As this blogger was putting the finishing touches on this post, the Texas Longhorns snatched victory from the jaws of the Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas dwells in the dark cellar of the Big 12 and the Longhorns are recovering still from a beatdown by the Oklahoma Sooners earlier this month. The Orangeblood faithful have been muttering and the narrow win in Lawrence, KS won't help embattled (and overpaid?) head coach Johnny Mack Brown in silencing the growing chant of "Run Brown Out Of Town!" So, it's a gloomy (weird) time in Central Texas. If this is (fair & balanced) pride in eccentricity, so be it.
[x NY Fishwrap]
Can Austin Keep Itself Weird?
By Richard Parker
Tag Cloud of the following article
On the sun-dappled October weekend when the cyclist Lance Armstrong’s world fell apart, Austin, the city he calls home and that until recently called him hero, went on with the simple pleasures of Longhorn football, live music, festivals and an amateur cyclist ride through the Hill Country.
But the midautumn bonhomie couldn’t hide a sudden anxiety around town. Stunned supporters of Mr. Armstrong arrived for his gala benefit defiant in their Livestrong logos, even as The Austin American Statesman sullenly detailed the charges of doping and cover-up, the fleeing of corporate sponsors and the stripping of Mr. Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories.
Among other things, the Armstrong debacle is a cautionary tale for Austin, one of America’s most beloved cities, which I call home. His rise has paralleled the city’s ascent from sleepy state capital to international trendsetter. Each year, millions visit for the city’s music festivals. Its economy has thrived during difficult times. With its success, Austin has attracted celebrity culture, built a sleek city and even attracted a new sport, Grand Prix racing, one usually reserved for the global elite.
Yet Austin’s very success, like that of its hometown hero, threatens to overwhelm the simple pleasures and values that make it unique.
It’s hard to pinpoint just when Austin entered the American field of vision, but a good guess would be with the release of the first two feature films from the director Richard Linklater, “Slacker” (1991), a day in the life of the city, and “Dazed and Confused” (1993), about the last day of class at an Austin high school. Both films showed townsfolk letting their freak flag fly, intent on having a good time, unaware of things like money, status and material possessions.
Viewers saw Mr. Linklater’s Austin as another outpost in what the music critic Greil Marcus called the Old, Weird America (2011). Back then, that might have been all anyone outside Texas ever knew about the city.
Twenty years later, it is hard to overstate just how popular Austin has become in the American psyche. When I travel and tell people where I’m from, I almost invariably hear that it is either the coolest town they have ever visited or the place they most want to go on their next vacation. It consistently ranks near the top on lists of where to live, whether you’re a college student, recent graduate, single, young family or retiree.
With a nearly maniacal devotion to running, cycling, racing and working out, Austin is among America’s most fit cities. It seems to constantly invent more fun things to do. Heck, the Web site Sperling’s Best Places recently named us No. 1 in block parties.
Even as the country plunged into recession, Austin continued to create jobs that, in turn, drew Californians by the droves as they fled unemployment and a real estate crash. The local economist Angelos Angelou forecast that the city would see 18,000 new jobs in 2011. He was wrong: the city created 21,000 new jobs. Even layoffs at the computer giant Dell haven’t scratched, let alone dented, the economy here.
No one has embodied the rise of Austin better than Lance Armstrong, who went from a local cycling star to an international super-athlete during roughly the same span of years that Austin went from sleepy to sleek and hip. His foundation, Livestrong, turned him into a global celebrity philanthropist.
Other celebrities, too, began to call Austin home — or at least a second home. It isn’t uncommon to dine at Sandra Bullock’s restaurant or spot Dennis Quaid in a bar. Matthew McConaughey is often on the Longhorn sideline. Natalie Portman was at the University of Texas’s recent home game against Baylor.
But thanks to all that success, Austin is in danger of losing the simple, quirky vibe that made it special in the first place.
Perhaps the harbinger of all this was the death earlier this year of Leslie Cochran, a bearded, 60-year-old man who was usually found at the intersection of Congress Avenue and Sixth Street in high heels and a leopard thong. He ran for mayor three times, usually in a tiara. He was an odd guy, to say the least, and we loved him. Shortly before he died, Leslie warned that Austin risked becoming so big as to be bland.
But Leslie’s popularity was less a driving force than a reflection of a culture that blends not just good times but inventiveness and tolerance: “Slacker,” rowdy cowboys named Tant, hipsters in bands like Ringo Deathstarr, frat kids, talented musical artists like Marcia Ball, old money, sunset margaritas on Lake Travis and, yes, the waft of marijuana atop Mount Bonnell each evening.
Perhaps it was best for Leslie to pass when he did. There may be nowhere for a man like him among the encroaching slickification of Austin’s skyline. In the space of a decade, the sleepy downtown sprouted dozens of soaring skyscrapers filled with expensive condominiums. The simple but gracious four-story stucco Gables West is surrounded on three sides by silver towers named Spring, 360 and Monarch — and soon will be on a fourth.
A few blocks away, Second Street, once home to little more than a children’s museum, has been transformed into a corridor of trendy restaurants, bars and shops, anchored by none other than a W Hotel. Austin’s newly inaugurated Fashion Week takes place along this strip. Bawdy old Sixth Street — Dirty Six, we used to call it — and the slightly more mature Warehouse District now compete for revelers with Second Street, an area some natives derisively call “Little Dallas.”
That’s saying something in Texas. After all, this is the city that likes to look down its hipster, liberal nose at stuck-up Dallas and stuffy Houston. “Life’s too short to live in Dallas” is nearly as popular on a bumper sticker or T-shirt as “Keep Austin Weird.” And yet, here is Austin emulating them.
And as Lance Armstrong is demolished as a local icon — what will happen to the name of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway? — another glamorous cultural event is calling Austin home.
In November, Austin will become the American home of Grand Prix Formula One racing: Big-name sponsors, racecars going 180 miles an hour, $4,300 tickets to V.I.P. seating, Champagne and helicopters flying wealthy fans from locations all over the city to the new $450 million race facility built by a bond trader and a billionaire. For three days, the global elite who follow Grand Prix racing will touch down in Austin from Abu Dhabi before taking off again three days later for São Paulo or Monaco.
It seems a strange departure, frankly, for a city whose reputation was built on sunshine, tacos, good coffee and better margaritas, Willie Nelson, Longhorn football and barbecue.
And in the wake of the Armstrong debacle, it’s hard not to think that pride does, indeed, go before the fall. Hopefully, Austin can handle success without letting it go to its head; after all, that is precisely what destroyed the hometown hero. Ω
[Richard Parker is a regular contributor to the Op-Ed section of The New York Times as well as writing a column syndicated by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services to news outlets in the United States, Canada and Asia. He was an Associate Publisher of The New Republic (August 2002 – January 2007) and he served as U.S. Representative Bill Richardson's (D-NM) press secretary (February 1987 – June 1988). Parker received a BA from Trinity University (TX) and an MA from Tulane University.]
Copyright © 2012 The New York Times Company
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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.
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