Day 295

Ok… so last week, I tried my best to describe Austin’s culture. Well, I’m now ready to state—without a shadow of a doubt—that Austin is the party school equivalent of a city. Why? It could be the plethora of bars and liquor stores that encompass the area. Or perhaps it’s the ever-present food trucks and BBQ joints that scream ‘hangover food’. It just seems like everyone here is having a party and someone forgot to write in a closing time. Then again, I also think it says something about the type of people that live here. Austin is a young city filled with a vibrant culture and a colorful cast of characters.

Perhaps that’s why this place is known for its countless music venues and hundreds of great local acts. Everyone here seems to have a simple goal in mind: work hard and party hard. The people here just want to enjoy the city, while preserving the small, the local and the unique. It all seems rather wonderful to me and I'm certainly not the only one. I mean, given that close to 100 people are moving here every day, I’d have to assume they’re doing something right, after all.

But there’s something that interests me even more about Austin. It doesn’t really have a downtown area—at least not like those I’ve come across in other cities. Take a quick glance at the skyline and you’ll see that many of their skyscrapers are spread out from one another. Of course, based on the number of construction sites, I’d assume that’s going to change within the next few years. But for now, it's a string of small shops, eateries and parking lots that connect these more visible spaces.

In a way, it all harkens back to that 'party school' attitude. Locals just prefer small and casual over big and sterile. You won’t see many chains around the city and don’t even think about asking where the nearest Walmart is. Instead, you can’t help but take in the wares of resident artisans; dine amongst chefs who’ve spent decades perfecting their crafts; and move your feet to the sounds of Austin’s incredible indie bands. It’s all a big ol’ party indeed.

Yes, there truly is something awe-inspiring about this city. It changes you. It invites you in and with a southern drawl says, “Stay as long as you like.” There’s always something going on somewhere and even the most public of events will make you feel as if you’re ‘in the know’. I guess that’s what some people find so charming about Austin. It’s fun here and you’ll never hear a single soul try to make excuses for it.

-Steve-

Day 288

It's pretty great to have a friend who happens to work for a local event-marketing firm. Thanks to her, I’m getting a true crash course in the city’s culture—from seeing the incredibly diverse acts of Austin’s music scene to experiencing, first hand, the joy that is the local comedy community. This month is shaping up much differently than I had expected, that's for sure. 

As I mentioned last week, musically, Austin reminds me a lot of Memphis. From small bands playing in corner bars to national acts taking the stage at venues such as Austin City Limits Live, you can’t walk two feet without hearing a melody of some kind. The only difference it that Memphis is about keeping the past alive and celebrating the sounds that helped shape blues, jazz and rock n’ roll. Here in Austin, they want to push the envelope and create new sounds that no one has ever heard. I guess that’s why people flock from all over to attend festivals like ACL, Fun Fun Fun Fest and SXSW.

As for the rest of the city’s culture, I couldn’t think of a way to accurately explain it. Then, over the weekend, I was invited to a screening of Travel Channel‘s, “Underground BBQ Challenge”. It was an Austin-centric episode that pitted David Rodriguez—local chef and punk rocker—against a team of more traditional “Texas cowboys”. I thought it was a great display that really summarized Austin’s personality, compared to that of the rest of state. Take for instance that David cooked his briskets on a bunch of borrowed grills and smokers, while the other team utilized a range of expensive cabinets, ovens and electronics. That alone says a lot, but in the end, David’s team won because of their passion, drive and creativity.

That’s the kind of place Austin is. They do more with less. They find ways to re-use, reinvent and revitalize things that most people would either toss aside or simply forget about. Honestly, there’s just something really inspiring about being around artisans, who are pushing the envelope of what they can accomplish on tight deadlines and tighter budgets. I’m not sure if it’s something in the water, but everyone I’ve met here is of a similar ilk. I guess that’s why they say about 70 people are moving here every single day.

Oh and for those wondering—yes—David’s brisket was out of this world and was hands down the best BBQ I’ve ever had.

-Steve-

Day 281

This weekend, I discovered UT tailgating and it was pretty unreal. As someone who lived off-campus during his college career, this is something completely new to me. But, wow did I have an absolute blast. I’m not sure if every school has a pre-game event of similar scale, but I couldn’t help but stand in awe of how many blocks it spanned. There were even sponsored tents from the likes of Monster Energy, Southern Comfort and Bud Lite. If you ever get a chance to go, I highly recommend it. I mean... free booze, beads and BBQ? Count me in for next weekend’s festivities.

Anyway, a week in and I’m already getting the sense that things operate a lot differently down here in Austin. While I still have a ways to go in figuring out why, I have come to notice a few things that make this place one of a kind. First off, the city itself contains different elements that remind me of many of the other stops I’ve already hit. The atmosphere is a lot like Memphis; the architecture, a little New Orleans; the nighttime weather feels like Charlotte; and the bar-lined 6th Street harkens back to the likes of Bourbon and Beale Street.

It’s more than that though. Even the more casual things I’ve become used to are different down here. Take food trucks for instance. Over the years, I’ve grown accustomed to checking Twitter for my favorite mobile eateries’ daily locations. However, here in Austin, the food trucks have taken up permanent residence in the abandoned corners and parking lots of the area. They never relocate and instead they build up their spaces with tents, lights, benches and a slew of decorations in an attempt to grab attention. And these truck-sized restaurants aren’t regulated to certain parts of the city either. You can find them almost anywhere, usually filled with small crowds or long lines depending on the time of day. 

Aside from the aesthetics, the people here seem to operate on a much differently wave length as well. While they maintain the charm and hospitality you’d expect in the south, they also have a more carefree air about them. Things move a bit slower. People breathe a little easier. Everyone seemingly wants to have a good time and they don’t let labels get in the way of that. Where in other cities, you’d know certain places as ‘the college bar’ or the ‘local joint,’ establishments here seem to welcome people from all walks of life. Yet, in the end, every place still maintains this ‘rough around the edges’ sort of feel, regardless of their patrons. Really, the only two categories they seem to have are ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

With four weeks to go, I’m really excited to uncover even more ways Austin is different. Although, I will say, I was absolutely right about the weather. I’m not a fan of the heat and as expected, I’ve already developed a love/hate relationship with this city as a result. 

-Steve-