Let Clark Griswold Be Thy Guide. Thy Tour Guide.

It’s true, I may have channeled the nerdy (but loveable?) side of fun-seeker Clark Griswold this past weekend. We had some good friends visit us in Austin, and I was near bullheaded about ensuring that we put the WEIRD in “KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD” during their time here.

Don’t get me wrong, we hit many of the mainstream, staple hotspots. I showed them the bat bridge, Dirty Sixth, the Rotunda in the Capitol. We feasted on Bob Armstrong dip at Matt’s El Rancho, Thai food at Sway, barbecue at Salt Lick, and sushi at Uchi. And of course we couldn’t miss the 50th anniversary bash at The Broken Spoke featuring my honky-tonk hero, Dale Watson.

But in between meals and music I decided we needed to off-road a bit so they could experience the true spirit of Austin. For some reason I had talked them out of renting a car so once they canceled that reservation, I took the wheel and had them at my mercy.

Mwah-hah-hah-hah-hah.

Friday afternoon we popped into the South Austin Popular Culture Center.

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I am embarrassed to say I can practically walk there from my house, and yet this was my first time to visit. This Lilliputian museum valiantly aims to preserve and share the history of Austin’s unique music scene from the 1960’s to present. It’s a modest but important collection of photographs, music posters, and memorabilia.

The vibrantly painted parking lot is perhaps the highlight. And it is framed along the right-hand side with a shrine to various Austin musicians and pop culture icons.

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The current exhibit at the South Austin Popular Culture Center is all about Austin’s street art scene. Many of the images featured graffiti from a rather recent Austin phenom, the Hope Outdoor Gallery. Sophie, my uber-informed teenager, tells me it’s infinitely cooler to refer to it as ‘Castle Hill’ or simply ‘the graffiti park’. Either way we decided it was a must-see.

Apparently graffiti artists from all over the world travel to spray their mark on this abandoned construction site. (A reviewer on TripAdvisor claims the construction plans fell through midway once it was discovered there is a sink hole beneath the ground.) But just as Austin is a populous city for one and all, the Hope graffiti park does not discriminate based on talent. Anyone can walk up and spray away to their heart’s content. So the art is constantly changing. Like a river, you never see the same Hope Gallery twice.

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“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” –Heraclitus

And finally, the pièce de résistance during my weekend as an Austin tour guide: a trip to the Cathedral of Junk.

A South Austin man named Vince has spent the past twenty-five years building a solid edifice of junk in his backyard…and anyone can visit it. Nowadays you have to make a reservation, and Vince requires a $10 donation. (Per group, not per person, I confirmed.) The city has cracked down on traffic flow on his street, so there are specific instructions on where to park and walk to his home. We followed everything to the letter and arrived on time to view and climb the Cathedral.

Spurred on by complaints from yuppy neighbors, engineers have visited time and time again, but the structure remains sound. So you can climb to the second and third “floors” for additional viewing.

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There is so much stuff! It’s unreal. Vince has carefully grouped certain artifacts into thematic or like-colored sections. Hanging CDs swing and reflect the sunlight, creating a water like effect. Not to mention wind chime sounds. You can literally stare at one section for minutes at a time and then suddenly realize (because your friend walks up behind you and points it out) that there are dozens of crutches intertwined, or snow skis embedded in a wall. It’s mind-blowing. Sort of like the Rorschach test, everyone is going to see what they naturally see in it.

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It was a fantastic weekend, a trippy trip indeed. I am incredibly grateful to our good friends who were beyond amenable to my off-beat quest for fun! So in the future when I am pondering how to spend time, whether during a weekend with guests or just aimless family time, I am going to dig deep and ask myself, “What Would Clark Griswold Do?”

“Everybody in the car. Boat leaves in two minutes… or perhaps you don’t want to see the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth, which is only four short hours away?” –Clark Griswold, Vacation

Hankering to hear it from Clark himself? CLICK HERE for the soundclip. Enjoy!

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