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The Life Quixotic

Meet Austin's Most Interesting Meetups


Produced and Styled by Hannah Zieschang

Like many, I fell deeply in love with Christopher Guest’s “Best in Show.” Then, “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Moonrise Kingdom.” The characters’ stilted staccato deliveries, the Xacto knife-sharp dialogue and the flawless costuming offered full-on character acting titillation. This year’s “Hell or High Water,” with the ongoing jabs between two Texas Rangers and the my-way-or-the-highway, Poth, Texas waitress, felt like old home week. We know those types. Great comedy delights us because the situations are highly relatable. Characters resonate because we can identify with them. But in the act of referring to someone as a “character,” are we subtly putting down the armrest and defining them as different? In Austin, we’ve always celebrated the individual, those who pursue their unique interests and stand apart. Perhaps watching others own their outer-edge qualities give us permission to embrace ours. Use your own hair to knit a sweater? Cool. Make flan out of hand-pressed hempseed milk? First “What the…?”, then: “Show me how!”

Austin’s individuals don’t sit in their solo state long … we form rich communities that become primary or secondary families. The bottom line, if we nudge this reasoning into a deductive exercise, is that Austinites are either all fairly normal in our individuality, or we are all very rich characters.

For our People issue, the Tribeza team waded into the teeming-with-possibilities pond of local meetups, which held more than 800 species. We reached out to six that captured our attention. We found that meetup groups helped many new to the city find their clan. As Godiva Morte, a member of the retro dress-up group, Vintage Vixens, put it: “One of the things that is so wonderful about the community is a lot of us were the weird kids or outsiders. When you connect with a group that is ‘I love this thing,’ there’s that connection already.”

Welcome to Meetupville. Where individual consensus counts.

Longhorn Lockpicking Club

“It’s kind of like doing a Soduku puzzle blindfolded, and it’s very relaxing,” shared Longhorn Lockpicking Club member Blake Bahrenburg. While many might find a lake or spa day relaxing, for the past ten years, Bahrenburg and other club members have gathered on Saturdays to solve metal puzzles: opening locks without a key or the combo. Beer is usually involved. And they have their rules: You only open locks that belong to you, or you have been given permission to open. Second, you don’t pick any lock you rely on because there’s a chance you might destroy it. If you do, you are going to have a bad day. “Our mantra is non-destructive entry,” noted Daniel Crowley, dismissively adding, “The destructive techniques are kind of boring.”

Most of the group’s members are into cyber security. And the analog version of someone cracking security is lock picking. Club organizer Doug Farre has an esoteric take on why this hobby engages them. “We rely on locks for security, but there are lots of problems with them. It’s a lot like going through life: understanding the world around you, but not relying on things blindly.”

Is there a lock that can’t be picked? According to the group, nothing in the world is unpickable … it’s just matter of time. When we were looking for a location for their photo shoot, I suggested a local lock and safe shop to Farre. Wouldn’t that be fun? He paused and demurred. Based on a past experience, he noted that this particular shop may not think that was such a good idea. Of course. Nothing like having people over who can prove your systems aren’t, you know, failsafe.

Fortunately for the rest of us, the group gives manufacturers feedback on the shortfalls of their locks. Knowing what they do, what lock would they “pick ” if they were buying one? Not a household name or one you’ll find at Lowe’s: the ABloy Protec. You can purchase these bad boys on the website Security Snobs, naturally.

Many thanks to Perry’s Steakhouse for hosting us for the photo by their old bank vault.

The Austin Pug Club

When I visited with club leader Janet Barrington at her southwest Austin home, three items of pug ephemera greeted me before I reached the door. Janet, a professional assistant at a downtown law firm, greeted me and quipped, “Is this an intervention?” Her love of pugs is evident everywhere the eye lands. Pug mugs, magnets, sweaters, purses, slippers, stuffed pug toys, pug aprons, pug action figures. She introduced me to her 12-year-old pug, Kiwi. No ordinary pug, Kiwi has had her own modeling career. Janet shared books featuring Kiwi in costumes. A stand out was the “I Dream of Jeannie” getup.

“Pugs,” confided Janet, “are a lot of dog in a small package. They are very, very comical. I haven’t known a pug that hasn’t loved to dress up and be funny.” The Austin Pug Club is the third largest chapter in the USA with 1,300 members and they really enjoy getting together. There have been pug luaus. Pugs and their owners donned grass skirts and coconut bras and all did the limbo. There was PugStock, a salute to the ’60s with pooches and owners in tie-dye and love beads. Don’t forget the PugTuckey Derby. But the annual Pugkin Fest is the grand poo bah event, held every October. Pugs get in costume and are pulled around on homemade “floats” and compete for prizes.

“Once Kiwi and I dressed up as Marvin the Martian and Commander Canine. I was her pet dog. It was pretty funny because we used one of those domed BBQ grills , a bowl to accommodate Kiwi and filled the rest of it in with spray foam. We put all her little controls: reverse, thruster, ray gun and a launcher that said ‘Kaboom!’” Kiwi has also been Vanna White with a mini Wheel of Fortune, and played Lucy to Janet’s Ethel. They re-enacted the famous chocolate factory scene, complete with a mini working conveyor belt with candy hot glue-gunned on it.

It’s a lot of fun to work with these people, Janet said. “You can tell they really love their dogs. It takes a lot of effort to plan a Saturday morning get-together for the dogs. What bonds us is that we don’t think the other person is crazy for doing it.”

Here’s something that will put you over the top at your next Trivia Night: What do you call a group of pugs? A grumble. Pugs are known for their snorting, which makes their group moniker fit like a jeweled collar.

Thanks to the historic event space, The Mansion, for letting Austin Pug Club members and 16 pugs pose on their carpets.

Unicycle Football Club

You’ve got to love a group that gives each other nicknames like Bobo Erectus, Fuzzy and Knobby Tire. The Unicycle Football League boasts unique traditions galore. It’s filled with teams that, judging from the creativity of their names, are way outside of Little League, and take a knee in adultville. There are the Los Bierdos, whose team logo is a jovial cartoon character with a sombrero. Look again and … could it be? A phallic symbol with just enough cover to sneak by Facebook censor algorithms. Others in the eight-team league include the Unichychos, Rolling Blackouts and Gnarwhales.

NFL Films recently released a short video on the league’s championship playoff, called the Stupor Bowl. Find it online and smile. A group of women dubbed the Uni-bradwz lead the cheers. Following touchdowns, they link arms to form a human goalpost for those extra point kicks. There’s an announcer who wears a marching band helmet with a row of military ribbons affixed to his T-shirt.

The games adhere to football rules — with a few departures — and has refs. Coin tosses are for sissies. To determine which team receives first, two opposing players joust using poles affixed with boxing gloves. Instead of pure tackle, they subscribe to “flackle.” Players can stop the opposing team members by knocking them off their steeds or snatching flags from their belts. Successful extra point kicks actually gain teams two points. Ever try kicking a ball between Unibrawdz while riding a unicycle? There you go. Game locations rotate around parking lots of coffee shops, an old farmer’s market, a billiards club and rec centers in San Marcos. Josh Palmer, aka Palm Party, is Los Bierdos’ informal team caption. What drew him to the game? “There’s something about it that’s challenging. And it’s a fun way to spend a Sunday, let loose and have a good time with your friends.”

Vintage Vixens

They’ve studied robotics, build websites, work in IT, yet they spend their free time happily ensconced in an era where manual typewriters — with matching cases— were the cutting-edge communications tools.

Meli Trumbo, Godiva Morte, Lisa Friedrich and Maureen Mahoney are four of Austin’s Vintage Vixens 200 plus members. A love of vintage fashion, midcentury design, rockabilly music and its accompanying lifestyle connects them. You’ll find VV members taking vintage shopping trips around Austin and strutting their style at USO parties at WWII-era hangars.

Why vintage? “It’s one way to connect with my personal past,” shared Trumbo. “I love that I own my grandmother’s jewelry and have some of her things in my home.”

Friedrich got into vintage fashion as a high schooler in LA. Without a budget to keep up with the other kids, she found great 50s things in thrift stores …. and her style. Trumbo and Morte, who are both burlesque performers, are also big fans of taking time to put clothes on. “There’s something about the simplicity of things and the magical stuff that happened just getting ready to go to the store,” Morte reflected.

Mahoney finds the contrast of how things were then, versus how they are now, fascinating. “From my dad I heard about the culture, and cousins who pinned a dollar bill to their bra for phone money.” She noted people from the bygone era were the original recyclers, servicing things and altering dresses instead of buying new ones. This vixen shared what may be the ultimate throwback recycling tip: “Women would collect their own hair , wrap it in a hair net, shape it and stick it in their hair to make a victory roll.”

That time period was also known for its manners, something the Vintage Vixens are fond of. “It translates into how you treat each other and who you are,” observed Morte. “If you invite me to a party, I’m going to go home and write you a note and mail it to you because I know where you live. It’s things like that we should hold on to.”

Many thanks to Go Vintage for the loan of their trailer, “Pearl,” for this photo shoot.

Dagorhir, A LARP Group

Don’t feel bad about not knowing the meaning of LARP. Our editorial team didn’t either before researching this story. It’s nothing like ROFL, IMHO. It stands for Live Action Role Playing, and Austin’s Dagorhir group, a genre of LARPers, is called Riesendstadt. They are part of a trend that has been going on since the ‘70s. College students then were re-enacting “Lord of the Rings” scenes, running around with foam-covered broom handles fighting each other. It’s evolved a bit since then, according to Riesendstadt’s group leader, Brenton Stover. “We have outfits we wear that are fantasy or historically sourced.” The foam weapons are impressive in design and girth. But, similar to spun sugar glass-paned windows that innocently shatter on impact when stunt drivers crash into them, foam weapons don’t pack a huge punch. Stover noted there are no spells or throwing of spell sacks (whew!) but it’s definitely a last-man-standing kind of sport and delivers a workout. “However good you are at swinging a foam stick is how good you are at the game,” he noted.

He shared that his personal evolution in the sport has morphed based on his joints. “My fighting name is Zeke,” he explained. “When I first started out, I was determined to be an Asian character, like a ninja. But I got older and realized I didn’t want to run anymore. My garb now is closer to an English/German knight and I’ve got all sorts of armor: full functioning armor that can stop actual weapon hits. Some people make real chain mail and others, real plate, but not so much here in Texas. Here, it’s linen garb and leather stuff.” A kind of resort-wear version of combat gear.

Stover says his LARP group has a wide variety of fighters: lawyers, politicians, customer service supervisors and tattoo artists from 16 to their late-50s. There is one tradition they stick to: heading to a Chinese buffet after a Sunday afternoon of jousting and sword brandishing. Would he have rather lived in that other age? “No, I definitely enjoy modern conveniences. But this is a way to get out and enjoy yourself without your entrails spilled on the floor.”

Austin Fantasy and Science Fiction Book Club

Photography by Cody Hamilton

Chad Pomerlau was new to Austin in 2011 and looking for a sci-fi book club. Not finding one, he started one himself. Today, the group has around 1,350 members; a couple hundred of those are active. They regularly meet for social nights at the Draught House. “Nerd chic,” observed Pomerlau, “has helped people to get out and be proud of their interest in sci-fi.” Then there are the hardcore members, who regularly show up at the monthly book discussions. And the dialogue can get pretty intense. “We’ve never had a physical altercation, but we do get very, very heated sometimes around discussions of gender roles and topics that are important to people,” Pomerlau explained. “Science fiction is a genre that began in an era where gender politics was not existent. Your classics were written in the ’70s and ’80s and they can be very chauvinistic.” That, he relayed, can be a very charged discussion.

The club has fostered friendships. Members go to each others’ weddings and get together outside of the club. When they showed up for their photo shoot, they all bought their favorite sci-fi or fantasy tome to be photographed with and hung out well beyond the shoot’s wrap to visit.

Does he think extraterrestrials exist? Pomerlau paused. Was it a beam-me-up moment to endure that question, yet again? He chose his words carefully, like a patient professor: “From a mathematical standpoint, if life has an infinitesimal chance of beginning, given the vastness of the universe, it seems pretty likely.”

Read more from the People Issue | December 2016