Saturday, December 24, 2011

248. West Side Stories

"It's safe to say we missed the bats," I said as crowds of people walked past us with blankets and cameras and lawn chairs. We'd decided to grab drinks on the patio at Hotel San Jose before walking down to the bridge. The weather was perfect, the sangria was to die for and the greenery made us feel like we'd found the secret garden. We'd planned on walking to the bridge to see the bats by dusk, but we couldn't abandon sangria pitchers until we'd sucked the juice out of every last piece of fruit.

"Let's keep going," Chaz said. "It's supposed to take a while for all of the bats to come out, right?"

"Worth a shot," I said. Every night from March through October, hundreds of thousands of bats fly out from under the Congress Street bridge around dusk. I'd heard a lot of my friends talk about the bats, but I'd never seen them for myself.

More and more people walked past us talking about how incredible it was. I felt like we'd just missed the finale of a fireworks show. We kept walking anyway. We followed the sidewalk away from the highway and down into a park. Once there, we saw groups of people on picnic blankets or sitting cross-legged in the grass. They were all still looking up.

"What are they looking at?" Rae asked as we all craned our necks to follow their gaze. We were under the bridge and we could see the silhouettes of people along the bridge looking down. We looked closer. I was stumped.

"I see them!" Joyce said, pointing up. I looked again and tried to focus on different areas to make them appear, like a Magic Eye. Finally, when I looked past the silhouettes and into the night sky, I saw thousands of black specs pouring out of the bridge.

"That's incredible," Cayden said. We stood there silently with our heads tilted back for a few minutes. A hundred questions ran through my head while we stood there: Where were the bats going? When were they coming back? Are we all going to get shit on? Do people gather to watch them come back? I didn't ask any of them out loud because we were listening to the whisper of the bats wings flapping overhead.

"Who's hungry?" Joey asked after a long pause. We had all hit out bat-watching limit. The ribs had been in the oven for six hours so the meat was sure to fall right off the bone.

"Sign me up," I said.

Cayden slid his hand in mine. We swung our arms between us like little kids while we walked.

Dinner was just as delicious as we'd expected. The ribs were the perfect mixture of tender and crispy. The mashed potatoes were buttery. The creamed corn was creamy. After dinner, the guys hung out in the living room drinking beer and watching sports while the girls gathered around the one floor-length mirror in the front bedroom with our makeup bags, curling sticks and straighteners. An hour later, we emerged looking like new women.

"Wow," Cayden said when I sat down next to him. It was amazing how beautiful he could make me feel with that one little word. But it wasn't just the word that did it. It was the way he looked at me when he said it.

Mitch and Vanessa came over and we all piled into two cars to head downtown. I leaned against Cayden in the back seat of Vanessa's car as we drove through the busy streets of Austin. We snuck kisses when no on was looking.

Ten minutes later we parked and walked down West Sixth. Just like the Dirty Sixth, West Sixth was lined with bars on both sides. But unlike the Dirty Sixth, I didn't see any college boys stumbling in the street or girls in heels crying on the curb. Vanessa and Mitch led us to Key Bar, where there were enough seats left on the patio for all eight of us to sit and enjoy the fresh air. A friendly waitress brought our drinks in record time and checked on us every time our glasses got low. The music was just low enough for us to have conversations without shouting and lip reading. I was officially a part of the "older scene" and I loved it.

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