The Surprise Trip to Austin

The planning began months ago. Arrangements were made. Secrets were formed – and kept. The whole thing was executed flawlessly… a first for me, I think.

I’m a big fan of Rush, and only once in the past 20 years have I missed an opportunity to see them play live. Last Fall, my wife Angela and I saw them play here in Houston. It was my eighth time, it was her third. In January, I learned that the Time Machine Tour would be extended and that they’d be playing in Austin on June 12th. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I had seen them just a couple of months prior and tickets tend to be pricey (I spent over $800 on the last round, but that included a special merchandise package and seats guaranteed in the first 15 rows). So, I wasn’t too keen on spending the money to see them do the exact same show.


I had an idea that would be so much fun if I could pull it off that I couldn’t resist trying. In the middle of March I told my wife that I was going to take her on an overnight trip – just us, no kids – but that the destination and what we would do there would be a surprise. I told her that if she agreed, she’d have to request June 12 and June 13 off at work, and then I waited for the outcome. A week or two later, she got the word that she would have those two days off. On April 2nd I bought two tickets to the show in Austin.

By the way, if you want to know what the $53.50 view is at the Frank Erwin Center is, here ya go:

View at the Frank Erwin Center
Pictured: money well spent. Sheesh.

We were, quite literally, five rows from the back wall. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Making all the arrangements without tipping off Angela was going to be tricky. I used some Hilton points that she had racked up to make reservations at the Doubletree adjacent to the Capitol, then had the email diverted so she wouldn’t see the receipt. My parents agreed to watch the kids overnight (little risk of them spilling the beans). I mentioned it to nobody online, never talked about it on a podcast, because things have a way of getting around, you know? When Angela asked what she should pack, I had to figure out what I could tell her without cluing her in. It worked. All of it.

Yesterday at 9:30am, we dropped the kids off at my parents’ house. We drove north on I-45 toward downtown Houston – Angela joked, wouldn’t it be funny if we were just going downtown? I kept my poker face on. She’d find out soon enough. I-45 to I-10 West. For the first half hour or so after we started heading west, she made a few weak attempts at guessing the destination. She didn’t really want to know, but she knew I put a lot of effort into the whole thing, so she wanted to play along (she told me later). I-10 to 71. This was not a route to Austin that she was familiar with – taking 290 would have been a dead giveaway early on, so I decided to go with 71 instead. It worked. Granted, had Angela made a real effort at discovering where we were going, she could have figured it out early on the drive. But she decided (she told me later) to just go with it until it was obvious and unavoidable… like, when she saw the Austin skyline.

We arrived at the Doubletree at 2pm (had a nice lunch along the way) but the room wasn’t ready yet, so we spent an hour playing chess in lobby. I won’t say who won. The room was ready at three, and we headed up to settle in, relax and figure out the plans for the evening. There was time to kill, then dinner, then the concert – or, as Angela knew it, “an event” at the Frank Erwin Center. After romantic interlude #1, we headed downstairs to ask the hotel staff if they could recommend a restaurant for dinner that was within walking distance of both the hotel and the Frank Erwin Center.

I asked the bartender in the lounge that question, and as soon as the words “Frank Erwin Center” left my mouth, he said, “Rush!” DUDE. You just ruined the surprise for my wife. Thank you EVER so much, you rat bastard. Okay, I didn’t call him a rat bastard, but I did say the first part, and he apologized profusely. She, on the other hand, was smiling and laughing and generally happy regardless, so that took the edge off. He recommended a Tex-Mex place up the road, but on the way out the door, we spotted the hotel’s dining guide. It was open to the page for P.F. Chang’s. Hey, guess where we’re going? It was a mile-and-a-half walk, which seemed more reasonable on paper than it was in practice. Black concert clothing + Austin late afternoon heat + 1.6 miles + recurring back injury = unhappy Daniel.

Well, we had a great dinner at P.F. Chang’s (I had the Dan Dan Noodles, naturally) and arranged for a cab to pick us up and take us up the very steep hill to the concert venue. There was a short wait for the doors to open, but when the show finally got started, it was utterly worth the money, the drive, the secrecy and everything else. Angela and I both had a fantastic time. The show was great; the band was awesome.

After the show, we hired a bike taxi to pedal us back to the hotel – something that neither of us had ever done before. It was awesome; we flew through the streets, weaving in and out of concert-goers and cars. Best money I spent on the whole trip, just for the novelty value! Once back at the hotel, there were some late-night snacks, then romantic interlude #2, then one of the best nights of sleep I’ve had in years.


This morning, we awoke around nine – the last time that happened was almost assuredly before we had kids. Breakfast at the hotel restaurant was wonderful, and regrettably, but joyfully, we headed home. I couldn’t ask for a better time. Thank you Austin, thank you Doubletree, thank you Frank Erwin Center and Rush. Thanks Mom & Dad for watching the kids. Most of all, thank you Angela for being so damn awesome.

Published by Daniel M. Clark

Daniel M. Clark is a podcaster and proprietor of QAQN, a writer at, and an all-around cool dude everywhere else. God, I hate talking about myself in the third-person.

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  1. Daniel, that is so sweet! I'm sure your wife won't ever forget the effort you went to so that she would have a surprise trip and you'll be laughing about the bartender "ruining the surprise" soon…maybe.

    1. Oh, we were laughing about it by the time we got out of the hotel and on our way to dinner… had she reacted differently I might have been madder about it, but it all worked out in the end!

  2. Fun stuff – I was passing by there months ago and wondered to myself if you planned to hit that show.

    What's with the "Black concert clothing" – did this tour have a ninja theme?

  3. Oh yeah – I wouldn't want to get in the way of a night out. We'll have other times to bring everybody together.

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