I’ve been getting “the look” recently. I say I’m happy to be back in Austin. The other person nods, then stares at me intently. “Are you really happy to be back?” he or she will say. “Really?”
Yeah, really. Sure, I may look overwhelmed and ragged from all the unpacking, the settling in, the glitches. But I feel comfortable and right to be back here, like I’m where I belong.
Much of it has to do with Texas. I’m not one of those Austinites who write off the rest of the state as knuckle-dragging cavepeople. I’m a Texan, whether I like it or not (and, God knows, I have big problems with its politics, but remain forever, ridiculously optimistic).
I grew up in West Texas, with its broad, empty plains and extravagant skies, and that marked me forever, even if you couldn’t pay me enough money to live there again. I’ve lived in Dallas, where I was happy, and I don’t give a damn about the criticisms of Dallas (too glitzy, too materialistic, basically heartless). And yes, I have seen Dallas from a DC9 at night. I still like it, our son was born there, and some of my best friends are there. (Also — no lie — the shopping is peerless. Never underestimate the therapeutic benefit of occasional shopping.) As my husband always noted, Dallas was straightforward and unpretentious about its greed; lack of pretension goes a long way with both of us.
But Austin is something else. Like so many Texans, I fell in love with it when I was young and it’s tattooed on my soul. I fell especially hard, since — again — I was from West Texas, and the sight of trees and hills and lakes was magical. I could have sworn I’d stumbled into the Garden of Eden. I loved the humidity, the funkiness, the university, the state capitol, the liberalism, the music, the nightlife.
You can always tell someone who fell in love with Austin at such an early age, since we’re all wildly sentimental and profoundly inarticulate about it. We just get misty-eyed and blubbery about Austin, knowing that the other person either shares the feeling and understands — or doesn’t, so why waste your time?
I loved Austin in the 1970s, when it was allegedly at its peak, and I love it now, when it’s gotten bigger and more bustling. Nostalgia is a nice thing and all that — but I really prefer a larger city where you can get a good cup of coffee and an entree beyond enchiladas and barbecue.
I can’t really explain it better than this, except to say this place has its own quirky, insidious charm. When I talked to the woman from Israel who rented our house for her family, she told me they’d come here never expecting to like it much. But somehow, they’d fallen in love with it.
I’ve heard sentiments like this countless times over the years; this is a city you care passionately about. And yeah, we had one of the best years of our lives kicking up our heels in New York — but I mean it when I say I’m glad to be home.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about ghosts at the cafeteria