Austin, Texas, is an unexpected jewel in the great State of Texas. To quote from my own book, The Race for a New Game Machine – Creating the Chips Inside the Xbox 360 & the PlayStation 3” which is set in Austin:
“Onward Through the Fog. Live Music Capital of the World. Hillary is Hot! You’re just jealous because the voices only talk to me. Save the Giant Flying Vampire Armadillos. This strange array of bumper stickers on the Volkswagen van in front of me held my attention a moment too long, and I almost missed my turn. I take pride in being a nonconformist, but in Austin Texas, where Keep Austin Weird is the city slogan, I clearly reside deep in ‘normal’ territory.”
So true! The people who live in that lovely city celebrate their eccentricities in extraordinary ways. For example, there’s Eeyore’s Birthday Party, an annual celebration for the sad little donkey in the children’s series about Winnie the Pooh. In one of the Pooh stories, Eeyore believed his friends had forgotten his birthday, so every year, thousands of Austinites remedy that situation with a party of their own. Festival goers dress up in wild (and often risqué) costumes; vendors provide beer and food; bands play long into the night. Halloween meets Mardi Gras, and Eeyore turns a year older.
When I moved to Austin in 1974, it was a mecca for hippies and the anti-establishment movement. Food co-ops flourished, as did the nude beach at Hippie Hollow on Lake Travis. The drug scene, which seems strangely innocent when compared to the crack and meth addictions of today, was more about free love and joint (pun intended) experiences than anything else. The music scene was thriving at The Armadillo World Headquarters, where one might sit on carpet scraps on the old skating rink floor and listen to Stevie Ray Vaughn or Bonnie Rait or BB King for a dollar. The mayor was known to openly smoke pot; long-haired men in bell-bottoms and clean-faced women in peasant blouses sold flowers on the street corners; and a mere three-hundred thousand people roamed the city’s hilly streets. Beautiful lakes dotted the undeveloped Hill Country just west of the city, and narrow, two-lane roads connected all the dots.
Today, the Austin metropolis boasts of over one million people. The hills around the city are covered with housing developments that took advantage of the lush hillsides with views of the city skyline, including the Capital building and the University of Texas tower. Near constant traffic flows over four-lane roads where those romantic, little country lanes once lay. Those peace-loving hippies have grown up and moved on to mid-level management positions in Austin’s new high-tech business explosion.
And yet, Austin has still managed to maintain its weird personality. It’s the liberal spice in the middle of a concoction of ultra-conservative patriots. It’s where thousands of Harley riders converge every year for the Republic of Texas Rally. It’s the convergence point for musicians who seek their fame and glory in the Live Music Capital of the World. In recent years, Austin has also become the new Hollywood, drawing the California set of producers, actors, comedians, and directors who support its budding film industry. Because it’s also the State Capital, it’s overflowing with politicians, lobbyist, and lawyers, who mix and mingle with the students who attend the University of Texas as well as the brainiacs who populate the dot.com and high-tech startups. With all these dissimilar personalities bumping shoulders in one city, it's not surprising Austin might be considered slightly schizophrenic.
And yet, I love this city even with all her weirdness. I love her beautiful hills and crystal-clear lakes, her bountiful history of sacrifice and freedom, and her generous, tolerant citizens who are all so very interesting. Her blistering hot summers are bearable when I pass through her mild winters with barely a frost. Her wildflower display in April is beyond compare. I may long for the days when Austin was a still a small town, but she’s still the grand lady of Texas.