an exploration of urban identity in the middle of Texas
When I first moved to Austin almost seven years ago, the city welcomed me with open arms. Granted, I grew up on the east coast, so it’s possible my bar for hospitality was set pretty low. But, regardless, the city made me feel at home. It was as if it had been expecting me. “Welcome!” said Austin. “Slip off your parka, slip on your shorts, grab a taco and a Lonestar, and stay awhile!” So I did.
There is something undeniably special about this city, something downright irresistible. But, let’s face it, not everyone feels that our city should be as accommodating to newcomers as it was to me. Especially after SXSW and ACL, when flocks of hipsters from NY and LA get a glimpse of Austin in all its raging glory. And who could blame them? They get wind of how much we are spending on our rent, they try their first breakfast taco, and they are hooked! And while SXSW is an exaggeration of the nature of life here in Austin, let’s be honest, everyday life for locals isn’t all that different: music, house parties and bar specials eight days a week. The bottom line is that we’ve got a good thing going on here, almost too good, and we are terrified of losing it. And here’s why, for many people, Austin is Neverland.
You see, Neverland is a magical place where people don’t necessarily cease to age but they refuse to grow up. They embrace and embody their eternal child. It’s a place associated with immortality and escapism. Austin is a liberal island amid a conservative state. It’s home to mermaids, who lounge topless in the lagoon (Barton Springs). Fairies, who will die horrible deaths if you don’t believe in them (hipsters). Pirates, who are the pure hedonists, ride the tallest bikes, throw the best parties, and enjoy getting into trouble. And last but not least, the Lost Boys, who are hedonistic, fun loving, silly, and adventurous.
Are we beginning to make some connections here? We live in a city where you don’t have to grow up to be an adult. You can live here and fulfill your wildest dreams! You want to be a trapeze artist? Go to Sky Candy. You want to make your favorite midnight snack, PancakePizzaTaco, for all to enjoy? Open a food trailer. You’re not exactly sure what your genius calling is quite yet, but in the meantime, you want to do nothing but ride bikes all day, drink, and lounge by the water until you figure it out? Go for it! Rent’s cheap and you’ve got no place to be. For those of us who may need to be a lost boy for a while until we figure it out, Austin is perfect.
However, and this is a BIG however, eventually the lost boys DO grow up. They no longer need Neverland. They dedicate their lives to something, anything, their art, their career, their family, they let go of the hedonistic life and begin to lead a more practical and sustaining life. Now, I’m not saying that we all must eventually put on a suit and spend our days in an office. Far from it. What I’m saying is that the lost boy who forever remains lost is a sad case. The purpose of being lost is to find your own unique path, and to then charge full speed ahead once you have found it. Austin is an incredibly accommodating city for people to do new and different things. So be a lost boy as long as you need to, be a mermaid, a pirate, a fairy. But when you do find your purpose, whatever it may be, know that there is more to this city than endless queso and dollar beers. It’s a rich, great, growing city with a lot to offer. It’s a place where dreams can come true because, unlike NYC and LA, we still have the option to live cheaply, and our community is relatively noncompetitive and supports local endeavors. We should take full advantage while we can, because at some point, it may change.