LOOKING FOR A GIFT ON THE CHEAP IN SOCO? GOOD LUCK

BYLINE: DAVID VANCE
DATE: 09-06-2001
PUBLICATION: The Austin American-Statesman
PAGE: 48

Say you've got nine bucks in your pocket and your mother's birthday was three weeks ago. Of course she's hard to buy for, and you want something unique. No mall present will do. You want to find funky Austin, feel the vibe of the slowing, still growing, digital city. If you could purchase atmosphere, bottle the feel of the place and wrap it up for mom, that would be perfect. You hear South Congress is a place where that is possible. You can find the funk of the city in SoCo. Perhaps.

You park near Guero's. A car honks. It drizzles. Looking across the street, you don't even bother with Aqua. Nine bucks? Doubtful. Besides, it's across the street. Your life is worth more than a rush- hour crossing of South Congress.

Stepping into Vulcan Video (mom shops here) you overhear the clerk say, "Man, I hate that (expletive). That (expletive) comes in here and says . . ."

Three copies of Too Much Coffee Man, a comic book, stare back at you from a lonely rack to your right. Look at the Star Wars figurines in the case. Check out the quirky titles. "Pink Lady . . . And Jeff Vol. 1" with guest stars Bert Parks, Blondie, Sherman Hemsley. "The Magic of Madison County." John Rhys-Davis "interprets" the poetry of Whitman, Yeats, Byron.

OK, maybe the movie posters. "Bats," with Lou Diamond Phillips. Five bucks. The price is right. She loves movies. No way.

Next stop, Antigua. Seems eclectic. Dinosaur egg, from China, $600. Drawer knobs, hand painted, $7. A hydrostone cast of a hand. Twenty bucks.

"That one is broken. It's not like it doesn't work," the clerk says. Work? What does it do?

"You could put in on a door and use it as a handle," she says.

"It says half-off."

"Ten dollars," she says. "Nah, nine. Shoot, eight is good enough. It's broken."

Keep looking. A rock. Is that a snail fossil? Six bucks. Amber with encased termites, $89.

Up the street, the sign says says "Mi Casa es Su Casa." Lots of triple digit figures. $750. $800. $850. Maybe a coaster? Pick it up, turn it over, $22. Made in Mexico. One coaster. Drawer knobs. The same ones you saw at Antigua. Made in Mexico. $8.50. One knob. You slide out the door.

Nine bucks. You want to be able to say, "Oh, I picked it up in this shop in SoCo." SoCo. Just saying it seems too hip for your skin. SoCo. So Cooooool. SoCo. Repeat it. So . . . Cooo . . .

Through the door of Lone Star Illusions and you think one thing: Spencer's Gifts. A fart alarm. "The Enemy is Syphilis" on a lunchbox.

Back outside, you walk the sidewalk, feeling for the pulse of the street, straining to tap the life of the city. A father with two small children walks by. A car honks. It drizzles. Nine bucks. Nothing.

Next stop, Jo's. The heck with the shopping, you're desperate for so cool SoCo, and what's cooler than a coffee shop? Sit outside, people watch, interpret poetry, sip a hot beverage, be cool. Never mind that you hate coffee.

You walk up to the window and coffeeboy seems like he's 13 feet above you. You feel like you're eight-years-old. Why is this shop so high? Looking up at the menu is dizzying.

You look at the hot tea selections. "Earl Greyer." Is that a pun? Who cares. You hate hot tea.

"Thanks."

There are other places: Therapy. Pink.

Enough. Go do what you should have done in the first place. Back to Guero's, happy hour 3-7 p.m., free chips and salsa. Yes. Twenty- five cent black bean and cheese tacos. Sit outside. Yeah.

"Hey," says the suit at the next table, cityboy machismo gushing into his cell phone. "I'm sitting at Guero's. Whoa. Look at that chick. Come over here honey."

A car honks. It's raining harder now. Nothing.

You may contact David Vance at (512) 445-3502 or [email protected]

First Thursday on South Congress

When: All merchants will remain open until 10 p.m. today

What: Live music at Antigua and Pink, art fair at Guero's, "Rock N Reel" at Jo's, more.

Where: South Congress, roughly between the 1000 and 1700 blocks

Info: 326-2331