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.|
|Also I bought these on South Congress. Yee haw!|
|Looking fabulous after 15 years of friendship|
*Okay I had to make that top ten list of my fav U.S. cities just for fun:
1) Portland, Maine
3) New York City
4) Portland, Oregon
7) Washington, DC
9) Knoxville, TN