The San Antonio Food and Sign Festival, Day 3: Austin Bound


Here’s what’s great about my sister-in-law Hannah: on the day that we had planned to make the drive up to Austin, she couldn’t sleep. So, instead of doing as the rest of us would do and lay around in bed waiting for something drowsy to happen, she got up and started surfing around the internet for places to eat in Austin. What she discovered was La Condesa, a Modern Mexican place nominated by the James Beard Foundation for Best New Restaurant. As we struggle down to breakfast she tells us this, describes the menu, and suddenly I’m counting the hours until lunch.

But first, Austin itself.

Capitol Building

Let me say this: I don’t like the heat. I grew up in a city that gets 80-plus inches of snow a year. I lived in Chattanooga and that was too hot for me. We met several people in Chattanooga who moved from Texas to escape the heat. I HATE heat. So bear this in mind when I say this: Austin is totally worth the heat.

Obligatory Looking-Up at the Top of the Dome ShotObligatory Looking-Up-at-the-Top-of-the-Dome Shot

Now, of course, Austin has so many signs worth photographing that I couldn’t count them all. In fact, I had to give some a pass just because there just wasn’t time. The other unfortunate thing about this particular trip was the fact that it was pretty overcast much of the day. We walked the streets and I wandered off to gather all the best signs in.

Kruger's Jewelers, Austin, TX

Two jewelers sit across from each other on Congress Avenue, Kruger’s (above) and Joe Koen & Son (below) and both have been around forever, Kruger’s since 1906 and Koen, as you can see, since 1884. Kruger’s has obviously kept their signs up better, but they’re both marvelous in their own right. And I love a sign that has a working clock in it. Now that I look at it, it took me about 15 minutes to walk from one to the other. (We stopped at the Starbuck’s)

Joe Koen and Son, Austin, TX

State Theater, Austin, TXState Theater, Austin, TX

ChickThe Proverbial Taco Truck that I Didn’t Fall Off of (Moving Car Shot)

And, of course, the infamous Austin Motel shot. I think they have a good sense of humor about the shape of their sign. I would think you would have to.

Austin Motel, Austin, TXFar Out.

Finally the hour came to be at La Condesa, and it did not disappoint in the least. In fact, it exceeded my expectations. I had the Cubanita, which looks promising, but let me tell you, it tastes even better than it looks.

Cubanita at La Condesa, Austin, TX

We felt the need for dessert afterward, and that was a good decision. This is the Boca Negra, a flourless chocolate cake with ancho, chile de arbol and carmelized bananas. I am becoming a fan of chocolate and chili together:

Boca Negra at La Condesa, Austin, TX

Roadhouse Relics, Austin, TX

One of my goals in coming to Austin was to go to Roadhouse Relics, and unfortunately there were two things wrong. First, the proprietor, Todd Sanders (no relation) was in New York that weekend. Second, there was a wedding about to shoot pictures in their back yard. It was time to get creative. I stuck my K-5 in Live View, held it up as high as I could get it, and took a few shots over the fence.

Roadhouse Relics Back Yard, Austin, TXHow many cool things do you count?

While I was at it, I went across the street, where a few more neon signs hung out. This Googie bit of fun for Freddie’s Place is still active:

Freddie's Place, Austin, TX

Jovita's, Austin, TX

Whereas Jovita’s, right next door, was out of commission. I recently found out that in 2012 the owner and several people were arrested for heroin trafficking among other charges. The location remains unoccupied.

Roadhouse Relics, Austin, TXThis, however, remains open, and is the center of all things I love.

We headed back to San Antonio. The sign portion of the Food and Sign Festival effectively ended due to poor weather the next few days, but the food continued to be good and plentiful. We don’t know if we’ll manage to get back before Dan is stationed somewhere else, but we were so thankful for the experience. Travel is so good for the soul in so many ways, and helps us appreciate not only the places we visit, but the places where we live.

Surrounded by Reality

From time to time I find myself in the confines of Ithaca, New York, that stalwart college town at the foot of Cayuga Lake. Ithaca, for those of you who have not had the pleasure, is a treasure trove of natural beauty laced with all the Bohemian atmosphere the best of college atmosphere can harbor. While many of the cities in the area have been decimated by the loss of industry, Ithaca remains unaffected, and has perhaps even grown over the years. All of this was encapsulated by a bumper sticker I once saw on a car at the Farmer’s Market in Ithaca one day, which read: “Ten Square Miles, Surrounded by Reality*.”

Cayuga LakeAt the same level as Cayuga’s Waters…

I took the above picture five years ago when Laura and I were driving around and found ourselves in Sherman Park. We had stopped in a cool used book store along the way that was part catacombs, part library, stopped here for a photo op, and ended up at Buttermilk Falls. Beautiful weather for May, sunny and in the sixties. A fantastic day, and one we’ll always remember. But during my last trip to Ithaca, considering I was by myself and it was freezing cold and I didn’t have time to stop and look at used books, I had other matters on my mind: namely, the neon chicken known as Chanticleer.

Chanticleer is a bar in the center of town well known to generations of Cornell and Ithaca College students, and above its metal overhang stands the proud neon rooster. Well, actually, two roosters: one you can see from State Street and another you can see from Cayuga Street.


This was my immediate goal, but i had a secondary one, the State Theater just up the street. The State opened up in 1928 but closed in the 80s. It stayed closed for nearly twenty years, despite community efforts to revive it, and at one point was condemned, but finally, in 2001, the State reopened. I had driven past this section during a trip two years ago, but not having the time to get out with my camera, I didn’t realize that it was possible to swipe a shot of both at the same time. It wasn’t the ideal time of day for this shot, but I stood at the side of the commons on top of a snow bank and fired away:

Chanticleer and State, Ithaca, NYBam!

Despite the cold of that day, I snapped away until my fingers became slightly numb. These two had been on my list for quite some time, and I was going to make the most out of crossing them off…

State Theater, Ithaca, NY

I didn’t really know the State’s full story at the time I took these, but if I had, I probably would have kept on with my K-5 in the cold until my fingers fell off. It’s so good to hear the story of an old classic restored. Bravo to all the people whose efforts saved the State.

*Yes, people of Madison, Wisconsin…I realize that it was your joke previously and that it was “77 Square Miles, Surrounded by Reality,” but it applies to Ithaca just as much as Madison… Let’s agree to share the distinction.

Shed in Slaterville Springs, NY

As a side note, on my way back through the wilds of Tompkins and Tioga counties, I spotted a shed along the side of the road that I found so photogenic that I couldn’t help but share. These boards, desperately trying to hold up something that can’t stand on its own…there’s a metaphor…