Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Keep Austin Wierd!

On my trip to Austin last month, I noticed the following:

"Pedal to Lunch. We deliver lunch in downtown on a bicycle" - Sign outside Whole Foods store in downtown Austin.
"Monsanto is preying for your soul" - Sign at a local juice store.

These signs, in many ways, symbolizes the contrasting lifestyle between Austin and rest of Texas. There is a reason why Austin has always been known as an island in Texas. Although, not the birth place of hippies, it is known to shelter a lot of them. I have lived in TX for a little more than 2 years, and I have had the privilege of visiting Austin close to 10 times during this stay. Each time I visit Austin, I come back with more appreciation and love for this small city. I sometimes joke with my friends that after my stint in Chicago, I would love to come back and work in Houston as it is only 2 hours away from Austin.

Most people remember Austin for its legendary nightlife - 6th Street. Having lived in State College (Penn State) and spent many a weekends jaywalking on the bar-lined College Ave, I was surprised to see the size and scale of 6th street nightlife. Unlike, most college towns, Austin's nightlife is not just fueled by college students but also by tourists and local citizens. This makes the 6th street experience fun even when the school is not in session. My favorite on the 6th street is the musical comedy show Esther Follies. With the road closed for traffic on weekend nights, 6th street transforms itself into a maze of drunk pedestrians after midnight. The small roadside stalls serving hot dogs/ kebabs/ fried rice etc serve the appetite of drunk and hungry revelers after last call.

The upscale joints along 4th street provide a laid back experience for the more mature crowd. However, nightlife is only one aspect of Austin. Austin boasts of a plethora of amazing restaurants. In absence of chains, the whole town boasts of a very local flavor and serve some of the best cuisine of all kind. The city is filled with mom and pop local stores which gives it a very quaint appearance. Shops lining Gaudulupe street near the campus or the Congress Street south of downtown provide the best examples of this diaspora. Any city which such a liberal view inevitably boasts of its coffee and coffee shops. Some of my favorites are JP Java (best coffee), Mozarts (best scenery), Halcyon (best mix of alcohol and coffee).

Most people' experience of Austin is primarily defined by the above three paragraphs. However, another important aspect to Austin's personality is the stunning scenery. In a flat arid Texas landscape, Austin breathes a fresh lease of life with its rolling hills, lakes and lush greenery. For water enthusiasts there are plenty of options to boat on the Travis lake and Town lake. The hills around the city provide some amazing drives through narrow winding roads overlooking the lake. There are natural springs which maintain water at certain spots at a very comfortable temperature and serve as great swimming holes. No wonder, Lance Amstrong was able to practise well on this terrain and win 7 Tour De France!

Amidst all these, it is easy to forget that Austin is also home to the most literate people in the country with its huge academic population (Top 10 university) and booming semi-conductor and hi-tech industry. This high level of education also begets a high level of wealth which is evident from the ubiquitous mansions lining the hills surround the city. Outside of downtown, its hard to find any homeless people or run-down homes! Austin also has the highest singles population and coupled with the fitness craze in the city, it boasts of a very attractive set of population. I think this is probably the biggest difference between Austin and Portland - The other Weird City!

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