Let's just get this out there: I don't plan. Really much of anything, ever. That means that I have a lot of flexibility both in terms of my actual schedule, and also in a more general, mental sense. It also means that sometimes I end up arriving in Austin, Texas on what is, totally unbeknownst to me, the final day of the renowned South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. Too late, in other words, to catch any of the movies or music, but just in time for it to be very difficult and expensive to find somewhere to stay.
Austin has a reputation for being a great town, and indeed it does seem very nice, especially for someone who enjoys live music. But the citizens appear to be worried that Austin is becoming a victim of its own success, that outsiders are going to hone in and spoil the vibe. Everywhere you turn, there are t-shirts and bumper stickers which say "Keep Austin Weird." Driving my car down South Congress Street one morning I was even shouted at, "Go back to California!"
Granted, that was probably someone who'd had it up to here with the SXSW inundation, but it still seems nicely demonstrative of what struck me as a rather quaint, provincial sort of protectionism. And here's the weird thing: Austin really isn't that weird. Even comparing it only to other cities of similar size, it strikes me as less funky and diverse and interesting than Minneapolis, say, or Portland. I think being an oasis in the middle of Texas has given them a different yardstick.
Some readers may suggest that my 48 hours there do not qualify me to speak to the nuances of Austin culture. In hopes of placating these folks I will concede that the place that sold little heads in bell jars was a bit weird:
A strong sense of pride (narcissism?), however, seems to be common to the whole of Texas, at least if one is to judge by all the flag waving. I've lived most of my life in Minnesota, and I could not possibly tell you what the Minnesota state flag looks like. In fact, I couldn't even say for sure that there is a Minnesota state flag, though I assume there must be. But only a couple hours after crossing the border I could have drawn the Texas state flag from memory if need be.