Monday, July 02, 2007

keeping austin weird

Oh dear. I am in a bit of a pickle.

You see, I've fallen in love. With Austin, Texas.

Friends, I swear, from the moment I stepped out of my rental Jeep and onto Guadalupe, I was done for. This town has it all. Everyone knows that Austin revolves around great live music and great food (we ate nothing but Mexican and barbecue for three days straight, including breakfasts), but I had no idea that the quality of day-to-day life could be so friendly, so contented, so-- and yes, I technically was, but everyone else from the students to the shopgirls to my cousins seemed to feel this way too-- perpetually like being on vacation.

Strangers were friendly when they didn't have to be. I can't tell you how many conversations I had with total strangers. "And what brings you to Austin, honey?" they asked at the vintage store, the hole-in-the-wall with amazing pork and roasted pineapple tacos, hell, even the gas station. "Oh, I'm here for a cousin's wedding." "Oh how great! Is the bride excited? Where's the ceremony? Are y'all going to see the bats after the reception? Do y'all need directions to Salt Lick?"

That's another thing about Austin: people are excited to show off their town. They're proud of what they have and how they live, and are welcoming to strangers. After seven years of DC hostility to tourists, defensiveness and constant superiority complexes vis-a-vis Northwest vs. Southeast vs. northern Virginia, it was incredibly refreshing to be in a town when everyone, rich and not-so-rich, was clearly proud to live where they did. This is a city that takes great care of itself. It's unfailingly clean, has terrific signage on the most ordinary businesses and people are forever out and about on the streets. I didn't see a single dead zone, a neighborhood I wouldn't adore living in or a street I'd be afraid to walk down alone at night.

Also, Austin is cheap. I nearly wept when I bought a throw pillow for seven dollars and a taco for a buck fifty. Of course my new cowboy boots were a bit pricier (ahem), but how often does one get the chance to buy handmade Texas cowboy boots (you wouldn't believe how much the ones with the snake's head on the toe cost)? Boots aside, everything is insanely affordable. Driving down South Congress to get my boots I heard a radio announcer talking about a condo development opening down the street "with two-bedrooms starting in the low $180s!" Believe me when I say that the willpower I employed in not driving over and signing a contract right then was superhuman.

Oh, and did I mention that the landscape is beautiful and hilly and full of trees and not at all the desolate desert I had envisioned? And that everything is at most a 15 minute drive away from downtown? And that UT is an amazing campus full of fountains and perfect lawns and Spanish architecture and that I will now be perusing their HR website with a vengeance? And that there everyone seems to be not only happy with life, but ridiculously healthy and good-looking? And that I have family there, family whose wedding I attended and will have to write about in another post because it was a perfect ceremony and perfect reception (exactly what I want if I ever take that particular step) and that they live a perfect life that I covet, full of books and bluegrass and porches and elaborate adventures in cooking and frequent trips to Mexico and Montana?

Because I've spent my entire adult life in DC and my most frequent weekend destination is New York, it's never occurred to me that daily life could be lived in a place where people weren't perpetually bitching about something or other. That life could be like vacation every day, that a job could be just a means to living a satisfying life and not a trial to be endured in the name of some abstract greater power. It's silly to say that a three-day vacation makes me want to pack it in and quit DC, because, of course, I am more sensible than that. I mean, I just bought a condo and got into grad school. I'm not going anywhere... for another eighteen months, at least.

But know that I am thinking... about things. And let's just say that I could see myself very, very happy in Austin.


Jason said...

Wasn't there a show about Austin on MTV back around when "The State" was on?

EJ Takes Life said...

Doesn't ring a bell... but then, I was probably too distracted by Doug to notice it.

EclecticBlue said...

But ... but ... however would you live without people checking out each other's shoes and watches all the time? Whatever would you do without the constant aura of "me-first" circulating from just about everyone you encounter? How would you ever be happy with so many well-adjusted and fulfilled individuals?

Hammer said...

I went the the South by Southwest music festival in Austin one year, and it was easily one of the top ten most fun weeks of my life. By the end of our time there, everyone in our group wanted to relocate, but in the end, none of us did.

The "not being too wrapped in the job and/or self" thing is true of the West in general. I tell you, you live in the DC to NYC corridor for too long and it warps your whole sense of how the rest of the country lives.

Did you become a Shiner Bock convert while you were there?

Jason said...

Austin Stories; thank you Wikipedia.

"I'm outta....heeeeeere."

Patricia said...

I'm originally from Texas and have thought about moving back to Austin for quite awhile. It's an incredible city and you're right about the pace of life and it being clean (it's also a very "green" city from what I've heard). Glad to hear you had a nice time!

Anonymous said...

Austin, IMHO, is indubitably the best city in Texas. Except for the fact that traffic can be a bitch (though not a problem in comparison to DC, I'd imagine) and I've heard it's fairly difficult to get a job post-grad (because no one wants to leave). However, yes, were I to return to Texas that'd be the place to live, I think. Next time you visit, I recommend visiting the beautiful Hill Country surrounding Austin.