Monday, October 11, 2010

Keeping It Weird

Keep Austin Weird.  That's the motto this city adopted to promote shopping local vendors.   You can buy just about anything with that logo on it.  The city has taken to promoting itself as a liberal bastion in the larger conservative state, and that's fairly true - if you live in the city itself.  The closer you get to the Capitol, the "weirder" it gets.  Track back north and into the 'burbs, and it becomes more typically Texan-cowboy social conservatism or Dell-upperwardly-mobile-fiscal conservatism.  In the three decades I've lived here, for various reasons, I've been a central Austinite stuck in the suburbs - fancy the Rush song Subdivisions as you read this.  When I was trying to decide where I wanted to press Greg to go to, Hyde Park sprang to mind initially.  We lived in a little older house for a brief while before Kelsey started school, and it was the only time I felt in my element.  Hyde Park is where I turned when Marissa and I shopped for Kelsey's first apartment.  But, because of that. Hyde Park is now haunted for me too, as is South Austin.  There is not really any place in this city I can get away from the calling of my late daughter.  It's time to move on.  Yet, I want to give the city its due.  I slam it a lot - as anyone who spends any amount of time around me can attest.  I have stayed here for love, not geography and, trust me, there were plenty of times I wondered if I made the right choice.  Yet, there are things about Austin that are awesome.  Things I will miss.  A lot.  As I savor my experience at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, I thought I should give the city its proper due.

Austin has long touted itself as the Live Music Capitol of the World.  I don't know if it could truly live up to that if tested, but there is no doubt that it's a vibrant music community.  If you like the club scene in particular.  As part of that, bands that are up and coming tour through here a lot.  Kelsey loved that about Austin and for that reason alone probably never would have left it.  Marissa grew up on music as well, and she's done her fair share of music venues downtown.  There is always something or someone playing on historic Sixth Street.  As part of its love for music, the city hosts two major events every year South-by-Southwest (more inclusively a media festival since there is also an incredible film festival that compliments a whole week of bands playing in clubs all over downtown) and ACL (aka, Austin City Limits Music Festival), which is three days of major acts mixed in with up and comers spread across six stages in Zilker Park.  Of course, the problem with these two things, as with many things everywhere, is you have to have both bank and time to participate.  I've never been able to attend SXSW, and this is only my first three-day pass to ACL.  My only other experience with ACL at all was a gift from my staff.  But, I give the city its due for how awesome these events are.  They draw in people literally from all over the world, and for good reason.  I've heard some incredible music over the weekend.  Broken Bells, Band of Horses, Muse (which totally rocked in an intense set of almost nonstop music and visuals), and lesser known names like First Aid Kit and The Foals.  I got in a little moshing even for Gogol Bordello - not on purpose, mind you, but I lived to tell the tale.

But there are other things that are cool and unique about the city that are not cost prohibitive - or, at least you get to spend as much or as little as you choose.  One of our favorites as a family over the years has been Eeyore's Birthday Party in Pease Park.  That thing is a total time warp back to the free-wheeling, totally tripping 60's.  And we love it.  My personal favorite, and the thing I will probably ache for the most, is the Pow Wow at Burger Center on the first Saturday every November.  The largest indoor indoor Intertribal Pow Wow in the United States, it's been a centering and cleansing experience that I anxiously await for every year.  One weekend every spring and fall is the Pecan Street Festival, a cornucopia of art vendors, music and food.  And, speaking of food, Austin has a reputation for excellent food.  Among our favorites are The Omelettrey (although I always struggle to spell it), Kerbey Lane Cafe, Magnolia Cafe, Trudy's - should I go on?  But, I would be remiss if I didn't include my all-time favorite haunt in Austin:  Alamo Drafthouse.  For me, it's the ideal coupling of food and cinema.  Being vegetarian or even vegan in Austin is no big deal, restaurants are up for it.  Even at ACL, we could easily find things for Marissa to eat.

Austin boasts a decent symphony, which I love to attend.  They have a ballet, which is where Marissa took me for Mother's Day.  They have an opera - only been there once.  They have UT football, baseball and basketball to assuage the sports lover.  And it has a share of museums, although nothing like what Pittsburgh has.

There are natural attractions as well.  When not hosting ten of thousands for a music festival, Zilker Park is actually a lovely, sprawling park with its gem the Barton Springs pool.  Of course, come prepared to see topless women - and not Playboy topless, more like I-know-I-sag-and-I'm-damn-proud-of-it topless.  Marissa is fond of Mount Bonnell, a steep narrow climb up a rock hill, which rewards you with a breathtaking overlook of the city, Town Lake and the 360 Bridge.  And speaking of lakes, if you're a water lover, there are plenty within easy drive.  If Lake Travis or Town Lake are too crowded, you can drive just a bit to get to Lake Georgetown.  When we were a young couple, Greg and I would take my dogs to Lake Travis and let them romp in the surf.  I confess, that's not my scene anymore, but I understand the draw.  A cursory listing of all the places like that to go and see could on for pages.  If it weren't so damnably hot here, one could explore for months on end and not repeat a single location.  But, of course, it is so damnably hot here, so...

In short, as I prepare to leave it, I'm reminded that Austin is keeping it weird and wonderful.  The fact that I've never felt completely at home here doesn't make it less so.  Thanks Austin.  Keep it Weird.
Broken Bells
Gogol Bordello
Me with the real star of the show, Marissa Pearl

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