When I first arrived in Austin in the early 1990's, I brought with me the low expectations and hackneyed stereotypes that a childhood full of sitcoms had given to me. After all, everyone knew that Texas was filled with longhorn-adorned convertible Cadillacs, tumbleweeds, beehive hairdos, deep drawls, and monosyllabic cowboy types.
While I can't speak for the deep rural parts of Texas-- I never went there-- Austin does not at all fit that mold. Maybe it has something to do with the infusion of people from across the country and across the world, drawn to the promise of Austin's burgeoning tech sector. Maybe television writers just find it easier to rely on tried and true stereotypes than to create believable, true-to-life characters. I don't know.
But my experience of Austin was anything but a scene from Dallas or The Dukes of Hazzard.
The music scene was extremely diverse, for one. Each of my bands over the years, which ranged in genre from pre-alternative alternapop to noise jazz to goth to experimental, found venues and willing audiences. I devoted one night almost every weekend to the local performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show-- Austin's got the longest continuously running performance of Rocky with a live cast in the world. The goth scene was big, there was early and cheap internet access, and the heat wasn't as bad as I had feared.
There were a few down sides. The housing situation was horrible, and the landlords reacted to the high demand for apartments by raising the rents accordingly. But with so many people moving in, employers were under little pressure to actually pay a living wage.
And there were the giant bugs-- "palmetto bugs", which are giant tree-dwelling cockroaches; poisonous centipedes a foot long; and, of course, lots of spiders and scorpions.
I've learned that rednecks are everywhere, and while Austin is not a city filled with Jethro Bodine clones, they are here as well. But they're a lot easier to spot in Austin: they tend toward $40,000 trucks, heavily pressed and starched jeans, and painfully colorful silk shirts. They're generally quite polite when sober, and not the squeal-like-a-pig banjo-playing types at all. So it seems that even the Country and Western subculture has a caste system.
I ended up leaving Austin after about six years. I got a 40% raise out of the move, and was able to buy a house in the Chicago area with mortgage payments that were not much higher than the rent I had been paying in Austin. But somehow, I still miss the place.