Living in Austin
"Austin is like an island of something in a sea of something else."
-- Paul Sherman
Back in the late 1940s, my parents traveled from opposite ends of Texas to attend the University of Texas here in Austin. My mother came from Dallas, my Father came from Weslaco, down in the Rio Grande Valley. I actually don’t know if they liked their original homes very much, but I do know that when they came to Austin, they absolutely fell in love. They loved the town. They loved the Hill Country to the west. It was home.
After they graduated, my father started traveling around oil fields for the oil company he worked for, and they lived vagabond lives for several years. Eventually, they found themselves in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and after that, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That’s where I was born and raised (respectively).
I was born in Oklahoma, but my parents were Texans. It’s sort of like being born out of the United States to parents who are both American. The geography of your birth is irrelevant; you’re still an American. Similarly, for me, Texas is home. And Austin is where my heart has always been. Every year for vacation, we came to Texas; often we’d come to Austin. Some of my first memories involve swimming in Barton Springs, going up in the University Tower (before they closed it), hanging out in Pecan Grove trailer park. When I was 12, my mother pulled me out of school for a year, and we spent most of the year traveling around Texas. We made a short trip out to California that year, but most of that time was spent exploring every nook and cranny of Texas, and I got to really explore the Austin, San Antonio area, and the Hill Country to the west.
Two years later, my dad finally retired, and he and my mother immediately moved down to a small acreage in the Hill Country near Boerne. Not quite Austin, but definitely a giant step up from Tulsa. The closest city of any size was San Antonio, and I spent some time there, attending the University of Texas in San Antonio, and working for a while after I graduated. But I made frequent trips up to Austin. It was always worth the trip. San Antonio is nice, but it’s farily conservative and kind of boring. Austin is alive. I don’t know how else to describe it.
In 1991, I had the chance to actually move to Austin to attend graduate school. Mostly, I used graduate school as an excuse to move here. The day I arrived here, I saw a vignette that epitomized this town and what I love about it. Walking along the drag were two people who were obviously friends involved in an animated conversation. One was very handsome, well-groomed, conservatively dressed in a suit and tie. The other was a freak with dyed hair, lots of tattoos and piercings. They were friends -- and why shouldn’t they be?
When I came here, I loved the diversity, not just ethnic diversity (which is actually somewhat lacking), but the freedom of expression and thought. Austin is conservative (like all of Texas) and liberal (like no place else in Texas). Somehow we manage to do both at the same time. It keeps life interesting. It’s a college town, and it lives and breathes like a college town, but it is also a big city.
I loved the cycling. I grew up a cyclist, but really, no city I had ever lived in supported cycling the way Austin did. There are awesome hills to the west that make for very challenging rides, and in the city itself, there are thousands upon thousands of cyclists. When he's not winning the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong calls Austin home (and he could live anywhere, right?)
I loved the green, outdoorsy feel of the place. There are grassy parks in every neighborhood. There are huge state parks and city parks and county parks all around Austin. The people here like to get outside and enjoy nature, and I love that.
I loved Barton Springs. It's spring fed, so it's amazingly cold in the summer. It has no chlorine. And swimming the length of the pool is a real challenge for me. I spend most of my time cruising along on the bottom of the pool (which gets about 12 feet deep in places).
And probably because my family has a history here, I loved Austin history. This is where Texas happened. This is where the University of Texas happened. I find it fascinating.
More and more, though, I feel like Austin is changing. Not that that is unusual for Austin. Every generation passes along the feel of the town to the next generation, and a younger, wilder generation takes over. The older people feel their town slip away from them as a younger generation introduces things that make the old farts feel out of place. That is Austin’s tradition. I wouldn’t mind that kind of change. That would be fine with me. But instead of passing my Austin along to the next generation, I feel like it is being passed along to the multi-national conglomerates.
People in Austin are fighting back, but we're losing. Everywhere you look, you'll see bumper stickers that say "Keep Austin Weird! Support Local Business." But it's not stopping the tide.
The sprawl is out of control. The strips of national chains are choking out the locally-owned businesses. I have nothing against Borders, Starbucks, Chili’s, Boca De Bippi, Starbucks, Chipotle, Starbucks, or Starbucks, other than the fact that they are soul-sucking satanic beasts devoid of personality or life. Other than that, they’re fine. But I don’t want them taking over my town.