So despite living in Austin off and on for over a decade, and considering it the home I was always meant to live in, I’ve always kind of avoided South by SouthWest (SXSW). If you are unaware somehow, SXSW is a humongous film, music, and interactive festival that takes place annually in our city. It’s expensive and even though I knew there were tons of free events I just thought of it as the time of year when LA invaded Austin. I’d hide in whatever part of town I was living in until it all went away.
Only this year one of those LA invaders is my longtime Internet BFF, Lauren of DefyAuthority.NET. Lauren and I have been online friends since connecting via LiveJournal over a decade ago. In addition to inspiring each other in so many ways, she had a large part in inspiring A Burner Lexicon and encouraging me in my blogging. We’ve watched each other grow, mature, experience, grieve and celebrate so much from afar over that time, that I was completely excited at the prospect of finally meeting in the flesh.
I gladly set aside all of my misgivings to spend some time with her downtown tonight and I’m so glad I did. Not only is Lauren as smart, funny and sexy as I’ve always imagined she would be, but it was a magical experience to watch her fall in love with Austin. In effect, I rediscovered the beauty of my city through her eyes.
We started the night at the MyHouseYourHouse party at the Lanai Rooftop Lounge, enjoying the drinks, the breezes, the view, and the fabulous thumping beats. Soon though Lauren developed wanderlust and I took her on a mini-downtown tour — we checked out the Shortbus Subs and WhaZabi food carts; from the latter I bought yummy sweet potato fries and a ice cold can of my favorite ever imported asian drink, Mr. Brown coffee.
I took her by the posh dance and gay clubs around west fourth street, then we strolled down 6th street in search of cigarettes and ended up hanging out with the stoners and buskers by 6th and Brazos, across from the Driskill. All around us were Austinites at their freakiest, and out of towners who were already assimilating into the laid back out of town vibe. Music, voices and laughter spilled from every corner.
Austin has sort of a love/hate relationship with what makes it wonderful. We celebrate our live music scene then legislate it out of existence with draconian noise laws. We embrace our weirdness but we don’t want anyone else to come here and see it, because then (horror of horrors!) they might want to move here. Right now at least I say, fuck that.
Near the end of Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic Mars Trilogy, the Martian settlers have created such a Utopian society that colonists from Earth (and elsewhere in the solar system) are begging to come there in the thousands. At first they try to close the doors to all but a few, but eventually decide that if what they’ve created is so wonderful then it needs to be shared; it needs to be allowed to change and grow.
Tonight at least that’s how I feel about Austin. It might not be nearly as Utopian as Robinson’s Mars, or even the average Burning Man event, but tonight I welcome the LA and New York invaders: Come to Austin and we’ll make real freaks of you.