Friday, November 04, 2005

Texas Part 4

Thursday morning dawned as many days in Texas had to this point--sunny with a high temperature in the 90s expected later in the day. It was time to take the bike out on the streets of Austin and its 'burbs. We drove south through town to the start of the bike ride that was recommended by one of the local bike clubs for getting into San Marcos. I did about 15 miles of it with a 5-mile tag on to get back to Buda (a 20-mile ride all together).

It was a good ride, but I'd been hoping for a little more distance. I was going against the wind for most of it (SW wind at about 5-10 Mph), and there was a good deal of climbing. For example, the section along F.M. (Farm to Market) 2770 was uphill from Buda to Mountain City. It was an elevation increase of maybe 400-450 feet, and it was spread over a 5 mile distance--that combination makes for some slow, hard going. I stopped at the top of the hill (near the high school), called mom and told her I was going to turn around and head back to Buda at that point. The ride back was downhill with the wind at my back--it was over in no time.

After the ride it was back to the hotel for a shower, and to gather up the laundry. We went to a laundromat where we had the interesting experience of running into an escapee from the looney bin. We'd already put the clothes in the washers, and I'd found us a place to sit in the breeze of the open door. Perched next to the open door was our certifiable friend. At first, he made idle conversation about setting some record for driving across country on $400 in his Cadillac. I congratulated him--my first mistake.

He disappeared into the back room of the place and came out with a Bic razor and a bucket of water, stood squarely in front of me, and asked me if I would shave the back of his neck. Yeah, that was passing strange into the realm of "uh oh, I'm feeling really uncomfortable about this". At this point, I'd determined that I was dealing with a piece of God's more creative work. I demurred, saying that it really wasn't my thing (and it was the truth--shaving strange men's necks is certainly not my thing).

His initial reaction was to shrug and take his seat by the door again, but the next thing I hear is, "How would you like me to cut off your toe? Would that be your thing?"

How does one respond to something like that? I pretended I didn't hear him. I went on writing my ride into my cycling journal. I could see the guy out of the corner of my eye. He lit up a cigarette and we got a stream of smoky air, and I used the opportunity to ask mom if she wanted to move because of the cigarette smoke (loud enough that he could hear). Yes, sir, the only reason we're moving is the cigarette smoke--it has nothing to do with odd threats toward my person...ahem. We moved over to the other end of the laundromat. He left for a little bit and we settled ourselves to wait for the big rinse and spin. He came back after a while but, thankfully, stayed over in his end of the place.

When it was finally time to leave and we were safely back in the car on the way back to the hotel, I told mom, "Well, the boogie man didn't get us."

She replied, "But he certainly tried."

The world is filled with colorful personalities--some a little more colorful than others.

We went for an early dinner/late lunch at the ol' standby, Bennigan's, and the rest of the day (there wasn't much left to it) was given over to reading and relaxing.

It's your lucky day! Since I don't have any pictures to accompany Thursday's excitement, you get two day's worth of vacation in one entry! What a deal!

Friday was the official start day of the Ride for the Roses weekend. The weekend was filled with activities for the family, a cycling Expo, speeches, dinners (for people who raised buckets full o' money), autograph signings, and so much more. The Expo, being held at the Palmer Center, wouldn't open until noon on Friday. This gave me the perfect opportunity for, you guessed it, a bike ride.

I left from the back of the hotel and rode Georgian to Rundberg to Dessau. I ended up turning right off of Dessau which was a fairly busy road, and found some quieter roads so I went a few extra miles. Then it was just a matter of reversing my route for the return trip to the hotel. It was only 15 miles in it's entirety, but it was ALL HILLS! It was a good ride and I did start to settle into a pace over the hills, so I was more confident I'd be able to find my pace on Sunday for the big event.

After I got back from my little ride, we had a light breakfast and drove into town. We took a pass by the Bass Concert Hall on the U of TX, Austin campus to see where we would be going that night to see the Austin Symphony Orchestra. I'd done a little surfing before the trip, and decided that amidst all the fast food stops, cycling stuff, and tourist traps, we'd need a little culture. Going to the symphony also gave us an opportunity to dress up a bit and have a proper dinner. This trip was a birthday/Christmas gift from me to Mom and from Mom to me, so we needed a special evening.

After scoping out the concert hall and the parking situation, we drove to the Palmer Center to hang around until they opened the door for the Expo at noon. There were plenty of other people waiting too--anxiously chomping at the bit to spend a little money, claim their registration swag, and dig into the weekend with gusto (or they were just hoping to get it over with before the real crowds showed up). We actually walked around the place while we were waiting, and sat by a little reflecting pool for a bit. There was a lot of construction going on along the river, so it wasn't entirely peaceful. The view from the park bench wasn't too shabby, though, and it had great potential.

At noon we were already inside the expo and in line for the packet pickup since they opened the doors a few minutes early. I made the mistake of going to general packet pickup. It was a mistake because there was a special section for Peloton Project members. We made it to the front of the line, and I gave the lady my last name so she could find me in the roster. She combed the pages, and then combed them again as I began to worry that the drax had been snaffled.

"Well, I can't find you here. You'll have to go stand in line at the information booth." She vaguely waved a had in the direction of the booth, and she was ready to move on to the next person in line.

The line for the information booth stretched back some distance down the aisle--20 or 25 people deep. After a sigh, and a comment to Mom that it was a good thing we were here early, we joined the line. We'd made progress of perhaps two people in 5 minutes or so, and we'd begun to make friends of the people around us in line when a nice lady in a bright yellow t-shirt (marking her as a LAF volunteer) asked, "Have any of you raised more than $500?"

A few of us vigorously nodded our heads, and she pointed us over to the Peloton Project booths which were arranged by the different fundraising levels. There were nice, short lines, and as we passed by the general registration booth with the woman I'd initially spoken to, I nodded, looked at the booths we were heading to, and looked back to her.

"Oh, you're a Peloton Project member?"

"Yes, I am."

"Oh dear, I'm sorry."

Smile, "No problem." After all, she was volunteering, so it wouldn't have been nice to give her a hard time.

The Lance Armstrong Foundation must have done a personality screening for the volunteers working at the Peloton Project booths because they were all smiles--they oozed excitement, gratitude and unmitigated joy. The rest of the registration was a snap--give them my name and receive loot; t-shirt, jersey, messenger bag, route map, pin, water bottle...all kinds of fun stuff. We did a little more shopping in the "everything Lance and yellow" section of the Expo, I signed up for a drawing for a free trip to Italy (I never win these things, and this time was no exception), but we picked up a brochure listing all of the trips they offer. It will make wonderful reading and dreaming on a cold winter's night in my near future. We browsed the booths and then we left. I'd like to say that we returned the next day to get George Hincapie's autograph, but I'm not much of an autograph hound and it was a heavily traveled road between the hotel and the Palmer Center.

Earlier in the day when we'd been wandering the U of TX, Austin campus, Mom had seen signs for the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum so we made our way back there to take a look. We were both very hungry (it was approaching 2 in the afternoon), so we got directions from the docent at the library to a cafeteria in the building next door. Refortified, we went back and toured the library. It was a fascinating look at a president who, heretofore, had been a mere blip on the presidential list as far as I was concerned. I'd never realized all he did for education and the standard of American living--really amazing. If you'd like to know more, visit The LBJ Library and Museum homepage.

After we'd seen all three floors of displays and seen a short film about President Johnson's life, it was getting fairly late in the afternoon.

It was time to get ready for dinner and the concert. I called both the restaurants I'd looked up back in Chicago before the trip, and neither one of them was open any more. Ugh. We went downstairs to the hotel's computer kiosk for Austin attractions/restaurants/etc. We looked up steak places, and found one on 6th--a few blocks south of the concert hall. It was a very nice restaurant with valet parking which was lucky because 6th seemed to be the main strip for restaurants and night life.

We dined very well. We ordered a bottle of Fall Creek Granite Reserve cabernet sauvignon (from Fall Creek Vineyards). I had a 10 oz. prime rib with steamed vegetables and a Caesar salad with creme brule for dessert (life is good). Mom had a 10 oz. ribeye with the same sides and a chocolate cake of some sort for dessert. It was just the kind of civilized feast we (or at least, I) needed, and it really set the mood for the concert.

We made it to the theater with just enough time to find our seats before the concert started. The first piece played was Symphony No. 2 "Island of Innocence" written by Kevin Puts, and Kevin was there to tell us about it's creation and his intent. He was initially commissioned by the Cincinnati Orchestra to write a piece and he admitted to procrastinating until a few months before it was due. Those few months happened to coincide with the 9/11 World Trade Center catastrophe. He began writing a two part piece which was to connote the "before the tragedy" and "after the tragedy" split. He decided that he couldn't leave the audience in such a bad place, so he tacked on a third movement to bring the listener into the "new" world.

Personally, I enjoyed the first movement, the second movement was a bit overcooked for my tastes. He went the discordant route to create the feeling of tension and discomfort. In my opinion, using discordance is a little like hitting the audience over the head with a sledgehammer. It's just my opinion that an audience which can appreciate classical music will pick up on subtleties, so it's not necessary to go so over the top. In all fairness, I'm not a fan of discordance anyway, so this might have affected my perception, too. I'm afraid the third movement was jaded by my opinion of the second.

The next piece played was Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488, and I enjoyed it far more. After the intermission, they played a Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 and G Major, Op. 88 which I also enjoyed. Normally I can take or leave Dvorak because his compositions are sometimes a little too grating on my delicate (ahem) ears, but I liked this one. More about the Austin Symphony Orchestra is here: Austin Symphony Orchestra.

Mom and I were both surprised that there was quite a lot of traffic around the campus when the concert was over. We knew there was going to be a game the next day, but we only found out after the trip that it was also Parent's Weekend. The joint was jumpin'.

Thanks for reading!

No comments: