Austin has changed a lot since I was young, but it is still a great city and a place I love. Keep it real, Texas.
I have to say this with an extreme amount of reverence and gratitude, as I am a Texas native, born and raised. The mere fact that my current discomfort with a city I used to call home back in 1978, and always returned to whenever a decent part of my journey was fulfilled, has been reduced to a city busting at the seams with everything and anything. Austin is such a place. It is a cool city. It has good-looking people, men and women. It is youthful. It is healthy. And, it’s too damn big now.
When I attended college here in the late 70’s, the vibe was all about the emergence of every nuance of hippy living-it was just the norm. Catching a show at the Continental Club, a swanky (and used to be, smoky) venue on the south side of town, I would wander in with friends and be delighted by the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Marcia Ball, and The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Sometimes even Willie showed up. It was a $2 cover then, and the acts just appeared without notice. To witness Stevie dancing his fingers on that guitar behind his head was magical and awesome.
He was renowned in the community, but not in the sense his legendary ways turned out in the end. I even had a conversation with his wife in the bathroom one evening at the Continental Club, right before he was to tour with David Bowie. She was all rude and resentful, and I was shocked and dismayed with her words. My response, even in those days: “Hey, just let it flow and see what happens.” She did not take too kindly to me. She absolutely refused his desire to go on tour and become famous. It was not long thereafter that Stevie died in a helicopter crash and left the city’s music industry in mourning and a shambles. I had already moved out of Austin at that time needing to explore places outside of Texas, and see what this country had to offer.
But, I returned. Whole Foods was becoming greater and more powerful. College kids were driving cars that only parents used to own. My familiar hang was Mother’s Café, a vegetarian spot in the middle of a kitchy and cool neighborhood called Hyde Park. I lived there for a spell, worked as a smoothie maker at Mother’s, and the owner was a young, fun hippie. He is now the CEO extraordinaire of Whole Foods. When “bin foods” were becoming popular, I was living on top of the original Whole Foods on Lamar, where I would simply walk down the hill, grab many bags of nuts, seeds, grains, trail mixes, and whatever I could carry back up the hill. You could catch a bus, ride your bike safely everywhere, walk most places, or carpool to the lake. It was easy living at its finest.
Somewhere between 1985 and today, Austin was no longer just a small suburbia in the central part of Texas. It grew up. The leasing rate of buildings became attractive. The athletics of the University of Texas was discovered and rated high on every high school child’s list of college desirables. The music scene took precedence over anything else that I have ever witnessed, attracting one prominent act after another, and taking on one festival after another. The cost of living became topnotch in the eyes of potential buyers. There are no state taxes. The governor certainly leaves something to be desired, as he’s in his third term (don’t get me started on that fiasco of his entire “leadership”), but he did attract numerous technology and successful Silicon Valley businesses to Austin that drove up the economy and kept the city in the black. Then, there’s the hill country portion of Austin. It’s difficult to imagine that as flat as Texas is there are actually hilly areas, lots of big green trees, and watering holes as big as the state itself.
Austin is awesome, don’t get me wrong. There is Barton Springs’ dips during the incredibly hot summers, the ACL festival at the onset of fall when temperatures aren’t hovering in the triple digits, the week of SXSW, where interactive music, technology, and movies make their newfound appearances, the food trucks, the yoga community, the healthy and vibrant lifestyle of many generation x-ers, and baby boomers alike, restaurants popping up all over town with eclectic flair.
We have a sushi chef/restaurant owner who actually won “Top Chef”, Formula One racing, the newly selected 2014 X-Games using Austin vs. Los Angeles as its host city, Town Lake trail (now referred to as Lady Bird Hike and Bike) which is a 10 mile dirt trail surrounding a lake in the middle of the city where you can catch any celebrity or who’s who running, walking, SUP-ing, or having fun with their dogs; and finally, people who seem to care about the fate of growth in this fine city. It’s dizzying.
People want to maintain a sense of balance and health and eco-conscious living in Austin, while still thriving in a relatively stable economic environment. I mean, local resident and former golden boy, Lance Armstrong not only got busted for his drug usage in cycling, but he also had the book thrown at him for overuse of water rights on his property. The public has seemingly forgiven him. Austin has that way about it. We are a college city. We want to continue to care about each other and community.
It gets a bit hazy when ninety people move here per day. You heard me right. I even checked with my neighbor, who can’t seem to keep up with the demand as a real estate dude. It is silly how this city has totally outgrown its britches! The highways are full of constant traffic. These are not five-lane highways, mind you, but old small city highways, where the planning and development council did not take into account the growth rate. Did they have a conversation with Rick Perry prior to any of this? Was anyone on the same page as to how Austin would become?
I’m still here. I moved back here after a sabbatical in Kauai. People scratch their heads on that one, but Austin just has that pull on me, and always did. Every time I return, something new and different is in the spotlight. All the old clubs are still there, going stronger than ever with blues and rock and music piping out its old doors. Lots of people from California move here, as the cost of living is very appealing and doable, but how much more can the city sustain of bodies and buildings and lofts and restaurants?
My roots are in Austin. With a big ol’ Texas smile, I can honestly say that visiting every local place here since the late 70’s holds charm and appeal. And, they are still around. Locals are a proud people. I’m just grateful to be able to go to the grocery store and not have to be asked “plastic or paper”. Austin banned plastic bags early this year. For a city that has outgrown itself, I’d say that is a healthy step in the right direction. “Keep Austin Weird” need not be the mantra. “Keep Austin Real” is more of what I would dub this place I call home.
Photo credit: Flickr / StuSeeger