Austin City Limits
Finally, after 18 months of pestering, I got the tickets booked to Austin, Texas; and a visit to our mother ship. Ostensibly to indoctrinate myself with some 'new hire training', and learning techniques and approaches of the chaps in ADC, I was also more than happy to piggy back the trip with calling in at the IDSA conference in Miami, and spending some serious time in and around Austin ... timed perfectly for the Austin City Limits (ACL) music festival; one of the largest musical gatherings in the USA (it's almost like I planned this trip...!).
At the classic Continental club, with local Country fixture, Dale Watson.
Gorgeous skies at ACL - at least on the first night. Highlights were the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, though I also caught Thievery Corporation and Kings of Leon.
There can only be so many sunset photos. Or so I thought.
ACL bracelet, plus the ticket to the fantastic secret Broken Social Scene after-show party.
Paul B rockin' the 'Bans.
See of digitalia.
Renovated power station was a fan-tas-tic venue for an after-show.
Broken Social Scene in Austin.
Wall of staples are a testament to the amazing amount of live music on offer here.
Now, before I joined Dell, I had barely spent 24 hours in Texas, crossing through from Louisiana, en-route to El Paso and Meso-America. On that occasion, I had woken up on my Grayhound ordeal merely to see tumble weeds floating through a very one-and-a-half-horse-town, and again at the charming border crossing. I therefore had very few positive preconceptions, building my mental image from a bevy of cowboy films, maps of voting behaviour, and the ultimate social barometer; Homer Simpson.
It has been somewhat surprising, therefore, to hear positive story after positive story about the place, both from people that grew up there, and from people moving in, or merely visiting. Much like my university town of Glasgow, or indeed Taiwan, this was a well-kept secret that I was more than happy to hear about.
Austin is a strange town. Somehow reconciling the diametrically (trimetrically?) opposed facets of A. Triathletes B. Hippies and C. Partying, often in the same person, it offered a plethora of activities that I was delighted to partake in. And partake I did, squeezing it between bouts in the office, and spending time with colleagues that I have got to know pretty well while they have visited Taiwan.
The view from near my hotel, up to the State Capitol.
And yet, at the same time there is a large 'alternative' vibe, manifesting itself with these FABULOUS Airstream caravans, dishing out cup cakes, burritos and coffee. Adorable.
The first activity, mountain biking, I have already eulogised about in my post here. To counterbalance the first, the second activity must be the food. And eat I did. Texmex is a food that I have eaten plenty before - or so I thought. The care taken in preparing the dishes, and the obvious affection that people displayed was infectious. The food was a delight, tingling the taste buds and delighting with a subtle balance of fresh ingredients, spices and contrasting textures. I had several memorable meals, and was so enthusiastic that during my time there I kept a record of where I was visiting on a map, that I must present below. Highlights for me: the 'charcoal' salsa at the Iguana Grill, Mole at Manuel's, and something that sounds like Rilletos at Chuy's. Foolishly, I did miss out on the breakfast tacos. Next time.
View Austin in a larger map
The other staple of the Texan weekend diet is the barbecue. A delicious, cholesterol-packed bolus dose of meat and potato salad is great the first few times, but I have to say I was turning my nose up at it by the end. In fact, for the first week after I got back, I could hardly look at a chunk of meat in the same way. The sheer amount of flesh that is consumed in this country is absurd, and it really is part of the psyche. Or a major cause of - I am not sure. Delicious and crazy - but in short-lived doses please.
End-of-term assessment; a resounding positive. It was an unmissable two weeks of professional development, mixed in with a much deeper understanding of the ingredients that came to make up Dell. Texas is undoubtedly a very different culture from that of the coasts, and I would hazard a guess that Austin is different once again from the surrounding state. Certainly, it is a place I would like to return to and learn a little more about - but next time starting the day with a proper Breakfast Burrito!