And now some lighthearted reading: An essay I wrote for “Austin Monthly”

Posted on December 21, 2007 by Sara Hickman. | 3 Comments

Little Les Amis on 24th was my first taste of Austin. I was visiting from a flat Texas city to perform at the historic Cactus Cafe, but before the show I enjoyed dinner with friends at this funky, open air French cafe. (There was even a real armadillo under the patio. I called him, “Sug” and he ate some of my pommes frittes.) Regardless, I remember everyone asking why I didn’t live in Austin. They said I would fit right in with my artsy clothes and poetic tendencies. So, I returned back to the Big Flat City, sold my humble abode and headed south, permanently, almost 13 years ago to this day.

I’ve learned a plethora of things since I’ve moved to Austin. I’ve learned that my heart can actually ache for home when I’m out on the road. I’ve learned people will return your wallet if you lose it. I’ve learned what “H.E.B.” stands for.

So, here’s a list I’ve compiled to help anyone new to Austin understand what’s worth fighting for, talking about, standing up on behalf of, speaking out about and singing over, why signing petitions is important, how lighting candles can bring people together, and how to walk the walk while you herald the talk. Think of this as a top ten list…only I just couldn’t stop at ten.

(Feel free to cut this out and add on)


Visit the Greenbelt, although be aware it can have intense cotton mouth or it can be swollen with raging waters.
Make sure you hike it when it is neither.
(Unless you’re one of those uber muscular folks with the rock riding bikes or a kayak.)

Where else but Austin can you have a raccoon use your doggie door to come in for a snack?

Cheap thrills: For $6, you can canoe on Town Lake, where you can reach into the water, catch the turtles, and take them for a ride.
WARNING: they will pee on you. Also, the swans will glide right over, almost resting their delicate heads in your hands.

For best man-made internal caves to crawl around in with your kids: go to the Austin Nature Center or Book People (second floor).

Our ZIlker Park “Trail of Lights” is a gorgeous wonderland, right across from the infamous Zilker Christmas tree, both which go up only in December.
Zilker Park also has a miniature train running right through it, but it seems to be hibernating during the coldest time of the year.
So check that out in the spring. It is also inexpensive and relaxing!

I hear there is a place where people can get naked. It is called Hippie Hollow. You will never see me there, but it might be just the thing for you.


Austin is worldly. You have Momoko on 24th for Japanese Bubble tea with sushi (they also have cool hand made stationary, funny cuddly toys and tiny tee-shirts). There’s Veggie Heaven for veggie Thai food; Pho for Vietnamese; Taco Express for Maria’s one of a kind Chimichuri salsa complete with a giant 20 foot tall statue of her likeness (dressed according to her mood); French, Italian, Ethiopian, Soul Food…you name it. We’re food central. Especially with Whole Foods and Central Market providing the makings for your own homemade schmorgasbords.

Taco Deli (hidden back on Spyglass). A delicious, creative Tex-Mex + All Good Looking Men All the Time= Mmm good! In my book, they make the best
guacamole jalapeno salsa. Unbelievably creamy and spicy.

Flipnotics: UPSTAIRS: start off your day with the best coffee in town
DOWNSTAIRS: pick out a one of a kind outfit for lunch, then march back upstairs for quiche and salad, march back downstairs for evening attire,
return to the top for live music. All for under $75. What a deal!

I learned that a true donut store will be open twenty-four hours. We call it Ken’s Rock-n-Roll donuts. Go there immediately. Rick Perry will pick up your tab.

Did you know that if you have three sips of a margarita from Baby Acupulco
you can not pitch a softball game afterwards? (see following category for more

I’ ve learned my neighborhood has a lot of moms who bake casseroles or homemade cookies in honor of newborns, birthdays, even divorce.
There are also lots of kids with lemonade stands. I’m a big fan of Little Jimmy Hightower, who down the street, come rain or shine, has a stand for
Justice Juice: his concoction consists of two parts satire to every four parts truth. Very tasty! They also carry it in the Austin Chronicle. Get some today!


If you want to listen to sports, you have Jeff Ward and Ed Clements on KLBJ/AM. I don’t even like sports radio,
but these two have me actually tuning in to find out why NASCAR men can behave like Neanderthals
stuck in a cerebral tar pit. Their banter is hilarious. I would like to start an
I LOVE JEFF & ED fan club, just for the ladies. I think the two would approve.
Especially Ed.

Speaking of someone who should stay away from any NASCAR event, Leslie can stand on a corner in a thong, high heels
and a glittery top while talking with a group of business men in ties about politics. If you don’t know of whom I speak, you
are probably imagining a lovely girl who has escaped the grips of Hooters. No. I am talking about a man. A local lo-cal skinny man.
Anyway, I find it puzzling and charming at the same time. It doesn’t really have to do with sports, but it was a nice segueway. Plus,
it will prepare you for the next time you are stuck in rush hour traffic at the corner of 11th and Congress.

When you go to a UT game, you better be utilizing burnt orange underwear, eye shadow, breath mints, and cow bells. There is no fooling
around. You are BURNT ORANGE, my friend, or you better be sitting on the far side. Like in Jersey. I stopped in at the official UT Salon on my way
into my first game (UT vs. New Mexico State, 2003—no, you shut up!) and had my hair dyed a lovely shade of UT (permanent, of course!) just so
I’d fit in and feel part of the gang in those extra large, comfy stadium stands. (This is where the breath mints come in to play.)

Did I mention I can’t pitch a softball game after a margarita? But I did play on the Flames one year, and you can, too! The city has lots of intramural
softball and soccer teams. Austin cares about your health!

There are people in this town who have tennis racquets pierced into their ear lobes. Huge netted dream catcher like things. I never saw these before
I moved to Austin. I don’t have anything against them, but I have to control my urge to yell, “ Deuce!” whenever I see them. I worry about these guys’
lobes when they hit 80. Will their lobes need slings?


People care about each other in Austin—from Hands on Housing to Any Baby Can, folks get out in the community and try
to make life better for one another. And we grieve, too. Once a year you can come to the House the Homeless Sunrise Service on Town Lake
(November 18, sunrise) where we read the names of those who have passed away on the street.

I’ve protested against the death penalty and spoken out against the war.
Both by candlelight. Both with large groups of people swaying, singing and praying. My children were always with me, and I never felt afraid.
I felt like I had the right to voice my concern and I wasn’t treated like an idiot. Even while in front of the governor’s mansion. I love that about Austin.
People can speak out about racism, homelessness, joblessness, Barton Springs, developers… You name it. Sometimes action is slow, or a result is not
what I would prefer it to be, but it feels like democracy in action. There’s something to be said about the freedoms we still have in this country
and how the people of this city will not sit idly by and let freedom be chewed up and spat into the sewer.

If you want to understand local flavor, read John Kelso or watch Jim Swift.
I have the feeling they actually founded Austin because they always know
that the “small “ stories are the biggest.

I’ve learned they are shutting down the South Mary post office. Yvonne , Dieter and Jamie will be moved to the Congress location.
Let me just say: please visit these folks before they move. Walking into this post office is like visiting
a small hometown memory. And it is a mico-cosmic overview of Austin’s most interesting characters.

Did you know this fact: Austin has more readers than any other city in the United States. I learned that from Half Price Books
while drinking some of their free tea. I go there at least once a week with my seven year old for tea and reading. Or, as she might say, ”Read and teaing.”

For kids, Austin is a slice of heaven. Did you know we have over 62, 031 moms groups, 2700 lactation consultants, and more childrens musicians
than any where else in the world? Even the bats can’t compete in number! We have Carl Anderson, the best Santa, and the Austin Children’s Museum;
a quaint zoo (check out the tigers during feeding at 10 a.m. any day! If you like watching someone really enjoy their food, go tomorrow morning), great public
and private schools, stay-at-home dads, more parks than sticks, and if you stand in the middle of the star in our state’s capital and sing “My Favorite Things”
with twenty four children, no one complains! They find it charming. Even when legislation is in session. Which isn’t very often, so go! Sing! Sing LOUD.


I like a town where everyone knows the musicians by their first names:
Eliza, Jimmie, Joe, Ray, Charlie, Shawn, Bob, Ruthie, Terri, Matt (he’s an electrician, too)… It’s so homey, homey!

Austin City Limits. I learned that those stars aren’t real, but who’s really looking at the stars in the sky? And the ACL Fest is
the best festival in the U.S., hands down. Get your tickets now because it’s just going to get crazier. Or you can get in with
me and my possee next year. We’ll form a choir!

Todd Wolfson has taken every local (and international) musician’s photograph at least once over the last twenty years. And he still decided to stay.

What other city has local musicians singing about cars, mobile homes, parks,
and perched precariously on a gazebo? Austin uses it’s musical resources
locally and nationally.

Say…I didn’t even get a chance to talk about our film makers, authors, illustrators, SXSW, Amy’s Ice Cream, Waterloo, Uncommon Objects,
our great public and private schools, the diversity of religions and thought…or my highest bowling score. Poop. Next time.

Well, you know, since it closed, I’ve heard people talk about Les Amis as if they’ve just paid the bill. I’ve also enjoyed the roar of an
Armadillo World Headquarters crowd from the stage, even though I never had the opportunity to be on it. My friend, Pauline, lives over by Matthews Elementary
and tells how she used to stand on the hill of an empty field and holler with friends to her momma from across the tracks. Legend has it LBJ and Ann Richards both
went to my church, First United Methodist, across from the capital. To sum it up , these are the things I love about Austin: the passion for history and storytelling,
the love for community, and the drive to preserve our authenticity and small town feel.

3 responses to “And now some lighthearted reading: An essay I wrote for “Austin Monthly””

  1. Bruce Logan says:

    Hi Sara,
    I played the Armadillo Bazaar the night before you with Albert and Gage and left my music stand behind. If you have any info regarding it’s wherabouts I would greatly appreciate it.
    Thank You’
    Bruce Logan
    440-4774 hm.
    567-7932 mbl.

  2. andy-dog says:

    Ok, I concede….Dallas sucks in comparison to Austin. You actually missed the best of Austin (60, 70’s and 80’s)…it has got too big and too crowded, just like everwhere else in TX that used to be so laid-back and cool. I like Yankees and Californians, but sometimes I wish they would have stayed put and let me come visit them.
    Great article; you could get that published in the American Way magazine and people could read it on the airplanes!

    We still miss having you live in E. Dallas, but fortunately we still manage some good visits now and then, eh?


  3. Shawna says:

    Reading this made me so homesick. I knew Jeff Ward when I went to UT back in the 80’s. He was the kicker on the football team. I lived by and my 2 oldest kids went to Matthew’s Elementary—I loved the neighborhood and the school. I miss the international dinner every year and having star gazing parties with neighbors. I miss having milkshakes at Nau’s pharmacy. I miss Zilker park–we talk about the tree every Christmas and how much we wish we could spin underneath it. I’ve eaten at Les Amis. I miss listening to music at the Cactus Cafe, which is the first place I saw Sara. I could go on and on, but my daughter is hungry and I must fix breakfast. Thank you for the walk down memory lane.

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