Documentary travels to the cultural capital of Texas, the entrepreneurial capital of the USA.
AUSTIN, Texas- I’d been to Aktau. I’d been to Lanzhou. I’d been to Tierra del Fuego. But I’d never been to Austin before. It seems strange, as Austin has become a critical node on the digital nomad map and, in general, a place to be.
The documentary project was basically a good excuse to go there — as such projects usually are.
We flew in from Kansas City and took an Uber to our AirBnb … which was actually a hotel. It was a strange booking, as the name of the hotel wasn’t ever revealed through the AirBnb platform. We were just given an address which we gave to the Uber driver. The Uber driver asked for the name of the hotel. We said we had no idea. He thought that was weird, but he took us to the address nonetheless, and we discovered that we were staying in a Red Roof Plus.
As we were checking in I asked the clerk what made this Red Roof a “plus.” She said that it was a plus because it has suites. I just nodded. Made sense.
But it didn’t make as much sense to Anne. When we got to our room she plopped down on her bed and was clearly puzzled. She sat there pondering something. Then she whipped out her phone and checked something and then burst out laughing.
“I thought they said that this was a plus because they had sweets, like candy!”
It’s sometimes easy to forget that Anne is a foreigner here. But every once in a while something like this would pop up and her American-seeming veneer would be shattered. Like when we went into a gas station and she came running over to me with a rather pressing cultural question.
“The sign says ‘microwave before eating.,'” she said while pointing to some breakfast sandwiches. “Why would anyone microwave their food after they eat it!?!”
This is to say that Anne was pretty good company.
We had a night in Austin before we’d have to go out and film, so we headed into town. We got an Uber lift with an illegal immigrant from Ethiopia. She was in her early 20s, pretty, hip. I asked how she made it to the USA, and she told us this crazy story of going into Europe and then Mexico and then walking in through the desert. I thought it was wild, but she didn’t seem to think it was that big of a deal. As we rode she mentioned that where we were going was lame. We asked her to take us to a better place. She dropped us off at Rainey Street.
It was then that I understood why people come to Austin. Rainey Street is lined with normal wooden two story houses that have been converted into bars and restaurants. Each place had its own style — classic rock, hipster, gay, pick-up station … hip Texan. We walked through the crowds and looked at the people like Anne looked at the bags of nuts and cabbages in the supermarket in KC a couple of days before. Some people were wearing costumes. A guy skipped by in a sequin suit. We went into a bar where multiple men were wearing cowboy hats non-ironically and ordered a couple beers. We sat outside and watched the parade roll by.
I felt appreciative of Anne being there with me. If I was alone I’d probably remain alone all night — sitting there nursing my beer like a wart on the ass of the party. It’s difficult to make friends in your own country. When traveling it’s easy to meet people and cultivate friendships — you stand out, it makes sense for you to be alone, people are usually just as curious about you as you are about them, conversation can become a real exchange of ideas. But when you’re in your own country you don’t get this kind of social latitude. Nobody is going to ask you anything because they assume they know everything about you already. If you ask someone a question they assume you want something more out of them than a reply. If you’re alone in a social space then you must not have any friends; if you don’t have any friends there must be something wrong with you. It’s tiring. I save my socializing for when I’m in other people’s cultures.
I ate a hot dog made of beets at Banger’s, the American equivalent of Prague’s beet burger:
New York City has become the model for what big cities are becoming. But rather than being a new city rising up on successive torrents of migration, they are existing cities where well-to-do foreigners are displacing — out-pricing — the locals. All big cities are descending (or arising) into entrepots — places where people from all over the world are shipped in, sorted, warehoused for a while, and then sent out again like a shipping container of printer parts. Like the core regions of NYC, the concept of being a local is dissolving in non-existences: people move in, do their thing for a handful of years, and move out. Those accents that we attribute to Brooklyn or Staten Island or the upper whatever side, will disappear.
We’re moving into an age where each city will have a central, local-free zone virtually devoid of multi-generational residency. Where neighborhoods are in constant flux. Where the property owners will all be landlords. Where there will be an abject lack of identity — the cultural core of New York will be the same as London will be the same as Prague.
And we will all eat beet burgers.
The next day we went out and shot our interviews.
Our subject was Ian from Tropical MBA, the podcast for the Dynamite Circle entrepreneurial community. It went well — Ian was excellent on camera and drove our narrative to the exact places we wanted it to go. He arranged a meet up of entrepreneurs for us to film at a desert ranch that was converted into a colossal beer garden. The people who showed up added some depth to our story … everything was going well …
Then the pandemic. I have no idea where this film is going now.
I like Texas. Each time I go there I become aware of this unique energy that reverberates all around, even outside of the hipster towns. Stuff is happening there. Austin has become the entrepreneurial capital of the USA. After I left Anne moved into a hostel owned by no other than Nomadic Matt.
The business and cultural epicenters of the planet are longer constrained by natural transport routes, such as oceans, lakes, and rivers. The super highways of the future will be fiber, and global bandwidth hubs can pop up just about anywhere — Utah, Austin, Armenia.
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3679 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii
April 26, 2020, 3:01 pm
I love Austin and how all the neighborhoods have a different vibe. Rainey Street, Dirty Sixth, Red River, East Austin all attract a slightly different crowd. But most of all I adore running the Lady Bird trail up to Barton Springs, could easily run a marathon distance along both banks, which was great when I was training. Have promised my husband we’d do a month or two there at some point, as it is a great city for musicians to play and jam if we can also do Mexico afterwards and balance out the cost. Maybe next year…
April 27, 2020, 9:23 pm
Wade, Austin was perhaps hip and in 50-90 years ago. You missed out since it is now a horrible unlivable and unaffordable place full of the worst traffic imaginable. Add to that its horrible climate has one dripping sweat much of the year. San Antonio is much the same
way and the people are very provincial overall.
FYI, I am a Native Texan who has lived in almost al lthe cities of the state and currently resides in El Paso. I went to school some in Austin and went back there 20 years later with family and got out of there quickly… spent less than year second time around.
It takes more than just a day or tow to get a real idea of what it is like.
April 29, 2020, 8:31 am
“When traveling it’s easy to meet people and cultivate friendships — you stand out, it makes sense for you to be alone”
I can’t agree more! Wade, you just described a situation which I’m also familiar with. I was thinked that it can be only here, in Russia. While traveling outside of my own country I’m super extrovert and can easily make new friends. But inside of my own country I feel myself completely alone while travel. People have a negative attitude towards the camera and think that I am sniffing something. It’s a terrible feeling that makes me socially distance myself
April 30, 2020, 3:26 pm
Thanks for coming out Wade, great to meet y’all and I hope the project moves forward.
May 10, 2020, 3:04 pm
enjoyed your piece on austin, worked at applied science fiction during .com, and can truely relate to airbnb weirdness as I appear to be the only american doing an airbnb tour of Cyprus thru corona ~ as Col. Kurts said “I am not coming back”, has to do with a CIA shadow co. Insitu and knowing too much ~ enjoy Kenya!
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