The first week of my Summer Vacances Officielles found me in my former riverside house in Austin, Texas. It is my first time back in just over two years and it is safe to say that the old adage is dead-on: the more things change, the more they stay 100% absolutely the same.
Except me. I am most certainly 100% absolutely not the same person that left here in 2006. And I guess not entirely true of Austin either, as there are approximately — and this is just a rough estimate — 100,000 new or almost-finished skyscrapers downtown that did not populate the skyline when I left.
But most things are exactly the same. It’s still hot as balls and the warm night air still feels dreamy. There are dogs and tattoos and endless amounts of beer and motorcycles and “all y’alls” everywhere. Friends who hated their jobs two years ago are still there, still hating their jobs. And the hot guy who works at Jo’s coffeeshop and calls me darlin’, the guy on whom I harbored a crush for nearly three years? Yeah, he still works there. Not so hot now, eh?
Since I am not exactly the same as when I was left, it has been a decidedly different experience in Austin this week. After months of yabbering away about all the places I couldn’t wait to visit again and all the food I couldn’t wait to eat, I was surprised by my complete lack of desire to do or eat any of them. Sure, I still feel the gravitational pull of Jo’s every morning and damn do i love me some shady Town Lake trail running. But I still haven’t eaten barbeque, was unimpressed with the chips and queso at Magnolia, and the pizza at Home Slice was merely so-so. Everything I was looking forward to about returning to Texas fell flat.
So instead of a tour of familiar haunts and long-awaited tastes, I opted for doing the things I never did when I lived here. I spent long afternoons reading under the oak trees at Barton Springs and soaking in the cool lithium water, something I did maybe five times in the three years I lived here. I walked for miles and miles through areas I’d never even driven through, exploring new neighborhoods through a new camera lens. And holding firm to the pedestrian lifestyle I keep in Korea, this week I explored Austin by foot and by bus.
Hey Toto, we’re not in Korea anymore.
While Seoul’s transit system is fast, efficient, clean and the primary source of transportation for the majority of the city’s 12 million residents, riding the bus in Austin is a date with the city’s junkies, alkies, downtrodden and the occasional carbon-conscious hippie. I have seen more dried blood on clothing this week than I care to count. I will take soju-soaked ajashis any day over the stench of urine-soaked vagrants. Capitol Metro also apparently runs in its very own time zone, as I waited no less than 20 minutes at every bus stop I used. But it’s not all bad. The fare is $1.00 for a 24-hour period and though it may (will) take you all day to go as far as a 10 minute drive, you can get to virtually anywhere in the city.
The best thing by far this time around has been the kindnesses of strangers and old friends. I have been graced with the warmest of welcomes anyone could hope for, many from people I’ve hardly spoken to in two years, some who I’ve only just met. I’ve been taken in with open arms and given all the sushi, tear-wiping, car-lending, and travel assistance I needed and more. The unflinching generosity and space-clearing I’ve received has been humbling indeed. After all those ways that Austin never quite delivered what I’d hoped for when I moved here, it has become a part of me and will always give me just what I need exactly when I need it.
Now. Get me the eff to Mexico. Inmediatamente!