First off, before you begin, required listening for this post. OK, good. Now we're all ready.
On tour, we all have cities we're really excited to visit. Shanta's pumped for LA, Tracey's excited to make a return to Denver, Taylor will be home in Chicago and Evelyn was super stoked for Miami.
I was ready for Austin. I knew it was gonna get me. A place I spent a formative summer and visited several times as a tween, I had not returned since grad school auditions in 2002.
This was only my second trip to Texas since my father died 5 years ago. A man born in Texas who always planned to die in Texas, he got his wish, leaving behind unsolved family mysteries and a daughter destined to take up his mantle.
My dad loved to take drives. He lived a good part of his Texas life in Austin and its surrounding hill country, "God's Country," he used to call it.
In my elementary school years, we'd pack up, jump in his black Mustang convertible (such a bachelor) and leave Houston to travel down SH290 toward Austin and beyond. Memories from those road trips are touchstones in times of my heaviest grief and sadness, when the hole he left behind threatens to absorb my heart.
He taught me how to count mileage on those drives - to determine how many miles between towns and how soon we'd arrive based on how fast the car was going. He bought me Judy Blume books that I would devour during night drives. I specifically remember reading Tiger Eyes in 5th grade on a trip that took us from Houston to Austin and up north to Brownwood where Clifford Hallmark, the elder resided. One time he watched me reading and asked if I saw pictures in my head, if I created the world of the book with my imagination. He beamed with pride when I said, yes, in fact, I did. We listened to music - I gave him a Steve Winwood cassette once for his birthday and he'd play it, driving, singing and sometimes dancing, making me giggle, feeling loved and so very happy to be in his company. He'd always stop and pick up hot sausage in Elgin and, in Austin, we'd stay downtown at the Embassy Suites. He'd let me ride up and down the glass elevators for hours fascinated with my fascination.
It was fitting that I began my week in Texas with a long drive. From Houston to Austin, I took the majority of our crew last Sunday night. On Monday, I returned our oversized SUV for a more reasonable rental car and as I hit the entrance ramp to merge on to Texas highway, I'd never so badly missed nor felt closer to my Pops. A wave of grief came mixed with an odd parcel of joy and I was relieved to be by myself. It was a moment, an extremely private one, that I knew would come at some point and in some way. It made perfect sense when it did.
I fell right in place in Austin. I wore my boots and jeans nearly everyday. My tee-shirt collection got a good work out And I spoke to all the locals like I was one of them. I was never nervous about where I was going or anxious about looking lost. I instinctively knew the rhythm and energy of this place - because it is MY rhythm and energy.
I have a lot of homes, but Texas is the one of my blood. It is the place that I know I can come to when I feel lost. I'm always here. Through my father, my mother, and the fathers and mothers before them, I can always find myself in Texas. Once again I did. And I liked what I saw.
Oh dear, Austin - you gateway to God's County* you proverbial blueberry in the tomato soup**, you birthplace of handlebar mustachios for the new millennium.***
*as deemed by Pops C. Hallmark
**as deemed by Rick Perry
***as deemed by me (the 1st dude I saw cross 6th street was sporting the handlebar. I do not lie)
Austin also marked our third week on tour - a third of the way through our tour. Marie left us in Miami last week so this was also the first time we were all together, just the core group, the road warriors. The inside jokes are happening (GROUP TEXT!) and the ribbing has begun as we pick up on one another's catch phrases and distinct personalities. The bonding truly started in Miami but Austin was its cement.
We played a one night only performance at the historic Stateside Theatre - our largest house and most enthusiastic audience yet. It was a terrific experience top to tail. Austin was good to us. What a time we had. I'm already nostalgic.