This Ain't Connecticut
If you're looking for barbecue, boot-scootin', and banjo-pickin'--and maybe an actual cowboy--then get on over to Hill Country. It's small-town Texas at its quirky best.
We headed south again, toward Luckenbach, made famous by the Waylon Jennings song. On weekends people travel there from all over Hill Country to sit under the live oaks and listen to guitarists and banjo players pick out Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker tunes. The music wasn't memorable, but I was happy to spend the afternoon in the shade, drinking Shiner Bock beer and listening to gray-bearded Willie acolytes pay tribute.
Over in New Braunfels, we hung out at Lone Star Music, which is stocked with the music of Texas musicians--to qualify, they must have been born in Texas or lived in Texas, though there are a few honorary Texans like Johnny Cash. "He loved Texas," the clerk explained. We spent an hour asking for recommendations and getting the clerk to play them for us, and left with a road trip's worth of CDs, wishing we'd come upon the place earlier.
Gruene Hall, Texas's oldest dance hall, is a high-ceilinged place with worn wooden floors, perfect for boot-scootin', which is Texan for dancing. (Gruene, by the way, is pronounced "green.") When we walked in, however, people were standing on the dance floor, rather than surrounding it, and they were facing the stage. Turns out a concert was scheduled that night, and not even a genuine country-western concert. The band opened with "Uncle John's Band."
We hadn't traveled all this way to hear Grateful Dead covers, so we took shelter in the Hoity Toit Beer Joint. We were hopeful when we pulled up: It was a low-slung building on a dark residential street, and the façade was strung with white lights that gave it a thrillingly illicit air. But we were crestfallen to find a trio of women warbling their way through a Shania Twain song. Karaoke night.
A tall guy stumbled to the microphone, and the opening bars to "Walk the Line" came on. A burly man in a flannel shirt asked if I'd like to dance. I warned him that I didn't know how to two-step.
"Just do your best, darlin'," he said.
So I did. I hooked my thumb through his belt loop, moved to the rhythm, and listened to a drunken, football-jerseyed 28-year-old mimicking Johnny Cash, adopted son of the Republic of Texas.
It wasn't particularly Texan, or particularly cultural. But was it authentic? I asked Alyssa what she thought as we drove back to our hotel at 2 A.M. She looked at me like I'd be better off window-shopping in Greenwich. "Hell, yeah," she said. Was it the absence of doilies? The free-flowing Lone Star beer? Or just the improvised nature of it all? I never figured it out, but she's the Texan, so I took her at her word.
Best Boots Ever
Founded in 1915, Little's Boot Co. is now run by third-generation boot maker Dave Little, who has a small assembly line of craftsmen. Little gave us a lesson in the nuances of the art. It involves taking six measurements on each foot, sketching a design, then carving out of leather whatever impossibly intricate images the customer dreams up (such as one pair we saw with a cowboy playing his guitar and standing next to a blooming cactus). 110 Division Ave., San Antonio, 210/923-2221, davelittleboots.com