Times they are a-changing and Texas beckons; my modest business has found a greater appetite for its wares in the USA than on home turf. With opportunity snapping at our heels and new horizons long overdue, BB and I decided to spend a week in Austin exploring its potential as home for a year or two.
Our first stop was Houston and we arrived at the JW Marriott Downtown to a customary welcome glass of fizz. I have stayed here twice before and love this hotel. Temporary disappointment loomed however, as the tiny room in which we found ourselves overlooked a shabby building well. I called reception to explain that this visit to Houston was BB’s first; I was sure they would want him to enjoy more edifying sights? Within minutes we were in a super-luxe room with a 10th floor view, huge bathroom, double-ended bath and shower with room enough for two. Thank you JW; that’s more like it.
Day one: body clock ejected me from bed to gym at 7am. Returning an hour later, BB voted for breakfast in the Museum district, our planned destination for the day. We trammed there to find tumbleweed blowing through the streets; everything was due to open at 10am, and not a moment before.
After pounding pavements for a good half-hour, hungry and not a little cross, I insisted on a taxi Downtown, to breakfast at a place around the corner from JW. Here our plates overflowed with eggs, bacon, sausages, fried potatoes and more. My gluten-and-dairy-free diet precluded much of the calorific upholstery enjoyed by BB, but for us both, every morsel was a tasty joy.
Our second tram to the Museum District took us to the exquisite and contemplative Rothko Chapel; here the artist’s huge canvases dominate a sparse octagonal space, furnished with simple benches and floor cushions from which visitors meditate the breathtaking work. We moved on to the Menil Collection to see art that ranged from African artefacts of many years BC to the works of Max Ernst, Leger, Matisse, Picasso, Magritte, Warhol and more. Stopping briefly at the Menil Bistro, a visit to the Cy Twombly Gallery rounded things off beautifully.
By 5pm and cultured-out, we wove our way JWard to shower, bathe and relax. But not for long; we soon ventured to the Theatre District and L’Artista, a huge restaurant which, due to the strange lack of theatre on this Friday night, we found empty but for one elderly couple and a friendly Maitre D’ called Alex.
We settled into this glamorous and deserted place; a staircase swept dramatically from an upper level and I hoped for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to descend with superlative dance kicks … Alas, they were booked elsewhere and our evening was spent chatting chummily to Alex and our neighbours, the latter regaling us with stories of their lively retirement and love of God. Our Maker enjoys a substantial fan base in Texas.
The following mid-morning, we found our pre-booked, front top-deck seats of the Megabus bound for Austin. Passengers consisted largely of a million students, one with whom we struck up conversation. She was a bio-science engineer, fascinated by my work and amused and amazed that “a CEO takes the bus!” Upon arrival at Austin, her kindly parents dropped us off at The Guild Downtown, home for the next week.
The purpose of this visit to Austin was for BB and I to assess whether or not we might live here for a year or two while Forte Medical finds its feet in the US healthcare system. We had no idea what might unfold, for I had only spent one night in Austin, a year ago. The night in question involved much merriment with live music, a rooftop bar, a giant game of Jenga and an F1 racing driver whose foot I pierced with my stiletto. In short, nothing that might persuade BB to relocate … for all of that (Dalston-based F1 driver included) is readily available in East London.
The Guild Downtown is nearly half the price of a decent Austin hotel and everything we wanted it to be: big kitchen and living space, generous bathroom and bedroom, walk-in wardrobe, balcony. The pool and gym were on-site; the former I used each morning. In a world entirely unrelated to London life, I was on a cross-trainer before 7am then at work until 2pm after which we ventured out to explore the streets of our friendly, prospective home town.
For Austin is nothing but friendly. It prides itself on “being weird”, but when you live in East London, the bar to oddity is quite high. The difference is that Austin folk don’t fall-over drunk after 10pm; they don’t shout about their “creativity” and however weird you want to be, human engagement is order of the day, whatever your skill or persuasion.
On Sunday a colleague’s husband and daughter took us to explore the wider perimeter of town; we drove to Austin’s high point and viewed the city from above. Its complexion is varied, interesting and walk-able with a wide river, interesting homes and a surfeit of independent businesses that appropriately reflect its hugely independent spirit. Dinner south of the river, at Austin’s foremost TexMex restaurant rounded off the day with Father and Daughter, who delivered us home happy and replete.
Monday featured little of real interest to you dear reader, but much to make me fizz with delight; I found and enjoyed the expertise of I Love Lacquer, stocked up at the local independent grocery and found a purveyor of olive oils to die for. Those of you that know me will understand the joy elicited by these high-pamper treasures – all so much more affordable than in London.
Tuesday took us to the Dell Seton Medical Centre’s Health Discovery Co-Labs, where Forte Medical is taking an office from Spring 2018. This is a neat, beautifully designed building featuring office space, wet-labs, theatre … and abundance of scientific and medical intellect. Each and every person we met welcomes their British industrial and scientific counterparts with open arms; this inclusive thinking is an implicit part of a programme that incorporates education, patient care, science, research and more. Luck has a part to play, but so does a determination to transform basic diagnostic medicine, which is exactly what my company is incrementally achieving. Michael Dell, thank you for your ingenious, game-changing medical enterprise.
After our Dell visit, a friend of Sunday’s friend took us for a delightful lunch and tour of Austin’s most appropriate neighbourhoods for this Curious London Two. It seems that our options range from a groovy Downtown apartment, to clapboard house with verandah on the outskirts of town – we are not talking London suburbia here, but a mere ten-minute drive from centre. After nearly 20 years in Shoreditch, I am quite partial to the latter option, enjoying the idea of chilling on my leafy deck, watching the world go by; I will be a Domestic Goddess, safe in the knowledge that my scooter is poised outside, ready to teleport me to work at a moment’s notice. Dreams are plans, after all.
Tour over, we were dropped on Congress, outside the venue of a legal meeting arranged to discuss our immigration requirements. As we stepped out of our new friend’s car, BB spotted on the fascia of the Stateside Theatre the words: Dylan Moran.
The following hour was tough. In distracted fashion, I gave due attention to some very important matters until, solicitous meeting over, I secured online the last two tickets for Austin’s final night of Dylan Moran Grumbling Mustard Tour.
Hours later dear reader, mere feet away from stage, we witnessed the most talented, incisive, insightful, side-splitting raconteur of our generation. I’m certain that around ten minutes in, Mr Moran and I made prolonged eye contact … but who’s to know? Since childhood I have nurtured a crush on Eric Morecambe; my knees tremble in the presence of a supremely clever and funny man … I just can’t help it. This dark Irishman is a comedic genius and rather cute to boot. Lucky Mrs Moran.
On Wednesday we strolled riverside, admiring nature at its finest; the trees trilled with birds, water abounded with grazing turtles and darting fish. Meanwhile, ground level was awash with runners, one of whom stopped to admire BB’s shirt (he is infamous for his shirt collection). Conversation gathered momentum and she recommended us to eating and drinking places for later. Austin is full of people who notice, who stop, who give you the time of day. These streets are a world away from London, and its somnambulant army of earplugged phone-addicts, cursing anyone who happens in their path.
The extreme beauty of the river gave way to Ai Weiwei’s astonishing Forever Bicycle sculpture, to the striking, modernist Mexican Cultural Centre, and eventually to lively Rainey, a street of former residential bungalows now transformed into bars and restaurants. These conversions have been executed with dignity and architectural respect. There is one remaining residential dwelling in the midst of the hospitable porches; I wondered if the owners of this discrete home are disturbed by people believing it to be a speakeasy? They could be missing a pension-enhancing trick. We decided against knocking on this particular door and stopped instead at Lucille’s. Our week also took in an Eddie Izzard gig and the discovery of SV, Austin’s sophisticated secret bunker bar, colonised by people far cooler and younger than us.
This eclectic Austin visit concluded on Friday with a Greyhound bus ride back to Houston. It became apparent that students apart, middle-class white people don’t take the bus. Our presence was an anomaly – but happily so; this journey like its inward counterpart, afforded us an honest appraisal of the landscape, the people and the places to which we intend to become accustomed.
And yes, we liked it all. A year or two here could be a welcome break from London life and will doubtless accelerate the growth of my little business, whose potential in Texas, land of bio-science opportunity, seems to know no bounds
Interesting times lie ahead … watch this space, y’all.