Dylan Wells lives in a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood in South Austin. Our nabe is roughly six miles south of the hipster downtown area. As middle-class districts go it’s “pleasant” enough, but you’d have to add “culturally underwhelming.” It’s somewhere between blandly acceptable and “is that all there is?” Or so it seems, at least, to someone accustomed to walking around and sniffing the air in Brooklyn, Paris, WeHo, San Francisco, Prague, London, Venice, Munich and Rome.
South Austin is “fine” as far as it goes, but it lacks a nutritional quality. The suburbs of middle and northern New Jersey are shadier and more soothing-like, and certainly more architecturally distinctive. Ditto historic Key West and Telluride, Connecticut’s Fairfield County, the North shore of Massachusetts, Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley…I could go on and on.
In and of itself Dylan’s place is quite nice — sizable rooms, large and fragrant backyard, a sedate suburban atmosphere, great wifi, excellent TV. And it’s great to see him again, of course. And I love his husky, Rudy. And a half-mile away there’s a nice little tree-shaded area where you can order gourmet dishes from food trucks. And last night we found an above-average Vietnamese “pan Asian” place. I just wish we were parked closer to East Austin or the Mueller or Second Street districts.
I’m told that not that long ago (i.e., back in the ’80s and ’90s) South Austin had a relatively undeveloped rural atmosphere…small forests of oak trees, green fields, creeks and streams and generally pleasing aromas amid the up-and-down typography. Now the natural elements feel challenged if not smothered by an endless, character-free sprawl of bland-ugly shopping malls and gas stations (no sidewalks, nobody walks) and El Crappo discount stores.
Yesterday we drove for miles and miles and it was like “why would anyone want to live here apart from the fact that the neighborhoods are quiet and rents are reasonable?” There’s a basic feeling of blah-ness everywhere. Given my druthers I would rather live in a one-room rathole in an interesting neighborhood than in a flush spacious home in a neighborhood with a nod-out vibe.
If I had to live somewhere in Texas and couldn’t find a decent place in the downtown Austin region I’d like to live in artsy Marfa, which is way too far to drive to from here. (It’s closer to El Paso, but by “closer” I mean a three-hour drive.)
To escape the South Austin blahs we’ve decided to drive this weekend to Rockport, a beach suburb of Corpus Christi, and then stay another night in Laredo (and maybe mosey across the border for some good Mexican food).