People who live in any city other than Austin, do so because they don’t know any better.
I learned this the hard way.
My story goes something like this: at age 18, I moved from Miami to Austin to attend the University of Texas. After four years, I put Austin behind me and headed to New Jersey seeking fame and fortune in the glamorous world of software development tools.
Spoiler alert. I found neither. Instead, I suffered through long winters, even shorter summers and a daily routine of looking out the window wishing that I was back living in Austin.
I had to find my way back to Austin.
In 2000, after a lot of hard work (and even more luck), I was able to move back here and in 2005 I purchased a condo. I’ve been complaining about escalating property taxes ever since.
The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA)
The airport? Really?
If you’re from out of state and/or if you travel for business, the chances are you’re going to spend a lot of time in the airport. The good news is that ABIA feels like Austin.
Pop quiz: find the Starbucks in the airport. I’ll give you a hint. There isn’t one. Nothing against Starbucks, but Austin keeps it local as much as possible; including in our airport.
You won’t find Starbucks, Hudson News, or Chili’s or any of those chains in ABIA. Instead, you’ll find local restaurants and shops as well as the music you hear is from Texas musicians.
In fact, there are two live music venues behind the security checkpoint. Perfect for when you’re waiting on a delayed flight and/or waiting out rush hour traffic on a return trip.
Outside The Airport – The City Of Austin
One of the reasons that Austin residents are so nice is that most of them are originally from Texas, and Texans are generally kind and nice people.
And, laid back. The dress code is “come as you are.” Here’s a fashion tip: whatever you are wearing right now – chances are it’s fine for about 99% of the places you’d want to go in Austin. I’d struggle to think of any place in town that has a strictly enforced dress code outside of shoes and a shirt.
The weather is great. There’s a lot to do outdoors and the weather is usually just right most of the year for doing things like running on Town Lake, bicycle riding or just sitting outside.
More important, people can afford to live here. As much as I complain about my property taxes, Austin is affordable. Go online and compare buying (or even renting) prices between Austin and Silicon Valley Or Miami. Or New York. Nuff said.
And with as many people that are living here, the traffic is not bad. As Heather pointed out, it does only take 20 minutes to get from point A to point B in Austin. Traffic, in my mind, is defined as the Holland Tunnel at 8:15 am. Anything else is just a slight inconvenience.
The more you live in Austin, the better you learn the streets and the traffic patterns and can usually get around the bottlenecks. I do recommend investing in a navigation system since a number of streets have two names. Why? I have no idea, but I can tell you that “Airport Boulevard” is not the best way to get the the airport.
Brief history lesson: ABIA, the “new” airport, was build on the outskirts of town on what was the Bergstrom Air Force Base. The old Mueller airport, which is on Airport Boulevard, has since been converted into a planned community and the airport hangers are where Austin Studios now sits.
Anyhow. All of these things contribute to a laid back culture and the character of the city that hosts a number of communities that make Austin…well, Austin.
The Austin Communities
The people who inhabit Austin, and the communities we have built, are what keep Austin so weird and so awesome.
There are a number of communities, some I only casually participate in (like the museum and fine art communities), some I just know about through friends (like the cycling community) and others that are a complete mystery to me.
These are the top three that I associate with and they’re what make up my Austin.
I’ve been reading comic books since…well, since I could read. I’ve been to plenty of comic book stores across the country and Austin Books is the gold standard. They stock as many DC and Marvel titles as they do Oni Press or Fantagraphics. It’s one of the reasons why Austin has such an active comic book readership.
As for movies, the Alamo Drafthouse does two things that are a lot of fun. First, they do fun events like quote-a-longs, sing-a-longs, theme nights (like girlie night) and they make going to the movies an experience. Next, they do great pre-movie clip packages where they cut together all sorts of odd film and TV clips and trailers that run prior to the regular trailers (I usually get to a movie 30 minutes early just to watch their pre-movie clip package). And, they serve food!
But, actually. I have a correction. You don’t even need to go that far. You could just go to the local yarn store. True story, and one of my favorite anecdotes to understand the nerd culture of Austin:
When the Joss Whedon show Firefly was on the air, there was an episode where Jayne gets a knitted hat from his mother. I recall talking to a woman who went to the yarn store and as she nervously tried to explain what she was looking for, the woman behind the counter cut her off mid-sentence, with a matter-of-fact response, stating, “Oh. The Jayne hat. Yeah, we’ve had other people come in to do that.”
The Tech Community
Because the quality of life here is so high, Austin is the home for some of the top talent in the world. In addition to the large number of startups and Fortune 500 companies in town we have other companies moving here every month. It’s a combination of tax incentives and our talent pool. That said, we are not an “industry town.” It’s not like Silicon Valley where you can’t go 5 minutes without someone mentioning venture capital. The people in the tech community in Austin are interesting and have lives outside of their jobs. Again, quality of life and our laid back culture.
The Food Culture
After “live music capital of the world,” it should read, “nom nom nom.” The thriving food culture in Austin is not just limited to BBQ and tacos (though, we do have the best of both).
From the food carts, to the hole-in-the-walls to the high-end restaurants, it’s understandable that I struggle when friends ask me to create a “short list” of places to visit in town. And even then, I have friends introducing me to new places all the time (hello, Hopdoddy! Thank you, Michelle).
But what I can tell you is as follows:
For BBQ, if you’re going with a bunch of people and you want something casual, go Rudy’s and don’t let the fact that it’s inside a gas station throw you. For the best in Austin, stand in line at Franklin. They have secured my spot for the best brisket I’ve had; ever. It’s a great place run by a very nice couple and I can’t say enough about how amazing the food is.
For tacos, my heart belongs to Tacodeli. Use Doňa sauce for everything and order the potato breakfast taco and fall in love with the Happy taco. When they’re not open (sadly, they don’t do dinner) I “cheat” on them with Torchy’s.
The Surrounding Culture
Texas is very highway friendly and there are any number of great places to day trip from Austin. San Antonio to the South. Fredricksberg to the West. Any number of small towns in the surrounding hill country. I often go on “BBQ adventures” to neighboring towns as far as an hour or 90 minutes out from Austin and the drives are always beautiful (and the food is always spectacular).
P.S. If you do want a great BBQ adventure, I recommend Snow’s BBQ in Lexington. I first heard about it courtesy of Texas Monthly. They are only open on Saturday. From 8am until they run out of meat. Get their early because, they will run out of meat before noon! And yes, I have eaten brisket at 9:30 am.
I Live Here
For all of the things I did try to talk about in this post, there are any number of things that I either forgot about and/or just ran out of room to include.
I’ll leave you with this: we celebrate Eeyore’s birthday. That should tell you all you need to know about Austin, our communities and why I live here.
More from Noah’s photo shoot can be found here.