The hallmark of bullying is tearing someone down because you’re insecure about yourself. When it comes to Texas’ ever-swirling cross-metro rivalries, they perpetually hate us ’cause they ain’t us.
The Austin-San Antonio war of microaggressions has mostly run its course. Last week, a Houston Press listicle tried to start something. Depending on your loyalties, their attempt at shade seemed less like a solar eclipse and more like a puff of smoke.
“Austin has had a reputation for being Texas’s strangest city since at least the early ’70s, and has become a magnet drawing in a constant flood of visitors,” the article begins before the author explains that they’ve lived in our fair burg, which they love, “off and on since the early ’90s.”
That love doesn’t exactly pop off the screen. Behold:
• The most cherished of pastimes for Austin’s many enemies — and those who have fought us and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do — is trying to tear down our thriving dining world. It seems such a waste of jaw muscles to denigrate a city’s restaurant scene instead of tasting a taco, but the Houston Press article treads a tired tortilla-paved path: “Do you like black beans? A LOT? How about breakfast tacos? Does standing in line for hours to buy trendy barbecue sound like fun to you? If so, congrats, because you’ve found your culinary heaven in Austin.”
The Houston Press article’s attempted dragging of our food scene tries to give some shine to our late-night eateries, at least. It also mangles the names of several restaurants: Magnolia Cafe becomes Magnolia Grill, Franklin Barbecue is rechristened Franklin’s BBQ and Hopdoddy Burger Bar enters the culinary protection program as Hopdaddy’s.
Other than that, it’s the same exhausting spiel about breakfast taco invention and long lines. There’s a curious barb about Austin’s allegedly embarrassing Mexican food options, which seems like a rather broad swath to cut. Also, the author writes that “Hopdaddy’s” is a “gimmicky” burger place that might just be a marketing ploy, which is snicker-worthy since H-Town has its own locations of the Austin-based franchise. More side-eye fuel: Killen’s Barbecue in Pearland builds quite the meat queue, too.
Besides those backfiring shots against Austin’s eats, Houston Press’ list rests it head on the sound-proof pillow of subjectivity. Because of course, “if a person if coming from a great food town like Houston, it’s a bit underwhelming.” Remember, a Via313 pie or a bowl of Torchy’s queso tastes much better than cognitive bias.
• Clutch your pearls, friends. Austin’s not weird anymore, according to this article. As you have now been scandalized to the point of repose upon your chaise lounge, take a moment to collect yourself.
Has Austin’s “Slacker” vibe of yore eroded? South by South-yes. Do the proud old-timers often mourn some nebulous concept of “old Austin”? As surely as they miss Liberty Lunch. No one is under the delusion that “Keep Austin Weird” isn’t a marketing slogan. There are T-shirts, for goodness’ sake.
“Houston is a much stranger place, its gritty landscape teeming with strange features that Austin lacks,” according to the list. But how’s that proverb go? Let those whose skylines aren’t a brutalist cemetery of huddled concrete monoliths; whose highway system doesn’t resemble a dystopian Chutes and Ladders game for giants; whose main industry isn’t a Jed Clampett fever dream; whose most plentiful attractions aren’t wealth-girded museums rejected from location scouting for Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” for being too opulent … well, let them cast the first stone.
Austin’s still got a guy in a thong who rides around on a bicycle. We’re doing OK. Remember that Arcade Fire wrote a whole album about the Houston suburbs, but they weren’t exactly love songs.
The four-item list has some fair points:
• Yes, our cedar pollen is trying to kill us. The Houston Press calls the “toxic mix” of allergens a more pernicious terror than Austin’s traffic, which we will concede is a torture reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition. However, we would counter that living in Houston — itself a city so humid that walking down the street requires swimming lessons, that even alligators have bad hair days — is no less an environmental hazard.
• The steady march of development in Austin has indeed displaced minority communities on the east side, as investigated by the American-Statesman in 2015. The precarious state of Austin’s cultural arts scene, too, is the target of demonstrations and city initiatives alike.
So, Austinites, despair not. Cities change. All of ’em. A city is only as weird as its residents. As long as you take a dip in a spring-fed pool smack in the middle of town; or watch a chicken poop on a bingo card and share the road with a flock of peacocks; or host a giant citywide musical festival each spring; or house an urban colony of bats; or bring hippies, college kids, yuppies, artists and Texas legislators side by side, you’re plenty weird.
Just make sure to protect it, or else you might end up looking a little more like other cities we could mention.