Tuesday, April 11, 2017

I'll Mess with Texas

In my early 20s I lived in Killeen, Texas for about two years. It was the first time I'd lived away from home. I left my family and friends to move to a far away place where I knew exactly one person. It wasn't the last time I'd follow my heart to a geographically distant place, and I don't regret having done so. But it was a weird year of my life. I had recently been officially diagnosed with Crohn's Disease (after two misdiagnoses), and I was figuring it out. In fairness I'm still figuring it out, but it was brand new then. I left my law school to visit my third year at Baylor University. It was hard leaving my friends and law school support system. I was in a toxic relationship that only grew more toxic in the time I lived in Texas. Fifteen years later I look back at that time through a fog almost as if it didn't really happen. My tumultuous time in Texas, however, did result in my meeting some of my absolute best friends in the world. It's that time that led me last weekend to a girls' trip to Austin, a city I only vaguely remember as most of my time there was under the influence of alcohol.

One of my best girlfriends from my time in Texas turned 40 last week, and we headed to Austin to celebrate her birthday. I did something I haven't done in years: I did not pack running shoes. It was oddly disconcerting to not include running shoes or clothes - things that generally feel like another appendage. But running has not agreed with me lately. I'm on antibiotics, and they seem to be working (knock on wood). I don't want to jinx it.

I'll be honest: I think Austin is weird and not in the good weird way for which it wants to be known. I want to love it because everyone else seems to, but I just think it's okay. If I made a top ten list of cities in the U.S. I love, Austin certainly wouldn't be in it.* I had a really fun time, and my city evaluation of Austin isn't intended to be a knock on whether I enjoyed myself. It's simply when I think about what I love in cities, Austin doesn't do it for me.

First off there's the sprawl. It's hailed as the fastest growing city in the country, and it feels like it. I completely get that the other cities I love have sprawl, but Austin has started to feel insanely sprawly (not a real world but I'm going with it). It's downtown has really wide streets clogged with traffic. There's transit, but it feels like a half assed addition because it's something someone on city staff thinks they're supposed to have. It doesn't feel like a real transit system. I also realize these complaints apply to one of my favorite cities, Detroit (except for the existence of traffic downtown). The difference is Detroit has grit. Austin is quirky and expresses it in its slogan: Keep Austin Weird. The problem is the exponential growth makes it feel more conventional and less weird. Maybe that's why I saw so many shirts and signs that said "Make Austin Weird Again". 

If I'm being really honest I've never gotten Texas. When I lived there it felt flat and lonely, and it's never clicked with me. I love the feel of dense, tree-filled streets, and Austin feels barren (from a tree standpoint downtown and in some of the neighborhoods) and broad. 

Where I think Austin excels in its food scene, and I love food. It is a city with particularly excellent Mexican food and barbecue. If you've had either Mexican food or barbecue in Texas it ruins it for much of the rest of the world. I had melt in my mouth brisket last weekend at Terry Black's Barbecue. It was incredible.

The brisket was insane.
I had perfectly cooked duck at South Congress Cafe accompanied by delicious cocktails and wine. Austin does food well. The South Congress neighborhood is really adorable and quirky, but its wide streets are a bit of a buzzkill. 

Also I bought these on South Congress. Yee haw!
We had drinks at the beautiful, historic Driskell Hotel, and I had a perfectly balanced Boulevardier at the quirky Firehouse Lounge, a speakeasy accessed through a sliding bookcase in the lobby of hostel. We spent lots of time lounging by the pool and talking. It was a really fun weekend.

Looking fabulous after 15 years of friendship
I haven't seen or done it all in Austin,, so I reserve the right to change my mind as I visit it again (a likely prospect given that my BFF lives there). It was weird to not have my running shoes, and next time I go I definitely want to run downtown. It was a relaxing weekend with some of my favorite people, and even my cityphile pickiness can't ruin that for me. 

*Okay I had to make that top ten list of my fav U.S. cities just for fun:
1) Portland, Maine
2) Chicago
3) New York City
4) Portland, Oregon
5) Detroit
6) Boston
7) Washington, DC
8) Denver
9) Knoxville, TN
10) Pittsburgh

1 comment:

  1. Girl. We had brunch at South Congress Cafe when I was there last year for the WVU WIN (!!), and it was amazing. I really hated that there wasn't really any public transit to speak of. It's hard to explore a city when you have to depend on a rental car and finding a parking spot... When I was there, the city have even banned Uber and Lyft--come on!!! There was an independent ride-share, Fasten, that we depended on some.