THESE ARE THE GOOD OLD DAYS
By: Cathy Kyle
Austin is always best the day you move there. After that, it’s all downhill. Or at least, that’s the way it seems sometimes. You hear folks giving directions according to “where the Stallion used to be” or reminiscing about that great band they heard for the first time at Chicago House. We look fondly at the photos posted on the Facebook group, “Remember Austin When”. We start complaining, noticing the problems, the inconveniences, and the warts. We remember the past with rose-colored glasses, helped along by memories of impossibly cheap draft beer and cheap rents in Clarksville.
For some, it’s time to leave Austin, just like the old cowboy song – “It’s time to leave old Texas now…” People move to nearby towns, like Wimberley, or Bandera, or even Waco (thanks, Fixer Uppers!). Some move even farther away, to Maine or to Portland. Both are beautiful spots, but I’d really rather just visit.
The comparison and the draw to Portland is palpable – it’s even included in a list of jokes – “10 Things You Hear Austinites Say.” One of my husband’s college classmates, Judy, recently moved there about three years ago, and she’s been singing its praises. It’s cheaper. Smaller. Great public transportation. Beautiful. Really not that much rain.
So we went to check it out – not to plan a move, but on a college visit with my youngest son. But the comparisons were inevitable, a niggling question in the back of my mind. No doubt, there’s a lot to like about Portland. It’s been dealt a royal flush when it comes to natural beauty, it has the largest independent bookstore in the country, there are streetcars, and the sun does shine. Judy moved there from San Francisco, so from her perspective, Portland is a good buy.
We soon learned, however, that Portlandia is struggling with growth and a lack of infrastructure, and they have the unenviable distinction of being the whitest city in America. Folks from California (hello, Judy!) are moving there in droves, driving up real estate prices. Also, Portland is something of an oasis in a conservative, even reactionary state, which the recent federal standoff near Burns in eastern Oregon vividly demonstrates. Sound familiar? Another friend lamented the lack of a genuine music scene (where are the blues?) and the ultra-hip subculture that fuels the TV phenom, Portlandia. And forget about finding a decent plate of Mexican food.
We were glad to get home, and I think we put the dream of moving there to bed for good. Because, truth be told, there’s a lot to like, even love, about Austin. Still. Even though the Armadillo is gone, the Capitol view ordinance is a joke, construction crews wake me up at 7 am on a Saturday morning, and I have to crane my neck to catch a glimpse of the river from my office. I don’t have time or space here to talk about the massive transportation failure in the city. And the Texas Legislature comes up with some scheme every session to beat up on our fair city, the Lege’s favorite punching bag.
Last month I had the pleasure of meeting the son of an old college friend. The young man moved to Austin from Phoenix a couple of years ago, and he loves it. He praised the energy of the city, the natural beauty, and its growing diversity. He talked about bouldering in the greenbelt, day trips to Enchanted Rock, and our vibrant downtown (sorry, Dallas and Houston). It was so refreshing to hear a newcomer’s enthusiasm about our fair city. It reminded me of the reasons I fell in love with the place so long ago. We have work to do, no doubt, and things are changing, so let’s roll up our sleeves and get to it.