One of the lesser stories of our transition the Big XII, is the enhanced experience of traveling to exciting venues; when we can afford the cost of flights or time off from work to zig zag the country that is. This past week’s trip to Austin, our first road trip opportunity in the Big XII, was circled in huge red crayons by any fan who had ambitions to making a road trip or two, and the Texan environment did not disappoint.
Any Mountaineer reading this blog primarily wants to know two things, 1) how was the tailgating 2) how was Sixth Street?
First off let me tell you this; I have tailgated all across the Big East, been to a few Big 10 schools, at SEC venues, for the annual Army/Navy, for Ivy league bouts, and even the for legendary Green Bay Packers. The one thing that I have learned through the years is that every place is different. There is always a dichotomy of whether the locals are into drinking or more into food and entertainment. The scene drastically varies based on the traditions and the physical environment that you tailgate in. For example, our beloved Blue Lot is one massive party, but a lot of this is the byproduct of packing thousands of fans in small parking lot wedged between a hospital and a football stadium. Urban schools are often constrained by fenced in lots, being bussed in from out laying areas, and parking garages.
Texas is no exception to the rule and hence has an environment of its own. Texas has a ton of space to spread out. Many of their tailgates had massive tents with impressive entertainment displays that would make any man drool. One gets the sense that there is a keeping up with the Jones’s mentality around their tailgating. If your neighbor gets a 50 inch, you get three 48’s and a sound system. The neighbor will inevitably respond with building a stage and hiring a band. For those of us not constructing these monstrosities, just hope you are invited. On the food/beer dichotomy, while these people were definitely tossing back some beers, I don’t remember seeing a single stumbling drunk. Food wise . . . we are talking about 20 foot flat bed trailers, where the back 15 feet serve as an open range, and the front end has 5 foot tall dual smokers. There was some serious barbequing going on. Finally, the fans were all very polite and we had little to no heckling. However; they are not Deep South nice. Don’t expect the southern hospitality that you will find at a place like Auburn, where they stop short of inviting you to sleep with their daughters; just a good civil, football intelligent conversation with a good luck at the end. One suggestion if you are staying on Sixth and tailgating by the stadium; they have little bike propelled rickshaws where you can pay some poor sap to cart you and your cooler of beer, beats the hell out of carrying a cooler for 10 blocks.
Now, if you are a heavy drinking Mountaineer fan that is disappointed in their lack of zeal when it comes to pounding Natty Lights, well Sixth Street is your spot. I tried to look up some good bars to map out my excursions, but gave up as I continually found conflicting reviews. It was a waste of time. In the “dirty Sixth” area as the locals call it, there are about 5 blocks of door to door bars. I quickly knew that I was in for a good time while I was gathering bar suggestions from a local at our first bar, The Library. During our conversation, a mute lady in a motorized chair pulled up and began pointing at the liquor shelf. Unable to pinpoint her vice of choice, the bartender offered a pad of paper, but this mute would have none of that. Frustrated, she kept pointing, and out of intrigue, I assisted in identifying her bourbon . . . I don’t have to tell you she wanted it straight, not tarnished with some mixer dag gummit (she didn’t say that ‘cause she’s mute, but was thinking it)! I knew then we were in for a treat. Sports bars, dive bars, arcade bars, billiards (I watched the World Series of Fooseball at one), piano bars, music halls . . . you name, they got it. Its similar to 4th street Live in Louisville where they shut down the street for small sections, but much closer to Bourbon Street in comparing the style of bars, without the smell of a trash-puke soup and it lacks the famous Nawlins deviance. Another nice touch is that it doesn’t have anyone from Louisville. Long story short, anyone can find a bar to their liking in a short distance, and trust me, anyone does. At about midnight, the percentage of football aficionados began to dwindle and the hipsters started picking up. I consider myself rather liberal and can only describe a lot of people I saw as just weird. Bear in mind that Austin prides itself and even markets itself as “Weird Austin”. There was a “classy” part of Sixth where there are more stylistic lounges or wine bars . . . I’ll stop there as I am pretty sure that none of our fan base went that direction.
If you have more time than just Friday night and Saturday postgame, I’d suggest venturing out further. I would’ve liked to hit a few the bars right next to campus, but couldn’t drag myself from Sixth. We did stay for a nightcap if you will, on Sunday and hit up South Congress. Congress runs perpendicular with Sixth, but the south section is on the other side of the mighty Colorado. Probably about a mile from Sixth is a section of shops, roadside eateries, and small bars that define “Weird Austin”. I am not too fond of shopping, but it was fun popping in the shops to see a unique scenery. After we had enough of that (20 minutes or so), we found a recommended bar from our friend at The Library, Doc’s. It was a cool sports bar located in what looked like what may have formerly been an auto shop. More good beer and NFL football, but I got the sense at that point that the locals grew tired of seeing those damn Mountaineer fans.
All in all, it was a great trip and I look forward to traversing the rest of the conference venues over the next few years.