Monday, February 20, 2017

Let's talk weird.

I'm currently sitting in the guest bedroom of an AirBnB in Austin, the "weird" city. Adam and I have now had two and a half days in town, but more like one and a half, because I ran a half marathon and then napped for a good chunk of our first day. We have done the things that make Austin unique, excluding exceptionally huge and expensive music festivals. We were driving back to our AirBnB, and I was giving my classic #fuckaustin rant that y'all might've missed on Snapchat. It was beautiful, really. I was talking about how totally not weird Austin is and Adam said, "Is Portland weird or any other weird city for that matter?"

The answer is no.

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Portland, OR is not weird. San Francisco is not weird. New Orleans is not weird. Key West is not weird. Berkeley and Oberlin and a dozen other liberal arts college towns are marginally weirder than large cities because of all the idiotic college students, but they are not weird. All of these cities are generally boring with occasionally interesting things.

Portland has great beer and lots of outdoor space. San Francisco has some decent art, decent parks, that pretty bridge, and some good food. New Orleans has a bunch of drunks seasonally, and a smattering of unique culture. Key West had all the gays, but now so does everywhere else. And of course, "weird" college towns are just college towns with young people under the delusion that because they left home and don't agree with what their parents say, they are weird. But none of these cities is particularly unique. Portland is super, super white, and largely boring. San Francisco is overrated...and while it does have "culture" in terms of being a large city with various immigrant neighborhoods, it's really no different from any other large city.

That's the thing. Everywhere in the U.S. is really just like everywhere else in the U.S.

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Austin feels a lot like Tucson mixed with Omaha. It is oddly crowded while still being very sprawling. It has only a few highways and then some major city roads that are almost constantly crowded. It is perpetually under construction. It has a few bike lanes but very few cyclists and few pedestrians. Public transportation is awful, and traffic is just about the worst I've ever seen. (L.A. and D.C. still win.) The food is hipster fare, claiming to be unique, but then there are five other restaurants just like it. Any old school culture it once had, like The Broken Spoke, have long since been swallowed by the pavement wasteland of chains and condos. There isn't any real art to speak of. There aren't great museums. There is very little green space. There probably was a time when this lush, humid land that borders the desert was gorgeous and cool and livable...but now it's just a blight with too many humans draining all the resources. And while Barton Springs is cool, you can find spring fed pools in many places, especially in Florida. Supposedly there is a great music scene, but that's just bullshit. Name one famous band or musician from Austin. It doesn't count that Austin has a shit ton of life music venues and a bunch of local nobodies. Everywhere has that. Half the music I listen to on a regular basis is $5 cds bought at local shows of bands you've never heard of from towns that aren't on a map at venues that may not even operate anymore. And sure, there are some fucking huge festivals in Austin, but there are fucking huge festivals all over the world. Basically, Austin has literally nothing. Even the river that runs through it shares the name of a much larger and more important river.

Austin is a nice idea, but it's just not "weird".

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So it made me think about what cities are weird, and I've come up with two...but one of them isn't a city. Honolulu, Hawai'i and Put-in-Bay, OH. Honolulu is legitimately incredibly unique. It's culture dominates the city and is not white. From the names of parking garages to the names of the news anchors, the Hawai'ian language is a powerful influence that you cannot miss. The city streets are even in Hawai'ian. Honolulu has the best bus system in the nation, which you might not even need, since hitch hiking is still legal. Honolulu has more green space than any other city, and sits in the only state that is an island chain that has more green space than any other state, excluding Alaska. Honolulu has a royal palace because the original government was a monarchy, which no other place in the U.S. has. Honolulu has arts and culture that you cannot find anywhere else in the U.S., because it is the only city within Polynesia. Inside and out, from top to bottom, there is nothing that Honolulu has that you can compare to other cities. Honolulu is truly unique, and while no one calls it "weird," it certainly isn't like anywhere else in the U.S.

As for Put-in-Bay, it's a small village on a small island in Lake Erie. The year round population isn't the smallest, and the people aren't the most culturally diverse, but the tourist culture is the most unique in the U.S. While other cities boast a spring break that might last for a week or two, Put-in-Bay's entire tourism culture is based on the same attitude you find in any spring break. And because it is a remote island on Lake Erie, there isn't a winter culture or year-round population that really balances the summer tourism. (Unlike Key West, which has a large permanent population and year-round tourism.) So while the things you can find on Put-in-Bay happen elsewhere in the U.S., they don't happen on the same scale or to the same degree. Put-in-Bay is a strange place.

I can't wait to get the fuck out of Austin and on to other towns that I know don't suck. But I'm also here to tell you that the hype is just hype and there is nothing you can get in Austin that you can't get somewhere else.

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