Austin is a place that never really existed. It is a fantasy land, the Shangri-La for musicians, hippies, partiers, and other folks your mother wouldn’t want you to marry. Ask any Austin native, and they’ll all tell you how great it used to be ten, twenty, forty years ago. This answer is especially pervasive among the people who moved there a few years ago; they can just feel the vibe slipping away.
I think Austin is alive and well, because that’s what people want it to be. As long as Austin-ites strive to “Keep Austin Weird” (that’s a real movement actually), they will succeed. If you’ve never visited, but are among the 93% of hipsters who can’t decide between Austin and Portland, allow me to give you an introduction.
First of all, if you have any preconceived notions about Texas, Texans, and all things Tex-ish, you will find Austin to be a land of contradictions. For example, at Zilker Park, I found a coal-rolling lifted Bro truck (likely with a confederate flag bumper sticker), an Alfa Romeo, and a certain hippie chick who likes to ride bikes with me.
Riding towards downtown, you definitely find evidence that you are not in Dallas or the plains of West Texas. You would not find this in Lubbock:
I don’t really know what that sign means, but because it looks like Homer Simpson it made me smile. Here’s another positive-ch’i, karma-sending, let’s-buy-some-weed-and-not-go-to-class sign:
As cheesy and hippie as it is, I really like the message. I do want to live a great story. Not one of those greek tragedies, or a Stephen King novel, or a young adult romance-thriller where all of the parents are absent or stupid, but an authentic, good story.
Next to Zilker Park is the botanical garden; there is a nice Japanese garden, and if you like to do yoga while discussing crystals or auras you shouldn’t have any trouble finding someone of like mind. I liked the small peaceful statue of St. Francis, with the warm sun on his back and a hopeful pile of wishing coins at his feet.
If you think the local menu must always include either beef, Tex-Mex, or both, you are actually right. However, don’t be surprised to find exciting tangents from that arc. At Kerbey Lane Cafe, I found this concoction:
It is the Austin-weird version of eggs Benedict. You will see the buttermilk biscuit (just like momma used to make), fried chicken, an egg, and instead of Hollandaise…. Queso! Other than the egg, there’s nothing Benedict about it, but it was tasty. Of course it was served by a spunky tattooed girl with blue hair and various piercings; her parents may be appalled, but at least she has a job!
Those who feel the real Austin has been lost will be quick to point out the sprawling suburbs, the influx of tech industry yuppies who don’t know Willie from Waylon, the Republicans popping up like Blue Bonnets in every neighborhood… But the weird vibe is alive and well. Just ask our neighbor: