March 3, 1991. The first Gulf War had just ended. I was out of college a few years and had been traveling and moving around a bit. I grew weary of that, so I did the logical thing and went home. After a year slinging Southern cooking and helping out dear ma a bit, I bought a lightly used car. I went to one last steak night with my dad and brother, and moved in with a friend in Austin, Texas. Today her eldest turned 22, so I stopped by for a COVID-safe outdoor birthday. People trickled by, and I told one about the mom,“She’s my oldest friend in Austin. Looks pretty good for 85, don’t she?” (She’s much less.) With that history and my anniversary percolating in my brain the last two weeks, I figured it’s time for a little trip down memory lane.
That friend actually isn’t my oldest; there’s a guy from high school I seldom hear from; He’s 95 (just kidding). My second oldest friend met her actually oldest friend a bit before me. That other friend once told me the last time I moved back that third time was a charm. And it does seem to have stuck, given my 20+ years here this time. Point is, I have a lot of history in this town, and like they say in books, it’s another character. Austin has this liberal reputation but it’s still Texas, the South, in ‘merikuh, and there are plenty of conservatives here. When I moved here it was to knock on doors and raise money for Greenpeace. I stank at that and didn’t last too long, and relocated for cooler climes and love in Seattle. But that’s another story.
One thing that hasn’t changed in a good while here are the right-wing religious zealots and other ijits (idiots) running the institution known as Texas state government. As deceased leading light and journalist extraordinaire Molly Ivins called it, and how many locals pronounce it, “gummint.” Exhibit #1: Governor Greg “Bidness as Usual” Abbott cancelling the state mask mandate and other coronavirus precautions. Exhibit #2: Electric grid managers shutting it down during the third worst winter storm in Texas history, leading to dozens of deaths, millions without electricity, and burst water pipes and billions in bills. (Hint: Follow the money.) Exhibit #3: Attorney Generalissimo Ken “Under Indictment” Paxton suing Austin for de-criminalizing homelessness, requiring business to pay sick days, providing sanctuary for refugees, and basically just for being Austin. And so on.
That’s just one aspect of life. Culturally, it’s a college town in many ways. Lots of drunk children, basically. There’s that whole live music thing. Live Music Capital of the World is one slogan, another is Keep Austin Weird. We’ve got literal cowboys, hippies, rappers, high tech nerds, blues players and more (there’s a Stevie Ray Vaughan statue down by the river. Notable luminaries include: Willie Nelson, Matthew McConaughey (he of the zany car commercials), Sandra Bullock, Joe Rogan (host of the most popular podcast on the planet, I’m told), and many more. Austin City Limits festival, South by Southwest, Circuit of the Americas, Eeyore’s Birthday, and more happen here. People decry the loss of “the old Austin” like music venues Liberty Lunch, Armadillo World Headquarters, and Threadgill’s Restaurant (where Janis Joplin got her start) but that’s not a new story; it’s old news, everywhere. “We tear down ancient housing for brand spankin’ new condos with those California tech dollars” should be on signs at the Austin city limits.
Read my related post The University of Texas at Austin and Me: A Short Autobiography.
Twenty years is a long time. Too much to sum up, since a lot of it has faded into memory, as life does. For about 75% of that time, I was carless. I’m basically still that, since the one that came unbidden into my possession requires thousands of dollars I don’t have in repairs. The car before that wasn’t around for too long, either, so I’ve been car-free or car-light most of my life, for better or worse. For the last five years, I’ve been blogging (approaching 600 posts) and biking my butt of (over 27,000 miles [more that aren’t verified on Strava]). What have I learned? What do I have “to show for it”? Has it been “worth it”? What does it all mean, dude?
Such questions aren’t easily answered. Meaning comes from what we spend time, money, and attention on. People come and go, and you do find out who your friends are, and enemies, too. Most of us are too busy dealing with our own lives and challenges, especially in a global viral pandemic, to care or do much about other people’s problems. No one knows the future, except we hopefully get old without too much pain and suffering before we die. We do our best, and try to forget the rest. Find some enjoyment, education and entertainment along the way, whatever that is for you. Help serve others and the community. The past is gone, the future is not here, so we can only live in the present. Be Here Now.
In the immortal words of Matthew McConaughey (Austin area resident, do-gooder, Oscar winner, possible future governor of Texas?), Just Keep Livin‘ — also the name of his charitable foundation. For A Dude, that means a bike ride on a sunny day, even though it’s painful. And to quote the first words he ever put on film, M.M.’s iconic character Woody Wooderson from the classic Richard Linklater film Dazed and Confused, “Alright, Alright, alright.” No one really knows what that means, but they’re as good as any other words to live by. Check out his fundraiser to help Texans affected by Winter Storm Uri on Sunday night, March 21, 2021, 7pm CDST on his YouTube Channel.
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4 thoughts on “Three Decades Since A Dude First Landed, Bikeless, in Austin”
I have heard numerous very good things about Austin, however I have to visit Texas which is not appealing to me. Plus I do hear it compared often to Portland.
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Playing devil’s advocate one could say I hear Oregon is all pot farmers and smokers or evangelical right wing gun nuts, and Portland is run by Antifa and bicyclists, etc.
In Seattle when I lived there, I found a lot of people to be unfriendly or snooty and dismissive, cost of living, rents have skyrocketed there, plus it’s only nice when it’s not raining which is like one month a year.
My point is that there’s good and bad about everywhere, and not ever having somewhere to experience it for yourself, how would you really know? You miss out on the good.
That said, there’s plenty wrong with Austin (mostly due to Californians and their money). We have higher costs, bad traffic, summer heat, humidity, mostquitoes, cedar fever in winter, Republicans (it’s the capital), etc. Also, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston have great museums and are very multicultural, so lots of restaurants, etc.
Thanks for reading and commenting. Come visit and decide for yourself! We’ll go on some bike rides.
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Totally true on all counts about lots of places and yes you can say all those things and more about the fine folks of Oregon and Washington. I try not to miss out on anything including bike rides.
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I’d live in the PNW again if I could tolerate all the grey and rain. You can take the boy out of Texas, but you can’t take the Texas out of the boy. Hope you’ll email me again if you want.
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