Lost in Austin I'm back from my sojurn at the lovely Holiday Inn - Town Lake in Austin. I had a lovely time seeing the sights and sounds of Longhorn Nation. Some quick thoughts:
Austin-Bergstrom airport is pretty damned nice. Really compact and easy to get through.
I wonder how much Southwest Airlines has meant to the economies of the cities it serves? It looks like the Texas Department of Transportation has invested a good deal in redesigning the I-35 and TX-71 to accommodate more traffic. I was reading about how Ft. Lauderdale is starting to boom with six new hotels as it has faded out its spring break reputation and courted more upscale guests who have the decency to throw up in the commode rather than on the carpet.
I can't tell if it's a matter of design or an attempt to make contracts larger for some road builder, but:
for the length of I-35 they have a frontage road running parallel for almost the whole length of town (it actually reminded me of driving through St. Louis);
the exit ramps run for a long distance, merging with the frontage road, before getting to the actual labeled-street;
getting onto the interstate is relatively smooth, but you have to make a quick dash through the appointed entry slot;
the interstate splits as you get to downtown, with two lanes below and two lanes above, each with their own sets of exits, which seems like an efficient use of space, but probably unnerving for an out of towner in a hurry to find someplace and not expecting it.
The weirdest thing I noticed is all the stop lights are rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise. I'm trying to figure out a reason why. I wondered if it had something to do with wind or weather. Maybe it's just Texas being Texas.
I understand now how Austin has earned its cycling reputation. I drove around the northwest section of TX-360, and it seems like the whole road was built as a giant velodrome with several dozen Lance Armstrong wannabes, and even some racing/training teams scooting through downtown. Also, having driven around the UT campus, I realize how important having a bike would be. Christ, you could walk a long damn time to get to classes, and there's little parking.
The state capitol building is impressive. It looks like a clay replica of the US Capitol before being put in the kiln.
I always thought of Austin as being smaller than Nashville, but I'm wrong by a good bit. Nashville may have it beat in terms of MSA, but Austin has about 100k on Nashville as a city. On top of that, Austin's age distribution is much more heavily centered on folks ages 20-34, with twice as many 20-24 year olds and about 50% more 25-34 year olds. Consequently, it has a much more active nightlife. Driving around (and stopping in a few places), there's several blocks worth of clubs filled up compared with Nashville's small, barely-filled honkey-tonks and cavernous chain clubs (e.g., Hard Rock). It helps to have a huge public university in town, but I'm not sure that accounts for all the difference.
That's about it for now. I need to get my articles written up this week. I will redirect you as they get published.
Update: Oh, I almost forgot:
H.S. football is a BIG deal. The radio stations took calls from kids saying "Go Team!" in between songs. There's some competition between parts of town for the biggest, nicest stadium as Red Rock, TX (home of Dell) has constructed a new 11,000 seat stadium to keep up with a rival school.
I got to witness sorority pledges riding around campus forced to do cheers a la "Dazed and Confused." This seemed a bit more good natured than the Chicago high school hazing. Still, I wonder about the ritual. I guess they're designed to be meaningless to outsiders, but I can hardly imagine that people will look back in fondness for the time they sat at a stop light in the back of pickup truck and clapped Miss Susie Had Steamboat-esque cheers.
Texans love their strip clubs. I saw several billboards and heard several more radio commercials for strip clubs. In addition, driving back to my hotel Friday night, a mobile billboard unit (a truck with lighted posters that drives around town) advertised for Penthouse's strip club. Even the Holiday Inn's in-room magazine contained a full page layout opposite a "Local Attractions" page. I refrained from sampling any however.