We were extremely blessed with an abundance of visitors from across the pond this year, including my two nieces, who both wanted to enjoy the 'Texas Experience'.
First to arrive, in March, was Vicky (Samantha's auntie Rose's daughter) together with her three friends, Katie, El and Phil. After the initial panic of wondering where they were all going to sleep, I decided to give them the bedclothes, direct them to the bedrooms other than mine, and let them work it out for themselves. They had arrived during spring break in Austin, which is the time for the music festival South by South West, and the main reason why they chose this time to visit.
South by (as it is commonly known) evolved in 1987 when a few bands played to 700 people. This year 12,000 registered to see hundreds of bands and artists, and thousands more come to breathe in the atmosphere. Sixth Street in downtown Austin, is closed to traffic for five days as bands perform all day and night in the bars, and if they have not managed to procure a stage inside a building, they set up outside on the pavement. Our office is on the corner of Sixth Street. Vast quantities of alcohol is consumed and other methods of relaxation are evident! It is the only week that I smoke, albeit passively. Unless you wear a mask, it impossible to be downtown and not inhale! Around Wednesday afternoon I start to feel very, very mellow. By Friday afternoon I don't have a care in the world and everything makes me laugh, very loudly, which is not normally heard over the monotone screechers who perform about fifty yards to the rear of our office. (It may sound like I am getting old but when the venue for performance is in small yard, access to which is from a small back alley, it might give you an idea of how low down the scale they may be), Saturday afternoon the headache sets in and by Sunday, I am very, very down!
Our visitors, I believe, enjoyed the experience. However, after being in the center of wall to wall activity for a week, and a trip to the theme park on Sunday (and this is Texas. EVERYTHING is bigger in Texas), Monday was going to be an anti-climax.
Enter our heroine. Dana's daughter, Chara, had been looking to purchase a weapon. Guns are legal in Texas, and a license is only needed for a concealed weapon. She was considering going to the gun range to see which model would be preferable. She wondered if our visitors would like to join her for a new experience, and, as Monday night is Ladies night at the range, it would not work out to be too expensive.
We arrived at the range and let Chara organise the weapon selection and we were supplied with goggles and headphones. After a short 'do's and dont's' lecture from the salesman, we entered the room that separated the range from the shop. We had to wait for the door from the shop to be shut before opening the one to the range.
As I walked into the range the panic hit me like a bullet! (Pun definitely intended!) I realised that I was in a room with real guns and real bullets. I had to make the decision whether to stay or go. Opting to stay I decided to test out the pistol. My target was pinned to the wire and I loaded the gun whilst Samantha sent my target out on the pulley to a reasonable distance. My first shot was in the arm of the outlined half man and I was quite happy that I had only wounded him rather than killed him outright or ruined his chances of having children. My next shot was directly in the heart, just to prove that my first shot was not more by luck than judgement! After emptying the barrel into the poor paper victim I stood in line to use the Rifle. With my paper man cast aside for either a quiet burial in the 'trash can' or a more fitting eternal resting place on the wall for all to admire, I put a new improved target on the pulley and ran it all the way to the back of the room. Shooting a rifle has been wavering on and off my wish list ever since my first watching clay pigeon shooting. I had heard that rifles had a 'kick-back' that caused a lot of pain to the shoulder but this model was very light. I am not ashamed to say that I had a great deal of fun and thought it might be worth another trip.
Once we had fired all our allocated bullets into a whole family of legless men, we left the range and gathered in the small room waiting for the door to shut before exiting back into the shop, where Vicky and El had been waiting. Chara went to the display cabinet and asked to look at a couple of guns. The manager of the shop then made what was probably one of the biggest mistake of his life. He asked Vicky if she would like to see a weapon.
No sooner had the (unloaded) gun left his hands did he regret his action. Vicky ran around the stands to find her friends, waving the gun in the air, saying, 'look what I've got!' It was then that they realised that the rifles were not chained to the stands. The ensuing 'Charley's Angels' poses and aiming at stuffed animals dotted around the shop caused more anxiety to the manager who was desperately trying to regain ownership of the gun that was still firmly planted in Vicky's hand. The whole staff sighed with relief as all guns were put back in their places and Vicky's new toy returned safely to the display cabinet, and we left the shop. It was agreed that whilst an interesting experience, the gun range would not be revisited during this or another visit by Vicky and friends, although they thoroughly enjoyed the window shopping!
They left a few days later and our house felt very empty.
The stories of the gun slingers from Bishop Stortford had spread to the far ends of Hertfordshire, and reached the ears of my niece, Emma, who was planning to come to Texas and celebrate my birthday. Emma is my sister, Elise's, daughter.
Being born on the 4th July means that everyone celebrates my birthday. This year was my half century and as it was on a Sunday, celebrations in the City started on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately, on Saturday, I had 'one of my heads!' Determined not to ruin the biggest day of the year, I slept virtually all day, letting the pills do their thing. Fortunately, Sunday morning brought forth good health and a beautifully warm morning. With everyone gathered together before leaving for one of my favourite restaurants for lunch, it was present time! Dana handed me a rectangular gift wrapped box which was rather heavy. I had no idea what to expect and opened it slowly and carefully. The squealing and excitement was captured on video and the threats of 'that better not find its way to facebook' was screamed even louder. It was my very own pistol! Now, I know that there are those who are against weapons in any shape or form, but when my neighbour invited me to join her and her friends for ladies night, I knew I was living a different life in a different world.
After a wonderful lunch we spent the afternoon by the pool and then left for the highlight of the evening. Emma's last visit in 2005, was for my birthday and her lack of enthusiasm for the City's fireworks was more than evident as she let all within hearing distance know that the Big Brother House display was far superior! Willing to risk another disappointment of gargantuan proportions, Emma decided to allow Austin City Council to redeem itself, and we drove to the car park surrounding the mall which overlooks the city and is above the river, where the fireworks were being set off to classical music. The car park was set up like a mini fairground and armed with cameras, Emma and I set off to find an opening in the trees to get the best view. As we hopped from foot to foot trying to capture the beautiful lights exploding in the air, dodging other photographers and snapping odd blurry lines, Samantha set up her tripod, set her camera on top and then to 'two second take', stood back and watched the rest of us attempting to avoid taking a close up of the back of someone's head!
Once the official display had finished, the inevitable rogue displays started to erupt throughout the car park, and no sooner did security head towards one, did another start in the opposite direction. This makes the queuing to leave the area slightly more enjoyable and temperaments remain in good humour.
Once again, an antidote was needed for the anticlimax and as the next day was a public holiday, and a Monday (Ladies day), Samantha and I took Emma to the South side of town and to Reds Gun Range. We went to the counter, showed our ID's and were asked what would be our weapons of choice. Emma had no hesitation. 'I want one like the FBI use', she said with great confidence. Sensing her to be a novice, the salesman politely asked if it was her first time, and having replied in the affirmative, made the suggestion that perhaps she start with something a little more simple, like a pistol.
'Can we have a rifle as well?', Emma asked, now getting into the mood and not wanting to miss an opportunity. Again the salesman politely suggested that she start with the pistol and swap the guns if she still felt the need.
The same procedure took place. Supplied with earphones and goggles (Emma wore her glasses which sufficed) we entered the range. One of the most emphasised instructions given is that if you have a problem with the gun, place it on the shelf, then find an assistant. Under no circumstances do you point your gun at anything other than the target. It would appear that Emma was 'off world' when this instruction was repeated, as she used the gun as a pointer to draw our attention to everything. With choruses of 'no' from Samantha and myself, she finally settled into a rhythm and fired at her target. After shooting for about five minutes, placing the gun on the shelf after each shot, Samantha and I agreed it was time to load the gun! Having been once before, Samantha had become somewhat of an expert in loading and shooting and between them they turned another family of legless men into colanders.
We left the gun range after Emma told the salesman that perhaps she would try the rifle another time. With lots of photos to share with her friends, Emma also decided that once at the gun range, was enough. Fortunately the experience did not phase her too much and that evening she had regained all of her 'Emmaness' and managed to attract the attention of the waiter, so much so, she left with his phone number. Unfortunately, despite Samantha and Edwards best efforts to arrange a foursome, it was not to be.
I am sure the tales of my nieces stories will remain a source of amusement for a long time to come and the gun range has been added to the list of things to do by most prospective visitors. I am also sure the gun range manager's nightmares will subside. I am looking forward to reliving those tales when I return home for my Yuletide visit. My gun has not yet been fired and Annie Oakley's feats will not be challenged in the near future. I will, no doubt, join the girlies for ladies night, but for the time being, it is a far far better thing for me to keep my trigger finger on the keyboard and work my way towards....another story.