Tuesday, 8 December 2009:
Yesterday was my walkabout day. The plan was to spend the whole day walking through any street in downtown Austin that looked interesting. True to the story of my life, the day started off misty and by 11 a.m. began to drizzle. It didn’t let up till nightfall.
No great loss really; there wasn’t a lot of interesting scenes to photograph.
I considered postponing the walkabout to today, but since I was pretty well waterproofed, I didn’t. Had I postponed it, it would have been worse. Today started off drizzly, and then fog descended. At one point in the evening, when we were returning from dinner, visibility was barely 20 metres. We couldn’t see more than one house away. Such conditions are not usually associated with one’s mental picture of Texas. And indeed, it is rather rare. Only when I visit.
The most interesting picture I managed to take on Monday was this:
I later found out that it’s part of a highly experimental scheme. Downtown Austin is almost devoid of residents. It’s just banks and government offices, becoming pretty dead at night except for the bars on Sixth Street. The plan is to introduce 80,000 apartments (or is it 80,000 residents?) into the area. Construction of a number of apartment blocks are in progress. Unfortunately, there is no way the downtown can accomodate 80,000 more cars, so the idea is to rent out these spiffy little 2-seaters by the minute.
Like me, you probably have a million questions as to how it will actually work in practice, but sorry, I don’t have any details whatsoever. However, if you google “Car2go” and “Austin” you will get a few webpages that explain a little bit more.
Here’s another interesting picture, though I don’t think it is unique to Austin:
As you can see, the bus is able to carry bicycles out front. I don’t know what the maximum capacity is, but I’ve seen buses carry two at a time, like in the picture. Not all buses have this feature though, but when a route has buses like this, you can cycle to the bus stop, ride the bus to near your destination and then cycle the rest of the way.
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Restaurant service is a delight. When the steak came, the waiter said, “Could you cut into your steak sir while I’m here, to check that it is done they way you want it?” That’s quality control and customer service for you. When the restaurant is dimly lit, the waiter would even have a flashlight, so you can see if the meat is done correctly.
The Alamo Drafthouse cinema was another eye-opener. It had the usual cinema seats (American size, of course), but running in front of all the seats was a narrow counter, about 35 cm wide.
The best thing to do is to go into the hall about 20 – 30 minutes before the advertised screening time. Trailers and short films (specially edited to be funny) will be playing, with the houselights on. On the counter, you will find a menu offering appetizers, salads, main courses, and about 6 different types of pizza. There’re also order forms which you fill up (pencils provided), and which will be picked up by waiters who walk by regularly. By the time the main feature starts, your lunch or dinner order will be delivered to your counter. Rather than find, e.g. in Singapore, yourself balancing a hotdog or burger and its soggy cardboard box on your lap, and eating with your hands (to be wiped on the upholstery), at the Alamo Drafthouse, your meal is on a table surface in front of you and there’s cutlery and napkins.
Costly? Not really. Excluding tickets for the show, lunch for four came to US$54 before tips.
This set-up is apparently unique to the Alamo chain.
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We went to Fry’s tonight, a hypermarket-sized electronics store. It had everything from plasma TVs, to iPods, kitchen appliances, videogames, DVDs, printers and cameras. And a large section where you could buy components to build your own computers, security camera systems, maybe robots. But there was also a section for coffee powder, microwave utensils and packaged snackfoods. “That’s rather odd,” I said to my sister. “They don’t belong in an electronics store.”
“But they do,” she said. “This is a store for geeks whose lives revolve around computers, videogames and stuff like that. They don’t have time to go to the normal supermarkets, and this aisle for packaged, microwaveable food is ‘survival alley’ for them. That’s all they live on.”