Maybe It’s Okay to be a Tourist… Sometimes… a Little

In the (almost) three years I lived in New Orleans, I probably saw more tourists on the whole than actual people who lived in the city. The city is overrun with them. There was awhile where I was righteously disdainful (“I live here”), and then a while where I got used to them. Didn’t care, didn’t really see them. But when I was planning this road trip, one of my core principles was to see stuff in each city that tourists don’t typically see. To spend time with our charming hosts (Austin edition: Eli and Febianna) and ask them for places that were Off The Beaten Path.

I’m not a hipster (Rebecca snorts). I’m not too cool for The Beaten Path, just… well… I wanted to see “the real city” wherever I went. Again, I lived in New Orleans for three years; I know what the French Quarter looks like and what the rest of the city looks like, and I know they are not the same. So in each place I went, I wanted to take some time and see what made that city unique. What made Houston Houston or Austin Austin? What places or ideas could I experience to get a sense of that city’s soul?

Yeah, that lasted all of three cities.

It turns out that the places tourists typically visit are tourist attractions because they’re interesting! Who knew!

In two and a half days in Austin, we visited the Austin Science and Nature Center and hiked up a little trail with a creek and cliffs, went Texas two-step dancing at some bar White Horse to a live country band, did geeky trivia at another bar and met Rebecca’s cousin there  (was that Wednesday??) and went to kareoke at a Korean place afterwards, walked through the Texas Capitol (that was just me, surprising everyone), ate Texas chili at a downtown place that had a sign ‘said “Hippies use the back door”, visited a clothing-optional beach at a beautiful man-made lake, took a yoga class…

Austin is a bad example. The only truly touristy things we did were the statehouse and the Science Center. (I really wanted to see the Congress Avenue Bridge bats, but we missed it–we were apparently in the middle of their birthing season anyway.) But like, you see? We missed the bats and the LBJ Presidential Library–which I didn’t quite feel right visiting without having finished The Path to Power and all its sequels, anyway–and Lady Bird Lake, and countless other known attractions.

That paragraph above was two days worth of stuff. Two days! It isn’t possible to see all the touristy-for-a-reason stuff, and see the off-the-Path stuff, and sleep, and eat, in a given city, on the timetable we have. Really, any timetable at all that isn’t Jack Kerouac’s. Cities are like wells. You can sink and sink and sink and still… never see all… that’s a terrible analogy. (This is a first-draft-to-post post because I need to go to sleep soon.) The point is that there’s more to see in any given town than I could possibly experience on a trip like this.

And that’s okay. The point of a road trip is the road. I’m not going to stay anywhere long enough to get a true sense of the place, because I’m a freaking tourist and that takes years to accomplish. I speak as someone who wanted/would still totally love to be a journalist, sports journalist, Congressional staffer, think tank guy, author, nonprofit manager, etc., all at the same time. I’m going to finish writing my book while I’m in graduate school. I don’t do well with picking and choosing stuff. But as a tourist, you have to. The world is too big to digest in one sitting.

Did I get a sense of the true soul of Austin? No. I have no idea what Austin is. Eli and Febianna and Rebecca’s other friends were cool. Vincente, the Portuguese skydiving life coach we met at White Horse, was a wonderful human being. So was Danny, Rebecca’s cousin. The dancers at the White Horse, the trivia people at the Spider, the people at Hippie Hollow, all seemed like interesting human beings who give the city color and who I’d love to get to know. And that’s all. Maybe I’ll come back someday; in fact, I’d love to come back someday, stay a week or two, and get a fuller sense of what this town is about. But that’ll have to wait. The road is calling first.

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