The bats in Austin are really something to see.
Or so we had heard.
Bought the Book
On a wintry evening trip to a neighborhood bookseller, this book caught my attention from its position on the top shelf of the “Texas” section. We had just moved from Amarillo to Austin a couple of weeks before and were starting to plan some of what we wanted to see and do in in our new city.
From iconic pizza to scenic spots, this is the definitive list. 100 Things to Do in Austin – before you D-I-E, y’all.
That Title, Tho
Even though I’m really glad I found this book, there’s something about the title that sort of bothers me.
Is it because there’s some sort of troubling positive/negative combination? Do / Die?
Yes, I think that might be it.
Of course, I know everybody’s gonna d-i-e sometime. My Mamaw used to say whenever the Good Lord took her she would be ready to go. But she didn’t know about this book, now, did she?
And now that I know about it, could I ever really feel as free to “go” as she did?
Not if I don’t see the 100 Things.
Such a Dilemma
See what I mean, y’all? There’s some dilemma in being Over Fifty and reading that darn title. It produces unwanted anxiety!
I start to question will I have time to see everything? Should I try to do the outdoor things while my knees are still good and save the pizza spots for later?
And mercy sakes, what happens if I only get to number 99? I can just see my kids consoling each other at the funeral. Poor Mom. She had one more to go. If only she could have made it to 100. (Not years – things on the list!)
Scavenger Hunt Memories
The minute I saw this book on the shelf at that bookstore, I also felt a deep familiar feeling. It was as if the title or the number or the urgency was dredging up some powerful, long-forgotten emotion.
Then it hit me.
It was the exact same feeling that I felt on Wednesday night youth group scavenger hunts!
Oh, gosh, that was all kinds of fun. I remember that none of us could drive yet, so one of the (most dedicated of all) parents would cart us all over town with a wacky list of items to gather. Whichever team made it back to church with the biggest sack full was the winner.
I just loved those scavenger hunts. Especially when there were boys on my team.
Same Frenzied Feeling
Now that I have at least one scavenger boy (or man) who doesn’t mind being on my team, I get the same frenzied instinct that came over me back in the day.
Give me a list, charge me with a mission, and I’m ready to explore. If it’s a seasonal activity, I have a hard time waiting. If there might be a line, I want to get there early.
But if I feel like everyone else has seen it but me, it’s hard for me to throttle back until I’ve seen it for myself.
Case in point? The bats in Austin.
Number 97: Watch the Congress Avenue Bridge Bats Fly
Before we ever got to Austin, I had heard about the bats. But in my mind, they seemed like the epitome of Austin weird. Besides, I couldn’t figure how looking at bats flying would ever be all that dramatic an occurrence, nor even very exceptional.
You know how every town acquires a reputation for that one quirky attraction that makes it famous in Texas Monthly? Amarillo has the Cadillac Ranch, and Muleshoe has Mule Days. Well, I just assumed the bats probably held that same sort of spot in Austin’s infamy.
However, once I read that seeing the bats in Austin take flight was Number 97 on the list of 100 Austin things that must to be done before I d-i-e-d, the prospect took a great sense of urgency.
This was suddenly a huge case of “everyone has seen this but me” thing, you know.
No Foolproof Formula
Google has a lot to offer the tourist who aims to see the bats in Austin.
Search for the best time of year to catch them, and you’ll find this good info. Want to walk down the street for pizza before dusk settles in? Check out a place I recommend on South Congress. Grab your cell phone and dial the hotline for the daily bat-forecast. Watch a nice video of what to expect.
However, there seems to be no foolproof formula.
From a Balcony
The first time we attempted to see the bats in Austin, we were huddled together for warmth. It was winter and windy atop the 50th floor balcony, but who cared? We were here for the check-off. As long as we got to see little black bodies, flying against the backdrop of the setting sun, we could mark this one off the list.
In the near distance, we could see that not many people were standing on the Congress Avenue Bridge. It must have been too cold for them, but we come from the Panhandle. We’re hearty when it comes to the cold, you know. So, we waited and we waited.
Soon, it was dark, and no little bodies had been seen.
You know, the bats in Austin are probably pretty smart after all these years, I thought to myself. Maybe they only come out if there are enough spectators standing on the bridge to make it worthwhile.
Well? That could be true, right, Honey? “I seriously doubt it,” said he. “But it’s okay. We’ll ask around and try again.”
Over a Bridge
One night, we postponed our evening commute to North Austin and stood on the bridge for a couple of hours in our work clothes. Those little varmints were not one bit impressed.
Once again, the bats in Austin were not to be seen.
On a Boat
Our next opportunity to see the bats in Austin came when our church hosted a couples’ dinner bat-cruise. Surely, I thought, they would fly out when our captain shined big red laser lights in their eyes.
It didn’t happen. The little teasers just kept hanging.
I was starting to think that persuading scaveng-ees of yesteryear to hand over treasures to middle schoolers was much easier than it had been for us to spot those bats a’flyin.’
Ten More Minutes
Each time we tried, some hopeful someone (like me) could be heard begging. Just ten more minutes?
Let’s wait just ten.more.minutes.
Then we can leave with a clear conscience. We’ll be satisfied that we did our best. Nothing left on the table. Nothing left on the balcony, bridge or boat either.
I mean, who wants to be a quitter here? This is Number 97 out of 100, for Pete’s sake!
Face the Facts
We had to face the facts – they stood us up. These bats in Austin must have been from the no-show tribe. Nada. Three strikes. We were either outsmarted, outwitted or just outwaited.
Lou Holtz says: It’s always better to face the truth, no matter how uncomfortable. Well, it was plenty uncomfortable to acknowledge our failure at capturing this basic Austin experience. But, we learned a valuable truth.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force a bat to fly.
The good news is that we eventually did see the bats in Austin!
Some friends invited us to dinner at their apartment on the far end of Rainey Street. As we opened the door onto their balcony, waves of bats were flying by, headed down the Colorado River for nightly feeding.
So, I guess there’s a foolproof formula after all – try, try, then try again.
Number 97 – check!
Encouraging 100 intentional adventures for all of us before we you-know-what,