If you drive around Austin long enough (10 or 15 minutes should be adequate) you're bound to see the refrain Keep Austin Weird on the bumper of a car or ten. And though I understand the message that the sticker is trying to deliver (any true Austinite should), I dislike the way it is delivered. Why are we weird? I know, I know. It's catchier to say "weird" than it is to say "different". To put it bluntly: Austinites are afraid that their city is going to be turned into another California. Locals often clamor about revitalization projects stealing the charm of old Austin, and about tax breaks to large companies and chain stores that can come in and put smaller businesses out of commission.
I think there have been some nice changes around downtown Austin. The Lamar footbridge is a nice addition to Austin's lagging parks and rec system. The overhaul of the second street area near City Hall is a welcome change. Lamar between 5th and 9th street has gotten a kick in the rear that it needed, and the result is obvious in the amount of people that can be seen out and about in that area.
Suddenly Austin has become a downtown that you can walk around. And people want to be downtown. You can see definitive evidence of this in the many condo towers that have risen, and are rising, in the downtown (and outlying) areas. Real estate downtown or nearby is higher than balls on a giraffe, figuratively speaking.
I must say, though, that the Keep Austin Weird slogan is somewhat trivialized by the local businesses that delight in treating customers as though their patronage doesn't matter. MoMo's on 6th Street, Cheapo's Discs, and Kerbey Lane Cafe on Lamar are just three of the examples of local businesses that obviously delight in treating customers as though they are an interruption. And though the actions of a few establishments do not represent the whole, they definitely do not help to cast a favorable light on the whole notion of buying locally. So I do what is only within my power to do; I stop giving them my business. And I write emails. In todays economic climate every business is striving to be top notch, keep every bit of business that they have, and gain as much of it that they don't.
To finish on a high note I shall tell you about a place that my son wanted to take us on Saturday after we got our month's worth of violence watching The Dark Knight. There is a little place on South Congress in what is now referred to (much to my disgust) as SoCo called Big Top Candy Shop. It is candy store specializing in the obscure, hard-to-find, and disgusting varieties of candies, and hand mixed sodas and ice cream floats. The inside is painted in gold and maroon stripes and lit to cast the glow of and have the feel of an old traveling circus or carnival, the kinds with freak shows and midways, cotton candy and popcorn. There are some interesting decorations hanging on the walls, friendly people working behind the counter (one young clerk in a smart shirt and tie gave a homeless man a free bag of popcorn), and inviting smells abound. The place is a Ray Bradbury novel come to life. Stop in and bring your sweet tooth.