headed back toward the Warehouse District.
We enter the State parking garage off Fourth Street not expecting to find parking on any of the lower levels, but assuming there would be a few spots on the very top. That’s the usual case, anyway. We get to the top and see nothing but a sea of cars and stars. We begin the long trek back to the bottom.
The parking garage is clogged with SXSWers, college students just back from Spring Break, and other nightowls looking for a drink and a parking space. Every approach to a ramp in the garage is comparable with taking your life into your hands, molding it into a ball, and throwing it from atop the north World Trade Center tower as a plane smashes into it.
We run into an intersection at a ramp with two cars in front of us trying to turn and a black Mustang riding our ass. Mike puts the car in reverse to let the other two turn before him. The Mustang backs up a foot and stops. Mike backs up and starts yelling, “Keep backing up, fucker, keep backing up!” Apparently the Mustang’s driver isn’t listening and doesn’t continue to back-up. BAM! Mike’s rear bumper and the Mustang’s front bumper collide. The two cars in front have made their turns. Mike throws his Acura into drive and takes off down the ramp, the Mustang not far behind.
The ill wisdom of this decision hasn’t yet hit me. Filled with drink and drink-fueled gusto, I’m living merely by the moment. My sight and thought barely parsing the surface level of every action and reaction.
Another intersection and ramp. Another jam. Mike stops short of it this time and the Mustang races ahead and around us creating a barrier. We’ve hit him once, I don’t see why he thinks we won’t do it again to remove his car from our path.
“Lets all get out,” Mike says.
We all jump out of the car, slamming the doors. John walks around the driver’s side of the Mustang and, as the man gets out of the Mustang, he butts chests with John. The rest of us go around the passenger’s side to the front of the Mustang to look at the damage. There is none.
“Wow. That’s thousands of dollars of damage,” John says and walks back toward Mike’s car.
“Yeah, no shit. That thing’s totaled,” I say.
“I just wanted to see,” the guy says to us.
We all walk back to Mike’s car. Peter finishes patching things up with the Mustang owner like a good Republican, and John stays outside to direct traffic. He waves the Mustang back, it rolls forward and bumps him in the legs. I scramble across the backseat of the car stumbling out of the car to run defense for John. I get to the front of the Mustang, which is now backing up, and yell, “Yeah, you better fucking back up.” Then I notice the driver’s girlfriend in the passenger seat. How could I have missed her before?
Back in the car, we exit the garage and go across the street to the Classified Parking lot. We harass the attendant, who wants another five dollars even though they paid him earlier in the evening to park there, telling him we’re coming for his ass if there isn’t a parking space.
We commandeer a table on Fado’s patio and order more drinks.
“We’ve been bumping into things all night,” Mike says.
“Yeah, even Mustangs,” I reply.
Peter walks off to talk to girls, which pisses Mike off to no end. John, Mike, and I sit around talking shit and pointing out pretty girls. I point one out in red a couple of tables over with two other guys. John walks over to her and whispers something in her ear.
“What did you say to her?” I ask when he returns.
“I just asked if those two were with her.”
“She said no.”
“She’s pretty hot.”
“Go talk to her,” Mike says, “Don’t be such a pussy.”
“I can’t pick up girls in a bar, man. I’m not a frat boy. No way.”
Mike walks away from the table.
“Where are you guys from?” a short, thin guy says with a strange accent as he approaches our table.
“Here. Why do you think we’re so drunk? Where are you from?” I reply.
“Where’s Brian when you need him?” John asks.
Mike comes back followed by the girl in red. She stands next to me.
“Hi,” she says.
Oh, fuck, I think. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck you, Mike, fuck you.
We talk a bit. She bums a smoke. I explain to her that I’m not good at talking to girls when I’m drunk in a bar. She walks off.
The night goes on. We finally run the Canadian off. International incident number one. We act like Peter’s gay lovers to drive the women away from him, then Mike calls him a Republican. For the rest of the evening, whenever we’re talking to girls, Peter comes up and says, “Don’t talk to this guy. He’s a bad, bad person.” Which then leads to a political conversation which, I’m sure, must be oh-so-attractive to girls in a bar. Finally the last group of girls we’re all talking to are dragged away by their protector, some tall, thin, tanned guy. Cockblocker.
We head back over to Ruta Maya at closing time. We lose John on the way (which is hard to do, seeing as it’s only next door). He tells us the next day that he was in the street fighting with a cowboy. Mike and Peter accost the new waitresses at Ruta Maya and I tell one of their best friends not to be an asshole when he says, “Tip the girl. Isn’t she hot?” after I’ve already tipped her two bucks.
A small time spent in close proximity with Austin police officers at Katz’s happened a bit later, but that’s of no real consequence. Lets just say they looked into the night sky and whistled when they saw us coming. We were unstoppable for a night.
Essentially, if this town wasn’t full of pussies, we’d all be dead right now.