Austin thoughts

We spent a week in the city, staying with the gracious Gavin. Here are some ways in which Austin is a better place than Cambridge/Somerville:

  • People are friendly.

    Example: We were looking at some new houses, and suddenly found ourselves talking to one of the builders—a native Texan—about how he got into the trade after his time in the military, how they constructed the houses, why they did things the way they did, trade-offs of different kinds of construction, and so on. He not only told us how to get in touch with the sales agent, he offered to call her up on the office phone, right there and then, so we could talk to her. I could be wrong, but I suspect this kind of behavior is not typical of New England construction workers.

    If you’ve lived all your life in New England—or the southern part of the original one—you might not have experienced friendliness. In which case, you should try it, you might like it.

  • Drivers are polite. We did all the usual “not from around here” things—we made last minute direction changes, paused to think at green traffic lights, and so on. In spite of this, I don’t recall hearing a single car horn directed at us.

    On the other hand, the taxi driver who took us home from Logan paused for literally under a second after a light went green, and the masshole behind felt the need to lay on the horn.

  • Groceries are cheap. Food appears to cost around 60% of what it does in Cambridge. The online cost of living comparators had told me this, but I didn’t believe it until I actually saw it for myself. This is even true of fancy imported foreign goods, like the can of Irn Bru I bought.

  • Houses are cheap. We can afford one. In fact, with our projected budget we’ll have a wide choice. We won’t have to live miles from civilization either.

  • It’s not Generica. The first morning, we walked off in search of coffee. We’d gone several blocks when I suddenly got that Twilight Zone feeling… Sure enough, I checked, and we hadn’t passed a single chain store. No Starbucks, no GAP, no Borders. Just lots of locally owned independent stores.

    There’s a “Keep Austin Weird” campaign which encourages people to buy from local stores. What’s astonishing is that it appears to be working. Yes, you can find chains if you head out to the strip malls in suburbia, but the city itself fails to be the same as every other American city.

  • On a related note, there are lots of cool coffee shops. Sure, Davis Square has Diesel and the Someday, and there’s that new place in Union Square, but Austin has more funky and unique coffee houses than I could keep count of.

  • Cheap Tex-Mex.

  • There’s an amazing supermarket. I was surprised to find a local supermarket listed in the tourist guide. Then we went there, and I understood why. I had no idea there were that many varieties of olives. Poor sheltered fool that I am, I thought there were just black and green ones, and maybe a third kind called plum. But no, they have two entire salad bars of just olives.

  • Streets are labeled. Almost always at both ends, too. Whereas the whole street sign thing is a new-fangled invention which Boston folk view with great suspicion.

  • There are lizards everywhere. Little green ones. They scamper along the deck and try to look inconspicuous in bushes.

  • It rarely dips below freezing. sara thinks that’s freakish and wrong, but I think it’s a good thing and I’m the one writing this.

Now for the bad things:

  • Drivers are polite…but many are incompetent.

    We were warned, and yes it’s true—many Texans seem to feel that learning to operate a vehicle safely is one of those things they can put off for a later date.

  • It gets really hot in summer. Though there’s still some controversy over whether it’s even as bad as Minneapolis.

  • We’ll need a car. And I’ll have to learn to drive. Hopefully not like a Texan.

So on the whole, the benefits seem to far outweigh the negatives.