Monochrome and Neutral Tones: Friendship and Minimalism in Austin

If last year’s Spring Break trip to the capital of Texas was, uh, “spurred on” by the search for the perfect barbecue sandwich, this one was simply about balance; about re-achieving a sense of focus and purpose amidst the busyness my life had become of late: in a word “minimalism.” It was about seeing my friend Dylan again and chatting while walking with coffee, as is our custom, sure. But I needed something deep to be realigned on my insides as the next inevitable busy season was imminent.

I came prepared. And while I expected to be exhausted—having lost two hours flying east—I wasn’t going to let local allergens ruin my week like they did last time. Thank God for brought allergy medication. Dylan picked me up at the airport and we were good to go after a quick stop at his place to drop off my stuff. I had the week prior finished a school semester and on top of that, a signing for my first book had left me feeling more depleted than usual and anxious to relax.

On the way back to town from his apartment, we hit up Rudy’s for a brief dip into Austin barbecue. Again, having sated my appetite for such a year ago, it wasn’t new anymore—each place more-or-less delicious (seriously) as any. And Rudy’s was no exception. He got the ribs and I the leaner of the two brisket offerings. We shared and that was that. But what else was there to do? For me, a big-city excursion necessarily needs ample time wandering through the glass and stone and steel blocks that make up deepest downtown (a-thousand different shades oftan and beige). And as it was by now late afternoon, the only thing to do was touch on Austin’s considerable microbrew/taphouse scene. 4th Tap was the place to go and they featured an amazing porter; Dylan likewise had a citrus IPA.

I had asked him, pulling in to his apartment for the night, if the black-letters-on-white-field license plates had been released before or after the colorful, red-white-and-blue variety (I see ten of the former for every one of the latter). He said they were newer. It only served to solidify the simplicity and minimalism that I began to see and notice on display.

Tuesday morning we hit up Houndstooth coffee downtown for the fruitiest, most full-bodied and delicious americano I’ve tasted in a while. He opted to show me Sixth Street; during the day it wasn’t all that exciting, the overall newness (to say nothing of the western-colonial architecture) being the main draw. I hold to a tradition of t-shirt acquisition and so Aaron’s Rock and Roll was the place to turn in. I was greeted inside by the clerk, hundreds of black band tees, and a commercial playing over the radio about how Texas now offers the inverse to their traditional black-letters-on-white; they now have white-letters-on-black. Awesome; mental note. With reference to shirts, however, nothin' spoke to either of us and so we left empty handed (except for a sweet Godzilla patch). We continued our stroll. On the way back, Dylan spied Spoon’s Hot Thoughts album cover paneled near the entrance to a hole-in-the-wall venue. He thought better of taking a picture when he saw it was already tagged with graffiti. The Austonian band had been in town for South by Southwest coinciding with the release of the album a week-and-a-half ago. The title track speaks to me, not least because of the spare bass groove and accompanying bells. But for crying out loud, how come I’ve never seen those two words (“hot” and “thought”) that we use everyday and that also rhyme—together? It’s genius, I tell you. Plus it sounds pretty good, if I may. Something about the depth of its aforementioned groove and complex guitar my own personal hook. Somehow helping to clear up the tangle of busyness and bustle that I had hoped to escape with this vacation. It was working. “Took time off from my kingdom,” indeed. I'm grateful to him for turning me on to them.

As an aside, I would like to point out that I got four compliments on my (heather gray) Rush shirt that day in downtown Austin. Upon seeing me, one gentleman started air-strumming the opening bars to “Subdivisions.” I was initially thrown off as Subdivisions opens with a synth intro (!). He chatted with Dylan while I racked my brain for whatever song that was (I knew I knew it). I blurted it out in the middle of their exchange—sorry to interrupt. I digress.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Dylan had taken some time to show me the recently-released Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild for Nintendo Wii. The two Zelda offerings for Nintendo 64 (Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, respectively) in the late Nineties/early 2000s had been foundational in reorienting the way I saw the world with reference to imaginative exploration. I graduated, so to speak, to Xbox and the Halo franchise in my early twenties. But something about this current Zelda outing spoke to me the first time I’d heard of it way back God-knows-when. An image of Link climbing a sheer cliff face with pale yellow sunlight against the backdrop of a massive and varied land of Hyrule spoke to my soul on a deep level. Critical acclaim for the game speaks volumes, and highly, and even though I don’t keep my ear to that ground, Dylan—being the video game blogger par excellence that he is—was sold having read an article in early March. In much the same way he took to showing me Austin did he now give me a tour of Hyrule. Watching the gameplay, I was more and more impressed until I was likewise sold. It was then that I didn’t want to see any more for fear of spoiling the surprise. If a “hot thought” could be anything in my own mind, my desire for Breath of the Wild was as close as you’d get. And so, if possible, part of Wednesday’s excursions and adventure would be looking for a game and system of my very own.

Tuesday night, Dylan, Carissa and I ventured to Whip In for some authentic Austin atmosphere and accompanying Indian food. I had an Indian-tinged grilled cheese on rye. It featured tomatoes—which weren't all odd and that added a slight tang that balanced it out nicely. However, interleaved between the several types of cheese was a layer of naan bread that added a doughy aspect that—while I knew it would be there when I ordered it—wasn’t quite to my liking; wasn’t bad though. I opted for a salad instead of “spicy fries” and all in all it was delicious.

Wednesday morning brought with it the desire to see some of Austin’s notable buildings and architecture, the aforementioned desire for Breath of the Wild (and a Nintendo Switch) still smoldering in my mind. So with reference to the former, I googled the same and found a list of ten standouts. One of which, obviously, was the Capitol Building. So without any more ceremony than a quick stop for an americano, we again headed downtown and found a place to park.

As mentioned previously, the Texas state motto is simply “Friendship.” I met Dylan over five years ago and whereas we are now half a country apart, it feels as though no time has elapsed when once we see the other in person. A true friendship will weather life’s storms and even the dry deserts of separation. Ours is no exception. Wednesday, we found ourselves just a few blocks from where we were the day before. A quick bite for lunch and then we headed for the rotunda. He mentioned how he knew of a strip mall in nearby Pflugerville featuring three, large big box stores. I called one and they said they were out of the Switch. Oh well, I am at the Texas capital, state of my birth, and all that, after all. Exploring history, art, and architecture in real time. Besides, if one store was out, the other two wouldn’t have any either, I’d say. Furthermore, it wasn’t like we hadn’t tried to find one in the city proper. But with the bevy of big-city options available and the fact that I hadn’t originally flown out to Texas to reignite some erstwhile video-gaming quest from my teens, I was ready to quit looking. We walked through the various statues and memorials on the the promenade that leads up to the capitol building. Imagine the most beautiful spring day, the trill of grackles and doves in the air and a slight breeze. And then one thought: Give Best Buy a call. A hot thought if ever there was one. The simplicity and peace and minimalism I had sought had taken effect and settled my heart and mind enough to hear it. So I did: they had one system left and even though he couldn’t take payment over the phone, he assured me they weren’t busy. I deliberated with Dylan and he simply suggested we go. After a brief snapshot of the awe-inspiring building (from a distance), we hightailed it back to the car several blocks away. It took about a half-hour altogether to drive out to the small suburb. The rest, by now, is history.

The Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time was a seminal moment in my childhood. It laid the groundwork for thought-processes that would take a lot of time to unwind and elucidate. In other words, it’s hard to explain. That I was able to effectively reset over the course of one week, acquaint with and then own the next generation of something that promised the same for this season of my life, and then come back down to earth—is beyond beautiful. That I got to share the adventure with a friend is something even more. And while the busyness will again ramp up, the simple joys of good design, good music, exceptional coffee, and real friendship, balance it all out.


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