April/May 2003 (v5 i6)
Worried about your future since 1997
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Dear Austinlander
An open letter to the departed inhabitants of my adopted city
by Todd Nienkerk, Managing Editor

Fellow students, teachers, politicians, and independent musicians/filmmakers: the Sirens of Austin are calling you to their man-made shores. And by sirens, I mean that literally. Do you miss the APD, AFD, and EMS announcing their comings and goings every 20 minutes? Do you miss the easygoing bustle of a medium-sized, southern college town? Do you miss its charm, its gaud, its cultural vinyl siding slapped across the honest avenues of famous bars, clubs, and geological treasures bought out, shut down, one by one, by a leprous drywall suburbia?

Let's slow down for a moment. Here's a bubble tea and an albacore tuna salad asiago cheese organic bagelwich with a side of chips and salsa. Yes…chips and salsa! While other cities serve up (freedom) fries and the more acceptably Anglo-Saxon potato chips, we favor the tortilla variety. Why? We gotta Keep Austin Weird, that's why. And while you're busy munching down on that unsettling mix of French, Mexican, and New York cuisine, sell your Levis for cash and join a march on the Capitol. Which one, you ask? Pick the one with the longest, nappiest dreads. What about the Vegan Anarchist March Against Corporate Deodorant? They seem like they're into it. Grab a sign and hoof it down Congress. Show 'em what democracy looks like.

You left—graduated, got signed, sold a script, elected president, whatever. You may not live here anymore, but there are a few things I'm sure you remember: Mount Bonnell on a sunny afternoon. That mysterious Clarksville tower. Hippie Hollow. Getting stoned, watching Alex Jones on cable access, and convincing yourself that the New World Order is trying to copyright your DNA. And, of course, turning 21 on Sixth Street. (Stop telling people you "can't remember" being dragged out of that overcrowded neon watering hole at 12:24 a.m. after 10 too many buttery nipples. You're not fooling anyone. And yes, you were shooting buttery nipples—tisk, tisk.)

You've made the obligatory pilgrimage to Barton Springs, your head full of dreams, hoping to catch of glimpse of (or join) the topless sunbathers—a veritable central Texas Maui of nubile co-ed bosoms bouncing in the Hill Country heat! Upon arriving, however, the natural spring drenched your Tropical Sunstroke with a chilling, all-natural reality: pancaking breasts dotting the shores, lolling in the sun while their cooperative grocery-managing boyfriends sip organic tea out of Nalgene bottles. Tough luck. Naïve though you were, you had enough sense to avoid Lake Travis, a haven for greaser types with tattoos and surgical scars corralling their progeny around the family coolers, picking through the Lone Star tallboys for the last mollifying bite of Kraft Singles on white bread.

Is your memory sufficiently jogged? Are you beginning to reminisce? See, it doesn't matter what color you bleed—burnt orange, maroon, or greenbelt—Austin is still in your blood. From the scenic posh of the Arboretum to the tacqueria-saturated streets of the Riverside barrio, Austin feels like home. It hurt to leave, didn't it? Sure, I-35 was the bane of your existence on a Friday afternoon, but didn't it make your heart fill up like an American Beauty cliché to drive southbound on the upper deck and watch Austin's downtown rise up out of the Texan sprawl?

You may not be sorry you left, but I bet you're sorry you can't visit more often. That's how I'll feel when my time here is up. I'll miss the noise, the traffic, the wannabe hippies that couldn't quite hack it on the West Coast. It's the only city I know of that's proud of trying to be proud of something, and that's what makes Austin honest. I respect it for that more than anything else—even more than its universities, rabid political climate, and ostentatious claims as the Live Music Capital of the World and the Third Coast of American Film. I respect it for being so damn sure of itself. It's like having a laidback, confident friend who may not always know what he's talking about—but he sure sounds right, doesn't he?

So, my fellow Austinites, consider this: Austin may not be the last rebellious vestige still fending off corporate hegemony and American banality, but it sure is fun to pretend otherwise! If anybody needs me, I'll be at the Capitol, exercising my right to defy popular opinion.
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