I’m a list maker. Granted, after having kids, it becomes harder and harder to actually cross anything off any of my given lists, but when I do, it’s quite a feeling. That’s why I was intrigued by Catherine’s idea to come up with an Austin Bucket List for 2014. This wouldn’t be a list of all the things my kid needed to do before kindergarten, or all of the places to take your kids around the world before they grow up (yes, I own that book), but just a short list of things I want to get out and do this year. One or so per month. Set the bar low — isn’t that the hallmark of parenting?
Having grown up here in Austin, I pride myself on having been to a lot of the Austin landmarks. I’ve gone to the Broken Spoke a bunch of times as well as many of the bygone haunts, such as Liberty Lunch and Steamboat. One conspicuous hole in my list of Austin institutions? Chicken Sh%$ Bingo at Ginny’s Little Longhorn (the real name of the event is not spelled out to avoid the use of profanities — this is a family site, after all!)
Maybe because I grew up close to downtown and Ginny’s wasn’t on my radar, or maybe because I became drinking age while attending college out of state and didn’t move back until years later, I didn’t make it to Ginny’s until very recently. A friend of mine was part of a band that played there one weeknight and I went to see her sing. As I understand is the custom, I was asked to dance by a regular, and boy, did he probably regret that decision. When I first went, I appreciated the laid-back, casual nature of the place and had always planned to make it to see whether I could will a large bird to defecate on a particular number while being observed by hundreds of strangers.
Chicken Sh%$ Bingo begins every Sunday at 2pm at Ginny’s. As you may know, Ginny’s recently changed ownership, when owner Ginny Kalmbach decided to retire. Local favorite Dale Watson, who played his first show at Ginny’s over 20 years ago, took over the reins and oversaw a renovation (although I didn’t notice much when I visited last time, a friend of a friend mentioned that there were some updates were sorely needed, although Ginny’s certainly still retains a dive-y vibe). Dale and his band play some Sundays, although you’d have to check Ginny’s Facebook page to find out who’s playing.
Parents can understand that Sunday afternoons are usually family time. Birthday parties, grocery shopping and other outings usually preclude getting away for non-kid time. (I should mention that Bingo is not kid-unfriendly. There were certainly some kids there, although not many. I just don’t think mine would have enjoyed sitting around for a few hours while Mommy drank beer with her friends.) Somehow I managed to get all the stars aligned on a recent Sunday to make it happen. Thankfully, I was able to extricate a few friends from their other obligations to come and join me.
I am grateful to my friend Heidi who gave me the low down on what to expect:
- Some folks bring folding chairs since there is limited seating in the parking lot where much of the overflow ends up from the Saloon.
- Shade is limited, so bring sunscreen and/or a hat.
- Credit cards are accepted inside at the bar, but you should bring cash to pay for bingo and to tip the band.
- You can bring your own alcohol and buy “set ups” at the bar for mixers.
- You can help yourself to free chili dogs served out of a crockpot by the back door.
With this in mind, and with the understanding that things didn’t usually get going until a little later, a group of us headed on down at about 3:30pm. Parking is extremely limited at Ginny’s (as I mentioned, most Chicken Sh%$goers are in the parking lot), so it’s best to carpool and try to find a spot that’s not in front of a house in the neighborhood. We were able to find a spot across the street, so we walked over with our folding chairs in hand. All of the picnic tables with pop-up tents were taken at this point, and a good crowd had assembled in the shade at the perimeter of the parking lot. We were still able to snag a little shade in the back of the parking lot, so we set up camp.
I ventured into the bar, where the bingo cage was already all set up and Ginny herself was presiding over the festivities. I asked her about when bingo started, and she reiterated what someone at the outdoor bar later told me: the band announces when bingo tickets go on sale, and they sell out very quickly. After grabbing a Lone Star (the outdoor bar also pointed out they sell sandwiches from Monkey’s Nest), I headed back to our shady spot to observe the chickens, who were happily hanging out in their coop, seemingly unaware they would be the focus of much fanfare over the next few hours.
The next half hour made me recall, ever so faintly, what life was like on a Sunday afternoon before kids. Sitting outside, enjoying what might be the last breezy day of our longer-than-usual spring, having a beer and catching up with friends. My friends were paying better attention to the activity surrounding ticket sales, because, sure enough, when the band announced tickets were on sale around 4:30pm (which we couldn’t hear from our spot, regardless), there was a mad rush to get in line. I already knew that tickets were $2 each, you could only buy one per person and that there are 58 spots on the board. My friend and her husband were able to get two tickets, which had a number handwritten on the back.
At around 5pm, someone came over to the chicken coop to get the first designated pooper. It was very hard to get inside to see the action, because of the crowd, but at one point I was in the restroom line and was able to catch a glimpse of the chicken, who seemed quite oblivious to all the attention. I can’t recall how long it took the bird to poop, but it was not a fast affair. The same person who sold the tickets came around later to announce the winner. I’m not sure, but it sounded as though the winner won all or most of the pot.
Soon afterwards, we took a break to go listen to the band. Again, since it was crowded inside, we stood outside of the front door and watched a few couples out on the small dance floor. A little while later, the next round of ticket sales was announced. I was already up, so I ran over to try to get a ticket. I was about 5 people back in line when tickets ran out. The woman next to me in line was very upset about this informal system and approached the ticket taker, mentioning that she had some ideas on how to make the process better, so you didn’t have to stand in line and not get a ticket. I didn’t get the impression the staff was that concerned about changing the way things are done. It didn’t bother me too much, and it seemed kind of counter to the whole vibe to make the process much more formal. I was perfectly happy just to enjoy a leisurely afternoon hanging out with my friends. The vibe in the crowd was very communal, and most of us ended up chatting with folks sitting next to us at some point. When she wasn’t selling tickets, someone from Ginny’s was circulating around the crowd, asking for tips for the band. She was very persuasive, so in the end most of us ended up putting something in the bucket.
My friends and I had a few conversations about the crowd. It was definitely an interesting mix, from the college-aged students to the slightly-older hipsters to thirty-something moms (hopefully we didn’t stand out too much) to some bikers who you would imagine have been coming to Ginny’s for years. It seemed to be a fitting microcosm of Austin today, and everyone got along and had a nice time. Part of me couldn’t help wondering if the old timers were bothered by the influx of outsiders like us.
By about 6:45pm, my friends and I started to feel like it was time to rejoin our families, so we headed home. My understanding was each Sunday there are three rounds of bingo, which seemed to happen at about 5pm and 6pm, so I’m guessing the last round was around 7pm. A lot of the early birds had left by then, and it had cooled down a bit, so you might be able to arrive later on and have a better chance at getting a ticket for bingo.
I’m definitely glad to have checked Chicken Sh%$ Bingo off my list. It was a very fun and relaxing afternoon. I’m not sure if I would try again over the summer, since I imagine the parking lot would get pretty warm, but the person who seemed to be in charge at Ginny’s mentioned that she is trying to get more pop-up tents, so there might be more shade coming soon.
Have you been to Ginny’s? What’s your favorite “Austin” experience?
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.livemom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Nicole-Basham-Sara-Marzani-Photography-livemom.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 8-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”.[/author_info] [/author]