‘So close, and yet so far out.’
In South Austin, there is a seriously cool motel called the Austin Motel. The rooms are themed around beloved icons – Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis, for example. I know couples who spend the weekend there once in a while, even though they live in a different part of town. The people that stay are interesting, the courtyard and bar area are funky, the rooms are huge and playful. A getaway, regardless of where one lives.
In fact, all of Austin is made up of idiosyncratic expressions of what others would consider normal. We are largely liberal, well-educated, healthy, fit, cultured, independent. A nice mix of small town, southern charm, and California. Lots of writers, musicians, film go-ers/makers, tech folks – creativity and innovation as would befit a city with 11 universities – one of which is the largest in-situ university in America.
Austin has always attracted the hip, cool, weird visionaries who think and live outside of the box. Our homes, office buildings, restaurants and bars, have interesting… ok, strange… looks and feels about them. And that makes us happy. Our motto is Keep Austin Weird. It’s about fanning the creative spirit, and enjoying how others express themselves while always having an audience for our own expressions.
I live downtown, near the capital, in a very large loft space that triples as an office, living space, and training space for clients. I’m near terrific, cheap restaurants, a few gentrified neighborhoods that have come up bearing the expected Austin weirdness (i.e. in the middle of a couple of old gutted houses turned into cool bars, are two Airstream restaurants serving terrific homemade Indian and Senegalese food outside in tents and picnic tables), and some dance halls.
There has been no shopping downtown. When I moved here in 2000, there weren’t even post boxes because so few folks lived downtown. We even had an Association for those few of us living downtown.
Now we’re inundated with high rises for the young and affluent who are moving in to run tech companies. And I don’t like it one bit. Yesterday I walked over a few blocks (6) to a new art house to see a foreign film (Incendies.. brilliant, brilliant, brilliant) and was quite shocked as I entered the ‘new neighborhood’ that has just come up as the construction we’ve lived with for years has finally departed.
What’s left is not Austin. I thought I was in LA. The big/rich city feel was all around. High end shops. Women with enhanced bodies, lots of makeup. Young folks with expensive clothes and jewelry (on a Sunday??? In Austin??? No one even owns a suit here!). Several blocks of stores that look like LA – with the fancy lighting and prices. I’m used to walking into a store that has old wood on the floor, and great local music blaring, not with glass shelves filled with expensive candles and towels that cost $250 each.
What’s happening to my town? Why didn’t they keep the feel of the place? Why would they want it to look Generic Upscale? When in that area, there is no way to know what Austin is really like. The W hotel is there; I went in and thought I was in NY. Why? They could have made it funky and kept the charm of Austin.
I want to shout: “Hey Dudes! Leave my town alone! Go somewhere else and have your luxury and your $25 martinis. I want my town back.” But I know that won’t happen. And I know that a lot of the locals are moving farther away – to towns like Wimberly – where they can let their freak-flag fly.
I don’t want to move. So I’m just being cranky about it today. The good news is that my real estate is enhanced. But that’s not why I live here. Austin is where I can just be me, no matter who I feel like being on a particular day – sloppy, or wearing a cocktail dress as I go shopping in Whole Foods. It’s the ultimate place for acceptance. Or it used to be. Goodness knows what it’s becoming now. I just know that I don’t like it.