Meh, Texas. We visit the “best” city in Texas, Austin.

21 May
2012
Posted in: Texas
By    10 Comments

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?

Best thing in Austin: $1.50 margaritas during the Taco Cabana happy hour.

Best thing in Austin: $1.50 margaritas during the Taco Cabana happy hour.

Food served from a TRUCK! So weird!!

Food served from a TRUCK! So weird!!

"Places of Interest" on the tourist map = train station, YMCA, grocery store. Grocery store?

"Places of Interest" on the tourist map = train station, YMCA, grocery store. Grocery store?

  • http://www.drivinginertia.com/ Lisa M

    My problem with Austin was all of my own making. Austin, it turns out, does not have the Alamo. It does not have the riverwalk. It wasn’t the birthplace of Tex-Mex. That’s San Antonio. Turns out I actually wanted to visit San Antonio. Oops.

    But Austin seemed like a pretty cool place to hang out…

  • Rodney Dean

    Austin’s as cool as you want it to be, and most people in Texas want it to be. You didn’t.

    There’s a pretension that comes from being the 4th biggest city in state full of Dallases. You’ve nailed that, but if you had wanted to find a city full of interesting things (food/art/people) you would have found it.

    • http://drivinginertia.com/ Paul David Olson

      Sure, but you can make the same argument for Cleveland. I’m sure we’ll end up there again sometime, and we’ll see what our second take brings. 

  • Texanb

    I’m really disappointed I wasted time reading this post. What did Texas or Austin ever do to you. If you’re such an anti-capitalist, stay away from this state. Enjoy your life roaming the streets of shitty cities and sucking on the welfare teet of America with the other “99%”

    • http://drivinginertia.com/ Paul David Olson

      Texas tried to kill my brother!

      But I agree, there’s nothing more free-market than farm subsidies.

  • Gclaw

    You don’t get weird or eccentric by formula.  Or by college student.  It usually comes from extreme struggle and hardship and a clash of culture.  Just like grit and character don’t emerge in santized cities.  Among cities that never really experienced serious struggles or culture clashes, Austin is weirder than most.  But it doesn’t rate on the larger weird scale. 

    The problem with many ambitious cities is they want to be ranked on every list.  They cannot conceive that a sanitized city is gritty.  It comes with the ego.  Among those cities, among the Charlottes, the Atlantas, the Denvers, the Phoenixes, yes, Austin is weirder.  It’s a corporate, Disneyfied, packaged comfortable weird.  But you’re grading on a curve, and have to remember the mindset of the citizens that minimize all negatives about their communities, only see the positives, and often mock or denigrate or tut-tut other cities that are weird, eccentric, or gritty — disarmingly so.

    New Orleans is weird.  Memphis is weird.  In those cities, you don’t look for it.  Nashville is not weird.  It’s packaged, formulaic, in many ways a product of its ambition and ego.  Cities try to force visitors to see it as everything to everyone.  Impossible and inauthentic.

    • http://drivinginertia.com/ Paul David Olson

      Great comment!

  • Gclaw

    And, for the record, I like Texas.  Texas, itself, is weird, probably weirder though in smaller towns than any of its cities.  But I see how Austin can appear artificial.  In the future, El Paso may become weird because clashing cultures and hardship (bullets from Mexico have struck a government building in EP).  

    I like the goal y’all are on.  Bisbee is very cool.  I currently live in Tucson, and will be up there for their beer fest/stair run this fall.  There are some cool wineries in that area (Sonoita). 

  • http://twitter.com/TheJackalopeTX Seth Wilson

    Do you have a source on Texas ranches having sweetheart deals on grazing permits? Texans (and let’s be honest, millionaires who made their money doing other things) who own ranches in other states might pursue such chicanery, but Texas is an anomaly in the west in that it has a higher percentage of privately owned land, much of which is in the hands of families, or family owned corporations. States like New Mexico and Nevada have higher percentages of federally owned land, and this pattern is due largely to rapacious federal land grabs that robbed Hispanic and indigenous communities of their communal land. Other than that, El Paso would probably have been fun. It has that weird, end of the world, multi-cultural vibe that L.A. has, but without a lot of pretension. Also, cheap, quality cowboy boots and some excellent Mexican food.

    • http://drivinginertia.com/ Paul David Olson

      Totally.