Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Return to Texas

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    Mt. Bonnell, East Austin
    I lived in Austin, TX from 2012 to 2016 for graduate school and a little work afterward. I left Austin with quite dichotomous feelings about the city. One minute I would think the town is okay, the next I would think it is the worst. I went back to Austin for a one-week vacation recently. I was hoping that after a year and half, I might be able to reconcile my feelings about the town.
    Here are some of my thoughts on Austin as it is now:
    • There is so much construction, both road and buildings. It’s everywhere you turn. The area I lived in in north Austin used to not be that desirable of an area. Now, developers are buying bungalow houses that were likely built in the 1960s or 1970s, bulldozing them, and building excessively modern duplexes in the same lot. There is a road next to where I used to live that had three redeveloped lots on it when I left. It now has more than 7. Here’s an example of one of them. The pink house was being torn down when I left in early 2016.
    • The town has become a caricature of itself. When I would go home during school breaks, Austin would usually come up as a topic of discussion. I found, at the time, that what people back home thought Austin was is not what it actually was. Now, it is exactly what people back home think it is. It is a hipster, eccentric place where you stand out if you are not hipster, alternative, or mod. (Note: I’m not saying that those styles are bad. I think they are great. I love when I see people with weird hairstyles, hair colors, tattoos, piercings. I would love to have the courage to be like that. What is not great is the feeling I got from Austinites when I went back. It felt almost pretentious. As if, if I wasn’t like that, I didn’t belong.) Austin used to be this hidden secret of the south. Now, there’s nothing surprising anymore.
    • When I first moved to Austin, everyone was pretty laid back, at least compared to the east coast. When I visited, it seem like I hadn’t left the east coast in that regard. Everyone was in a hurry to get everywhere. 
    • There is a lot more graffiti now, especially downtown near the river. I took this picture at Kerbey Lane Cafe next to campus (great cafe, btw. Definitely go there if you are ever in Austin). Graffiti like this now litters central Austin. It wasn’t like this a year and half ago.
    Things weren’t all bad when I lived in Austin. I had great friends (they’re still my friends but very few still live in Austin). I had a great knitting/crochet group (yes, that is important to me). Austin has great book shops and yarn shops (see the picture of my haul from my latest trip for evidence of this). The food is great (Kerbey Lane Cafe, Pho Thaison, Mighty Fine, County Line BBQ to name a few). Alamo Drafthouse is a thing. The city botanical gardens are amazing (the picture is from my trip to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center). And the confidence boost that I can live on my own in a strange town in a strange state far away from home and be okay was great. 
    Butterfly on Blazing Star at the Wildflower Center
    But that being said, there were also things that weren’t okay about Austin when I lived there. I won’t go into Texas politics. I think most people are familiar with those. But something else, being from Maryland, there are tall trees almost everywhere. For those who are claustrophobic, Maryland may not be for you. Sometimes, there are so many trees, it can seem like they are closing in around you. But having grown up with that feeling, I love it. In Austin, the tallest trees are about 50 feet at best. It’s not really Austin’s fault. It’s too dry and the soil is just too bad to really support the 100-foot tall trees of Maryland. But the lack of tall trees always made it feel like something was missing. During the day, the sky in Austin is too big. At night, it’s almost imposing. It seems like there isn’t anything to hold up the night sky. It seems like the blackness of the night is right on top of you. It’s unnerving. 
    It’s hard to live in a place where it seems like the sky is too far away, but at the same time, is trying to get you. It’s hard to like living in a place where it changes at the drop of a hat, and not always for the best. My friends are mostly gone. The state is turning further and further pro-gun and anti-woman. Austin is somewhat buffered from it, but it can’t fully keep it out. 
    I came away from my recent trip not liking Austin…and that is where my feels about Austin will stay. That’s okay. I don’t have to like Austin. I won’t ever live there again and that’s okay. I’ll visit again, one of these days. 
    I’ll leave you with a picture from a happy time when I lived in Austin. I may never feel this way again in or about the city, but it was good to have felt it.

1 comment:

  1. I've never been to any place in Texas. I've at least traveled though most areas of the US, but for some reason the only time I've hit Texas was a stop over in Dallas on my way to Mexico 6 ish years ago. Not sure that really counts. Sorry the trip didn't really help you sort feelings. I live or lived in a nice small village feeling area. Now houses are being torn down and 2 built in it's spot. I'm not liking the newness to it all.

    Sandy's Space