Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Madison Of The South

Many people have been asking "what is Austin like?"  Embarrassed to continue using the once-witty, although entirely still true, "hot" as an acceptable response I have decided to provide my friends, family, and followers with a better description of what I (still) believe is the Madison (WI) of the South.

Most importantly, my somewhat sporadic existence here since the beginning of April (I have left for a wedding and a race) supports the impressions I developed back in November.  The city is large, but feels small and logical to navigate; the people are friendly, inclusive, and down to Earth; and the culture is unassuming and comfortable, in that it reminds me a lot of Wisconsin.  And the training remains myriad and on average, high quality.

All good news, because otherwise, I would feel trapped in a major bait-and-switch and probably consider running back north of the Mason-Dixon line, waving a sheet-sized white flag.  Or maybe just a sheet.

But a lot of adjectives conveys nothing more than how little I prepped for the SAT test, so anecdotes...

Austin is full of contradictions. 

Half of Austin is pretty much pancake flat; the other half is relentlessly hilly, and steep at that.  And it's not a gradual change; the terrain goes from Zero to Steep in the turn of a road.

Austin is the capital of Texas, complete with all the buttoned-up people that contractually come with that title; Austin has a well-established hipster and University community, complete with all the stereotypical activities and proclivities that go along with that.  These two communities do tend to keep themselves separated by a river/lake, however.

Meat Hour at my gym is chock full of muscle-bound, tattooed guys; they do sun salutations and wait patiently in line to use one of the 10 available foam rollers.  [In DC, I was lucky if my gym had 1 foam roller.]

Austin is dry (compared to Houston's humidity), hot, and windy; Austin is a green city with many areas of mature trees.

Taking bets on the first 100 degree day...oops....it was today

The city is surrounded by highways; inside the highways, the city is full of parks, recreational areas, and green spaces.

Despite the contradictions, everyone seems to co-exist well.  The city's one free (there are many to use for a nominal fee) public pool - which is well-kept and frequented by many age-group and professional athletes - has showers, also free and open to the public, meaning the homeless as well as the lap swimmers.  So one stall is a homeless person, sometimes doing their laundry (which then gets laid out to dry on the sunbathing lawn), and the next is someone wearing a Speedo.  Soccer moms in SUVs patiently avoid the totally tripped out, barefoot, white guy with dread locks and grody clothes wandering, with eyes to the sky so not in a straight line, through the middle of a major intersection.  Not a single person honked.  Wouldn't want to interrupt his trip, you understand.

Austin fulfills many (Texan) stereotypes.

Everything is bigger/better in Texas.  And the commercials on the radio will not let you forget it.

Live music is everywhere.  In many cities, a good Friday night music scene would involve 20 bands performing around town, 10-15 of them for free.  In Austin, that's a slow Tuesday night music scene.

Beer and BBQ are everywhere.  Hallelujah. 

SUVs and trucks are everywhere.  Guilty as charged...

The lifeguard at the pool sometimes wears a cowboy hat.

The Mexican food is made by Mexicans.  And is so much the better for it.

Austin does not fulfill many (Texan) stereotypes.

It feels like everyone is active, in their own way.  Austin may be in the South, but there are far more overweight/obese people in DC and Wisconsin.

All of the necessary big box stores are here - not to mention The Mothership - but the majority of restaurants are anti-chain.  In fact, many of them come equipped with wheels.

And no, not everyone walks around wearing cowboy boots and waving a gun.  Well....not the second part.

Austin is a city out of doors.

The weather in Austin allows much of life to happen not enclosed in a box of some kind.  Many restaurants have more than half of their permanent seating outside.  Down the street from my apartment one coffee shop (which is not a trailer food establishment) has no exterior walls except around the cashier and brewing equipment.

People are outside all the time.  And in my case, I'm outside even when I drive because my car does not have air-conditioning.  Yes, I moved to city that last year had more than 40 consecutive more-than-100-degree-F days and drive a car that provides no relief what so ever from them.  But driving around with my windows down all the time, I feel even more connected to the city.  No one can deny I'm not taking the bull known as Texas by the horns!

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