The Bats of North Star Mall

For many years, a couple of friends of mine would take any opportunity they could to bring up the city they called home – Austin, Texas. If you talked about somewhere you visited, they’ yammer on about a place in Austin that was just like it…only better. If i mentioned a bar, they’d bring up Sixth Street. If you talked about music, they’d remind you Austin is the music capital of the World. And on and on, ad nauseam.Thankfully, I lived very far away and whether Austin stayed weird or not, had nothing to do with me.

A couple of years later, I ended up working in San Antonio for a time. Once my Austin friends found out where I was, it wasn’t long before they insisted I come and check Austin out. We met up early and they gave me whirlwind tour of the city. We ended up near Congress Avenue Bridge in the afternoon. My friends assured me, I was going to see the “greatest thing ever.”

As the afternoon wore on, crowds started to form on the banks of the river and along the bridge rail. People on the shore looked up towards the bridge and the people on the bridge stared down at the water. Soon, oohs and awes filled the air, and the people all pointed at….bats? The greatest thing ever was watching bats fly out from under a bridge into the dusk?

But it was hard to get into the moment with hundreds of people packed together like this. I caught only a glimpse of the bats, and the crowd took me out of any potential moment. Though it fell short of the “greatest thing ever”, my friends were still excited about the bats. I felt a tiny bit obligated to act excited myself.

“Wow. Yeah, that’s pretty cool,” I said, eyes wide with my feigned excitement.

“You could try harder. You don’t really mean it.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “I know, but they’re just bats!”
Shaking their heads, we walked away. I wasn’t invited back to Austin.

A few months later, I was still working in San Antonio, It was late in the day, and I was waiting outside of North Star Mall for the bus. The short ride home was becoming a daily ritual, usually with the same bus-stop group. The ride home was a short one, but the wait was always long and boring. Sometimes, to kill time, I’d kill some time trying to guess where my bus-stop buddies worked in the mall. To be honest, it wasn’t much of a game. Mall workers usually wear uniforms or hats of some kind, but I’d play to  pass the time, giving each of the bus-stop people a name, like Tall guy, old Spanish old lady, young Spanish girl, Pretzel Annie dude, and Game Stop man.

Today the bus was running late, and we would usually of been on our way by now. The sky got darker as the sun sank lower. In the parking garage behind us, a fluttering noise got louder and louder. We all turned to look, and just as we did, thousands of bats burst out of the parking garage into the dark-blue/yellow of the dusk sky. The sound of their wing flutters, amplified by the cavernous parking garage, filled the air. They formed a dark, twisting mass, a long twisting line of dots that stretched into horizon.

They kept coming by the thousands. The bus people and I stood transfixed. No one moved. No one said a word. The sight of the bats continued for a few minutes and then, they were gone. By dawn they’ll have eaten tons and tons of insects – the one fact I knew about bats. The writhing column in the distance got smaller, then it was gone. We all looked at each other. Old Spanish lady and Tall guy smiled.

Then the bus arrived and we all boarded. Something had happened in those few moments. This group and I had bonded in a moment. For this brief period of time, they were no longer “The Bus People.” We were “The Bat People.” I wanted to somehow share this moment with my Austin friends and tell them this was “the greatest thing ever.”

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