Strip Down to Texas Tour - Day 7: The Horro'

With the departure of the band GLASS MANSIONS on Sunday afternoon, at the conclusion of the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival, Vic's house became considerably less populated by rock-n-rollers and the living room couch became available real estate for sleeping. So I slept there Sunday night, substantially more comfortably I might add than sleeping on my thin camping mat on the floor of Vic's study. I slept hard and long and woke up very well rested Monday morning.

Vic's was far less frenetic than the previous mornings during the music fest shenanigans. I chillaxed on the back porch, drank some coffee, and enjoyed the perfect Austin TX weather. Gradually, we started to collectively embrace the idea of getting some food in our bellies, and around 2 PM, Vic took us to a great little vegetarian restaurant nearby, the Bouldin Creek Cafe, for a late breakfast (non-rockstars would call it a late lunch). I had a veggie omelette, marginally increasing the vegetation quotient of my road trip diet and significantly decreasing the refined starch quotient in favor of protein. After eating, Stuart borrowed Vic's scooter and took off on it to go visit a friend of his for the afternoon.

Wendy and Mike run a weekly paranormal podcast called "See You on the Otherside," that focuses on paranormal phenomena and ghosts and conspiracy theories and whatever, and they had an agenda for later in the day to film footage for a video podcast about haunted sites around Austin. Normally, their podcast is audio only, but they wanted to do a video supplement for their loyal podcast fans, as I understand it. About 4 PM, Mike, Wendy, Vic, and I piled into the SUNSPOT van and drove out to the Oakwood Cemetery in Austin where we captured some video for the podcast, including a musical performance by Mike and Wendy at the gates of the cemetery about 7 PM, just as it was closing for the night (it has gained notoriety in recent years as a late night hangout for teenagers and the occasional quasi-Satanic midnight sex party, forcing the city to close it up at night at the behest of local residents).

After a quick stop back at Vic's to freshen up, we headed downtown to the Driskill Hotel, a supposedly haunted site, where Mike and Wendy interviewed a couple of local Texas ghosthunters named Billy and Mark, who host a PBS show about the paranormal called Strange Town. Part of the interview was taped at the Driskill Bar over a couple rounds of Shiner Bock beer (possible sponsor?) and the rest across the street at another putatively haunted site, the Buffalo Billiards Bar, which used to be a brothel.

I should pause here and let my readers know that I am a total skeptic of the paranormal and have never experienced anything that could not be explained by science and the Laws of Nature. There is a reason they call seeing ghosts and hearing haunted sounds "parapsychology," because they happen in the internal realm of the mind, which is capable of extraordinary beliefs and sensations and imaginings that are not bound by external, objective science. The keyword here is PSYCHOLOGY. I have never seen any report of a paranormal happening that was verified by science. In fact, there is a guy named James Randi, a retired stage magician and paranormal investigator, who until his retirement in 2015, offered a $1 million dollar prize to anyone who could demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event under test conditions agreed to by both parties [SOURCE]. No one ever won the prize.

That doesn't mean things didn't happen or weren't experienced by the person or persons reporting the happening, just that they did not meet the scientific standard of proof, mostly reproducibility, but also strong concrete evidence confirmed by objective third party observers. And a million bucks would, I should think, be a pretty strong compulsion to do the rigorous scientific work of proving the existence of ghosts and whatnot. Blurry, unidentified blobs and light reflections that loosely resemble humanoid shapes or spaceships don't cut it for me, but if they do for you, that's great. They don't for James Randi though either. Bear in mind, the human brain is quite good at finding meaning in random shapes. Just the other day I saw the face of the Olympian god Zeus in a cloud formation (though it might have been Thor...but it wasn't a storm cloud, so that's why I am leaning toward Zeus right now).

On the spectrum from skeptic to true believer, I think Mike and Wendy are closer to my skeptical end of the spectrum, but definitely more open minded than me to the possibility of science-defying paranormal weirdness. Billy and Mark seem to fall considerably closer to the true believer axis, I think. They presented some kind of handheld device to Mike and Wendy that could supposedly "translate" localized paranormal happenings into meaningful English words, and the thing was going off like crazy at Buffalo Billiards whilst we were upstairs in the dark and dingy closed off part of the establishment. I have no idea how authentic this ghost sensor was. If it was credible, they missed a huge opportunity to win James Randi's million bucks, but maybe they weren't aware of the challenge. For all I know, they might have built the contraption themselves. It's one of those things some people will willfully suspend their disbelief for, but until I see the peer-reviewed published journal article in Physics Today, I will disbelieve heavily.

At one point in the video footage Mike and Wendy captured, Mark appears to sense something behind him and turns around to look. A moment later, their paranormal Tricorder thing on the table lights up with a new word. One could find a correlation in those two near simultaneous events, but it could also be pure coincidence, or maybe even a gimmick of some kind (presumable Billy and Mark are familiar with how their device operates...so I will just leave it at that). A broken clock is right twice a day, after all. But like I said, people can believe what they want. I am happy to be the token skeptic playing Devil's Advocate and I think that's mission critical to keeping everyone honest when it comes to paranormal phenomena. Leave your thoughts in the COMMENTS below.

"Have you ever experienced anything that you couldn't explain?" Mark asked me at one point during the visit to Buffalo Billiards.

I immediately thought of the only incident in my life I can remember that had a sort of spooky, paranormal feel about it.

"Years ago, I remember waking up from a power nap and I had this weird sensation that something invisible crawled up on the bed and held me down," I said. "I couldn't move for a few seconds and I had to struggle to break its hold on me."

"Wow, interesting," Mark said, seeming intrigued. "So maybe there was something there..."

"Or maybe I was just having sleep apnea," I said. "Hard to know..."

Mark didn't talk to me anymore after that until we bid them farewell at the conclusion of the meeting with them. Both Billy and Mark were super nice guys, whatever their beliefs may be. I was happy to mostly keep my mouth shut and try not to roll my eyes too much.

We had been joined at Buffalo Billiards by a friend of Vic's named Emoo. She was definitely nearest to the paranormal believer end of the skepticism spectrum than anyone else there. She too came equipped with an electronic paranormal sensor gadget. It had a little retractable antennae and a ring of colored lights embedded in the plastic base, resembling a miniaturized version of the electronic children's game Simon Says. According to Emoo, the device was immune to actual real world EMF, including cell phones, and the appearance of a blue light meant something from the spirit realm was "present." The blue light flickered on a few times, but I never felt the presence of a goddam thing.

Emoo joined Vic, Mike, Wendy, and me for a late night dinner at Eureka Pub across the street from Buffalo Billiards. I got a "naked" (no bun) bison burger with a side salad and the portion size was huge, so I got a substantial amount of some actual leafy green vegetables into me, a rarity thus far on this trip. We all then went down the street to Aussie's Pub to have a few drinks (except me...the DD) in celebration of Wendy's birthday (Happy birthday, Wendy!).

We went back to the house and decompressed on Vic's back porch, chatting and sipping wine, before getting an "early night" to bed at around 3 AM. We were still all running on Rockstar Time, but we would be road tripping back to Wisconsin the next day and wanted to be somewhat well rested for the long drive from Austin to home.

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