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I took two days in New York City before my next business trip to Dallas, Austin, and Houston. Go to Bread on Spring Street, order their pesto.  Do not try to find love in Williamsburg on a Tuesday night, though.

Austin. I love Austin. I love that my job sends me to Austin. Austin!

I arrived in the city on Friday afternoon and immediately pulled in to the Whole Foods HQ. I mean, I literally exit 35 at 12th Street and drive down Congress, take a right on 6th, and run up the escalator. This is my routine:
1. Nut bar. Sample at least two kinds of nuts, usually something in cinnamon, usually something in tamari or teriyaki.
2. Go outside to see if they’re barbecuing chicken or hatch chilies.
3. Sample at the Customer Service desk—usually chips.
4. Veer to the left of the produce section to check for guac or pico displays, usually find assorted cut fruit OR guac and chips.
5. Seafood section—pray for salmon or crab cake samples.
6. Soup bar. Make pretend I’ve never had the butternut squash and crab bisque to get sample cup from staff, give emphatic “Mmm!” to no one in particular. Sample another for the hell of it.
7. Sip soup in the privacy of the milk and dairy aisle.
8. (Weekends: sample wines.)
9. Check the middle of the store to see if they’re cooking up frozen foods.
10. Barbecue station—sample sausage.
11. Proceed to the bread bowls at the bakery.
12. Drift toward the desserts and stare at the tres leches and carrot cake boxes. Hope for a cake or pie sample, but settle for brownie bites.
13. Hot foods bar: sample two items, usually a rice or vegetable thing that’s over-seasoned with red pepper.
14. Fill up plate at hot foods bar OR order hot flatbread sandwich OR pick up sushi.
15. Proceed to check-out and gush to the cashier about how much I love WF.

I then drove “around,” just to see if any restaurants or bars are different; inevitably, several were. But what had changed the most was the skyline. The warehouse district and 2nd street district were being built up—condos everywhere! I checked in to the Hyatt, where my best friend worked before moving to DC, and changed into workout clothes for the single most enjoyable part of every trip to Austin: a run or walk around the Town Lake Trail.

I met up with a guy friend for dinner at 219 West, a “tapas” restaurant that organizes its menu by kinds of drinks. For example, the sliders on the wine menu come with prosciutto, mozz, tomato, and basil, and the sliders on the julep menu are blackened with blue cheese and red pepper. Everything is consistently slightly better than mediocre, but the 4th Street patio location, the price, and the young, hip crowd keep me coming back. That, and I can’t make this friend go to prissy places with me. It would just be mean. This was an especially memorable night. My friend and I were eating on the patio, and the wind was just ferocious. What we noticed, though, was that it kept hitting us differently. Then we saw a plastic bag go up in the air and catch a funnel airflow. It poured suddenly and stopped equally abruptly. As you may know, Austin has received record rainfall this year. I was catching it early on, and residents were still anxious.

We met up with more friends and wandered to 6th Street, where we could find a “party in a box” and cheap rails. My best friend called—she was on a layover in Houston and could drive in, that night. So there we were, at Lucky Lounge next to Red Fez, where I worked, me madly looking for any of the usual Austin celebrities (Luke, Owen, Wes, Lance, Matthew), the whole group (almost) back together again, just like always.

The second biggest surprise of the night: the Foundation, which I fondly call the “scramble bar,” was almost empty. Its time has come. But the bouncer remembered me!

When I arrived by cab at the Hyatt, I walked in to a hospitality display I still can’t even imagine what I did to deserve: Grey Goose bottle service with several different cheesecakes. What can I say? I love Hyatt.

I don’t write about work on this, but in this case I pretty much have to. A typed note had been slipped under my door in the night informing guests that a tornado had come down the lake in the night and ripped the metal gate up from the pool area; we were invited to use the pool across the street. I was to get ready for a community service project in which the club would be redirecting creek flow to stop flooding of a park trail.

Torrential downpours. Tornado. Damming a creek.

To give me a little inspiration and energy, I stopped at Taco Shack on North Lamar for a egg, cheese, chorizo, and guac breakfast taco. Despite all of the truffle oil and crème fraiche I claim to love so much, there is nothing more perfect than an Austin breakfast taco.

And then I got lost in my own city! Talk about embarrassing—I was the U.Va. representative who used to live in the city and I was doing laps on Mopac for half an hour. They could see how I could be confused that the Duval exit wasn’t for Duval Road in the campus area, but I still felt like a total idiot. There you go, folks—Duval exit is in north Austin. Anyway, we did a dam good job on the creek, standing in ankle- to knee-deep water for a couple of hours in 50 degree air, shoveling and unloading rocks.

In the afternoon, I took a long drive out to 360 via Bee Caves toward Hill Country. I almost pulled in to go to Lake Travis but thought the better of encroaching on the night’s plans.

A large group of us met up at UCHI. I love Uchi. So much. Chef Tyson Cole is among the best sushi chefs in the country; I recently saw him featured in an in-flight magazine and have seen his name elsewhere. If Lance Armstrong has a private party, it’s at Uchi. Anyway, we went all out, as we always do—so much eel and Ridge zinfandel! We actually ordered multiple Mustang rolls.

Admittedly, one of my friends and I really stood out, too. We were in full ‘80s attire, ready for the annual Rock the Casbah party at the Parish. We rocked like hurricanes.

Austin made me love Tex-Mex, and I devoted Sunday to it. I decided to enjoy a relaxing brunch by myself at El Chile on Manor (pronounced May-ner). The brunches are great, but the homemade bloody and their unique smoky salsa keep me coming back. I worked through most of the afternoon at Mozart’s Coffee Roasters (“Mozart’s”), the setting where I spent much of my four total months of unemployment writing a book, searching for jobs, preparing cover letters, and leaving comments for people on Myspace.com, with an iced tea or a slice of red velvet cheesecake next to me. Their cheesecake is my favorite—better than the Cheesecake Factory and (gasp) Whole Foods. And because I had so much time and so little money, I was in the best shape of my life and also the most knowledgeable I’ve ever been of current events. I hope never to repeat it.

I finished my trip solo at Hula Hut, next door. The salsa is my favorite I’ve ever had—it’s closer to pico and quite spicy, and always bubbling, as though carbonated, on the top. Why? I never remember to ask. I should call. Maybe I don’t really want to know.

I had to make a fast departure in the morning to get to the Houston Airport by 10:30. This meant that I could not go out of the way to find a great breakfast taco—I would just have to stop wherever I could. With Dudley and Bob on full blast, I was in high spirits when I stopped at 7-11. What I got was a cold, chemically-tasting tortilla wrapped around a sausage that didn’t taste like any meat I’ve ever eaten. Desperate times called for desperate measures. Girl has got to eat.

I pulled into the next McDonald’s drive-through (about 30 miles away—there’s not a lot of life between Austin and Houston on 290 East) and got my first sausage McGriddle. It actually freaked me out a little bit. I mean, I kind of like it when maple syrup runs into my sausage when I’m eating breakfast, but bad.  No. Just, no.

It was about that time when I finally lost radio signal. Too bad—juicy show—it was the show after Dale’s bachelor party. That I know Dale makes it that much awesomer.

At the same time as I was driving and thinking about how humorous my bad breakfast sausage experience was, bad stuff was happening at Virginia Tech. And I’ll stop the travelog there.

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I would be more excited if this weren’t taken in a stripmall in Dallas!

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The Hotel Crescent Court. Oooh. Ahhhh.

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This is seriously a tradition. It’s the Czech Stop on 35 between Dallas and Austin, near Waco. The kolaches are SO good!

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My rental car. Hot, I know.

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My real rental car. Not as hot. I love this building, too– it’s on South First Street near where I used to live. Across the street is only the best Maxican bakery in the city.

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View from Mozart’s! I just wish I didn’t equate it with unemployment. (Actually, I don’t. I equate it with writing a book and taking an online driving course.)

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Another favorite spot in Austin: the garden shop with the lawn full of pink flamingos, out by 360 and Bee Caves.

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View from my hotel!

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Austinstyle. Room interior.

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See?! My friend TOTALLY hooked me up!

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Hula Hut by night.

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This is NOT a breakfast taco.

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