The Texas state motto is “Friendship,” as advertised on their highways and sidewalks. Strangers smiled and said hello as they passed. We could hear music coming from every restaurant along South Congress.
We pulled into the dusty fair grounds of the Austin Country Flea Market as the vendors were still setting up. Mostly Mexican, their wares offered a wide range: window-tinting services and car grills, pet birds and bunnies, fruits, cowboy boots in every size, shape and color, a fortune-telling lady, a barbershop, lucha libre masks from Guanajuato, Mexican pottery, toys, piñatas, and every manor of tools. One of the stalls selling tools had a table laden with machete-like knives, displayed in a pile and uncovered. Seemed like a dangerous proposition, somewhat at odds with the sign at the entrance forbidding guns.
We navigated a residential neighborhood to find the Cathedral of Junk. The backyard was empty of people, but very full—the Cathedral is built of computer parts, mannequin heads, street signs, bottles, CDs, surfboards, bicycle wheels, metal. We toured the grounds with Vince, the junk king, and two neighborhood kids, Jajuan and Oscar, who pointed out their favorite spots. Apparently six months earlier was the time to see it in its former glory, twice the size, before the City forced Vince to cut it in half in accordance with zoning laws.
Vince used the word Bubbaland to describe his neighborhood. Having lived in Berkeley he’s known his fair share of weirdos, but he dislikes the common city motto, “Keep Austin Weird.” As opposed to more gentrified neighborhoods, Bubbaland is where he feels most comfortable. South of SoCo (South Congress), Bubbaland or LoCo (lower Congress), is where all the Bubbas live, the O.S. (original slackers), the good ol’ boys who smoke weed, the guys who were always in Austin, there before the hippies and yuppies, there until the City finally squeezes them out too.
At two in the morning, with the smell of Texas in the air (that unquenchable smell of burning), and Bulleit bourbon swirling around in our stomachs, donuts were proposed and readily accepted. Our host pulled a quick U-turn and drove us to the outpost, Mrs. Johnson’s Bakery, open at that hour for whatever reason, the place to be, though it seemed only we knew it. Conveyor belts chugged along, producing row after row of perfect donuts, the hottest and freshest I’ve ever had. Eating them, standing in an abandoned-looking house-cum-bakery, we felt very far from it all–maybe it’s the effect of driving somewhere, through two days and nights, that hammers home just how far away you’ve gotten, and though we recognized it, we were where we wanted to be.
Austin, TX, 3 – 6 December 2010
Great photos, and what an amazing description of Austin. I am so lucky I got to see it as well, but am sad that I too missed the Cathedral of Junk at its highest point.