Austin Is Still Weird, or At Least Weirdly Beautiful
For whatever reason(s), Austin, TX has drawn me and my husband softly into its deeply saturated clutches for a good handful of our birthday celebrations over the past decade — usually when one of us has lost a bit of themselves, as though we are retracing our steps to find it, and ATX is the first obvious place to look. 2017 was my turn, celebrating my 31st year.
I grew up in a small Texas town near the Oklahoma border where you’re taught to say “yes ma’am, no ma’am” and folks don’t ask if you go to church so much as where. So to say that Austin was very weird indeed during my first visit isn’t so much a reflection of the city as my own limited experience in 2007. Flash forward ten years and numerous visits, the city certainly has lost a significant amount of the kooky charm that it held for me all those years ago.
Which begs the question: has Austin truly become less weird? To find my answer, I looked in the most Austin-y places I could ferret out. And what I found was truly remarkable. It seems that Austin and I have both grown up over the past ten years — which perhaps means neither of us is a weird as we used to be, but there is still a distinctly Austin-branded oddness that I have continually journeyed to year after year.
Even if the city is less mind bendingly strange as it once was to me, it is the people that keep calling me back into their midst.
It is the owner of the darkened mid-suburb massage studio with amethyst mats and spiritual healing; suntanned, hair casually pulled back with a few ringlets falling forward, she greets you in a soft voice that promises peace and relaxation for the next 75 minutes. (Zen Blend)
It is the bartender at the watering hole -slash- performance space with an indoor projector flashing vintage Kurt Russell flicks. Her curves are femininely draped in a floral dress and lacy half apron, micro bangs perfectly unstyled as she promotes a truly disturbing gin that tastes of potpourri. But it’s local gin damn it and she’s Austin all the way. (Butterfly Bar)
It is the server with a hard part and curls at the French bistro in the newly gentrified East neighborhood who clearly does not give a fuck about your iced tea refill. (Blue Dahlia)
It is the senior lesbian hippy with waving grey locks down to her waist clad head to toe in denim who two steps to classic country music, couldn’t care less about botox, and leans on your knee to tell you that you have beautiful hair. (C’Boys)
And it is Butterfly Joe, a veteran and tent vendor on South Congress whose childlike passion for preserving his beautiful creatures as art shines through an appearance that can only be described as weathered. He gives you a hand-written index card that proudly proclaims the genus, species, and native origin of your new specimen. Whatever the state of his corporeal form, his soul radiates pure joy.
In an age where we carry little universes in our pockets, tourist spots like 6th Street and the Graffiti Park have been reduced to nothing more than a photo opp. But, get away from the “Keep Austin Weird” shirts and drunken bachelorette parties, and Austin no longer feels like a hackneyed theme park version of itself. The people are still ernest, the businesses cooky, and most of all the spirit still truly, genuinely, unflinchingly Weird.
Photo courtesy Jakob Owens