Wow. It’s been quite a past few days.
The cold snap finally broke today; hallelujah!
I had ended up staying much longer than I had originally intended with my wonderful Warmshowers hosts in Austin, mostly because of the weather, but also because of sparse workable alternatives. But it was past time to give them their personal space back, so for yesterday afternoon I headed to a hotel, for my last night in town. This morning, the sun was out and the temps were slowly climbing, so I ventured out and realized that the location of the hotel—northeast of the university—would allow me to visit the vegan restaurant I had most wanted to visit in Austin: Rebel Cheese. I had been thinking I would have to miss it, so this morning’s opportunity was fortuitous. I would be meeting my friend Rusty in the late afternoon, and then departing on the train for San Antonio a little after 6:00.
I checked out of the hotel at 11. There was a bit of drama as I did so: a woman was waiting in the lobby for the attendant (who I assumed was also the owner) when I entered to check out. A verbal kerfuffle ensued when he did not refund her $50 deposit after briefly inspecting her room; he claimed she had stolen one of the pillows from the room. She yelled that she had not, and added that he was going to burn in hell for this. They went back and forth a few times, and then she stormed out, repeating multiple times loudly that he would be burning in hell. He looked at me, and the other guest who was checking out, and told us that he had seen the pillow in her car, as well as noting its absence from the room.
Fortunately I checked out without incident, and got my deposit back.
Rebel Cheese was still about a 15 minute bike ride northeast of the hotel. I mapped it on my phone, committing most of the route to memory. But as I pedaled along, daydreaming, I managed to overshoot it by a couple of blocks.
Sadly, within those two blocks, I rolled over a dicey area of shattered glass, and heard the telltale hiss of bad news.
My heart sank, but once again I actively chose not to freak out:
I had plenty of time. The weather was reasonable. I imagined there was probably a bike shop within walking distance. (I did not wish to tackle this myself.)
I was confident enough about these assumptions that I decided to simply walk the rig the three blocks to the cheese shop and enjoy a nice lunch, while plotting my next steps.
The shop was amazing. You can see one of the cases in the photo; there was another of similar size to the left. They carried not one, but two, brands of dill havarti, which is a cheese I have only tasted a few times in my life—and loved—and definitely not since going vegan in 1999. A vegan dill havarti is not available in Portland.
I ordered a caprese sandwich for lunch, with a side of potato salad, and tacked on a caramel brownie for dessert, because… of course. Then I ordered one ounce each—the smallest portion available—of the dill havarti and a smoked Gouda. I have not sampled them yet, but I look forward to doing so tomorrow.
While I enjoyed my sandwich al fresco, I took out my phone to search Google Maps for local bike shops, filtering by “open now” since it was a Sunday. Sadly, that filter removed the closest one from the map.
I knew there was one Brompton-certified shop in town, Cycleast, which happened to be located on East Cesar Chavez Street, the commercial strip I had most looked forward to visiting in Austin, but which I mostly had not—except for that one early meal at Mr. Natural—because I had spent the last five days holed up indoors against the cold. This shop seemed about equidistant to the other closest bike shop (which is not to say close) so I decided to go there.
Then I debated whether to walk—probably about an hour and a half—or call a Lyft.
I wasn’t thrilled about all the money that was flowing outward, from the hotel to the cheese to the bike repair… and it was a reasonably pleasant day for walking… and I did have plenty of time with very few plans… and maybe this would be a good way to experience the city.
On the other hand, strolling comfortably is one thing, and pushing a 120-pound rig with a flat tire for an hour and a half, I guessed, would be another. I opted for the Lyft.
The driver arrived in a small car, and both of them looked a bit the worse for wear. But he was a very good sport about the unusual situation, maneuvering the heavy and bulky trailer single-handedly into the back seat (after I removed the hitch to make it fit) and then clearing off the front seat so I could sit there. We chatted along the way; he had moved to Texas from Florida, but drives a truck for the petroleum industry all over the country. Said he had been to 47 states, excluding only Alaska, Hawaii, and Rhode Island.
He dropped me off at the bike shop and helped me to unload. I said thanks and goodbye, and left him a generous tip on the app.
The bike shop shared space with a coffee shop, and I sat at a table there and charged my phone while the mechanic worked on the tire.
When he came to talk to me, I was extra glad that I had not only not tried to handle it myself, but had made the effort to go to the Brompton-certified shop: it turned out the tire was sliced pretty badly in two places. At first he only noticed one, and asked if I wanted a $2 patch on it, or to replace the tire. I was tempted to save money, but I was also concerned that a patch might not hold as well as a replacement. I asked him what he recommended, and he said he thought the patch would work well. I agreed to it, but when he went back to install it I began to worry that this might become another source of stress for me, like when that tube mysteriously failed in LA and I never knew why, so I continually worried it would happen again.
Fortunately, he came back to give me the “bad news” that there were two weak spots, and he thought I should really replace the tire. The good news was, they did have the 16” Marathon Plus tires in stock. Not cheap at $50, but absolutely worth it for my peace of mind, and once again I counted my blessings that things didn’t go worse today: those tires, in that size, are not easy to find. He told me that the shop had been out of stock for some time during the pandemic because of rampant supply-chain issues, so that when they saw them become available again, they had ordered three dozen.
It’s a safe bet that no other store in town would have had those tires in stock. I breathed a sigh of relief, and smiled as he returned to replace the tire.
Mission completed, I was free to roam down Cesar Chavez to one of my favorite vegan bakeries, Capital City Bakery. The last time I had visited was exactly five years ago, and I remembered walking in and admiring all the treats in the cases. This time, it was post-pandemic, so they just had a display window with the items to choose from outside on the porch, and then you ordered at a separate window.
It worked for me. I got a cupcake and enjoyed it in the sunny seating area in front, then headed down to the riverfront park-and-path area. Austin has wonderful river parks on both banks, as well as really nice walking and biking paths all along both banks. I stopped periodically to sit on sunny benches and admire the river, and then I headed over to meet Rusty at (Oregon-based vegan chain) Next Level Burger, which was inside the flagship Whole Foods store downtown.
I ordered a Cobb salad, which I saved for the train, and then Rusty and I had a brief but wonderful catch-up session at a sunny table outside the store. She gave me and my rig a ride over to the Amtrak station afterward, and waited for the train with me. It arrived about 45 minutes late, so it was nice to be able to continue our visit in that way, and she said that being a part of the train trip with me in that way had inspired her to want to take an Amtrak trip sometime too. Of course I encouraged her to do it, and if anyone else reading this hasn’t tried an Amtrak train trip yet, I encourage you to do it as well!
I boarded with my rig mostly without incident; the attendant just frowned at the lack of space in his coach car, but then led me to another coach car with ample storage space, which also was nearly empty of passengers! I asked him if it was usually so sparse, and he said no, so I made an extra point of appreciating the solitude.
We pulled into San Antonio right on time, just before 10 pm, and I navigated to tonight’s hotel easily; it was only a few blocks away. (Also half the price, and twice as nice, as Austin’s—I guess San Antonio’s real estate prices are not as outrageous as Austin’s.)
I’ll bike to my new Warmshowers hosts tomorrow, about five miles away, and I’m excited to spend the next four days exploring another new-to-me city!
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