Sunday, July 10, 2011

What I Miss About Austin

Having lived in Austin for ten years until just recently, I often get asked what I miss about it. I still think it’s weird that I hardly knew Austin existed until the University of Texas invited me to come visit as a Junior in high school. I went on to spend a total of 15 years there, with a break in the middle for Peace Corps and graduate school. I’ve got the traveling bug, so I don’t know if I’ll ever stay that long in one place again. Here’s what I miss about Austin.

College Buddies 
James and Derry are certainly at the top of the list of what I miss about Austin. We went through UT together, living in Jester Hall and working as Resident Assistants. We watched each other graduate, get married, and find “real” jobs. I went off and wandered around the globe for a bit, but when I came back, they were still there for me.

Each week I’d get together with one or the other of them for lunch. (It was more of a one-to-one setup than all three of us together.) I really miss those lunches.  They were always a great break from my day (and my desk). Sometimes we’d talk about important stuff like work, marriage, families, or dreams. Sometimes we’d just go on about goofy stuff.

Besides lunches, James was always up for finding the best beer Austin had to offer. Derry was more of the adventure type, including a kayak trip we took down Lake Austin. And either one was happy to catch a movie at Alamo Drafthouse.

Alamo Drafthouse 
This place gets its own section. What a great concept! Take out every other row of seats in the movie theater and add skinny tables and walkway for the staff. Serve food and beer before and during the movie. Compile a bunch of clips from movies and TV that are related to the feature being screened, and show them as pre-movie entertainment.

Once you’ve been to one of these, a regular AMC or Cinemark just feels mundane. I’m jealous I didn’t think of this first. I would totally want to start one of these somewhere, except I’m not willing to commit to one location for that long.

Fast Food 
That’s right. I miss Austin’s fast food. Not greasy burgers, greasy chicken, or greasy pizza. I miss Freebirds, Which Wich, and Taco Deli.

Freebirds was a hilarious find because it started in Santa Barbara, where my wife went to college. Boy was she surprised to see one in Austin. Why do I miss it? They had the amazing idea to offer barbecue sauce in their burritos. My favorite: spinach tortilla, half rice, black beans, steak, pico de gallo, guacamole, lots of barbecue sauce, and a few dashes of death sauce. Serve with Fat Tire.

Which Wich Superior Sandwiches took some time to grow on me. You design your own sandwich by selecting from different options for meat, cheese, spreads, and veggies. The toasty bread was what kept me coming back until I found my favorite combination. I call it “The Italian Burn”: Start with a Grinder (Salami, Pepperoni, and Capicola). Add cheese: Mozzarella or Provolone. Select Dijon mustard, but skip the mayos, spreads & sauces, and dressings. Onions: red. For veggies, pick: lettuce, tomato, olive salad, hot pepper mix. At this point, the oils and spices don’t matter much, but it doesn’t hurt to add some oregano, garlic, salt, and pepper.

You make your selection on a paper bag that you can watch make it’s way down the line. It helps to draw something on the back so you know which one is yours. Once it’s gone past all the stations, wait for them to call your name. Then enjoy your Burn.

Taco Deli didn’t become a hit with me until our last few months in Austin. That’s when I tried the original location, right next to the apartment we rented after selling our house. I was soon hooked on both the Mole Tacos and the Adobados tacos. Top them off with some hot green salsa and I was a happy camper. And you couldn’t beat the location next to the Barton Creek green belt.

Walnut Creek Park and Lifetime Fitness 
I never thought I’d miss a park. Maybe it’s because it was walking distance from our house for seven years. Maybe it’s just because I went there every week. Regardless, it was the best place to go for a run. Ever. Except during allergy season. When the weather was hot, the park was shady. The trails were dirt, so they were easy on the knees, but fun for the feet. There were butterflies and squirrels and rabbits, so I was always on the lookout. And the terrain never got boring.

I also never thought I’d miss a gym. Lifetime was pricey, but it was worth it. It was just down the street from my office, so I could go before work, at lunch, or after work. It had so many weight benches and treadmills that I almost never had to wait for anything. I loved the outdoor lap lanes in the summer time, and I appreciated the indoor lap pool the rest of the time. That made it really easy to train for my triathlons.

A couple of years before I left, I joined a really great Toastmasters group called Laughing Matters. Every Thursday I'd have blast telling jokes and laughing at hilarious speeches from a great group of friends. The Black & Browns were a great addition.

Laughing Matters was also a great place to practice the material I was working on for my showcases at Cap City Comedy Club. I began taking classes there in October 2009, and did three spots before I left. Each one was less than five minutes long. Getting big laughs from a few hundred audience members is a huge rush.

Small Groups 
Lastly, I miss the small groups of friends from church that we met with on a regular basis. I had a great bunch of guys to meet with for a season to talk about what it truly meant to be a man and a husband. Then we had some groups of couples where we focused on our marriage relationship. Our last group explored the meaning and practice of being Christ-followers and supporting each other. We haven’t yet found that kind of community here in our new home, but we’re still looking.

Austin wasn’t perfect (e.g. 100+ degree heat in the summers), but it had lots going for it. Even though I miss friends and food and even a park or two, I’m glad we came to California for a season, and I’m looking forward to the next place we call home for a bit. And I’ll be visiting Austin soon.

What would you miss if you moved from where you live?


  1. Awww! Good one. It's a great idea to ponder what we'd miss so we don't take it for granted. If it's any consolation, we miss you guys. I can't scrapbook without using something of Marianne's and wishing she was here for me to show what I made with her stuff.

  2. I think this is a good one, too. Rather than think about the things I would miss if I moved, I can relate the things that I missed when I moved from West Texas to the coast and the big cities.
    I missed the "small town" people. I go back to Houston a couple of times each year and find it "crowded". I have missed the dry atmosphere. The summer breeze that blows and when you can find a shade tree feel the "coolness" of the breeze in the 100+ temp.

    Thanks again for this one, it was really good.