The Lone Star

I know you’ve all been wanting to know what it’s like in Austin, Texas.

That’s why I talked to Alison Hart, a 30-something arts administrator who lived and went to grad school in Austin beginning in 2003. She now lives in Massachusetts but misses her old home.

photo by Visualist Images

Maybe you’ll go there after you graduate!

Plastics: Can you make 30,000 dollars a year and survive in Austin? 

Alison: Absolutely. I survived quite handily on less than that for several years. Not to say that there isn’t plenty of cool stuff to spend money on if you have it, but the cost of living is relatively low. I particularly miss buying perfectly ripe mangos and avocados for 50 cents a piece.

Plastics: Are there a lot of young people in Austin? Do they dress uniquely Texan or do they shop at Urban Outfitters like everyone else?  

Alison: There are a ton of young people in Austin, and it’s not just because it’s a university town. Sure UT plays a part, but I remember hearing when I lived there that the average age of an Austinite was 27 — not counting the student population. Texas fashion was different than what I see on the East Coast — fewer clogs, less fleece, more boots.  I seemed to think that people dressed up a little more in Austin, but perhaps people out East are dressed up underneath their sweaters and coats and hats and I just don’t see it.  There is an Urban Outfitters on “the drag,” which is the main road running alongside the UT campus.  Girls still wear UGGS and short skirts.

Plastics: What happens if you mess with Texas?

Alison: You get a ticket for littering:

Plastics: In New York we have to worry about bed bugs, random violence, and terrorism. What are the hazards unique to Austin? 

Alison: The grackles: a native vermin bird species that inhabits the parking lots and — worse yet — the interiors of some less scrupulously cleaned grocery stores. They have highly varied calls that make it sound like they are having sentient conversations with one another. They are freaky, and it always seems like they are on the verge of taking over the city. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the heat as a hazard. Personally, I love oppressive heat, and cherished every 80 degree February day, but climate change is really taking its toll as evidenced by the tragic fires this summer. Oh, and there is a feral pig issue statewide, but I never encountered any problems in the city.

Plastics: What’s brunch like in Austin? How much does it cost? 

Alison: As a 21st century American city, one CAN find any kind of brunch one wants in Austin—pancake joints, fancy benedicts, juice bars, dim sum—but tacos are the heart and soul of Austin food.  It still baffles me that the rest of the country hasn’t figured out the breakfast taco. It’s hearty, cheap, easy, and delicious. I particularly miss egg and bean breakfast tacos on warm flour tortillas.  Heaven.

Plastics: Southern hospitality: fact or fiction? 

Alison: I’m going to have to go with fact. Texans know how to have a party and feed a crowd. I guess every region of the country knows how to do that, but I enjoyed the stamp that Texans put on a festive gathering. Events in Texas tended to feel homey and relaxed.  There was always good music—often live. Not to much fuss or pretense.  For a taste of Texas hospitality, I recommend cookbooks by Rebecca Rather of Rather Sweet:

Plastics: What’s the coolest neighborhood in Austin to live? 

Alison: Oh gosh. Hard to say, but I was most attracted to East Austin, and I think it’s where I would want to live if I moved back.   It has so much to offer—close to downtown, great parks, local flavor, diverse, cool little houses, colorful.

Plastics: Do Texans take kindly to northern liberal recent college grads? 

Alison: I am a queer-progressive-liberal-arts-graduate-modern-dancing-art-loving-agnostic who moved to the State from Maine, and they took kindly to me.

photo by Visualist Images

Plastics: What makes Austin different from any other city in America? Why should a young person want to live there? 

Alison: I can’t adequately answer this question in a few sentences. Just go. Swim at Barton Springs. Find some live music at one of the thousands of places that have live music. Eat some tacos. Eat some barbeque. Go to see some little theatre or dance show. Run along Ladybird Lake. Drive out to the Hill Country or better yet to Marfa. Eat some more tacos. I think you’ll start to feel like you want to be a part of it too.

— Jordan


Where the West lives

Yesterday the landlord replaced the locks on our apartment, and when I came home around midnight, no one was there to let me in. I had already passed a man who seemed to be jogging with no pants on as he attempted to masturbate, and faced a near death experience at the hands of a reckless cyclist who was very stylishly dressed in plaid by the time I arrived to our locked, dark Bushwick den. I sat on my stoop among my softly melting groceries and couldn’t help but think that maybe this edgy New York City lifestyle isn’t for me. Once my roommate arrived with the keys and chased away the enormous rodents that were already beginning to nest in my hair, my big city blues lifted. But it’s still an important question: Where in the world am I, and why?

With that in mind we’re profiling some cities that are great for young people, with help from our large staff of foreign corresp — ahem, kind friends who live in far away places. 

First up, my place of birth, Denver, Colorado! Some of my favorite things about Denver: delicious, spicy, cheap Mexican food, sunny weather all year round, and clean air.

Jessica Williams, a senior at the University of Denver and my friend since elementary school, answered some questions about the mile high city.

Plastics Blog: Do you know any cowboys? Tell us about them.

Jessica: I met a homeless man once who called himself Cowboy. He was nice, but crazy.

PB: Is there anything about Denver that makes you want to run away and move to another city?

JW: Sometimes traffic is obnoxious, but that makes me want to run away from cities in general.

PB: Could you give us a rough estimate of Denver’s hipsters to bros ratio?

JW: Of course it varies from one part of the city to the next, but I would say in general, two bros for every hipster.

PB: How much do you pay for rent? What is the general price range for a decent two-bedroom apartment in a fun part of town?

JW: My roommates and I pay $1400/mo for a 3 bedroom house near the university, and that’s the lower end of the price range for a house like that. I would guess that for a two-bed place in a fun part of town rent would be around $1,000 to $1,500 if you’re not looking for anything fancy.

PB: Describe the best “Only in Denver” or “only in the mountains close to Denver” activity you’ve ever done.

JW: Coors tour! [Ed note: The Coors tour is a guided walk through the Coors brewery, in Golden, CO. At the end of it you get a free beer.]

— Arielle