Joey Phoenix Media
Photographer • Videographer


Salem, MA Portrait and Event Photographer

Moonshine and the Arrival of the Bats

Uncommon Objects Austin

The air was rich with the pungent smell of guano and stale garbage. The heat was a pervasive second layer, a turtleneck sweater in mid-August. I wrung out my hands, clammy from the change in temperature, and sucked down a banana snow cone in the company of bees. I never knew bees liked bananas. My crew and I, we had stumbled across a series of food trucks, a ubiquitous sight in Austin, Texas, and settled beneath tilting umbrellas for a breather in the shade. We had marched up and down South Congress Street for the better part of 2 hours, stopping periodically in boutiques and knick knackeries to look around.

The strip is filled with random shops like Allen's Boots ($500 at the low end), Uncommon Objects (The Antique Store from Purgatory), and Jo's Coffee. I never drink iced coffee, but at the latter stop I gulped down an enormous iced americano held in one hand while furiously wiping sweat off my forehead with the other. It's an outdoor café famous for its graffiti wall, but it had been too much to ask for air conditioning. While we were there, I had excused myself for a moment to use the W.C., only to walk in to a glorified closet with a red tinted skylight that washed everything around in crimson hues, my pink shirt looked white inside that room. And if it was 100 outside it was 120 in there.

Back at the food truck, snow cone gone, espresso  starting to kick in, I started to feel better, at least marginally anyways. The sun had dipped behind a cloud momentarily, contributing to the upward trend. I was also promised beer and real food at a Beer Garden on Sixth Street called Easy Tiger. Pretzels? Beer Cheese? Tiny glasses of perfectly poured stout? Yes, and so much more. Sixth Street in Austin has received it's share of hype, thanks to the unruly student population; but in late August, with the threat of coming rain and barely a soul in sight, it was almost peaceful.

Rainey Street
Rainey Street

Later on that night, after wandering around by myself for a bit, hiding in coffee shops, and trying to stay out of the rain, I walked to the Ann W. Richards South Congress Avenue Bridge for a specific purpose. First of all, I don't consult guidebooks, I listen to people. If they've been somewhere before, and they liked it, they'll let you know. A few years ago a woman told me that one of the best things about Austin, Texas was the bat migration. She told me that each night, after sundown, hundreds of thousands of bats would fly out from under the bridge and blacken the sky. I took her word for it.

So there I was, 7:45 or so, snapping pictures of the glorious horizon and waiting for the arrival of the bats. An hour passed before it was finally dark. An old man in a bat hat, apparently a common sight, signed to me that I was on the wrong side of the bridge. I leapt across four lanes of traffic in haste, and he gave me a friendly slap on the back and smiled. I nodded and signed "thank you," and he headed off to help other confused pedestrians. Beneath the bridge, an endless stream of bat guano was sliding along the water out into the open, the sounds of chirps were filling the air. Anticipation gripped me, I was so excited.

An hour later, I was disappointed. Had I seen bats? Sure. But they barely came out from under the bridge. The light of the street lamps overhead practically made their figures invisible above the water. It was not the swarming cavalcade that I had waited years to see. It was just a few restless bats under a bridge. And, I was there in August, which is supposed to be peak season. The Arrival of the Bats? No, more like the arrival of the hype that doesn't pay off.

Instead of moping in the night air, the people I was with swept me away towards the other great street of Austin: Rainey Street.

What used to be a row of beaten down historic mansions has been purchased and restored by the city of Austin. The street is filled with eclectic restaurants of all varieties, and the area was bustling with people looking for great food. We settled on a place called The Lustre Pearl, a fantastic little dive with an outside tea garden. Parked in the garden was a food truck, a Mexican food truck, from which I ordered tacos (the staple of Austin) with some sort of ridiculously tasty mango salsa.

The best part of the night, however, was the Moonshine Lemonade from the bar inside. Sweet, Tangy, instant warmth moving throughout my body. And in that hazy moment beneath the glow of the tea lights, I realized that Austin wasn't so awful after all.

Moonshine can be very persuasive.