Boots may be one step too far. The Stetson, i’m happy with. Not typically a hat person, i’ve taken the leap and saunter down Sixth sporting my new look with trepidation and pride. Boots though, i’m less sure: it’s a fine line between style and fancy dress and i suspect this may tip me over: leave cowboy boots to the cowboys?
My week in Austin has drawn to a close: a city that captivated me with it’s openness and optimism, it’s weirdness and hope. There seems to be literally nobody in Austin not dreaming of electric sheep. Or the next big software hit. No less than 100% of my Uber drivers told me about their exploits in web or App development: maybe this is what a new apprenticeship looks like? Self funding and driving a Honda?
Smaller than i had expected, in mere geography, Austin dreams big. It wasn’t long before Robert told me that the State Capitol has a dome just slightly higher than the Senate building in Washington. A fact he recounted with more than a little pride.
Austin has roots: another story he told me was about how, thirty years earlier, as a student, he would end college dates by driving to said Capitol, retrieving long socks from the trunk of the car and climbing to the deserted first floor hallways to skate down marble floors with his beau. Something i suspect CCTV has relegated to memory.
We ate at a Mexican on Congress. Again, thirty years earlier Robert had known the guy who started it, indeed, he’d been the first barman there. And the guy he knew was still running it. Roots run deep.
But times run on: as Robert’s own path had taken him away, so others found themselves moving into the city. Indeed, i’m not sure i met many Austin-ites, native born. Most people talked of gravitational pull from Dallas, Houston, Florida or further afield.
One barman found himself coming back time and again for SXSW festival and realised he could cut the travel by moving.
Music is everywhere: not for nothing is it billed as the live music capital of the world. I barely had time to scratch the surface, but i’d have been hard pushed to avoid it. From bars and cafes to street corners, there’s an energy from music that suffices a place, even when the hot and humid atmosphere threatens to subdue it.
A snake: as i cycled along the river, in the middle of the path in front of me. Geoff excitedly photographs it as i warily hold back. We don’t have snakes in the UK, at least, not ones to get worried about. Undoubtedly this was a bad one, a water moccasin. At least, it was by the time it made it onto Facebook. Part of the story.
Airstreams are cool, their highly polished silver finish most suited to the arid sunshine of Texas maybe? Not that they’d look amiss in Swindon, but it’s just not the same. They are a product of their time and place and this particular one had it’s origins in 1970.
Today, lovingly repurposed, it sat on Second with a small wooden deck out front, festooned with Cowboy boots. Alvie and his business partner have created a business selling beautifully fashioned boots to tourists and cowboys alike. Possibly more the tourist end of the spectrum… unless cowboys really do wear python and goat?
Alvie’s typical of the energy that courses through the Austin heat, if not typical more widely of a twenty first century American. I say that fondly as, with thirty five countries under his belt so far, he brings a breadth of worldview that is not common around here. A breadth of worldview that took him out of a software job and in pursuit of his dream: to create his own business, crafting and selling boots from his Airstream, in a socially conscious manner.
‘Buy a pair, give a pear‘, a scheme where, for every boot sold, one percent is profits are reinvested in community, used to grow fruit and vegetables for those who need them. No mere marketing, this sense of community is strong in Austin, a city that famously shuns large brands in favour of the quirky and abstract (although to be fair, corporate America is not hidden far under the surface here: Starbucks still permeate, but maybe more thinly than elsewhere).
Unbeknownst to me, the weekend bought the Republic of Texas bike rally, the ROT, attracting, so i’m told, a hundred and twenty thousand bikers out on the street, from across the Americas. I can believe it: the streets thundered to the sound of wide exhausts from a succession of ever more outlandish bikes, trikes and even something that looked like the Batmobile.
Leather and chrome everywhere: the smell of petrol and sounds of celebration. True, conforming strongly to gender stereotypes, with bikini clad women clinging to their tattooed and someone overweight men, there was nonetheless a spirit of camaraderie, at least on the surface.
A conversation with Alvie turned into a night out, welcomed into a community of musicians and friends: a warm glimpse into a different life. Although it’s the life of the traveller to glimpse in, share stories, and move on. Taking memories and friends with us.
As i leave Austin, i sense an ever evolving community: welcoming of cultural immigrants, but equally aware of the transient nature of it’s own existence. Stories of today, stories from thirty years ago, stories for the future. An oasis of weirdness in the Texan heat.
An as for the boots? Maybe not this time: i think every good cowboy has to earn his spurs, and i sense that i’ve not trodden that path quite yet. Maybe i’ll return with a few more miles under my feet on the dusty trail to claim that prize.