I think I’ve said this before — I’m not fond of Texas. I don’t like the ranchers that have sweetheart grazing deals on government land, that feed their cattle government-subsidized food, railing against social services. I don’t like oil men that hire teams of geologists and scientists thanking god for their good fortune, greedily trying to exploit every drop of crude beneath our feet, denying global warming, fighting the government’s investment into other forms of energy … goddamn it, I mean … breathe, Paul. Breathe. Keep it together.
I’ve got a bias against Texas. But everybody has told us we’ll love Austin. So we visit Austin. Austin is fine. It’s not, in any way, however, weird. It’s a polished, disinfected, sanitized, lobotomized, clean city. There’s a little riff-raff, but it’s hardly enough to make it a city slogan. Weird? Try Bisbee. Weird? Try New Orleans. Weird? No, Austin is not weird. Texas is weird for thinking it is.
Students that wear tie-dye are not weird. Homeless people who didn’t make it rich ranching or drilling aren’t weird. Artists avoiding corporate jobs are not weird. Go to any capital city and you’ll see homelessness. Go to any university town and you’ll see kids in Birkenstocks. Austin is only ‘weird’ if you’ve never been anywhere else, never left Texas. Austin is just like Madison, Wisconsin, but it doesn’t have Madison’s pleasant grime or confusing streets or youthful energy. The weirdos in Austin have nothing on the oddballs roaming the Ithaca Commons in New York or the freakshow that parades down Market Street in San Francisco.
The Woodlands, a development north of Houston is weird. In it, you can live alongside neighbors that also paid $750,000 for their homes or neighbors that paid $250,000 for their homes or neighbors that paid $400,000 for their homes. You’ll never have to see a person that didn’t pay the same price as you for his home. You can be surrounded by people making the exact same amount of money as you, envious of those in the neighborhood one over, thankful you’re not down the street where homes are a notch cheaper. It’s hideous. It’s a Disneyfied version of suburbia that’s absolutely ridiculous and soulless. It’s the weirdest town I’ve ever seen. It made me want to vomit.
But back to Austin. I’m sure it’s a fine place to live, but I don’t like how much effort seems to be injected into being labelled ‘weird’ and into being perceived as cool. Food trucks are cool? Well, Austin’s going to jam as many as possible onto its streets and into its parking lots. Neon signs are cool? Ok, every business will have to have one. We’re going to build the most food-truck-filled and neon-signed city the world has ever seen! Boy, won’t that be weird?! Sure. And see these? These are painters and they’re not grade-schoolers with finger paints or trophy wives in search of a hobby! Can you believe that? Austin is so weird! We’ve got artists!
Austin is a bit boring, like Savannah. Paula Deen could open a successful restaurant here. In the continuum between Cleveland and Charleston, Austin falls closer to Cleveland. It’s no Charleston, no New Orleans, nothing really special. It’s just Austin. Maybe it’s the best town in Texas. But is that really saying much?