I recently returned from my first trip to Austin, TX for the Heart of Tennis Classic (HOT8), a stop on the GLTA. Proceeds from this year’s event went to OutYouth, a non-profit organization whose mission is to support and provide services to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth ages 12 to 19 in Austin and Central Texas. I did not win either event that I entered, but left with clarity regarding what my black ass needs to do to get ready for the rest of the tennis season. Rest assured that ‘imma’ bring Serena to Toronto during May 1-3.
Austin is a great city, and I hope to bring more folks from the Toronto clan back there next year for this tournament. The week was not all about tennis. I made some new friends, met up with old ones and did enough in town to “keep Austin weird”. Enjoy.
Getting there and getting back
This was the trip that almost never was, due to the fact that I hadn’t followed through on booking my flight using my aeroplan miles weeks in advance. I know exactly how it happened, I booked the hotel first from Thurs to Sunday (the exact duration of the tournament). Then when I went to take care of the flight through aeroplan, realized that I could only fly Thurs-Mon not Thurs-Sun. [Insert ‘MF’ here]. I fixed the hotel and never went back to setup the flight until days before the tourney. I decided to save the miles and pay for the flight outright. However, I did end up adding another connection on the trip down to keep the cost under a grand. Never again will I do that to myself – all kinds of foolishness trying to pull off Toronto-Newark-Charlotte-Austin in one day. I was bold to assume my luggage would travel with me – my rackets and clothes had not left Charlotte by the time I reached Austin. Luckily US Airways had my stuff at the host hotel by midnight. Phew.
My Tennis and the Tournament
The HOT8 gave me a great opportunity to try out some new things on court and to win my first match on American soil. Coming into Austin, I’ve been practicing, working out, training to try to peak for the spring/summer season where I expect to be playing the most tennis. Detroit, Montreal, Toronto and LA are potential stops for me on this year’s GLTA calendar. I did not go as deep into either the singles or doubles draw as I had hoped, but I’m happy with how I played. Bottom line, I need to practice at least 3x per week and be willing to hang with the players who do not give me the type of ball that I usually like to strike.
The tournament was spread across multiple locations to accommodate multiple divisions. There was no women’s division – however, many other GLTA tournaments offer a women’s divison or entry of women into the main draw. I had the opportunity to play at Austin High and Pharr Tennis Center – both offered multiple courts and option for lights depending on the time of day. I should have jumped on hotwire ahead of time to get a rental car to help me get around, however, a number of folks were nice enough to usher me around (you know who you are and I thank you again) back to the host-hotel, the Embassy Suites in Central Austin off the IH-35.
Hats off to the organizers for the selection of the host hotel and the organization of the banquet. The rooms were pretty nice, and the banquet was well done. Points for not waiting to kick off festivities prior to allowing us to eat. We made that mistake at our own club banquet, and suffice it to say it was a mess. In true Texas fashion, there was a full staff on hand to host a full casino that had about 90% participation from the banquet attendees. There was also an auction for a series of donated prizes to raise money for OutYouth as well as a draw for free entry for another tournament on the GLTA Tour. Yours truly won two items – Nina Garcia’s Little Black Book of Style and a free entry into the LA Open in September. Mikey, we best pack up MJ, ‘cause we’re going to LA.
Target, Nightlife, Arts and Shopping
The draw party was held at Rain nightclub on Thursday night. Reminds me a bit of Fly and 5ive in Toronto. It gave me an opportunity to meet the players, the tournament director, and some familiar faces from other tournaments. I won’t even deny that I made sure that I took every opportunity to drum up interest in our Toronto tournament, the Canadian Gay Open. Even left pamphlets at the registration desk.
Shortly after the draw party, Dean and I grabbed a bite at the Spaghetti Warehouse. I ordered the Chicken Parm and struggled mightily to get through it. Y’all love to eat in the south. Rhonda picked me up and offered to spend some time with me before the tournament and even made it to my first match. That same Thursday night, Rhonda and I hung out around Congress and ended up checking out Eric (a musician) who was playing guitar at Friends, a popular hotspot. I had a couple of beers, not quite the ideal preparation for a tournament (but for those who have watched me play after a night of being at Grapefruit to the last song, you know I’ve done much worse prior to playing early morning tennis). At some point while Rhonda and I were walking down the street, a flurry of 20-somethings, mostly young college guys were coming at us, like a flock of pigeons fighting for the last crust of bread. These were pastel-pigeons who obviously dressed at the same place, to which I said something like, “Rhonda, I think we’re under polo attack, it’s raining pastels on 6th street.”
Not much to tell on Friday, but I got do venture around the city on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday night, following the banquet, a group of us checked out a couple of bars: OilCan Harry’s and Kiss and Fly, both in the Warehouse District. OilCan had a great dance floor, easy access to drinks and the bartenders were the type of guys that would audition pose for harlequin romance novel covers; charming, wide-eyed and muscular. Kiss and Fly, the three-leveled playground was simply that – a playground for young children and I was the mature older crossing guard. There were guys my age and older, but we weren’t the majority. It didn’t even feel like a gay bar – it could have easily been a women-run salon given the ratio of women to men was itching close to 1:1. Great music, however, but I’ll take more Harry’s oil over the kiss when I return.
On Sunday, I opted not to venture out to watch the finals, for fear I would have jacked someone for the singles trophy. I did manage to visit the Austin Museum of Art for their Hatch exhibit. Hatch posters, hands-on creations etched in wood prior to being printed, were designed to illustrate many facets of American life in the 20th century. Many of the pieces showcased represented artists, political events and American life. This process still exists today. Had fun looking at the different posters – food ads, movie ads, and a poster for a Rod Stewart concert in the 1990s stuck out for me as ones that remembered (could not take pictures, unfortunately). Afterwards, I checked out the Texas Capitol building, the largest of its kind in the US. I didn’t care to go inside, but did take a few photos as I walked back and forth along Congress. After I took the shots at Congress, I had the urge to try to see how far away from the nearest “Paradise Pen” outlet on my iPhone (my fetish for pens is close to that for t-shirts). Turns out that there was one at Barton Creek Mall and I made the trek out there. Barton Creek reminds me of the other types of American major malls I’ve been to in Las Vegas, and Vienna – built like a spider with a large core at the center. The Paradise Pen store was in the center, hence it didn’t matter where the cab dropped me off; every leg was the same distance to the center. I would consider myself to be a pen collector – having multiple brands from that store in particular. Even though they have International Shipping, my friends (cough, coworkers) should expect to be hauling stuff back from there for me prior to every trip from AUS to YYZ.
The tennis guys got a laugh about my excitement about going to Target for the first time. Throw me a bone; we do not have Target in Canada. The hotel happened to be near a “Super Target”, one that specializes in CPG and produce. It was quite the experience as it gave me an opportunity to succumb to one of my many vices – graphic t-shirts. I’ve been a t-shirt collector for years, much to my mother’s dismay while I lived at home. Student Council, tech conferences, tennis tournaments, youth seminars, concerts (and the street vendors outside of the ACC in Toronto, yes I BUY from them) all adds up to a ridiculous amount of t-shirts. Mikey likes his ‘Goonies’ tee that I was able to pick up for him.
And that was Austin, I did my best to keep it weird. Had a great time and would rank it up there with San Francisco and Portland as places I enjoy visiting and would consider living. Looking forward to coming back to the city in the future.
All photos from this trip can be found here at my personal SmugMug site.