Sunday, March 27, 2011

Looking Back at Where I was A Year Ago Today, Laughing at the Shape that I'm in Now*

*Todd Snider, I Spoke As a Child (and kudos to anyone who correctly identified those lyrics)

 I just survived my first South by Southwest (SXSW) as an Austin resident.  For those who don't know, SXSW is a large music, film, and interactive media conference that brings together international talent, brainpower, and money from these industries for a total of ten days.  It always falls the week of St. Patrick's Day and the kickoff of March Madness.  Most colleges are on spring break the same week as well.  There are plenty of official convention panels, speeches, etc., but there is plenty to do even for those outside the industry.  Though the music portion is only officially 4-5 days long, there is a solid week during which live music is everywhere -- and I mean everywhere!  There were music showcases in coffee shops, at restaurants, in vacant lots, pretty much every bar in town (and there are hundreds of those), and even at the frozen yogurt shop down the street!  Leaving my place one day, there were at least 3 venues with live music -- outdoors -- that could be seen with a cursory glance before I crossed the street (this doesn't count places that had music inside that I couldn't see).  Oh, and did I mention that people play on street corners and at food trailers for tips? 

I love SXSW and I've been going for years.  Brian's brother used to live in Austin, and we would visit him over spring break and SXSW as often as we could, even when Brian was in the working world and I was getting spring break in law school.  We loved visiting during that week; I can remember as many St. Patrick's Days in Austin as in Des Moines.  Last year, I went as a way to remember Brian and our many March trips to Austin for SXSW.  It was on that trip that the seeds were planted for my move.

Girls' night out -- SXSW 2010
Last year, I stayed with an old friend -- the same guy we always stayed with when we visited Austin after my brother-in-law moved back to Iowa.  We went to a cook-out at a friend's house on the Friday afternoon of SXSW (the hosts are teachers who always have the week of SXSW off work).  Of the couple hosting the cook-out, I knew the guy fairly well from his being a friend of my brother-in-law for so many years; but I didn't really know the wife as well.  The party sort of segregated between males and females, as parties frequently do, and I vacillated between the groups, in and out of the house (at this house, she runs the grill!).  The women were so friendly, lively, and fun!  They invited me to join them for a "girls' night out" that night.  I hesitated, not wanting to be rude to my friend who had brought me, but then opted to join them.  I had a great time going to new places, seeing live music, dancing, laughing, and even crying with them a little bit.  That day, the "What Up, Holmes?" cocktail was invented.  That day, I realized I could make new friends -- and girlfriends, at that -- in a new city.  I remember that day at the cookout, one of the ladies there asked me whether I thought I might ever move to Austin.  At that point, I was just there for a week's vacation!  As I recall, I said something along the lines of, "Oh, I don't think so.  I have my job, my house, my family, and my friends all in Iowa.  I guess you never know, but I don't think it's very likely." 

I couldn't shake the thought of it, though.  I remember driving to my friend's place on that trip, listening to the radio in the car.  I was looking at the downtown skyline at night, thinking how much I loved it.  Right then, a commercial came on the radio that literally said, "You can live in Austin!"  It was for an apartment complex.  I don't know that I treated that commercial as "a sign," per se, but it made the wheels turn a little more.  I certainly recognized the uncanny timing of the message.

My next baby step was a summer sublease in a cool little studio apartment on the East side last summer.  It was on this stay -- when I got to taste what it would be like to live on my own in Austin -- that I finally gave in to my love affair and admitted that I couldn't live without this city.  Now, I've had a chance to settle in and experience SXSW -- one of the things that kept drawing me back throughout my twenties -- as a resident of Austin.

This year, I got to set my own agenda and keep whatever schedule I wanted, without regard to anyone else.  Not only was I living here as opposed to being a guest in someone else's home, but I was on my own -- I didn't have to accommodate anyone else's preferences as to which places to go and which bands to see.  Of course, I did meet friends at places of their choosing and watched music they recommended, but I got to do that with several different groups of people, and I did go to some events solo.  I also made some of my own plans and made my own suggestions as to places to go and music to see.  My place served as a crash pad and a home base at times.  It was fun to be an independent SXSW-goer this year, one who could contribute to the fun.  I loved being able to give out-of-towners directions instead of being the one who didn't know where she was.

I knew I was a true Austinite at one particular moment during SXSW.  On the day after St. Patrick's Day, my car was on the east side, in my old neighborhood.  I was at my place, about three miles away.  I was going to the teachers' annual cookout that day and would need to drive there, and be ready to go out with the girls that night.  With SXSW traffic, that 3 mile trip would have been a very long and pricey cab ride.  So I did what any sensible Austin girl in my position would do -- I put on my tank top, skirt, and cowboy boots (my outfit for my night on the town that night); hopped on my bike; and rode it to my car.  (Later that night, I would walk a few more miles and sprint about a city block in those boots.)  Riding my bike in my skirt and boots, amongst the heavy downtown traffic, I felt like a true Austinite.  It was certainly nothing I had ever done -- nor would I probably ever have done -- in Des Moines. 

After getting my car, I went to the cookout, just like I did last year on the last Friday of SXSW.  This year, I drove myself and then when it was time for the girls to go out downtown, we piled into my car and stopped at my apartment to park the car and freshen up.  It felt strange, and cool, that a year ago I was sort of a "tag-along" these girls adopted for the night and now I lived here and was a part of the plan all along.  It's amazing how much my life has changed in a year.  I'm forever grateful to my friends for the seed they planted that grew, little by little, into the flower that is my life now.  Obviously, I've loved this city for a long time, but I don't know if I'd be living here if it wasn't for that wonderful day and fun girls' night out I had a year ago.

Girls' night out -- SXSW 2011
I plan to be in Austin for a long time.  I can't say I'll never live anywhere else -- it's not wise to try to plan for such a distant future with no knowledge of the events that lie between today and that time -- but I have no intention of leaving anytime soon.  Regardless of how many more times I experience SXSW, 2010 and 2011 will always stand out -- and not for the music, the bars, or the weather.

1 comment:

  1. I hope Austin continues to treat you well:-) I enjoyed reading...thank you.