There is something really cool happening right now in Austin.
It doesn't involve a festival or music or the opening of a new restaurant or even a new TV show or movie that's being filmed here.
It involves a handful of trees and more birds than can be accurately counted.
Each year, approximately 100,000 purple martins make a temporary home of several trees outside of Highland Mall before continuing on their southward journey to South America for the winter. Within a week of learning about this, I had planted myself in the surprisingly less-hot-than-you'd-think parking lot to watch the nightly show no less than four times: once on a date (tip: this makes for a pretty good date, just sayin'), twice with my kids, and once with a friend. Obviously, I am a bit mesmerized by it.
La Bandita—my friend since we were twelve-years-old and the person I generally call to say "There's this thing, let's go!" (that practice goes both ways)—joined me on one of those visits, but first we stopped off at nearby drink.well. for some sustenance.
A small, popular, and sometimes very crowded pub on North Loop, drink.well. has a reputation for serving quality food and drinks. We opted for a classic margarita on the rocks and from the "Pant(r)y Dropper" section of their menu, the Air Mail, which features rhum agricole mixed with wildflower honey, lime, and sparkling wine (tasty, and after a couple of them I can see how panties might be likely to drop in certain scenarios).
An order of the "Devils on Horseback," bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese and almonds, was gobbled up almost instantaneously. drink.well.'s burger, which has been touted as one of the best in town, is made from Akaushi beef and is incredibly tender. Simply seasoned and adorned, the beef was more than up to speaking for itself. The house-cut potato chips with smoked onion and herb dip were a great side. We also tried their fish sticks, made from panko & cornmeal crusted cod and a far cry from the Mrs. Paul's frozen variety. The creole mustard remoulade and blue cheese dipping sauces were a nice compliment.
As we nibbled on all of these items, the bar started filling up, which meant that groups of people hovered nearby around the small, standing bar tables while waiting for a table with actual chairs to clear. Innocently enough, a man with a pair of white jeans stood nearby, which caused La Bandita to begin a dissection of the cons of men wearing white jeans (note to straight men: apparently some women have strong feelings against them). I had to confess that my perception of the phenomenon was irreversibly clouded by an event that had occurred when I was in college, and that I was incapable of passing any sort of aesthetic judgement because of the vivid image of what happened.
I had this boyfriend in college who was several years older than me, he finished up his degree and was heading off to graduate school, having narrowed his options down to two different masters programs. Shortly before flying off to a large city in the north for an interview at one of these schools, he went on a very expensive shopping trip for interview appropriate clothes (very, very expensive considering that at the time we sometimes lived off of toast for a week or two at a time). He chose some rather stylish Italian boots, a pair of crisp white jeans, and a very tasteful button-down shirt. He got on the plane, flew up to that northern city, had the interview, and all went great. Like, lights flashing his name on a marquee kind of great. Then as he stood to shake hands and thank the interviewers for their time, his brand new white pants snagged his also brand new penis piercing, which had not completely healed yet, and tugged it... just... enough. What came next was a gusher of bright red blood creeping across the crotch of his crisp, white jeans just as he was shaking hands with the people who would determine the fate of his future career and life.
This is a true story, and it ranks up there pretty high on the list of most embarrassing stories I've ever heard. In the end, he of course had to explain why his pants were filling with blood, and despite the fact it was the early 90's and penis piercings were almost as popular as tattoos, I can only imagine what was going through their heads. He landed a spot at the school despite the awkward event (or because of it? We'll never know...) but in the end opted to go to the other one. Considering the two of us were one rung below open warfare for most of our dysfunctional and surprisingly long relationship, I got nothing but humor out of the story (and no, I feel no guilt for sharing it, it's not really a secret but if we want to go there it can be considered retribution for "The Burger King Incident," which is a whole other story). Unsurprisingly, white jeans forever became marred in my head by the image of a bloodied crotch.
This tale lead to a discussion of the various types of penis piercings and their names, which neither of us could remember very well, complete with what I'm sure were amusing hand gestures. Finally, Google was sought, photos of various piercing types were shared across the table via the phone screen... and right about then, our housemade twinkies arrived. La Bandita set her phone down on the table, distracted by the idea of housemade twinkies, and began questioning the server about them. It wasn't until after he wandered off that we noticed that right next to the twinkie plate and in clear sight of the server was a prominently displayed, close-up photo of the head of a penis.
These are the kinds of situations we find ourselves in, far too often, but if the server noticed, he played it pretty cool.
Still, we were waylaid with laughter, and shortly afterwards it was time to head over to the mall to watch the birds.
So, put that story out of your head if you can, because it's time for a whole mood shift.
The birds. They are hypnotic. And if you happen to be like me with an equal love for both the science of nature and the ephemeral beauty of it, it's a double bonus.
Unlike the bat colony under the Ann Richards bridge (formerly the Congress Avenue bridge)—which I do love and have viewed many times over—where the bats emerge and then leave to go hunt insects, this is a sustained show over about an hour with a definite plot line containing clear exposition (when you sit and discuss the what, where, how, why of the event while birds slowly appear in the sky), a narrative hook (when suddenly what was a handful of birds flying overhead has quadrupled in size almost instantaneously), rising action (as the skies continue to fill and layers upon layers of birds float directly overhead in more patterns that you can watch at any given moment), a climax (when they dramatically descend and begin swirling tornado-like around the trees while the sound of tens of thousands of individual birds merge to mimic the water of a rushing river), falling action (where they continue their landing pattern, compressing like magic into the space of just a few trees), and the resolution (when they have all landed and the sun has set behind them). It is a classic drama, and my daughter Curly expressed it perhaps best when from her perch on the roof of my Jeep she suddenly threw her arms into the air and burst out, "It's beautiful! It's beautiful!"
Go see it.
They'll be there through most of August. From Airport road, take the first right after the mall onto Highland Mall Blvd. Turn into the parking lot across the street from the Wells Fargo building. The show starts about 8:00 PM and ends about an hour later. Bring chairs.
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