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Poe's North American Tour '99

Episode 11: The One Thing on the Menu

There turned out to be a mere six of us in Texas, and only three of the party were locals, which was quite an insult to Mia's superb organisation. But as it happened, travelling everywhere as a group, we got to gel together very well, in much the same way as the fifteen of us at Boone didn't. I thoroughly enjoyed both meetups, but they were very different with different intentions, and this one was much more personal.

But while Texas turned out to be a busy time, that first night I was on my own, with Mia back in Austin. So I went walkabout.

I'd assumed that the Alamo Travelodge was so-named purely because the Alamo was the local landmark, but no, it was actually situated close by. It didn't look like much, just a short white front of a building, merely a backdrop to the antics of a couple of local drunks. We did visit later, and it still has a presence to it - nothing to the presence I'd felt at Glastonbury Abbey, but a presence nonetheless. Maybe one of the reasons that it's such a memorable place is because it just isn't a memorable building - the heroics transcend physicality.

I ate at a Fuddrucker's, surely a gift for spoonerists everywhere. The food was good, but it was more memorable for the sprots. Did I really say that? You see, my knowledge of basketball is mostly gleaned from Cosmo. Go Wilt Chamberlain. Unless it's rebounds, then go John Stockton. I did know that 1999 was a strange year for basketball though - it was the end of the era that spelt basketball with one B, one U, two L's and an S. And it was San Antonio who were shining in Chicago's absence. This night as on others, while I ate, the town was alive with the Spurs. With every win there seemed to be more dancing in the streets, more 'Go Spurs' posters in windows, more cars driving at funeral pace beeping their horns. Only the horses weren't impressed.

The morning found Mia driving me to Austin to meet up with the rest of the arrivals. I fully understand now that driving is like breathing to Texans, but I'm still very grateful to Mia for all the driving she did on my behalf. Thanks again : )

I'd like to revisit Austin. I saw the bridge over the Colorado that houses a huge colony of Mexican freetail bats, but I didn't get to see them vacate their property at sunset, as they do every night. I didn't get to see the grave of Townes van Zandt. But I did get to see MiaJulie, PirateDan and LadyRobin, which more than made up for it.

All three were roughly as I'd expected. Mia is beautiful and quietly capable and I think I talked her to death on the way to Austin. Dan is big in presence and personality and very alive. And Robin is... well Robin is Robin. MTWall8 and Foggy4 were more unknowns, but the six of us seemed to fit well as a group. I'm not totally sure how, as we were a very diverse group any which way you look at it, but somehow it worked and I think everyone enjoyed everyone else's company.

We ate at a shack that exuded Tex-Mex. This was what I was expecting of Texas without ever being able to visualise it. There was a ditch running through the clump of wooden shacks that together made up the restaurant. There was air conditioning hanging from the trees. I wasn't sure what language the menu was written in, but I only understood a few words. Mia and Dan translated admirably and together we tried to discover the one thing on the menu that I could eat.

Understand this: I'm not a fussy eater. I eat pretty much anything and I spent much of my time in North America sampling whatever local delights were to be found. But the one word I avoid in food is 'spicy' and that cuts out everything served up in Texas - I had the same trouble with Cajun food in north Texas as I did here with Tex-Mex. Mia passed me a dip that was about as bland as she could imagine. It turned out to be a new meaning of the word that I was previously unaware of.

The four of us had become five back in San Antonio where I managed to remember the Alamo well enough to find the hotel, and we were joined by MTWall8. It's MT's voice that's most memorable - a real soft southern drawl that holds so much depth without seeming to. It sums him up well. He's the perfect person to mastermind the replacement Cosmo.

He was on his own - his travelling partner, Seahare, unfortunately couldn't make it due to limited availability of the NASA centrifuge for her to spin frogs in. Yep, that's what I said. I'm still not sure why anyone would want to spin frogs in a centrifuge but each to their own. As they say, try everything once except incest and synchronised swimming...

Probably the best indication that the Texas meetup worked was that every time something went wrong it didn't seem to matter. Mia had a bunch of activities lined up, most of which we didn't get to try. That first day we headed off to swim in a scenic hollow, which turned out to be polluted with bat guano. Mia knew somewhere else, but it turned out to be packed full of students doing sardine impressions. So we headed up to the Oasis to meet TexasGirl who didn't show due to the fragility of e-mail. But we smiled and laughed and talked and carried on regardless. And we enjoyed ourselves.

I've never seen anywhere else quite like the Oasis. It's a restaurant, usually packed, but nobody who knows the place eats the food. They come to sit round the back and drink and look out over the lake from one of a maze of wooden staircased levels. I can't think of another restaurant that really needs signs to help you from getting lost. And from the front it looks like a tacky giftshop.

And back at the Alamo Travelodge Foggy joined us and then we were six, as which we would remain for the rest of the time in San Antonio. Foggy was the quietest of our group, but always seemed to be smiling. And the six of us fitted snugly into his vehicle. I use 'vehicle' here because I have no other word but I've known smaller buses. Some of the size expectations of Texas were coming true after all.

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