Update 2/8/2012: I’ve noticed some traffic recently from Texas and I just want to reiterate that I really do like Austin, and to be fair, the barbecue up here doesn’t even compare. That said, I also want to point out that since 1995, Texas has been governed by either George W. Bush or Rick Perry, so I think I have some valid points.
1. Austin is in Texas
This may seem pretty obvious, but the ramifications are much deeper than you would initially suspect. Texas, like their ads say, really is “a whole different country”, just not for any of the reasons you would think (or hope for). The people there think differently, talk differently and are generally well-armed, even at the grocery store. They are suspicious of anyone who wasn’t born on Texas soil, or doesn’t drive a pick-up. While this is less true in Austin, you still feel as though you are in the minority on almost every issue if you aren’t a right-wing Christian. It’s not as much fun as it sounds.
2. The weather in Austin actually sucks
Probably the most common argument for Austin and against Portlandia is the weather. Austin is portrayed as sunny (true) and beautiful (not true) all the time. The truth is that Austin is stupid hot for 4-5 months, with a big dollop of humidity on top. But, in the winter, it actually gets quite cold, too. Sure, you get a few lovely winter days, but it is just as likely that you will wake up to a quarter-inch thick sheet of ice covering every exposed surface. You haven’t lived until you are late for work and have to literally chip your way into your car with some sort of hastily fashioned chisel. Not that I am a fan of February in Portlandia, but the summers are unbeatable and the winters are mild, with four actual seasons to enjoy. At the very least, it’s a wash.
3. Going to the coast
Going to the coast in Portlandia means a pleasant, less than two hour drive through the Coast Range, ending somewhere along the magnificent Oregon shoreline, probably with a view of a lighthouse or sea stack. Going to the coast in Austin means at least a three-hour ride through the flat coastal plains of South Texas, ending at the Gulf Coast, probably with a view of an oil rig.
4. Going to the mountains
Going to the mountains in Portlandia means a pleasant one-hour drive to Mt. Hood. Going to the mountains in Austin means you will be getting on a plane or taking the week off.
5. Austin really digs freeways
Public transportation in Austin, and in Texas, is kind of an afterthought for most people. Every city over 50,000 (including Austin) is so spread out that it really isn’t possible to live without a car and not make some very serious sacrifices. For most people, it just isn’t feasible to spend 3-4 hours a day trying to do basic errands. As an example of Austin’s thinking, the new (and only) light rail line was built along the same general path as a brand-new super tollway, thus removing any incentive to use the line (which has apparently declined in passenger usage since opening). Meanwhile, they are only building freeways and tollways to connect the other exurbs that are sometimes 35 miles distant from the downtown core. Yeah, that should end well.
6. Sixth Street is only cool if you are 23 and under (or wish you were)
Austin is such a party town, whohoo! WHOOHOO! If you are likely to say something like this, you might really enjoy Austin for a while. The warm summer nights definitely make for a festive atmosphere along the fabled Sixth Street bar scene. If, however, dodging drunken frat boy fights and puking sorority sisters has become less fun than it used to be, Austin is a challenging place to live, because that is kind of all there is. Over 50,000 college students are packed into downtown Austin, and there isn’t enough of an adult population living there to dilute them down.
7. The river isn’t a river
Nobody wants to swim in the Willamette River, I will give you that. But the body of water in downtown Austin is actually two reservoirs created by dams, Town Lake and Lake Austin (yes, I know Town Lake is now Lady Bird Lake, but c’mon). It is a warm, slackwater lake that tends to smell a lot of the time. There aren’t many spots actually on the “river” for things like dining or strolling, and it doesn’t have the impressive size of the Willamette. Also, it isn’t navigable to ocean-going ships, so the bridges aren’t particularly impressive, either (although one is full of bats, which is kind of cool).
8. The natural beauty doesn’t even compare
Many people in Texas will speak of the “Hill Country” fondly, telling stories of a bucolic paradise in central Texas that doesn’t exist. The “Hill Country” is a myth made up by Texans who want to pretend that Texas has scenic beauty. And, if you’ve lived your life in Houston or the flatlands of West Texas, it probably does seem pretty ideal. If you’ve lived virtually anywhere else, you’ll wonder why your Texan companions keep wanting to stop to take pictures.
9. Dell Computers
This isn’t really Austin’s fault, per se, but Dell Computers was the beginning of the end for Austin as it once was. You see, in the 70s and 80s, Austin really was a super cool mid-size city, but with the rise of Dell Computers came a demographic change that would doom Austin forever. When a relatively small city experiences that kind of growth, you suddenly find more “outsiders” than natives running the show, and whatever made that city unique is diluted, exploited or both. The “Keep Austin Weird” campaign was a direct reaction to that change, and the accompanying slow death that long-established local businesses were starting to endure.
10. Did I mention Austin is in Texas?
At the end of the day, it all comes back to this one undeniable problem: being in Austin means being in Texas. If you are at all liberally-inclined, you are fighting a Sisyphean battle everyday to make things better for people who, it would seem, might just as soon shoot you. Again…not as much fun as it sounds.