From the Road... with Alfie: Austin Adventure

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I felt 18 again the moment I arrived at my parents' house in Austin, Texas. While I raided the fridge, which only housed a fruit cake and a mysterious Christmas log, my parents grilled me about why I needed to borrow the car.

"I'm going to a party," I said. "And yes there will be alcohol present, and possibly a few floosies."

The party was hosted by a coffee bar named Spider House, a local Mecca for hipsters, artists and musicians like my best friend Travis. In a town filled to the brim with coffee houses, Spider House is the cat's meow. On the same block, the owners of Spider House also operate an environmentally friendly laundry mat, Ecowash, an eccentric video store called I Luv Video and an art gallery/music venue (all businesses in the city double as music venues). 

This year's employee party was held in the unfinished gallery, The United States Art Authority. Travis originally reserved his +1 invitation for his girlfriend, but as he was in the process of trading her in for a mysterious online girlfriend, I was Travis's date for the night. Wall-sized art pieces divided the space into a room big enough to be a roller derby arena and a bar with Lone Star on tap. (Yes Lone Star is a shitty beer, but it's cheap, it tastes at least as good as Bud Light, and it's billed as the national beer of Texas). A table was also set up with piles of fajita-beef strips, tortillas and several different severities of salsa. I finally felt at home. 

It was an unwashed kind of art party: tangled hair, dark rimmed glasses, guys in tight pants, girls in black tights, and beards. Not quite hippie but at least as disheveled as an early ’90s grunge rock show. Fitting most people's impression of Texas, there were plenty of cowboy hats, boots and belt buckles, but these accessories were more products of Rock-a-billy than rodeos. There was also a fair share of people who were doing their part to "Keep Austin Weird." Two separate people claimed their name was Pony. 

Instead of a band, partygoers took turns on a band version of karaoke, complete with drum pads, a plastic guitar and a microphone. The most memorable performance was a drunk slurring through the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage," but this recital paled in comparison to Travis' and my reinvention of "Superfreak" at last year's party (which can be rented at I Luv Video). 

The next day I used Christmas shopping as an excuse to partake in a proud

Austin tradition: vintage shopping. I hit The Drag, which is the main vein of trendy shops and eateries across from the University of Texas. Filled with Texas cheer, I bought a belt buckle and a threadbare Lone Star Beer shirt. In need of a gift for my mom, I hit the Renaissance market. This alcove in the strip of traditional businesses features artisans peddling blown-glass pipes, hammered silver rings, leather goods, crocheted accessories and jewelry made from every kind of semi-precious stone.

That night I met some old friends to walk The Trail of Lights. Each year the city's central park, Zilker, is filled with more lights than a carnival. From a distance the trail looked something like fireworks suspended in a field. Century-old oak trees were wrapped mummy-style in strings of light. Several manger-type scenes were set up featuring cartoon characters from all corners of Americana folklore: monsters from Where the Wild Things Are to what looked like Keebler Elves.

"I don't think I've ever seen the Trail of Lights sober," Travis said as we tried not to spill our plastic party cups on the ballistic children darting around with glow sticks.

For children the trail is magical. For young adults, it's a trip. Travis had the foresight to bring 3D glasses, which blinded us with thousands of tiny color spectrums rocketing out from each light source.

The trail ended at a titanic Christmas tree composed of strings of lights strung to the top of a satellite tower. Children and underage couples paired up to spin themselves dizzy while staring up at the spiral of lights. I had drunk enough punch to make the lights twirl on their own, but I could not say no when a pretty blonde clutched my elbow and asked if I wanted to go for a spin. It's not everyday you get to pretend to be a teen again and twirl yourself into a nauseous delirium.

Follow Alfie on Twitter, Facebook, or at shawnalff.com

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