Visiting Bryan/College Station: Trendy with a Texas Twang

Photo Bryan Coll Sta

I’m feeling a bit confused today. I’m still not sure how I went from wishing for a place the four of us (Mr. Wiz*, Big A*, JC*and I) could go over the July 4th holiday that was not in the $500 – $700 per night price range and landing at The Stella Hotel, a five star, Preferred Hotel with Frette sheets for a little over $100 a night. I think it was a combination of my positive thinking and JC’s suggestion that we take the lead from a recent Austin Monthly article and visit Bryan/College Station.

The home of Texas A&M University, over 66,000 students swell the city’s population during the school year. We wondered why these two neighboring cities were all of a sudden exploding with all types of development; why now? Apparently, social media had opened the doors to all of the campus sporting events and the general public accepted its invitation. Lucky for us, we were visiting off-season.

The Stella Hotel just opened in April and still smells new. The décor has that wow factor. The mixed use of materials, the textures and the interesting touches (saddle bags and iron I-beams mounted on the walls) all send out a sophisticated, yet edgy vibe. We were greeted by the sports jacket and jean clad staff who all had names like Parker and Morgan (no need to apply here if your name is Joe or Sue), who worked from their iPads, rather than standing behind the usual counter; very cool.

Outside was a man-made lake, two swimming pools, a golf course and a series of paths that led to a residential development of mega homes. The sprawling lawn was so welcoming, set up with assorted games, a fire pit, chairs and tables. Complimentary bicycles and paddle boards awaited our use at the front entrance.

JC acted as the official judge, as we filled our afternoons with pool races and seeing who could do the best hand stand in the water (some things never change). In preparation for the Scrabble championship (with a money prize to make it more interesting) and paddle board competition that I had planned, I tried to psych out Big A by boasting that I had trained on a paddle board while reading a dictionary. It didn’t work; he was the big winner of both contests.

In between, we visited the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and the Messina Hof Winery. Though the Campfire Restaurant at the hotel was in the running, we all agreed that our favorite dinner was at Christopher’s World Grille. The renovated historic home was rated one of the top 100 romantic restaurants in the U. S. by Trip Advisor. As the fans and misters kept us cool, we listened to live music on the porch of the Hullabaloo Diner, a transplanted 1940’s New York diner, as we waited for our table and agreed that this was what Sundays were made for.

I’m not sure what Texas’ secret is; it could be the warm weather or everyone’s laid back style, but it has a way of reminding you to slow down. It gave our little family the chance to enjoy each other’s company and regroup.  We all left feeling relaxed and pampered. I felt a bit more hip and happy to have another family adventure to tuck into my memory belt.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

Helping to Keep Austin Weird  

Photo Weird.jpg

I’m too excited to sleep. I blame you for this, Austin; you overstimulate me. You work hard to maintain your city’s official slogan “Keep Austin Weird” by tantalizing me with the bizarre, the off-beat, and you keep peaking my curiosity. And now that you have recently been named the best place to live in America by U.S. News and World Report, there will be no stopping you.

As I reflect on my first year of living here, it’s been a great ride, made up of interesting experiences that I am not sure could or would have happened anywhere else:

Central Market
On arrival, we need to get our bearings and Mr. Wiz* has a plan. Having visited a Central Market in Houston (shop at this gourmet marketplace on steroids, then dance to live music at night), he logically reasons that locating the Austin store will lead us to a great neighborhood, so he’ll ask at their information desk. Pointing out that the staff may be more prepared to locate a product by aisle than to relocate us, I decide to wait in the car. A few minutes later, I am surprised to see a woman in a cowboy hat and boots walk out of the store with Mr. Wiz and shake his hand. He had seen her on line at the information desk and perused her shopping cart. Noticing an excellent wine selection, he decided to ask her where we should live. He was not surprised at all that she enthusiastically lauded her neighborhood and pointed him in the direction of a new building. We signed a lease there 2 days later.

Pints and Poses
The Hyatt Hotel and I have accomplished the impossible; we got Mr. Wiz* to attend a monthly yoga class. Studies have proven that if you offer a guy a free beer, he will happily execute a downward dog pose, no questions asked. In the spirit of community (turns out that yoga and beer are great conversation starters), the hotel offers complimentary parking, a yoga class and a glass of craft beer.

Chicken S**t Bingo
The unassuming Little Longhorn Saloon is a tiny place that looks more like a church with a steeple than a bar. The band is loud, the beer is cold and the place is packed, both inside and out. It’s a Sunday afternoon and my family is still shocked that this was my birthday destination of choice. I explain to them that this is a famous venue and we’re going to be experiencing a bit of the original Austin. While we visit the chickens and chat with Ginny, “the chicken whisperer”, we learn that the afternoon will include “chickens, chicken feed and what happens after chickens eat.” The $2 ticket has a number on it and will get you one chance on the giant plywood bingo table. I’m sure that these chickens have their SAG cards; they are real professionals. They strut around the table, working the room into a cheering frenzy. As luck would have it, the chicken leaves her “mark” on my number and I am the winner of $115 in cash!

Keep Austin Weird Festival
We had so much fun last year volunteering to assist with the 5K check in, that we decide to do it again. Known as the “Slowest 5K Race on the Planet”, everyone is welcome to participate and a bizarre costume will win you a prize. Young, old, babies in strollers and dogs all strut their stuff and stop along the way at different stations for beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), ice cream and activities. At the festival, I cheered on aardvarks as they raced and chatted with a woman in a mermaid costume, who explained the story of her tattoos to me.

Weird Homes Tour
I am very excited for tour day to come and even more so now, since I am the winner of 2 VIP tickets that include the tour and the after party. By the end of the day, we will have driven 90 miles all over Austin, investigating homes that range from a bucolic wonderland in a nature preserve, with quotes from Emily Dickinson poems written over the doorways and pastoral views out every French door to a series of domes lovingly pieced together into an artist’s retreat, rumored to have special healing powers to a traditional home on the outside and a Feng Shui inspired home on the inside with a red velvet lounge room and a royal blue cosmic room featuring a 100” flat screen TV (most guys did not get past this point and just stood, gaping at the TV).

The owners of the next group of homes, self-confessed pack rats, delighted in the fact that they were living in a never to be completed work of art. Whether it was a police car hood with working sirens on the ceiling, doll heads under glass, a wall of salt and pepper shakers, a lamp made from a 1950’s salon hair dryer or a hollowed-out armadillo containing guest washcloths, each treasure had a story. Chatting with the enthusiastic homeowners, who were so warm and welcoming, I left the day wondering if there was any room in my perfectionist personality for a little eccentricity. Sensing Mr. Wiz’s concern over the souvenirs I collect during the day, I ease his worries and announce that I am not adopting hoarding tendencies any time soon.

We arrive at Indra’s Awarehouse for the after party. It’s a large metal roofed warehouse, filled to the brim with the owner’s art and collections of oddities. The surreal setting is right out of a Fellini film: a barefooted band plays on a carpeted stage; as if on cue, a dog drops a deflated ball at the feet of guests, prompting them to throw it on to the stage for him to chase; scantily dressed acro-yoginis glide up yards of silk fabric and perform above our heads. A cocktail seems in order, even though the professionally dressed bar staff looks out of place. We laughingly imagine that this is probably just another day for the owner; waking up to coffee in the morning and greeting some hangers-on at the bar (with bar staff still in uniform) and waving to the overhead performers that continue all day long. Hungry, we peruse the snacks. While, protein is always welcome, tonight it is in the form of bags of flavored crickets and mealy worms. We grab some regular popcorn and eagerly await some daring guests to taste them and offer a critique. We learn from the more adventurous that anything crunchy with a BBQ flavor is edible after some of Austin’s handmade Tito’s Vodka.

Austin, you give me the same feeling that I experienced whenever my grandmother would open her coat and let me snuggle in with her. You opened up your big, warm, wonderful, weird arms to me. Your people are so friendly and so welcoming. Sure, the temperature heats up, but living here makes me feel so cool. You have that big city vibe with the twang of Texas mixed in. You seem to bring out the best in me and I feel like this is where I am supposed to be. I only hope I can continue to do my civic duty and generate the accepted level of weirdness.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.