A couple of weeks ago I flew down to Austin, Texas to visit a friend and check out the city I had been hearing so many good things about. I was a week too late for its acclaimed music festival, South By Southwest, which was the only reason I’d ever heard of anyone going there before. Most of the locals were surprised to see me there post-festival, but excited that I was visiting at a time when I could experience the city in its classic vibe.
What Austin’s “classic vibe” turned out to be, in my opinion, is more or less a never-ending festival of music, arts and culture. The streets swarmed with creative young people (many University of Texas students), cheap food and beer could be purchased from trucks and dives on virtually every corner at any time of day, and it was hard to walk a mile without stumbling upon some live music or art show. By day two or three, I was essentially convinced to move there permanently.
We’ve all heard or seen Austin’s city logo “Keep Austin Weird,” which refers to its funky, liberal vibe that shines like a crazy diamond in the rough of right-wing Texas. Being born and raised in New York City, I’ve always doubted the ability of other cities to impress me in realms of culture, artsy-ness, or “weirdness” for that matter, and I needed to experience Austin firsthand to see if it would measure up to my “weird” standards. In less than a week there, I did in fact have many weird experiences.
1. Two Steppin’ at The White Horse
After picking me up from the airport on Saturday night, my friend Sara immediately drove us out to a bar strip in East Austin. We ate and drank from a series of trucks, then ventured to The White Horse, a venue where I suddenly found myself in my very first country music show. It was weird for me to stand in the crowd before this country band, cowboy boots, hats and all, and realize that it was entirely serious. Not a drop of irony.
Furthermore, the crowd was coupled up dancing two-step, hand-in-hand. Nearly the entire room of people knew how to dance this way, and again, was doing so completely genuinely. It was refreshing, coming from years of boring Brooklyn concerts where the crowd stood stiffly, too cool to move more than their necks. An older man who I think was a real life cowboy actually came up to me, tipped his hat, and said “Would ya laaaiiiike t’daaaance, miss?” I thought I was dreaming. I politely thanked him and told him I didn’t know how, awkwardly turning my lips down and shrugging my shoulders.
2. AcroYoga Jam @ Hope Farmer’s Market
The next day, my friend and host was scheduled to work at Hope Farmer’s market in East Austin. Knowing that I’d be interested in participating, she told me there would be a donation-based outdoor yoga class there, followed by a free AcroYoga jam. Eager to connect with the Austin yogis and AcroYogis, I tagged along. Through conversations I learned that the AcroYoga community in Austin is thriving, affordable classes and free jams happen a few times a week year-round. I give sincere props to Austin for this, and feel that New York could learn from them. I have been surprised and disappointed by the limited amount and high cost of AcroYoga happening in New York. By the end of the day I felt as if I had instantly inherited a close group of friends in Austin. It’s hard not to become close when you spend the day suspended from one another’s legs.
3. The Austin Love Juggernaut‘s Authentic Communication Games Night
The AcroYogis I met at the market had a whole week long lineup of cool things to invite me to, but the one thing I knew I couldn’t miss was “Authentic Communication Games Night,” a free event hosted by the Austin Love Juggernaut. The event was held in a community room at Casa De Luz, a Macrobiotic restaurant and community center.
About twenty participants circled up and spent the evening getting to know each other in an offbeat way. One game involved walking around the room and becoming aware of how different expressions of eye contact communicate and what environment it can create. Moderators asked us to look at each other with kindness, then with suspicion, then with aloofness, and so on. Another exercise we did was a partner mutual meditation. We were paired up and asked to stare into the eyes of a stranger for five minutes straight and to just be present with them. Then we switched partners and were asked to stare into each other’s eyes in a way that allowed us to be seen. Then we switched again and practiced staring into the eyes with compassion.
The last game we played was called “Hot Seat” and was definitely the emotional peak of the evening. We broke into two smaller groups for this. The premise of “Hot Seat” was that one person would sit in a chair and everyone else would circle up around them. The people standing in the circle could ask the person in the hot seat any question they wanted to. The person in the hot seat could choose to answer truthfully, to lie, or to refuse to answer, but they had to decide quickly and say something. When it was my turn to sit in the hot seat I found it almost impossible to lie or not answer. Being a person who wears her heart and then some on her sleeve, it felt quite delicious to bear my soul to a group of strangers.
I was really impressed with this event. I later found out that a similar event does in fact happen in New York. I was pleased to discover this, but curious about why in 22 years in New York I’d never heard of it, but it only took tow days in Austin to end up there. It got me thinking about how much value there is to life in a smaller, more community-oriented city.
4. Donation Based Vinyasa at Black Swan Yoga
Finding myself in a donation based yoga studio was about the farthest thing from weird, considering that I currently spend the majority of my time in teacher training or open classes at Yoga to the People in New York. I wanted to review BSY anyway and show them my support.
While my search racked up other donation-based yoga in Austin, BSY had the lowest minimum donation at $5 a class, making them the most affordable, accessible, inclusive studio in Austin. The vibe was chill, the music was awesome, and the class was both challenging and compassionate. Something particularly cool about BSY is that they host a weekly donation-based Yoga Rave, which unfortunately I was not able to attend. Again, it’s something I’m sure also happens in New York, but likely not by donation, and probably with a far less communal vibe.
5. Consumed cheap beer and tacos three times a day
By the end of my visit to Austin it occurred to me that I had consumed nearly nothing but beer and tacos the entire week. How could I not, when they were cheap, delicious and omnipresent? It seemed that the locals were doing the same. Everywhere I went at most hours of the day there were people sitting outside in the sun drinking beer and eating tacos. What could be weirder, or better, than that?
In the end, Austin not only passed my ‘weird test,’ but made me fall in love with it. It’s not just a funky, left town with great weather and the vibe of a year-round festival. It’s also filled with amazingly genuine, friendly individuals, who are constantly doing interesting things (and eating and drinking yummy cheap things). It’s a big enough city that there is great variety in cultural happenings and a small enough town that you’ll run into someone you know at whatever you choose to go to. I loved Austin, made many friends there, and look forward to returning, perhaps even to live someday.