Austin City Limits

After decades of reread Cormick McCarthy books and repeated viewings of various chainsaw massacres, I’m finally going to Texas. Not only am I going, I’m going to drink and party like a Texan. I’ve done my share of layovers in Texas airport bars over the years, but this will be the first time I’ll have left the airport and set foot outside the security gate. I’m going to Austin, a place I’ve heard great things about for most of my life, but have never found time to visit. For Bay Area residents like myself, Austin forms that holy Californian trinity with Portland and Seattle as potential destination cities for those whose frustration with overcrowding has them dreaming of greener pastures. I won’t lie—I’ve almost reached a boiling point of my own here at home and unconsciously this trip is probably as much about reconnaissance as it is relaxation. For me, however, my frustration with the Bay isn’t so much about the price of living as it is the living itself. I listen to my neighbors complain about rising rents, the price of a house, the cost of a burger or a ticket to the movies, but for me those aren’t the key issues. I’m mostly lamenting the loss of any real social identity in San Francisco and how that soul-sucking void affects my ability to enjoy local nightlife, music, and urban character. Back in the nineties and early aughts, you had cultural drinking options depending on your desire. Pick a neighborhood and a bar—each had its own scene and its own identity. Today, however, I don’t know where you go to do anything other than discuss your job or stare at an iPhone while Instagraming your latest craft cocktail. Every new bar I visit offers the exact same thing, no matter if I’m in North Beach or the Mission, and the clientele is uncannily uniform. There are plenty of great drinks to be had, but fewer interesting people to enjoy them with. It seems like San Franciscans today are using the food and drinks from these establishments to actually form their cultural identities, rather than accent or enhance them. Instead of dressing up or expressing oneself while drinking, people at bars in the city use regional French wines, microbrews, and rare whiskies to try and show you who they are through drinking. It’s a terrible thing to witness because not only is it boring, it’s rarely an accurate depiction. 

You are what you eat, they say. You are what you drink, too, according to social media sippers, desperate to sell themselves as unique with hand-crafted user profiles that—like the many establishments I visit—are exactly alike. Most of it’s bullshit though because what you drink doesn’t say anything about who you are inside or what makes you interesting. I’m still the same David Driscoll whether I drink cheap vodka with a bum on the street or Pappy with the Pope. No amount of asshole affectation or image-building iconography will ever change that because drinking an idea doesn’t constitute or create culture. I learn who someone is by talking to them, not by rummaging through their recycling. Drinking is an activity that helps promote social behavior: you go out, you get a drink, and then you talk, and you watch, and you dance, and you discover. You can visit a new city, meander through its many bars, and learn what makes it tick—what drives it—and then compare and contrast that experience with previous ones. In Seattle, they do this. In New York, people do it this way. In LA, people like to do this. Hopefully by the end of next week I’ll understand a little more about what people like to do in Austin, Texas. I’ve heard it’s a city that still very much has its own cultural identity—live music with plenty of beer and barbecue, for instance. I’m really looking forward to checking that out. I’m also looking forward to chatting with people and getting their take on life. It’s amazing how cold and calculated San Francisco has become over the last decade. What was once the city of peace, pot, and free love is now a rigid nest of residents who’d rather rush to their jobs and stare down at their phone in silence than look you in the eye and smile. It didn’t really hit me how bad it had become until I went to Seattle a few weeks ago and was completely gob-smacked by how polite, forthcoming, and friendly everyone was. I talked to the bell hop at my hotel downtown about local breakfast spots longer than I talk to most of my friends these days. It was so nice to discuss scrambled eggs and Cajun hot sauce instead of work, working, how long it took to get to work, how well work is going, and how we’re all so busy at work these days! Where do you work? I work here. I’m going to work now. Work is tough. 

If you asked me ten years ago about San Francisco’s identity as a city, I would have burst out into Jefferson Starship and belted: “We built this city on rock and roll!”  Today, however, it’s all about computers, careers, and cocktails. I’m sure even local resident Huey Lewis would tell you matter of factly: the heart of rock and roll is no longer beating. But I’ve heard it’s still going strong in Austin. What have I learned going out in San Francisco lately? That it’s a city where people talk about work all day long, then go out and make virtual photo albums about the lives they wish they were leading. Austin? I’ve heard that’s where you go to party. So I’m going. 

See you all in a week.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll