Los Angeles to Austin: The Follow Up

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I think I am probably “wanted” in West Texas, although God knows where exactly.

The problem started east of El Paso.

  • The first 100 miles: This is so beautiful!! I’m so inspired! So spartan and gorgeous, and unique! I wish I could paint!
  • The second 100 miles: Hmm, interesting. A border control checkpoint. “Yes, sir, I’m a citizen of the USA.” I wonder about the effectiveness of this operation. It’s broad daylight on the main road. Do you think anyone ever says, “No, I am from Cartagena, and I have 50 kilos of coke in the trunk.”? 
  • The third 100 miles: Despair sets in. Too quiet. Too endless. A billboard asks: “If you die today, where will you spend eternity?” to which I respond, “West Texas, apparently.”
  • The fourth 100 miles: Aren’t there supposed to be a lot of guns in this state? Someone kill me. Please. Wait … Crap … If I die, I don’t think there’s even any vultures out here. Helppppppp.

Somewhere between the third and fourth hundred-mile stretch, my mind drifted back to an article I’d read the previous month in “Auto Week” that talked about how car reviewers tend to gun it in West Texas because … well … refer to the fact that for nearly 300 miles, about the only thing you see are dead armadillos, dead deer, and dead skunks. So, like any good sports-car enthusiast would, I gunned it.

To his credit, the sheriff only cited me for 12 miles over the speed limit. We won’t discuss the actual speed involved. Suffice to say, I could probably add a few paragraphs to the review of the 2013 Camaro’s ability to handle rapid downshifts and acceleration times.

I don’t even have any bitterness. I deserved it, although it added at least another hour of West Texas to my travel time.

By the time I got to Austin, it was 19 hours after starting out from L.A.

Ahem.

The last time I’d been in Austin was 20 years prior for the annual SXSW music festival. I’d gone as a music writer, and recalled the city as a slightly offbeat, dirtier version of Nashville … with a lot fewer corporate attractions and a lot more quirk.

Not so much anymore.

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Austin is a city of achievers. More, better, faster, higher … when people throw around the phrase, “Keep Austin weird,” they’re talking about an Austin that doesn’t really exist anymore. They’re talking about a time when Emo’s wasn’t in a strip mall, when Antone’s still existed, when you walked down the street and could actually hear live music after 10 p.m. What makes Austin weird now is that it’s a city with limitless opportunity — as long as you’re into artisanal food, under 30 and have a trust fund. God forgive and protect you if you’re actually a musician in the city, because I’m not exactly sure where you play these days … or where you’re even wanted, given the new noise curfews and preponderance of unaffordable high-rise apartment towers.

It can make you feel defeated.

It can make you feel old.

It can make you feel insignificant.

Which isn’t to say that Austin sucks.

Weirdly, it doesn’t.

It can also make you feel alive. It can be exhilarating. If you can make it in Austin, you can make it anywhere.

It’s the phrase people used to reserve for LA or New York. Considering Austin’s new nickname is “LA Junior,” it’s only fitting that other descriptors now apply, too.

I don’t know whether the change is good or bad. It could just be that I’m older and looking backward, wanting to hold on to the unique, the old-fashioned, the kind of things you discover in a thrift store or flea market. I want to savor every moment I’m in and hold on with both hands. I don’t want things. I want to know that the nearly half-century’s worth of experiences I have had will leave a mark, even if it’s only two minutes captured on a vinyl disc.

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And so I set about adding postcards to my memory’s scrapbook. Squeaking with glee when I found a copy of Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads on vinyl at Waterloo Records. Sitting in the car at 4:45 in the morning, sobbing as icy rain pelted down on my head as I tried vainly to find the I-35 on-ramp after an explosive discussion. Taking that first sip of a P. Terry’s caramel milkshake. Biting into the sticky sweetness of a Gordo’s Heath Bar doughnut. Buying a pair of $300+ cowboy boots for $20 at a thrift store. Paying $14 for a glass of wine at a restaurant when the whole bottle costs $9 at the grocery. Making chocolate chip cookies in a stainless steel soup pot. Finding myself in a marijuana cloud so thick one night that I couldn’t see. Having a discussion about the finer points of Bob Mackie’s designs post-Cher. Trying to find a semi-normal taco.

In other words, after two weeks, my memory bank was full to bursting, but I still really didn’t know what Austin was about, at least for me.

In fact, I didn’t realize what Austin was about until I was leaving it, dragging a friend with me into an uncertain future.

(Part 1 of 2)

Sara Farr

Sara Farr

Sara Farr is currently an adjunct marketing instructor at the School of Advertising Art. Previously, she worked as a graphic designer at Variety for six years, and spent 10 years before that as a music writer for various Midwestern and Los Angeles-based newspapers and magazines. Her work appears in “The Little Black Book, Music: Over a Century of the Greatest Artists, Albums, Songs, Performances and Events That Rocked the Music World.”

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