Austin! Austin! We all love Austin! Houston?

Everyone’s happy to live in mythical Austin. We sit outside, have brunch or breakfast on Congress Ave, or at Magnolia Cafe, Kerby Lane, Eastside Cafe, or even Central Market. Our little kids play under the oaks, along the limestone creeks. Yes, the kids are little, for we are all young, forever young, except for that bearded professor sitting at the next table reading over something double-spaced and typed single-sided on white paper.

We have trails along Town Lake, for both running and biking, for when we dip out of the icy waters of Barton Springs pool, or relinquish our bright red plastic kayak. You can even pick up a pup to run with from Austin Pets Alive. If the Lege is in session (hardly ever), you might rather go eavesdrop at Sholtz’s Beer Garten, though it has become quite depressing lately.

Austin is the liberal heart of Texas, where you can shop at Wheatsville Food Coop and get asked if you are an owner at checkout, where Whole Foods originated, home of the best publication in Texas, The Texas Observer. Our homes are small and quaint, best in Hyde Park. Our dry creeks mandate linear parks cutting through town, lined with lovely limestone bedrock. Which is closest to you – Bull Creek, Shoal Creek, Onion Creek, Waller Creek?

Where do you live? Austin, Texas. This answer gives a shiver of joy. Austin, gateway to the Texas Hill Country, not that we need to leave Austin. For here we have it all, culture, nature, food, education, music. Austin, destination or portal for the river of cars leaving Houston this Easter weekend. Austin, let’s keep it weird. Austin, home to the University of Texas at Austin. Austin has 6th street, Austin City Limits, South by Southwest. Austin is where we know how to live, where we know free events in the park make that tiny rental worth living in.

Austin, there’s no place like it.

But people have always been saying Austin used to be great and now is less. When I first moved there in back in the 1970s, my father said it was nothing like it had been when he was a student in the late 1940s. In 1940, Austin had 87,930 people. Austin in 1970 had 251,808 people, nearly 3 times more. Now it has 785,647, according to this site. By contrast, Houston had 384,514 in 1940, and  Houston in 1970 had 1,232,802 people. So Austin is not as big as Houston, but roads that used to be simple are now freeways, with overpasses and underpasses. But a city is more than just the number of people that live there.

What’s so special about Austin? What does Austin have that Houston doesn’t have? Don’t we sit outside for brunch at Brasils, Backstreet Cafe, the Daily Review, or Raven Grill? Don’t we run at Memorial Park, or kayak down Buffalo Bayou? Don’t we have Montrose, Washington Avenue, Fotofest, a great music and theater scene? Don’t we have at least two great universities? Didn’t we vote for Barack?

Well, yes, we have all those things, and more. We are more diverse and international. We are funky. We have as many homes painted turquoise, lime, or purple as Austin has. You can have as much fun in Houston as you can in Austin. But there is a big, big difference. The point of Houston is not fun. It is money, oil money. If you want to understand Houston, you need to go to the Offshore Technology Conference. It isn’t my Houston, but it is Houston, and the atmosphere penetrates.

In Austin the new Dell billionaires perch above the city, looking down from the hills, and ruining the view. In Houston the equivalents are right in the middle of town, as is the Ship Channel, and the refineries are not far off.

Well, when we move to St. Louis I’ll miss Houston, and I’ll miss Austin. IMG_5971.JPG

A Ph.D. defense, brilliantly executed!

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The post Ph.D. toast!

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Austin, hazy from the West Texas fires.

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Patterson Labs, my old research home.

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The Tower, University of Texas, Anna’s research home.

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A drinking fountain in the tower.

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The wasps of Austin, keep me coming back!

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Kerby Lane Cafe, Austin, Texas.

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Look at those cars headed to Austin, as we go back to warm, lush Houston.

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Headed home, nearly there, for Texas distances, anyway.

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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