It’s called “The People’s Republic of Austin” because it’s Texas’s left-leaning pocket.
If Austin changed its name to “San Jose without the taxes,” it wouldn’t be too far off. It’s hard to miss the high tech scene as people in jeans and black t-shirts yell about their hot new apps over loud live music while drinking craft beers.
Not unlike my recent trip to San Jose, this visit to Austin had nothing to do with anything technological. I’m an old soul whose iPad sits silently by my bed where it — and its fully drained battery — has remained since shortly after I bought it. No, my trip was for a meeting of business colleagues in another industry. A close friend is a resident of Austin and inspired me to remain in the city for the weekend. He didn’t disappoint.
Based on the map, Austin looked like a very walkable city. But I tend to be sanguine about sauntering where I shouldn’t. For example, I once walked to work in Phoenix in July. That was ill-advised. The only positive outcome is that I now know that heat exhaustion is a real thing! People don’t walk through a desert. And when you add mile upon mile of hot asphalt, it gets even worse.
I should have taken a lesson from that experience. While Austin isn’t in the desert, it was experiencing an unusual heatwave with 100+ temperatures and high humidity. And, not only was the heat overwhelming in Austin, I wasn’t exactly walking through the nicest part of town.
Indeed, I was heading to meet my friend when I faced a choice. Fight or flight kind of stuff. As I rounded a corner, I noticed a couple in the distance. A gentleman appeared to be walking slightly ahead of a lady. I assumed they were on a date gone wrong. A stroll along a tree-lined street turned into a sweltering walk in the noonday sun along a major interstate. Anyway, at 75 yards, the situation looked tame. At 50 yards, the lady seemed exercised about something. As the distance closed, I heard high-pitched yelling. Something slightly more baritone than a scream. As I got even closer, it became clear that the gentleman was walking ahead of the lady because she was hitting him. Repeatedly. Over and over again. With great force. Her yelling indistinguishable from grunts. She was quite angry. He seemed unfazed.
Until she knocked his hat off. The camel’s back had been broken.
By this point, I was within a thumbnail of the tiff. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that my fight or flight response was to freeze. The gentleman turned toward his lady friend and, with vigor, requested that she, “Leave me ugrundi f*#$ alone, pwrathniguw.”
She responded with, “Haku jaundice.”
Her response told me everything I needed to know. Thanks to mind and mood altering substances, the two were in a world not occupied by me. They had no clue I was there. Still, I avoided eye contact, gave a wide berth, and moved on at a good clip. “Welcome to your Austin weekend,” I thought.
Fortunately, that was my only run-in with the riffraff. For the rest of the weekend, we explored safe hipster bars with one-of-a-kind drinks and unusual interpretations of common foods. Chicken fried ahi tuna, anyone?
The scene in Austin is hip, young, and full of fun. As an aside, should the city consider that for a tag line to replace “People’s Republic,” I will welcome a check.
We enjoyed a thorough tour of Sixth Street, the hippest of the hip. Sixth Street left me with the impression it was favored early by downtown workers and later by a younger crowd. Our tour concluded with a ride in a pedicab. It served our tired feet well. The poor dude pedaling, on the other hand, didn’t feel too optimistic about hauling two dudes. Can’t blame him, we are not a couple of hundred pound undergraduate women.
We also visited Rainey Street, which had more of a “local” feel than Sixth Street. While Sixth Street was surrounded by hotels and curio shops, Rainey Street was filled with Austin residents. It’s here that entrepreneurs convert houses built in the 1930s into trendy bars and restaurants. Given a choice, I’d pick Rainey Street — although we didn’t try them, the food trucks looked impressive, too.
Other than the couple on the date-gone-wrong and the pedicab driver, the people we met were excited about their city despite the unusual heat wave. Everyone was optimistic and seemed zealous about the assorted opportunities available to them in The People’s Republic of Austin.
I can’t wait to get back!