My First Time: Austin Film Festival Writer’s Conference Day 1

“Did you take anything yet?”, asked Chris. “Yeah. Just one,” I replied, as I sluggishly pulled my lucky Moosejaw hoodie over my head. This hoodie has comforted me on every flight since Chris and I met back in 2008. It is now a faded navy with multiple holes around the sleeve cuffs and is my absolute favorite. Chris wonders how long I plan on keeping the ugly thing. I say as long as I don’t die on a plane. It is 3:15 in the AM. We rushed to complete our packing, set the dog up for my mother-in-law scheduled to stop by, and headed out the door. I did a quick check of the important things; Xanax, Dramamine, plane tickets. All set. Our plane was to depart at 6:04 AM and land in Dallas at 8:04. We decided it was more economical to fly into Dallas and drive to Austin. Plus we had never been to Texas, love road trips and had grand ideas (I did, anyway) of awesome, desert, roadside diners, which never happened. I’ll get to that later. I originally wanted to make it to Austin by noon for a specific panel but was so focused on the damn flight, landing was the only goal I had in mind that morning. I know it’s far more dangerous to drive from Dallas to Austin than it is to fly. I get it. Mom is a physics teacher and I know all about the mechanics of flying. Honestly, it’s the heights. I cannot believe I am the only person who allows that to bother them. How does that not bother anyone? 35,000 ft. Above the ground. With nowhere to go. That doesn’t bother anyone? It drives me nuts. I also may be slightly (or severely, depending on who you talk to) emetophobic. Yes. I am afraid to throw up. Completely irrational, I know. And I am especially afraid of throwing up on an airplane, where you are 35,000 ft above the ground with nowhere to go even though I have never experienced motion sickness. “But that’s how you’ll become a seasoned traveler”, says Dr. Nine. There must be other ways to become a seasoned traveler. Anyway. Approaching the airport I knew it was time for another Xanax. These are .25 mg tablets, by the way. I’ve informed my doctor of my flight anxiety several times before. My stomach turns, I shake like a leaf, and eventually go into the bathroom and silently cry for a little bit. At least the Xanax has now eliminated the crying. The closer we get to the airport, the more planes I see landing, and the greater my jealously of those passengers grows. I could not wait to land in Dallas.

The flight was actually really great. I popped one more pill and 2 Dramamine tablets. Chris was asleep before the plane took off and it felt like a 30 minute flight. Thank you American Airlines and thank you drugs!* Those drugs, however, would turn me into a loopy, groggy mess the whole way to Austin. No awesome, desert, roadside diners for us. Just a quick stop at Taco Bell and a coffee I almost spilled in my crotch as I drifted off into drug-induced Never NeverLand.

We arrived to Austin earlier than expected but weren’t allowed to check-in to our hotel yet. It was a La Quinta just outside the downtown area which ended up being way further out than I had anticipated. Strike 2 with attempting to be frugal. I had to do my make-up and change in the lobby bathroom. It was challenging under those awful fluorescent lights but I am optimist, or still high on Xanax, and it worked out just fine.

Finally making our way to the Driskill, Chris dropped me off to go scout out cool places to check out afterwards. The Driskill is a beautiful, historic hotel! I found the registration area handled by the nicest people, received my badge (but had to come back for my “goodie bag”), and was ready for my first panel.

I had 3 to choose from and here’s the thing, being from Detroit,  and not knowing a soul in the industry meant I was in Austin to figure out how to make my own movie. I am also a shy wallflower with no shmooze in me. I couldn’t rely on the Conference for contacts and I was going out the same way I came in – alone. So wisely, I chose The State Of Indie Film with Nicolas Gonda and Kieran Fitzgerald. I learned about Tugg Inc. – something I was not familiar with but am grateful for now – and that these guys had no magic bullet for getting that movie made. They both agreed that there is no better time than now to do it yourself. That would become a reoccurring theme throughout this entire trip. Just do it yourself. I appreciated their honesty and accepted the uphill battle.

Getting to the conference so late, that was the only panel I had time for. And that was ok because, quite frankly, I was overwhelmed. Time for a beer. Considerate Chris had parked about 1.5 miles south of the Colorado assuming I would love the walk back to see another part of the city. Normally he would be correct, but seeing I was running on nothing but a shitty breakfast burrito (and by shitty, I mean never fucking order a breakfast burrito from Taco Bell), Xanax, and Dramamine, 2 miles felt like 25. Nevertheless, we persevered. The walk was very cool. We walked past all these shops and restaurants through SoCo, a somewhat artsy side of town, precisely why Chris chose the route. Finally arriving at the car, we headed off to Independence Brewery over on Todd Ln. It is located inside a warehouse in one of those industrial-style areas.  There is nothing like a well crafted beer after a long, very long day. I started with the Stash IPA which had the perfect balance of hops and citrus, and ended with the RedBud Berliner Weisse. Chris had the Hop Brownie and some kind of strong, bourbonesque, dark beer. Did I mention how good this beer was?

There is a reason why I don’t have much recollection of our second beers and I have to blame it on open-mic stand-up comedy. I have nothing against stand-up comedians, I just feel this responsibility to make the comic feel funny at all times. It’s very awkward for me. If they aren’t funny, I have to give my best fake laugh that isn’t too over the top but not weak enough as to make them feel it isn’t genuine. It takes guts to get up there, you know? I could never do that, but it also puts pressure on me. So selfishly, I think to myself,”Oh God, no”,  find the best time to exit,  make sure the comic is comfortable and my laugh isn’t too forced, all while simultaneously enjoying my beer. That’s a lot. Sometimes you just want to enjoy your beer. Which I did, but can’t remember why and I blame the damn comics. A+ rating for Independence Brewery.

It was getting late and we had technically been up since 3 in the morning so we decided to head towards our hotel. Of course we had to stop for some tacos! We had limited time in Austin and many foods we needed to try. After conducting some research, I discovered a place called Arandas – not to be mistaken for Arandinas, which was also on the list. It was so hard to choose but this looked like the kind of place we were looking for and it was delicious. I didn’t take a picture because I conditioned myself to not be that person who constantly photographs their food, but I did snap a photo of the salsa that seems to only come in hot or hot. It was fucking hot, but delicious.

I wanted to be able to speak Spanish to the staff and perhaps they would’ve appreciated it, but I couldn’t. I’ve since added that to my list of things to do – learn Spanish. As we finished our meal, we were serenaded by a man on guitar who then came around asking for money. I gladly obliged. He was fantastic, as was the meal, and so was the evening.

This day felt like the longest day ever but eventually came to a close. Not too eventful on the Conference front but I was simply looking to get my feet wet anyway. Getting to know Austin was as important as getting to know writers and I had a sneaking suspicion I’d be getting to know Austin a lot more than getting to know those writers.

That’s Day 1. I leave you with Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick. Why? I don’t know. I just felt like listening to it and this jam is bad ass. Find time to listen to it.

*I do not condone the use and abuse of pharmaceuticals but if you have wicked flight anxiety like I do, I say have at it.

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