Amber, Jeff’s wife, is giving me a lift to the Greyhound bus station. Before that, I’ve arranged to meet Jeff for some breakfast at the brewery.
There’s no-one there when I trundle up. I wander around for a while in search of life, then decide just to wait. I am a little early.
After ten minutes or so Jeff turns up. He’s got doughnuts and kolache. As I don’t consume sugar, I go for the latter. Though until Jeff explains, I have no idea what it is.
Turns out it’s a type of pastry. Introduced to Texas by Czech immigrants in the 19th century. Though since then its spread further afield. The filling is traditionally fruit, but these have something like a sausage inside, completely wrapped in the dough. Not bad at all, though I can’t remember ever seeing then in the Czech Republic. Evidently the fundamentalist wing of the kolache community refuses to accept meat-based versions as the real thing. Sounds much like the beer world.
Amber turns up when we’ve done eating. I plonk my bags in the car and we’re off. It’s quite a way, right over the other side of town. But the drive does provide the opportunity of seeing more of Austin’s urban motorway network up close. It’s just as exciting as on the way in from the airport.
Austin Greyhound station, despite its strange location miles outside of town, is way less crazy than the others I've been to. No shouting, swearing or any other weirdness. Just students, the old and the poor waiting patiently. At least I fit into one of the categories.
The Mexican-looking bloke sitting next to me says something unintelligible in Spanish. I think I caught the word “telephone”. Does he want to borrow my phone to make a call? He’ll be lucky, as I don’t have one.
“Sorry, I don’t understand.”
He replies with more unintelligible Spanish. After a couple of more goings backward and forward he gives up. That was surreal. Eventually I see him getting into a car outside. He must have been waiting for a lift. Probably wanted to ring to see where it was. I’ll never know for sure.
The bus is 45 minutes late, but with three unread Private Eyes, I've plenty to entertain me.
When it does roll in, I’m lucky enough to be one of the first to roll on. Giving me first refusal on the various partially broken seats. What’s that smell? Hard to pin down, but not particularly pleasant. Best just try to ignore it, rather than investigating too deeply. Not sure I want to know what it is.
Probably a good idea to put on my seat belt. Except the thing you slot the buckle into doesn’t seem to be there. Let’s hope we don’t crash. Think I’ll just get stuck into my Private Eye and try to zone everything else out. That should work. Contemplating horrific imminent death isn’t very conducive to relaxation.
There’s not much to see through the window. Just a motorway full of cars with a backdrop of beige. Beige strip malls, beige houses, beige warehouses, beige flats. Must be lovely in the summer when all the vegetation is burnt brown. It looks exactly like the suburbs of Houston. Bland and a tiny bit depressing.
The bus may be broken and smelly, but at least the ticket was dirt cheap, just $7. Which is cheaper than the short taxi ride to my hotel from San Antonio bus station. Which has a more normal city-centre location. It’s a 2-minute trip.
When I enter my room I think the cleaners have accidentally left open a connecting door to an adjoining room. Then I realise that I’m in a suite. Cool.
It’s only 1 PM and the conference doesn’t kick off until 4. As I’m staying downtown, this seems like a good opportunity to take a look at San Antonio. Not sure what I’ll find, but it is a chance. I head out for a bit of a walk.
It’s another warm and sunny day. Having noticed on a map that there’s a shopping centre nearby, I head there.
I’ll admit Rivercenter isn’t a random choice. I want to check out the booze shop. To see if there’s anything worth picking up for the lads. Though after the Hong Kong duty free disaster (I spent way more than intended), Dolores has warned me about buying pricey spirits. Well, spirits in general. And anything pricey in general.
Dolores has been refreshingly frank and open on the topic of my spending. And about the likely repercussions for future transgressions of her guidelines. Being married to a German makes life so much simpler.
The Rivercenter is built around – and even partly above – a weird spur of the San Antonio River. The lowest level, on the banks, consists of a food court and restaurants. Above that are a couple of floors of shops. Sadly, I can’t find a map of the layout anywhere.
After 15 minutes of angry wandering, I still haven’t found the liquor store. Frustrated, I spot a drug store sharing the same name: Time Out. Maybe the staff here will be able to end my little hell. A very helpful spotty youth can, and explains the route.
It’s no wonder I hadn’t found it unaided. Tucked away around a corner right at the top of the complex, it’s not somewhere I was likely to stumble past. Almost as if they were trying to hide it. Maybe to discourage people from drinking. Bastards.
After all the effort getting here, it’s rather a disappointment. Not a great range of stuff. And the interesting stuff they do have (and not available in Ton Overmars around the corner from my house) is too expensive. At least if I want to retain a pair of bollocks. (I do, for the record.) Well, that was a waste of time.
But at least I got to see some of the city. More than I did in Austin.
Back in my room, I have a small stay-awaker while watching some bollocks on TV. It’s my holiday and I’ll do what the hell I want. Passing the time until the conference hospitality kicks off.
I wander down to the conference room. No-one around. This is odd. Maybe no-one has shown up yet? I go back to my room and loaf a little more.
There’s still no-one around when I return to the conference room after 30 minutes of vegetative TV. I finally spot the small notice saying that the hospitality suite is on the 15th floor. But also spot some people with conference lanyards obviously heading for the shuttle bus to Freetail. Where conference registration and dinner take place. I follow them. Feeling about 87% of a complete wally.
The shuttle is a retired school bus. A long-retired school bus. Probably at least 30 years old. If it were human, a nonagenarian. Yet, in some ways, it’s in better nick than the greyhound I took earlier. Not sure what that reveals about the state of the universe. At least this bus doesn’t have that weird smell.
We bump and grind grandly along, then grungle into Freetail. A typical modern production brewery. I was going to say American production brewery, but they all look much the same, everywhere in the world. A big industrial shed with an echoey tap room to the left and a room full of shiny things to the right. We hang right. Where conference registration is.
They don’t have a pre-printed lanyard for me. I have to write my own name on a blank one. What the hell. Vienna .
I’ve never met anyone here before. Yet soon enough I’m chatting away with all sorts of people. At one time I’d have found it terrifying being at a social event with no-one I knew. But I’ve learnt to relax and just not give a shit. Being a beer thing makes it easier. I can yammer on about beer pretty much indefinitely. To which Dolores and the kids can attest.
There’s food and free beer. What else could I possibly need?
There’s one more destination this evening: Alamo Brewing. After some more crunching and grunting of the ancient bus, we lurch into their car park. Flanked by train tracks, it’s an impressive, modern, rust-coloured complex. Merging in well with its industrial surroundings.
We drink awhile in the beer garden. Which is a bit of a beer car park, but no too concretey. There’s more beer and chat and general jolliness. Before the shuttle grumbles us back to the hotel. Where I finally discover the hospitality suite.
A no-money-spent day, other than that one Joe. My grillox will hang free a little longer.
Back in my room, a Glen Grant cuddles me tenderly, stroking my head into slumber.
Freetail Brewing Co.
2000 S Presa St,
Tel: +1 210-625-6000
Alamo Beer Company
Tel: +1 210-872-5589
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