texas heart of gold
I drifted off to a restless slumber, it wasn't until I heard the bump of screeching tyres at Phoenix that I woke, startled and groggy. Thankfully I didn't need to hop off the plane, I just sat in that tight aircraft seat happy not to move. A 4am start will do that to you. As the 737 lifted again, I lamented the fact that I'd not been able to fish with a mate of mine there, but time and budget determined this trip, and I'd lucked out. I figured maybe next time I'd fish Arizona trout with Ben if time permitted. I drifted of to slumber-land once again, dreaming of fishing in clear water, lapping against my waders; the warm sun warming my back.
I never thought I'd get to Texas. I've always wanted to go, mostly because of my love for country music - real country music mind you! But I was here for another reason, simply to connect with people, that was the drive for the entire trip - simply to connect.
My first stop was San Antonio, greeted with a warm welcome by Mr Sam Newman, a texan gentleman, a mover and a shaker. It was my first taste of the south, I hoped my nerves weren't too obvious, I did, after all, feel very much out of my comfort zone. Sam didn't seem to mind, he's one of those old school gentlemen, great to see they still remain. I was made to feel right at home with Sam and for that I was extremely thankful. From the airport pick up, we headed straight out to a talk at the sweetest library foundation, where I was blessed to meet some really fine folk. The community spirit was what touched me (metaphorically only) that and the fact that sitting next to this beautifully built house was a quaint log cabin in the garden. I have a soft spot for small cabins.
Later that day, in fact in that evening, I sat on a rooftop eating a stellar meal at the Hotel Havana, a meal of four courses all matched with a beer called Shiner. How chefs and booze pair up is always impressive. I gave my talk then finished the night in the company of some fine people, chatting the night away, sharing photos of our loved ones and talking politics, food woes and our love of dogs. But all good things must come to an end, and the evening was called stumps and I hit the hay exhausted, a running theme for this trip. In the morning we drove to Austin, which I imagined would be pretty, a drive between two cities is normally an adventure with rural landscape and pretty little towns.
My imagination was well off. The drive was non-stop mini malls and shopping strips with every imaginable bad thing about our western culture, chain takeaway food outlets, big brand outlets, fuel stops. It was relentless. As an American would say, it 'LITERALLY' did not end. I wondered as I sat with the window down, the hot Texan air in my beard, how did we get to this? Would I have any impact in an embedded culture such as this?
My cynical mind was relieved, in fact I was almost in tears when I visited a 5 acre property in down town Austin called Springdale farm, where a whole bunch of food grows to feed the people. Downtown? Can you imagine that! It's urban farming, and I'm totally in love with the concept. It's the answer I like to give people when they ask me "what can I do? I live in an apartment, I have no space to grow".
I'd love to see more of this commercial urban farming exist in Australia, but in places like Melbourne the reality is that land is at a premium, and crown land is used for recreation not food production. Maybe some philanthropic organisation might start some urban growing project. I just need to find someone wealthy and enlightened, a hard ask I assume.
In Austin I wanted to see Dale Watson, one of my favourite Austin stars. But he played gigs on nights either side of my visit, and I had a talk to give and a pig to eat. I did that night's talk at a place called Reclaimed Space, the home of some visionary guys who build small houses from reclaimed timber. Such great little living spaces. Dream eco-driven cabins, hello! They guys that hosted the event cooked an entire pig, raised by a farmer they knew, slow cooked over coals for almost an entire day. We fed on pork tacos and I told my story. I left tired but re-charged. I guess thats what's been happening along the way. A busy schedule, meeting a lot of people, sleeping in other people's beds, waking early, hanging at airports. But what I'm finding of great value is the connection I'm making with people. Even thought the strip of shops on the Texas interstate frustrated me, I'm so very much proud of the American people making change. They are true pioneers.