Austin’s Weird Past & Present

From the University of Texas Tower at one end of Congress St. to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s statue and bat tours at the other end, Austin offers the visitor a whole mixed bag.

Austin will surely stretch any intrepid tourist who has preconceived notions of Texas. It’s not that the cowboy ethos is absent; it’s just that there is a certain weirdness there. For instance, Congress St. and E. 6th St. are two arteries that will get the blood flowing- cowboy boots and sandals, live country music and blues contests, students and legislators, bat tours, and famous writer’s haunts. Austin has history aplenty but the city also throws life at y’all.

Austin’s Weird Past & Present

Austin’s small business association coined the slogan, “Keep Austin Weird” that has come to have several shades of meaning. As illustration:

The University of Texas

It has an enrolment of over 48,000 on the largest campus in the US. and draws over 98,000 to watch the football Longhorns. It also has the highest structure in Austin, the 307 ft. Tower as a symbol of Texas pride. Unfortunately, it was also the site from which Charles Whitman killed 14 people in August 1966.

Veteran’s Day

The Nov. 11 parade and speeches honoring the veterans of America’s many wars, from Civil & Spanish-American to Vietnam and Iraq. There were those in attendance with Veterans of Foreign Wars insignia but they politely saluted 4 Vets of Iraq For Peace. Another Vietnam vet had a live python draped around him. In spite of machismo, this year’s theme honored women in the forces.

E. 6th Street

Situated south of the State Capitol, it’s four blocks counter any suit staidness with live music, tattoo parlors, pool halls, and restaurants. The Austin Official Visitors Guide (2008) claims Austin is the live music capital of the world, boasting some 1,900 local bands and 200 live music venues. Austin adopted Stevie Ray Vaughan and at the Friends bar one could listen to the likes of the Swamp Sauce.

Austin’s Weird People

Weird means showing some tolerance for contradictions. For instance:

Governors in the Capitol

The dome rises 218 ft. and there are 4 levels circling the rotunda. Each level displays portraits of the Presidents of the Republic (1836-1846), like Sam Houston, and the Governors of the State, including the first woman governor in 1925, Miriam Ferguson and George W.Bush, the first governor to go on to the American Presidency).

These leaders represented the whole political spectrum; Houston as both a president and governor was a slave owner but supported the Union and made peace with the Cherokee. Ma Ferguson was a teetotaler who supported the wets in Prohibition.

O. Henry, aka William Porter

The famous short story writer of “The Gift of the Magi” lived in Austin from 1884-1898, albeit with 2 year interlude evading a charge of embezzlement from his bank. The city now provides a walking tour of the author’s haunts, like the Lundberg Bakery on Congress near his job sites like the General Land Office and the elegant landmark Driskill Hotel.

Blues and Bats

Austin declared November 26, 1989, to be Stevie Ray Vaughan Day, Patron Saint of Austin Music. His statue is by the Colorado River and within sight of the Congress Bridge, which happens to be the home of the largest urban bat colony in North America. There are over 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats under the spans that emerge at dusk to forage.

One last gauge of Austin’s weirdness is political. Austin was the only area in all of Texas to vote against Proposition 2 (The Texas Marriage Amendment) in 2005 which banned homosexual marriages.

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