Over the last 13 years, I’ve had the good fortune to visit and see many different parts of this country. One of my favorite things to do is to try to experience the America away from the tourist trinkets and franchised neon lights. Some recent examples of this includes, spending 20 minutes on the phone with room service in Milwaukee because we were fascinated by each others accents or holding court with the Atheist Club of Austin.
I added to my American experience last weekend while I was in Austin for SXSW and I have to admit, it was pretty fucking classic.
We started the evening in a pretty bad way. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was nearing 10PM my time. I was not happy. We headed a Mexican restaurant that I’d been to last year but to be honest it wasn’t because it was anything special, I was just desperate to not fuck around too much longer.
After being told that we’d be subjected to a 45 minute wait I proceeded to put my scowl on and wandered around the dining room hoping to frighten any diners who thought it might be acceptable to sit around ‘socializing’ with their dinner companions.
After a few minutes of no joy, my co-worker Aaron suggests that we move on. He even called ahead to his favorite Mexican restaurant in Austin and declared that, “There’s no wait. It’s 10 minutes away and they’ll seat us right away.”
“Fuck you, Aaron. I’m hungry. Don’t even fucking talk to me.”
“No, man. Trust me, it’s Austin’s best Tex Mex. Matt’s El Rancho. We can have the Bob Armstrong Dip. Let’s just go.”
“Seriously, fuck you. Don’t mess with me right now. I haven’t eaten since breakfast.”
Alas, I relent and we get in a cab. Chris, the cab driver proceeds to share his story about his deployment in Afghanistan and Aaron engages him in what the best ribs are in Austin.
Rudy’s? Who the fuck cares. I need to eat. Why is Chris driving so slowly? Are we in a bad Cheech and Chong movie? Why is he talking to so slowly? What’s he drinking? Or, smoking? Can I have some?
Aaron, ever the salesman, continues to push Matt’s El Rancho to us.
“Dude, we’re going to have the Bob Armstrong Dip. It’s like nothing you’ve had before.”
“What kind of Mexican restaurant calls itself Matt?”
“Matt’s a Mexican dude, man.”
“Fuck you. I’m hungry.”
We pull into Matt’s and it looks like your basic Mexican restaurant–a local eatery that’s a few blocks away from the best rib experience I’ve ever had the night before. At this point I’m starting to feel a little bit more positive and less angry at Aaron, and the world.
Promptly after sitting down and starting in on the chips & salsa, Aaron kicks things off by ordering a large order of the Bob Armstrong Dip.
As I finally feel the blood circulating through my body again and my organs refiring, the ‘only in Austin’ moment kicks into high gear around me.
“Excuse me, is that the Bob Armstrong Dip?” says an older gentleman who has walked up to our table.
Who the fuck is this guy?
“Are you eating the Bob Armstrong Dip?” he asks again. We look up and nod.
“I’m Bob Armstrong.”
At this point I’m at a bit of a loss, just generally puzzled by what’s going on. When my mind comes back to what’s playing out in front of me I realize that this guy is either bored and lonely, works here or is trying to tell us something.
Bob begins to tell us that he created the dip and Matt asked him for the recipe and put it on the menu. While I’ve gotten some sustenance in the form of some nicely greasy chips, I’m still not at the top of my game yet. So, if I’m going to have to listen to this it better be worth my time.
“I don’t mean to be rude but I’m pretty skeptical by nature. If you’re really Bob Armstrong, I’d like to see some identification.”
An awkward smile breaks on his face. He’s probably thinking, “who the fuck do these people think they are. They’re in my town. They’re eating a dish named after me and they’re asking me for, what? ID?”
He pulls out his wallet and flips it open.
ROBERT LANDIS ARMSTRONG.
Even better, Mrs. Armstrong comes by to say hello and asks me where I’m from. Apparently the effort I had been putting into my Texas accent was in vain.
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. It doesn’t get much better.