Can’t Go Home, Can’t Stay Here

I haven’t been posting much lately because I’ve spent all of 36 hours in Austin in the last 9 days. Even though this is a virtual community and all, it somehow seems vaguely dishonest to Metblog from afar. But the beauty of travel is the contextual perspective it lends to home, so there are a couple things about Austin that stand out in comparison to my destinations of late.

Granbury, TX: This is supposed to be one of those quaint Texas towns where people come to admire the courthouse, cruise the lake, and enjoy the 19th Century charm of the opera house. And it has that stuff, but Granbury also has a lot of headaches and urban blight. Located about 30 miles south of Ft. Worth, the air of a quiet bedroom community has steadily been inflated into something beyond its capacity. Population estimates peg Granbury as a town that, at 7,000 residents, has roughly doubled in the last 25 years. The afternoon traffic along 377 belies its small town image, and suggests a regional sprawl that puts Granbury smack in the middle of a rush hour to nowhere.

Off the highway, however, Granbury has retained some of the locally-owned establishments that make small towns either a joy or a nightmare, depending on whether they adopt the charming or uncaring side of the stereotype. What struck me is how easy it is to find both types of places in Austin; despite our meteoric growth, the city has managed to sustain the colorful local joints that ward away the soulless demons lured in by rapid development. From the antipathy of GM Steakhouse or Dry Creek Saloon to the welcoming comfort of Hill-Bert’s or Green Pastures, there are still many reminders of Austin’s small(er) town past. There will always be some attrition, but I’m thankful that Austin remains a place that supports local flavor, even while embracing its shiny brushed-aluminum future.

Delray Beach, FL: Stereotypes live! I’m not one to paint with broad brushstrokes (except as regards developers and Hummer drivers, for whom all stereotypes are both amusing and 100% true), but this little stretch of East Florida coastline is home to the highest per capita representation of retirees and Northeastern refugees that I have ever seen. The over-stretched, over-tanned skin on display here suggests that South Florida may be the epicenter of a future melanoma catastrophe, but will never be terrorized by Buffalo Bill.

I’ve spent most of my time indoors at a conference, so observations are limited, but my few excursions into the nightlife revealed an inordinant preponderance of cheese. Synthetically-enhanced starbodies and gold-encrusted hucksters mingled amidst the retirees under the neon glow of every pre-fab downtown restaurant and bar. The resulting demographic mix was quite a shock compared to the youngsters, hipsters and hicks that form the norm of Austin’s social milieu.

Delray Beach seems like a nice place; it’s been an All-America City more recently and more often than Austin (2001 vs. 1991), and the sandy beaches and gleaming ocean views are not to be ignored. But I’m happy to sacrifice those things if it means that hippies and dorks continue to thrive in Austin, and the ass clowns go on parade somewhere else.

1 Comment so far

  1. M1EK (unregistered) on April 3rd, 2006 @ 10:53 am

    Re: Delray:

    (I lived there for a year after college; spent most of my childhood and 3 years post-college to the south in Boca Raton).

    You’re getting a bit of a skewed picture by the snowbirds (many of whom are still there and don’t begin migrating north until Easter). Delray is, by far, the best among a sorry lot of ‘cities’ between West Palm and Fort Lauderdale in terms of having something to do and somewhere to go; just don’t go further than a few blocks west of US1 and it’s a nice place to be.

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