Austin day 8

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:

Pay-per-minute cars

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:

Bicycle-carrying bus

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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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.”

5 Responses to “Austin day 8”

  1. 1 tk 9 December 2009 at 14:43

    SG buses allow folding bikes on board which is great, but only one at a time, which is not so great if you AND your partner want to go out exploring…

  2. 2 What is interesting? 10 December 2009 at 21:03

    It seems in foreign cities we see many innovative, interesting and “not the usual” things. And these may even be something unique and a tourist attraction or “selling point”.

    In Singapore what is ours in this aspect? But even if we don’t have much, our visitor arrivals are quite high and also publicised monthly. But I wonder in what “category” are these visitors. I will be surprised if majority are real tourists!

  3. 3 Tan Wee Cheng 11 December 2009 at 12:45

    Did you visit the Alamo at San Antonio, fairly near to Austin? It’s very much a symbol of American patriotism, but the skeptic in me see it as symbolic of how the Mexicans lost Texas because they were too kind to “Foreign Talents”. The Mexicans allowed too many Americans into then Mexican Texas so as to develop the sparsely-populated region. Before long, the American settlers in Texas exceeded the Spanish-speaking Mexicans, and the former soon agitated for independence…though defeated at Alamo, the American-Texans rallied with aid from their compatriot Americans and then took over all Texas from Mexico. Lesson to learn for Singapore? Foreign talents are good but make sure you manage the balance well, or you will lose your own country!

  4. 4 Lee Chee Wai 21 December 2009 at 05:07


    The buses with bike spots in front are not unique to Austin. They are ubiquitous here in Champaign-Urbana.

    Judging from the picture you posted, the bus looks like it also has a height-lowering mechanism for people with mobility problems like the disabled and elderly. They usually have an extensible ramp for people on wheelchairs.

    Imho, these systems tend to work only with smaller pools of people using the public transportation system. The only way I can imagine some of these things working in Singapore is if we drastically increase the size of bus stops and the frequency of bus arrivals so they could be less overcrowded. I am referring to the features to aid the disabled and the elderly, of course. Bike racks are unlikely to scale up well to be suitable for Singapore’s population of public transport users.

  5. 5 yawningbread 21 December 2009 at 09:33

    Indeed, since I’ve been back, I’ve somehow ended up on buses with wheelchair access – I think SBS Transit put new wheelchair-access buses on some extra routes while I was away – but every time I was in one, the bus was so crowded, if there really was anyone in a wheelchair at a bus stop, he’d never be able to get on.

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