I always feel a little existential when I’m in non-coastal cities and towns in the US. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s just the foreignness of not having an ocean that dominates part of the horizon? Or maybe its the highways which often bisect the towns? I felt the same way in Lake Tahoe years ago. Coincidentally, I quoted Merton there as well.
This is my first visit to Austin. To me, it feels kind of like the Calgary of the south. Or perhaps Calgary is the Austin of the north. Until we found the few boisterous blocks of 6th Street where all the action is, I was struck by how empty downtown Austin seemed. Two nights in a row we dined in half-empty restaurants in the centre of town. What do these establishments do when SXSW isn’t in town?
I haven’t had a lot of time to look around, but local two heritage buildings were highlights. The first is the Driskill Hotel, originally built in 1886. It’s in the Romanesque style, and reminded me a little of the Empress Hotel in Victoria. We had desert there. In what seems like a very southern tradition, the Driskill holds an annual pie bake-off, and the winning pie gets on the desert menu for the subsequent year.
This afternoon I saw the premier of Splinterheads, a charming if run-of-the-mill comedy at the historic Paramount Theater. It’s a gorgeous little theater built in 1915 (here are some photos), with a capacity of about 1300. It’s the prettiest cinema (I gather it’s also a live venue) that I’ve seen in years–it’s really a pity we don’t have more of these left on the west coast.
I don’t really feel like I’ve had the Texas experience yet. I’ve seen very few cowboy boots and hats (aside from those worn ironically by SXSW attendees), and haven’t heard much of that twangy accent which I expected. That, I gather, may be due to Austin’s status as the city that’s unlike the rest of the state. We’re spending a couple of nights outside of the city later in the week, so that experience may seem more genuine.
On an unrelated note, things have been quieter than usual around here because I, uh, broke the back end of this website. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that my reach exceeded my grasp, and chaos ensued. Big thanks to local Vancouver SEO expert Kerry Morrison for digging around under the hood and straightening things out again.
UPDATE: Here are a few photos from our time in Texas: