Monday, April 20, 2009

Greetings From Austin, TX

Capitol of Texas Bridge

Austin, TX is a city of extremes and extremists.

It's famously politically liberal, filled with loopy cranks debilitated by the worst ravages of Bush Derangement Syndrome.

But it has just as many libertarian, 911-Truthers planning for the next Camp Davidian siege. And of course they hate each other.

And Travis county is beseiged on all side by traditional Texas Conservative counties whatever that means. Texas is a reliably Republican state but until 1968 they were yellow-dog Democrats. But they were not big supporters of President FDR's social reforms...except among the UT professors and state workers here in Austin, I suppose (which was how nearly everyone in town was employed back then). The Texas reps walked out of the 1930 Democratic convention. And now they are grouchy supporters of Republicans. But during both eras, their politicians managed to ensconse themselves into the seats of power in the Federal legislature.

In 1968, a nut set up a sniper-nest in the U.T. Tower from which he could see the whole city at that time. He killed 14 people. After that, the nanny-state city council shut down the tower for 30 years. Conversely, when a nut drove a truck into the Luby's in Killeen (less than 1 hour north of here) and killed 23 people, the diner was reopened in a week. The response of the Texas legislature was to pass a law permitting Texans to carry concealed handguns.
Now it costs $10/person to go to the top of the reopened tower.
At that price, I ought to be allowed to bring a rifle.

Texas is the only state that was a sovereign country (for just a few years) before it became a state. Perhaps you've heard, our governor recently suggested that Texas might choose to leave the Union. A recent poll discovered that 75% of Texans would not choose to leave the U.S. Which means that 1 in 4 Texans WOULD choose to leave the U.S. if given the opportunity. I think the percentage might be a little higher in the Austin area. Or maybe not. We had a large influx of Californians and Yankees during the last 20 years.

There is a lot of tension about what is the real Austin Way. It's a youngish city due to the large number of college students (50, 000 at U.T. alone in a metro area of 1.5 million). So, many people like to brag about how much exercise they get at the many urban parks.


But there are probably more with guts over-hanging their belts who see true Austin culture centered around discovering the best way to prepare barbeque.
But everyone agrees about Willie Nelson.
Austin has been branding itself (relatively recently) as the Live Music Capitol of America. But it's full of nanny-staters who are busy imposing draconian noise ordinances on out-door venues. This strikes me peculiar since downtown Austin has working railroad running through those same Austin neighborhoods.

While my immediate family are Texans, I was born and reared on the banks of Lake Erie. So I think I have special insight into Texan psyche.

Texans are like New Yorkers (so naturally they don't get each other). They don't want to live anywhere but here and they can't imagine why YOU would want to either. Not that they want you to come. Texans see themselves as singular and unique, and in seeing themselves that way they are. All this is exactly the opposite of Ohio (by the way). They do not see this as putting-on-airs (which Texans loathe); it's just a self-evident fact. In those ways, Texas is to the United States what the U.S. is to the rest of the world.

Enchanted Rock.
You can't get the sense of scale from any photograph.
It takes about 1/2 hour to walk up it from the base.

And yet, they are very friendly. Endemically friendly.The following are the big cities in Texas:

Of these cities, Austin is the friendliest (smaller towns are friendlier), yet it is also the most insular. In Texas, a 3 1/2 hour drive is your basic long drive. It's the farthest you would probably drive to spend the day somewhere and then turn around and go home. However, until about 20 years ago, if an Austinite were going to take highway I-35 fifteen miles north of downtown, you might as well have been driving 2 hours to Waco. Those who have lived here all their lives view those who have came here 40 years ago as intruders who will never understand the real Austin that they killed when they came. And if you came here 15 years ago, well, you just arrived a little too late to discover the Austin that vanished when you entered the city limits. I feel the same way. I remember when you didn't need to sell your car to buy Austin City Limits tickets and when decent SXSW tickets were for the locals and not California celebrities and you weren't herded like the cattle in Red River. I'm here. Now somebody shut the door.

My dog

How does this relate to Iraqi bloggers? Not very much. There's really nothing in a Texan worldview that can relate to that of Iraqis, I think...except for one thing: hospitality and generosity. I've had the opportunity to sup at restaurants with more Iraqis over the last 6 years than I ever imagined I would. The only people I have seen fight over the check more tenuously than Texans are Iraqis. Give it up. You will not win.

Remember the Alamo!




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