Keep Austin Weird.

This is written in roughly 9 zillion places throughout the city of Austin. You see it graffiti’d on walls in alleys, on band flyers (which are everywhere), and on about every fourth t-shirt available for purchase in basically every store in the city.

And Austin is weird. Lady E and I landed on Friday afternoon, and there was a goddamn live band playing in one of the airport restaurants. And this was past security which means this is the airport’s house band and plays regularly, otherwise they wouldn’t be allowed on the concourse. What other airport has a house band  with a decent sized group of people attentively watching them? Austin (and maybe Portland, OR) is the only city where this type of behavior is possible. Weird.

Also, weird? That Lady E and I traveled 1,000 miles by plane to play in the country’s largest pub quiz and, SPOILER ALERT didn’t even have the decency to win $8,000 for our efforts. Just like we did last year, we bring you the story of Geek Bowl VI.

***

I am not a superstitious person (unless it pertains to the distribution and opening of fortune cookies – don’t ask), nor am I a fatalist. I search for deeper meaning in art and consumable culture, but those meanings have been consciously constructed by some sort of architect. I generally do not try to extract meaning from unrelated events in my life as I realize I am but an infinitesimal part of an exceedingly complex system of events and components of the universe that happen as a result of a million other unrelated events and coincidences beyond my control. Any attempt to draw meaning from the randomness of the universe is usually merely an exercise in imaginative and narcissistic self-indulgence.

With that said, the universe told me we were winning Geek Bowl and winning in a big way. We’ll get there, but first, Keep Austin Weird.

***

Actually, first, United Express.

If I could fly all my flights United Express, I would. People love to shit on air travel, and that makes sense considering most people are entitled dickheads. Going through the rigmarole of TSA procedures is sort of a hassle and largely pointless in terms of stopping actual terrorists, but on the other side of those slackjaws who make you take your shoes off is a magical flying machine that takes you to better climates, awesome new microbrews, and fun. Also Houston, in my case.

Since I fly a lot, I now have premier status which means I’m that sonofabitch that smugly walks past you at the gate to board before everyone else and the one that looks annoyed at you as you brush past me on your way back to the leper section of deep coach. If you fly a lot and choose one of the discount carriers, what are you doing? No chance at First Class because First Class doesn’t exist, pedestrian upgrades, and in Southwest’s case, the dumbest fucking boarding procedure in the history of air travel.

United Express is even better than United because not only are the jets smaller and generally newer (therefore more comfortable), the flights all go out of the cool part of DIA. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Head down the B Concourse until you run out of fucking real estate. The gates will be like B75 and above. Then turn right, and you’ll find a set of stairs down to another level. That’s where United Express lives.

It’s like going to that part of town that was recently gentrified and is trying to rebrand itself as the place where hip young douchebags Tweet and talk about Skrillex. There’s a New Belgium restaurant that has not only the full lineup of standard offerings, but the Lips of Faith series as well. There’s a Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli, and there’s a motley grouping of weirdoes everywhere flying to places like Hays, KS and Bozeman, MT. Relative to airport experiences, it’s an Arcade Fire concert compared to spending a nice evening with your parents watching Jon Secada.

***

So, Austin. Great city. Totally unlike the rest of Texas. Fuckin’ hipsters everywhere, which is a drawback after awhile because, really, how many handlebar mustaches can you look at before you question the existence of a just and loving god? But overall, just an awesome town with a ton of cool shit to see, eat, and do. Here are four places to hit when you go to Austin.

1) Sixth Street. A mecca for drunks everywhere. On a normal night (I don’t know what the fuck the deal was after Geek Bowl), they close down the street and you wander from bar to bar to pizza place to bar like the freewheeling problem drinker you’ve always been at heart. If you’re over the age of 26, I recommend getting there via time machine because I cannot drink at all like I used to and had to shut it down pretty early Saturday night. But you should experience this regardless because I place it in the drinking pantheon with Las Vegas, Munich, New York, and my beloved Fort Collins (I’m a homer – and that’s where I trained my liver). Note: I have not been to New Orleans. Made me wish I still smoked, which I tried while I was down there, and yep, I’m very much done with that. And I’m getting close to breaking up with Jagermeister too. My vices are eroding!

2) Salt Lick / County Line / Stubb’s / Whatever BBQ. You’re in Texas, so make sure to shove some brisket or some beef ribs into your maw. There are no diets in Texas, so come hungry. We chose County Line on this trip, where they had two brisket options. Marbled 2nd Cut Beef Brisket cooks in such a way where the juices seep throughout the cut rendering it juicy and tender and delicious. Original Lean Brisket is for morons. We can sit here and pick nits all day about who has better BBQ – Memphis, Kansas City, Georgia, Texas – but when you do that, you’re wasting valuable mouth time that would be better served putting meat from any of those places in it instead. The point is, if you go to Austin, get some BBQ. And some Tex-Mex while you’re at it, because you’re secretly much fatter than you’d like to admit.

3) South Congress (SoCo) Neighborhood. If you’re picturing the phrase Keep Austin Weird situated in a particular part of town, you’re picturing this neighborhood. We found Brady Street in Milwaukee, Camden Lock in London, and now SoCo in Austin. Independent shops, local artisans, street performers (including one sad asshole who just sort of nervously sang to no one in particular outside the costume store with a sad empty plastic jug in front of him), overpriced beer and all the machinations of self-important ne’er-do-wells you’re picturing. It’s glorious.

Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds is the best costume shop I’ve ever been to. I hesitate calling it just a costume shop because I don’t want to downplay all the hooker and stripper gear peddled here as well. Need some new pasties with tassles? Covered. Fishnet body stocking? Done. Kinky underwear that needs a structural engineering degree to get into? There too! There really is everything you could ever need, want, or hope to dress up as contained in one claustrophobic store.

Also in SoCo is a shop called “Stag – Provisions for Men.” If that isn’t the most perfect equipment store name for gay porn, then I don’t know anything. “Hey Carl, did you stop by Stag?” “Yeah, they loaded me up with mustache wax and ball cream.” This store allegedly sells men’s fashions, but I prefer to mock it from afar. Because that’s how I roll. Because I’m a jerk.

And finally is Big Top Candy Shop which has the most staggering selection of candy this side of Lamar Odom’s house, hey-o! There’s all the stuff you expect to find from a confectioner like salt water taffy and bins full of the standard assortment of sugary goodness, but then they make their own diabolical creations too. CJS Regular Salwon took the last piece of chocolate-covered bacon while we there (I had a small bite – it was breathtaking in its euphoric evil), Mrs. Salwon grabbed a chocolate covered s’more, and I completed the gluttonous trifecta with a chocolate covered Nutter Butter. Lady E and I also indulged in a hand jerked (huh huh!) soda that I was tempted to call a phosphate. I thought better of it because I feared the crushing weight of too much sugary nostalgia and hipster stink might implode the world right at my very feet. Great sodas though!

4) Kerbey Lane. This gets its own entry. When you get there, order some queso. I don’t care what time it is, we had ours around 11 am. You’ll thank me for it after enjoying fresh molten cheese mixed with guacamole. Then order either some Miga breakfast tacos or some flavored pancakes (one pumpkin, one gingerbread for Lady E), or both if you’re going for a full 1.0 on the fat kid scale that day. This breakfast is currently locked in a bloodmatch with the sausage/pretzels/whitbier breakfast before Oktoberfest in Munich as Best Breakfast Ever and might even crack Top Meals of All-Time. We bought pancake mix to take home which I’m both extremely looking forward to and dreading dearly because there’s no way it will be as good as what we ate before Geek Bowl.

***

Speaking of Geek Bowl, we’re 1,600 words into this and I haven’t even touched upon it yet.

“Hey, why not?” asked no one.

Well, you see, it’s because I wanted you, dear reader, to be right there with me as I experienced Austin. Compared to last year where I sent out a half-serious email to our team imploring them to raise their game before Geek Bowl that I’m approximately 104% certain got me made fun of behind my back, I corrected 180 degrees in the other direction this year. Lady E and I told ourselves, and each other, that Geek Bowl was just a goofy excuse to go to a new city together and visit some old friends. Geek Bowl was the afterthought, not the endgame.

Then quiz time got closer and closer. Just like last year, we rendezvoused at a nearby bar for dinner and drinks. Unlike last year, we decided to forego the pre-game shot in deference to the tastes of our team. This was fine at the time, but in retrospect, I should have thrown one back because I started coming out of my own skin as the minutes ticked away. I don’t talk trash, and I won’t do anything to win, but in a fair game where I’m basically in control of my own destiny, I really want to win. I can’t help it. I’m secretly very competitive. So as much as I tried to stifle it, I eventually felt like Teen Wolf and felt like I was going to shred my clothes from the anxiety. Fuck it, I really wanted to win Geek Bowl. Thankfully, Lady E also has this competitive werewolf gene in her and felt the same way, although hers manifested a bit later.

So we pay the check and file into the Austin Music Hall. Now refer back to the beginning of this piece where I talked about how fate is a bullshit mental construction and the curt dismissal of that dismissal: “With that said, the universe told me we were winning Geek Bowl and winning in a big way.”

So what were the signs?

  1. We’ve traveled all the way to Austin for this thing because the Fillmore was booked. So what band was playing there forcing this re-location? The Descendents. Punk band, I interviewed their bassist for my college radio show, featured prominently in my master’s thesis about punk rock. Weird.
  2. The first song we hear upon entering the Austin Music Hall is “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. At our home bar, this is the Round 8 Random Knowledge theme music. We play basically every week and hear this song every time we’re trying to bring home a victory in the quiz’s final questions. I turned to Lady E and said, “Can you believe this song is playing right when we walk in? That’s awesome!” Then I bought some Boulevard Single Wide IPA, which is also awesome. Queen, omens, and tasty Midwestern hoppiness – all highly recommended!
  3. The first question of Geek Bowl is nerve-racking because, irrationally or not, you feel like you’re setting the tone for the rest of the quiz. I’m wearing this, which got compliments from four different fat wrestling nerds over the course of the night. The round is on Austins and Flamboyance. “First question: WWE Superstar Stone Cold Steve Austin…” Whoa. Stop right there. It doesn’t matter how that question ends because between Salwon and I, we have the answer. Unbelievable. First one out of the gate and it’s a fucking wrestling question. Beautiful. FYI: The answer was “Stone Cold Stunner” for those who care.
  4. Round 2 is the music round, and because it’s Geek Bowl, we get 8 different songs played by 8 different cover bands. The first band is a hair metal outfit that covers Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” a song I had sung in the style of Patton Oswalt to Salwon not three hours before that very moment.
  5. Later in Round 2, one of the answers is George Michael’s “Careless Whisper.” Back in August during one of my trips to Houston, Salwon and I played Geeks Who Drink somewhere in midtown together. We did well. 4th out of about 20 teams. During that game’s music round, Salwon knew it was George Michael and groped for “Careless Whisper” but never found it. Only when fate intervenes, do you get a chance at redemption. Without question, we were destined to win Geek Bowl.

That’s 5 weird ass signs just for us. So we’re feeling great about Round 1, and are relatively certain about Round 2. Do we joker, meaning we double our possible points from 16 to 32? It’s either that or Round 8, we tell everyone since we’re veterans and Salwon assures us that we’ll “meta the shit out of this game.” Having a definite 22 points, and a decent shot at least 24, we take our shot and joker it since Round 8 will most assuredly be hard as fuck.

That’s when I remembered signs don’t mean shit.

Round 3 comes upon us, and lo and behold, it too is worth 16 points. Whaaa? We consult the rules again which I read the first time at light speed out of sheer nerves and excitement taking too much for granted. Sure enough, at Geek Bowl VI, Rounds 2, 3, 7, and 8 will all be worth 16 points. Fuck.

“Well, maybe it will be a good decision anyway since this is the toughest quiz of the year,” I told myself just as the pessimistic part of my brain skeeted in the optimistic part’s mouth.

And just like that, we murder Round 3 OJ style, and suddenly get dejected. This is where Lady E’s competitive side kicked in as she had a hard time letting go of our misused joker. I reassure her we can still win this thing even though I know I’m basically giving her the quiz equivalent of a dad telling his daughter that the $1.50 pet store goldfish that was alive for three hours will be waiting for her in heaven. This is also known as polite lying.

Round 4 comes and goes in a before and after flash that pairs high culture with low culture (Sample answer: Venus de Milo & Otis), and it’s finally time for a break. A sketch comedy troupe does a surprisingly funny bit centered on Mad Libs then loses everyone’s attention with a courtroom scene that rips off that giant chicken lawyer character from “Futurama.”

Here come the scores: Finnegan Raymond Carnegie McWhiskerton, Esq: 20th place.

Hey! How the fuck about that?! Maybe we ain’t dead yet. Maybe there’s still some fight left in this horse!  (Ed note: Is that even a saying?) Fuck it, we’re here, and we’re doing better than 8/9ths of everyone else, so let’s do it. Fuck yeah! Geek Bowl!

Oh, fuck no.

Round 5: 3 points.

Round 6: 3 points.

Thank you, and goodnight, ladies and gentlemen!

Scoring 3 points in one round during Geek Bowl is a death knell. Doing it twice is like the double secret probation of suicide. We’re fucking cooked at this point. Dean Wormer has kicked us out of school and notified the local draft boards of our new availability.

There’s really no point in continuing the charade of a Geek Bowl rundown because I can hardly remember any of the questions from this point on anyway. Round 7 is movie clips and we do reasonably well, not that it matters at this point. Sixteen Candles, Spaceballs, Goodfellas, Monster Squad, Wayne’s World and other favorites show up. Round 8 is the cruel bitch mistress or Random Knowledge we all know her to be as she puts cigarettes out on us and makes us lick her boots. Other places make you pay for that kind of action, but humiliation comes with the price of a ticket at Geek Bowl.

The competition ends anti-climactically with a tie for first place between some local Austin-ites and some Philadelphia shitheads that don’t include Johnny Goodtimes. The shitheads win and everyone files out somewhat grimly without even learning their score thanks to technical difficulties (we later learned we finished 88th or so).

***

In spite of that somewhat dour tone, Geek Bowl VI was ultimately better than Geek Bowl V. Why? Better quality of questions, incorporation of fun GWD question types (Before and After, Speed Round, better movie clips), and a music round that fucking OWNED it. The PR professional in me was pleased at the good form of paying tribute to Austin as the live music capital of the world by having 8 separate bands perform 10 songs of one song each. Especially good was the string quartet that played a gorgeous rendition of “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters.

More importantly, we finagled an excuse to visit one of the coolest cities in America and hang out with our friends. The people of Austin feel about their city the way we feel about ours, which is best encapsulated by this team name: Welcome to Austin. Please Don’t Move Here.

I’ll bet those folks are trying to Keep Austin Weird. I hope they succeed.

See you at Geek Bowl VII?

edagger@crujonessociety.com