Six Months in Austin

Arrive in any large airport in the United States, and you’ll immediately be greeted by all the stereotypical tourism clichés that the surrounding area has to offer. Baltimore? Have some crab cakes. Boston? Lobster and Sam Adams. Dallas? Barbecue.

Land in Austin’s airport and you’re greeted with music and pleas to “keep Austin weird”. But what does that mean exactly? I’ve always heard that Austin was unique to Texas; a haven for food, music and technology. But finding the truth in that was proving to be elusive.

Six months ago (well, more like seven or eight now because I’ve put off writing this post) I accepted a new job and moved to Austin, Texas. It’s amazing how simple it is to write that statement, because it was not an easy process at all.

It started with the job. I was already working in the healthcare sector, so I searched for other jobs in that area as a way to give myself an advantage. This strategy had some minor successes, and ultimately led to the position in Austin. It felt like the perfect job: a combination of development language (C#), domain space (healthcare) and familiar territory (there was some database work involved too); I feared that turning it down would be an exceptional loss. Especially since everyone I had met during the interview process was nice, and the company had a set of core values that you don’t often see in the corporate world these days.

There was just one problem. It was in Austin, Texas.

I feel like most people on the east cost don’t have a particularly favorable opinion of Texas, and I was one of those folks. After all, when Texas is mentioned in the media, it is usually in relation to heavily conservative viewpoints, or misguided desires to secede from the nation – opinions that run harshly against my own.

Not to mention the fact that I’d have to leave behind @ndoto, an incredible friend who I’ve spent the last eight years with. While Maryland had become familiar and hard to leave behind, it’s the people you’re with who truly make a place feel like home – and it was @ndoto who had helped Maryland feel like home for me.

Ultimately, though, the opportunity was too great. And I knew that I didn’t have to stay in Austin forever. So I fretted, and I cried… and I took a leap of faith.

My first impressions of Austin were incredibly normal. Based on my previous visits to the city – first for the interview, second to look for an apartment – there was nothing about the place that was particularly… well, weird.

It turns out that Austin is good at keeping secrets. Or rather, Austin doesn’t feel the need to dress up fancy in order to be fancy. In a world where we often judge things at face value, this can make first impressions difficult. But eventually you learn to live by what we are all taught in first grade: it’s what’s inside that matters.

Take, for example, a little place called Bangers. It’s a new restaurant, in an up-and-coming place in Austin — a seemingly perfect destination for someone who is new to the city. On the outside, it didn’t seem like much. Similar to other places nearby, it was located in a converted house; a large outside seating area was visible from the front, filled with long, wooden communal tables with bench seating. The inside told a completely different story, however. There was more of the communal seating, but there was also a bar with more beer taps than you could imagine; they adorned the back wall like trophy kills in a hunting lodge. This place was serious about beer. And the food – true to their name, they had a small but exquisite selection of house made sausages. A stereotypical idea, perhaps, but not a stereotypical execution.

The hardest part to quantify, though, was the atmosphere. Overall, you couldn’t help but feel welcomed. There was no pretense – you came as you were, you enjoyed the beer and food, you soaked up the fine summer evening, you listened to the music from the live band intermingle with the sounds of lively conversation and laughter. Lights twinkled overhead, and above those, millions of stars. It was comfortable.

This was my first taste of Austin. The Austin that I hadn’t seen up until that moment. The city is comprised of smart, passionate people who know how to have fun. That passion is on display in the music, food, beer and coffee that is tucked in little nooks and crannies all over the city. It’s not always obvious, and it doesn’t always look impressive. But it is.

Of course, Austin is still part of Texas, and the cultural differences between here and Maryland are numerous. There is a great pride for Texas, and a love of anything that is produced here. Tacos and tex-mex are everywhere – but true to Austin style, it is the best tex-mex you will probably have in the United States. Target and Wal-Mart dominate most of the large, commercial shopping centers. Chain restaurants abound. Cowboy hats and boots garnish the crowds as you walk the streets. All things considered, though, Austin is Texas for beginners.

The new job has been stressful. I’m grateful that I was able to find somewhere that saw potential in me, but it has been a challenge learning the details about both the business logic and some of the more intricate technical details that I haven’t had much experience with previously. But I finally feel like I’m starting to fit in, and able to contribute to both the company and the product.

Earlier, I mentioned that it’s the people you’re with that truly makes somewhere home. I’ve been lucky to explore Austin with @FlatFootFox, as without him I don’t think I would have been adventurous enough to scope out some of the unique spots this city has to offer. Between movie marathons at Alamo Drafthouse, evenings under the stars at Bangers, or brunches at 24 Diner, my memories of Austin are now inexorably tied to @FlatFootFox – and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Austin feels comfortable to me now. I’m not sure if I could stay here forever, but I’m not eager to leave, either. Moving here has given me a new perspective on Texas, and, in some ways, a new perspective on life. That never would have happened if I hadn’t taken that leap of faith. It’s scary to do, but sometimes it’s necessary – and, sometimes, there will be someone at the bottom ready to catch you.

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