Questioning a maxim?

  • Maybe Austin ain’t so wierd
      At a party last night, a fellow reveler noticed my T-shirt with Ben Franklin dribbling a basketball and asked me if I got it in Philly. I told him yes and that I had moved here last summer from Philadelphia. He was all, “Oh, that must be a change. How do you like Austin?”

      “Oh, I like it allright. I grew up in Tulsa, so it seems pretty normal to me.”

      This created a bit of a stir on the front porch, as I had unintentionally uttered a heresy in a town where seemingly every third car bears a sticker exhorting us to “Keep Austin Weird.”

    Wow… that is heresy but there’s a bit of tiny truth to it. Austin is gloriously wierd in some ways (especially in comparison to most of Texas) but lots of it has been ruined by the high tech boom of a few years back and by the fast growing yuppie suburbs (nothing against suburbs, folks gotta live somewhere… but why do the houses all have to be so wasteful in their construction. Those stupid high roof lines cost a fortune to build) and chain stores.

    I guess I think Austin has become complacent in its wierdness and is not what is used to be (of course I know, I know, I’ve become the typical old Austinite/former Austinite who bemoans the Austin of today for not being what it used to be… “it was way better when the Armadillo was around…”) but I think it’s true. But at the same time it ain’t over yet. The last time I was there I saw a lot of hopeful things too, especially in South Austin. I don’t think the independent free spirit is dead yet.

    As to comparing Austin to other cities, to me its like comparing comparing one of my past loves with another past love. You can’t do it. Both are beautiful in their own way. Both sometimes drive you crazy but you gotta take them for who they are. I’ll always love Austin for what she was once and hopefully for what she will still be, but I also know it ain’t really home any more. Life is too easy there…

    Actually that makes me think of The Grapes of Wrath. Lots of Okies moved to California looking for any easier life. Some found it but most didn’t (lots dying, lots moving on someplace else, others staying dirt poor in the Sunshine state). There were lots too who did make it. California is full of former Okies (and Texans, and Kansans, etc.) who are now mighty rich. (there’s a good article from back in the early 80’s in National Geographic that talked about these rich former Okies… I forgot the title of it though)

    But what is funny is that lots of those folks are coming home too. I met one guy recently through the Green Party. He’s a Cherokee Indian who grew up in California. (If I remember right his folks moved out there when times were rough.) Anyway now that he is older he’s moved back to Oklahoma to live on a bit of land he inherited. He’s learning the Cherokee language and the old ways of farming. It would have been easier probably to sell the inheritance and stay in California where living is easy but he didn’t.

    I guess that’s how I feel about Austin. Austin is a golden city, glistening in its goodness. It’ll always be the city on the hill, an example of what could be and sometimes is. But I feel called to Oklahoma, to work for the old utopian vision of a state where a poor man could live his own life, on his own farm. Lots of folks came to Oklahoma to follow that dream. Scotch-Irish farmers from the Midwest and Appalachia who wanted their own land to farm, Black folks who dreamed of having their own communities without the continual reminders of Jim Crow (Oklahoma had several of the largest Black communities in the early statehood days), immigrants from Germany and Eastern Europe who had only recently broken loose from the bonds of feudal serfdom, they all came to stake their claim.

    And then came hard times and so many of those folks made the critical error of trusting the banks and taking their offers of easy credit. Then times got worse and the banks stole their land, the land they had sweated for, the land they had left their old homeplaces for. The faceless banks and land companies took them none the less.

    Anyway I’m going off on a tangent again, but to me the poverty that plagues so much of Oklahoma is an unrighted wrong. So many folks were disposseed of their land that they’ve never recovered. Some dispossed Okies went to California, some stayed. Some pulled themselves out of poverty but a good number never did, so today there’s generations of broken and forgotten dreams.

    I think the mission for us has to be the revival of the dream, that men and women could be truly free. Not just politically free but economically free. Free to grow their own food, produce their own energy, and free to cooperate with each other in taking care of the needs of the community.