Blogger Rants About Austin In Post And Austinist Strikes Back

Austinist bashes Michael Cocoran for bashing Austin.When I was living in New York, I regularly read Gothamist. When I moved to Austin, I began reading Austinist. Covering a good mix of national and local news, I try to check in when I can. Blogger Michael Corcoran recently penned what appears to be a hate letter to the city of Austin on his blog. Unfortunately, any valid points lurking within the post were discounted, if not negated, by a slew of commentary not well received by many readers. Summing up Austin as “mediocre” and discrediting the merits of live music in the city, Cocoran probably hasn’t won over a lot of fans with this bashing rant. With all of this said, I was more or less indifferent toward the post when I read it. Cocoran doesn’t like it here in Austin – a lot of people don’t. I certainly have my own gripes with Austin. Fine. But what took me surprise was the response Cocoran’s blog received via Austinist contributor Terry Sawyer. Sawyer came to the defense of Austin in light of Cocoran’s remarks in this post. Sawyer’s response-post highlights much of what is good about Austin as well as much of what is wrong with Cocoran’s argument against Austin. It’s one thing to admit that the grass is always greener. It’s another thing to proclaim that the grass isn’t green at all. If you’ve been to or live in Austin, read these posts back to back and comment here with your thoughts.

Michael Cocoran’s anti-Austin post
Terry Sawyer’s pro-Austin post

Tour Austin, Texas

Spotsi App Helps Travelers Find Local Spots

Maybe you’re in Brooklyn and you want to find a great local bar. Or perhaps you’ve landed in Portland and are in desperate need of a cup of coffee but want to mingle with the locals (and try a locally-made roast while you’re at it). Let Spotsi, a new user-generated mobile app, help

There are lots of apps that help you explore like a local, but Spotsi is a little different. Locals use Spotsi to map their favorite locations in a city – the places they hang out in themselves and would recommend to friends who are visiting. With tours like “Vegetarian & Vegan in Dallas,” and “New York, I Only Love Your Beer, Women, and Art,” the app is a dream for travelers who want to skip tourist traps and explore spots favored by locals. Some tours are even authored by local celebrities, such as Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini, a Portland-based orchestra with 13 members. Of course, anyone can create a tour on Spotsi so long as they are willing to take the time to plot the locations on a map, upload pictures and write short descriptions. More catered to a traveler’s individual interests than a guidebook and far less embarrassing than schlepping along on a city tour, Spotsi might just have what it takes to revolutionize the way we travel.

The only downside to Spotsi is that its makers are currently focusing on Austin and Portland, leaving many other cities virtually off the map. However, the app just debuted in January so it has a lot of room for growth. Anyone from any city is allowed to submit tours – and if the app takes off it could end up being an invaluable resource for travelers to find underground hot spots in cities across the country and globe.

Image: Nong’s Khao Man Gai, one of the stops on Pink Martini’s tour of Portland
[Flickr photo via star5112]

Budget Travel Zen: 10 Free/Donation-Based Yoga Studios In The US

free yoga

Knotted shoulders… stiff necks… flight delay anxiety… pent-up aggression toward the armrest-hogger seated next to you on the plane. Travel certainly has its ways of winding you up, and there’s nothing like a great yoga class to wind back down. But with trendy studios charging upwards of $25 per class, it can be difficult to find a practice that doesn’t exceed your daily travel budget. These ten free or donation-based yoga studios allow you to pay what you can, and many of them come with a welcoming community that can help you stay grounded throughout your trip.

Asheville Community Yoga, Asheville, North Carolina
Based on the concept of Karma Yoga, Asheville Community Yoga is a non-profit organization offering a wide variety of free classes, including vinyasa, ashtanga, hatha, yin, restorative, core and various kinds of flow. The center also offers special workshops like “Spring Detox Hot Flow” and “Yoga for Healthy Knees.” Though classes are free for those who truly can’t afford to pay, a “Love Offering” of $5-15 per class is requested. 8 Brookdale Rd. Ste. A, Asheville.

Yoga to the People, New York, New York; Seattle, Washington; San Francisco and Berkeley, California
With nine studios in four cities, Yoga to the People believes that the transformative power of yoga should be available to everyone. Studios offer a mix of power vinyasa flow, traditional hot yoga and hot vinyasa classes. Suggested donation is $10 for vinyasa classes, while hot yoga is available for a flat fee of $8. Click here for locations.Moonlit Yoga, Portland, Oregon
There’s no better way to spend a Saturday evening than with yoga, tea and candlelight. The weekly Moonlit Yoga series, hosted at various studios throughout Portland, is open to yogis of all levels, with a sliding scale donation suggestion of $6-10. Check Facebook for each week’s location.

Black Swan Yoga, Austin, Texas
Black Swan offers a smorgasbord of hatha, vinyasa, power, sweaty and intriguing “candle sweaty” classes at their two studios in Downtown and South Side. Suggested donation is $10-15. 1114 West 5th St. and 4534 Westgate Blvd., Austin.

One Yoga Foundation, Miami, Florida
Enjoy your practice in a park under the sun through the One Yoga Foundation, which offers free outdoor classes in green spaces around Miami and its surroundings. Donations support the organization’s efforts to bring yoga to special needs communities. Click here for locations.

Circle Yoga, Washington, DC
The Circle Yoga Cooperative offers a range of free community classes, meditation sessions and workshops with donations benefiting the teacher’s charity of choice. Their sister studio, Budding Yogis, also offers classes for children and families. 3838 Northampton St. NW, Washington, DC.

Urban Flow Yoga, San Francisco, California
Urban Flow Yoga in the Mission District provides donation-based yoga classes by Bhakti Flow certified instructors as well as community outreach programs. Recommended donation is $10-20. 1543 Mission Street, San Francisco.

Studio 34, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
In addition to its regular and reduced rate community classes, Studio 34 offers a handful of “Pay What You Can” yoga classes incorporating the Forrest method, which emphasizes breath, active sequences and longer holding of poses. 4522 Baltimore Ave, Philadelphia.

Health Yoga Life, Boston, Massachusetts
The yogis at Health Yoga Life encourage participants to “Occupy Yourself” with their accessible, open-level, donation-based vinyasa flow community classes. Drop-ins welcome. 12 Temple St., Boston.

Lululemon Athletica In-Store Classes, Nationwide
If you can deal with being surrounded by pricy merchandise during your practice, you can take advantage of yoga superstore Lululemon’s rotating schedule of free yoga classes from local instructors. Select locations also offer programs like run clubs and motivation seminars. Click here to find your nearest location.

Yoga For Travelers

[Flickr image via lululemon athletica]

Journey To Secret Beach in Austin, Texas

Secret Beach, dog, puppy

I walk through the open gate and into a dusty backyard BBQ party. I offer the contents of a grocery bag to the men manning the grill. The afternoon sun on July 4 in Texas isn’t subtle. Dozens of friends are gathered here and sweating in unison. I find a place to relax in the shade — a slice of watermelon in one hand and a cold beer in the other. I think of my puppy, Fiona, at home. I’ve just left her alone for the first time. Once an hour has quickly passed, I excuse myself on behalf of Fiona’s assumed despair. I think of her barricaded in my kitchen, all eight pounds of her. Before I leave, I’m invited to rejoin my friends later at a purported “secret” beach, appropriately and memorably called Secret Beach. I’m given specific directions that are promised to take me there, but I never go. I open the front door to my house to find Fiona hiding under the couch in the living room. How she managed to jump over the 4-foot-tall stacked plastic storage bins that closed off the kitchen without budging them whatsoever is a mystery. Clearly distraught from her first home alone experience, I instead decide to take her with me to a friend’s pool, where she’s allowed to be but not to swim. I could have taken her with me to Secret Beach, but I didn’t know that at the time. I emailed a friend a few days later to get the directions to Secret Beach in writing. I saved the email knowing I’d want those directions sooner or later.

%Gallery-152063%The summer in Austin is oppressive. It’s my first summer in Texas, but the record-breaking drought and heat aren’t making the transition easy. Locals commiserate. “I’ve been in Austin all my life and this is, by far, the worst summer ever. I’m so sorry it’s your first”, they tell me, attempting to reassure me that the hard time I’m having isn’t because I’m a newcomer. But my instincts tell me that no matter what they say, the brutality of this summer is weighing more heavily on me, a recent transplant from the north. Everyone is feeling exhausted and visibly so. Beat down by the relentless heat, which has been in the triple digits for over 70 days now, I receive the pitying facial expressions of air-conditioned drivers paused at stoplights as I walk Fiona. Walking her isn’t easy to do — her paws are too soft and raw for the burning asphalt. A friend tells me he can only walk his 6-year-old Samoyed when it’s dark. This gives me the idea to become nocturnal.

I succeed in living by night for a month or so. But between raising a new puppy, totaling a car, shopping for a new car and planning my upcoming wedding, the inconvenience of a nocturnal lifestyle isn’t suiting me. I return to the daylight in the weeks before my October wedding, slowly readjusting to societal normalcy. My wedding is blessed with rain; a beacon of hope that graces the multi-day outdoor event with cool breezes. With a marriage license signed, an elaborate wedding set-up and torn down, and the weight off my chest from entertaining over a hundred mostly out-of-town guests, I find myself able to kick my feet up at my own home. But my feet are on boxes. Boxes filled with vintage lace, plates and glasses, and bins filled with silverware and candles. I lay my head on a collection of solar-powered camping showers strewn across my couch. The opportunity to depart from the wedding immediately following the ceremony for a honeymoon wasn’t an option. Perhaps I could have planned better, asked more of our family members and friends, but I didn’t. Instead, my husband and I work during the week following the wedding. We work in 12-hour chunks scrubbing the floors of the cabin on the property we rented, Austin Heaven. We are washing dishes so that they might be sold, and we are making back-to-back trips between the property and our house in Austin — a 30-minute commute without any traffic. And there’s always traffic.

Eight days after the wedding, two out-of-town friends remain in our home. One friend is an optimistic, ukulele-playing young lady. She has decided to extend her stay permanently and will be looking for a place of her own soon (she eventually moves into an actual closet). The other flies back home tomorrow to Germany, where he works as a physicist, which I find both fascinating and intimidating. With a flea market-looking, post-wedding home yielding not a single interior space for our guests or selves to relax, I have an idea.

“Do you guys want to go to Secret Beach today?” I ask in a tone that I hope conveys to our guests that I, for one, am getting out of the house and into the water regardless of what they choose. They think this sounds “awesome” and I do too. Perhaps more importantly, Fiona hasn’t had any exercise whatsoever since running around the wedding property eight days ago. She sees her leash and rejoices; her paws stretched out and pressed against the door as far up as she can reach them. She is ebullient. We put on our swimsuits, spray on sunblock and I pack a few towels. When we arrive to the end of the road on Austin’s southeast side, I’m not sure where to go next.

“Let’s just park and walk,” I say, hoping the path down to the water isn’t too inconspicuous. We see the white building that was referenced in the directions as a landmark, but we don’t know where the referenced trail nearby is. I debate calling the friend who gave me the directions, but part of the adventure is finding the path on your own.

In the parking lot next to the white building, a man is wet and ushering his dripping dog into the back trunk of his station wagon.

“Do you know where Secret Beach is?” I ask him, certain that he does.

“Secret Beach?” He responds. “It’s not so much of a secret anymore. Back when I discovered it, well, actually, my dog here discovered it, ten years ago, nobody knew about this beach but us. He just went nosing around down there one day and I followed him, I wanted to see where he’d take me. And he took me to Secret Beach. Nobody was down there but us; we founded it. Been comin’ here ever since then, but more and more people seem to show up every time.”

“Wow, you discovered it,” I say, catering to his “I Found It; It’s Mine” gasconading bravado. “Well, I hear it’s beautiful. Can you tell us where it is?” I continue.

“Look,” he says pointing. “Now you follow that path right there all the way until you see another dirt path to your right, take that one, the one to the RIGHT, don’t miss it. Follow that path down and around all the way and I don’t know what you’re going to do, little lady, wearing sandals like those. It’s not easy to get down that hill without slipping. But once you’re down the hill, walk through the trees and then BAM! You’ll hit the sand and the water.”

As the man leaves, another man arrives wearing swim trunks and guiding his Boxer puppy in the direction that had been pointed out to us. Fiona chases after the puppy as we journey down to the sandy beach, finally arriving beneath the late afternoon sun. Beams of light shoot through the canopying trees and hit the water like kaleidoscopic images. Fiona and the Boxer puppy hit the water like exploding cannonballs. With gnashing teeth and splashing water, the two dogs share their first swim. Letting the cool water move through me as it travels farther east, I am unencumbered. I soak in the feeling of having a low-populated and beautiful retreat this close to home.

Autumn is beginning to set in and it looks good on the drought-stricken land — a shoe that finally fits. We cycle in and out several times from the water to our outspread towels. There are only a handful of other people here on this Sunday afternoon. The beach sand is soft and the shells that are scattered alongside the Colorado River are plentiful. Our shoes are behind us in a haphazard pile. We’re a group of unapologetic nelipots.

Once we feel fully depleted, I stuff everything into a large tote bag and we climb the steep hill back up to the dirt path that leads to the parking lot by the white building. Secret Beach isn’t exactly secret enough to warrant the mysterious title these days. But it is still a place I like to go; I am reprieved here from the overcrowded swimming holes in and around Austin. If you want to find it, you won’t have a hard time. Research it or ask a local. I’d tell you myself, but I don’t want the blood of sharing semi-secrets on my hands.

Perfect Beach Beverage Recipe

SXSW: from NYC to Austin, a local musician’s perspective and photo gallery

When I initially began weighing my options for relocation, I was still living in New York. Austin, a purported ‘oasis’ in Texas, had only entered my mind during this process because of clamoring friends eager to direct me as I prepared for and soon voyaged away from New York. It was not easy to leave the city that had shaped me. Immediately following high school graduation, I had set off for New York with the kind of bravado only a teenager can possess — that asinine invincibility. Years flew by before I grew antsy and curious about life in other cities.

To live in L.A.: to drive with the windows down through glamorously warm-breeze-blowing nights. To live in Seattle: to meander through continuous gray days months at a time, answering the question of what to do with cozy, dedicated, indoor creation. To live in Austin: to surrender to sunny surrealism marked by hammocks and the time to lie in them, to melt into a dimension wherein the rhythm of the music is the heartbeat of the city. I needed to detox from New York; I needed a long time to pass before I heard the word “networking” again. I longed for sunshine. My music, I thought, deserved to and would best grow in a place where people harvest music. To live in Austin, to pack a 1996 Honda Accord so full with instruments that my stomach is positioned dangerously close to the steering wheel, to drive for three days without air conditioning through increasingly hotter air, to wonder if I’m making a big mistake.

New York had been my mold that cast me into adult form and I knew this. I knew it less while living in the city than I did upon trying to live in non-New York. Anyone can blend into a city like New York. People say the same thing about Austin, but I don’t think it’s true. Austin moves at a slower pace and exudes a distinct feel. But everything in Austin changes in March for SXSW.

%Gallery-151126%One thing I liked about living in New York was the feeling that everything was happening in the town where I lived and that everyone was either there or wishing they were there. Since uprooting and replanting myself in Austin, I don’t often feel this way. With the exception of SXSW, I never feel this way. Austin is a vacuum for creative professionals during SXSW. Throughout this chunk of time every March, Austin attracts entertainment industry movers and shakers from around the world. SXSW 2012 was my second “South By.” Undeniable nostalgia washed over me as the hordes of talented city-dwellers infiltrated Austin. Uneasy as it may still feel to address Austin as “my town,” it is my town for now. Living in Austin during SXSW allows me to feel as though my town is the only town on the radar for other creatives for a short period of time. It’s a chin-up, pleasing sort of feeling, but feelings toward SXSW are, like so many things, layered and complex.

Austin during SXSW reminds me of New York in that city-centric way. But as with any popular city or festival there are parallels that remind me of why I left New York in the first place. When SXSW hits Austin, residents are bombarded with inconvenience from multiple angles. Lattes cost more, beers cost more and food from restaurants or food trucks costs more, too. Traffic is already a problem in a town growing as quickly as Austin, but traffic during SXSW has become a major hindrance. Although anticipated, the expectation doesn’t make the traffic any less inconvenient. I spent nearly double what I normally spend on gas during SXSW and I didn’t travel more miles — I just spent more time sitting in traffic. Taxis, even when called in advance, may require over an hour wait. Parking is a nightmare. The buses and metro may be filled. Your bike, if it happens upon the fate of my husband’s bike, will be stolen. Drunk people scream through the streets no matter the time. Other drunk people pass out on the streets, hoping you’ll see them sprawled out on the sidewalk before tripping over their tattered skinny-jean legs. They vomit, fight, grope one another and, generally speaking, behave in ways many people would behave had they been drinking for free since 11 a.m. It seems as though no matter how much Austin prepares for SXSW, the festival continues to reel in more people than expected each year and the combined resources of the city can only go so far. Visitors should come to Austin during the festival expecting the sort of inconveniences that appear alongside an attraction this large. Residents have been taught to expect these inconveniences.

There is a silver lining among the inconveniences, though. Some of these inconveniences affect visitors only and create moneymaking opportunities for enterprising locals. Take hotels, for instance. Not only do hotels raise their rates for SXSW, but also the rooms sell out quickly and there aren’t enough rooms in town to accommodate all of the visitors. Renting a room or a house through a website like Airbnb, Homeaway or Craigslist can yield quick and easy income for an Austinite with a flexible living space. In most thinkable circumstances, SXSW provides outstanding demand for that of which there is not enough supply. Just about any local can explore myriad business opportunities during SXSW. This is a good thing. It boosts the economy of the city of Austin as a whole while simultaneously fluffing the personal bank accounts of entrepreneurial Austin residents. SXSW 2012 fluffed my income enough to afford my purchases of a PA system, 3 microphones and stands, a nice delay pedal and a new guitar amp.

The perspective I have of SXSW as a musician is one I presume is not unique. It is an incomparable festival. Life as we know it in Austin comes to a standstill for the sake of music and there is something innately rewarding about that. Music can be heard on every corner and reverb through microphones across the city tucks me into bed when I finally resign to sleep. I played two shows during SXSW and opened for two headlining acts from other cities, both of whom I like, respect and otherwise might not ever share a stage. Opportunities like these arise beneath the wings of a festival like SXSW. Music is on every mind in town during the music portion of the festival. To play with passion during SXSW should come secondhand. People are listening with passion and to be given a chance to reflect that back to an audience so easily is a gift.

The shows can be more complicated than non-SXSW shows, though. Loading gear in and out of clubs quickly to and from cars illegally parked with their hazards on in the rain. Beginning a show without much of a chance to sound check because there are simply too many bands playing for most shows to be anything other than behind schedule. Wading through some of the unavoidable slime that drips off of a certain percentage of people employed by the music industry. All of these things are par for the course, but they are sometimes illuminated during SXSW. It is mostly inspiring and fun; it is only marginally a drag. The good far outweighs the bad on the topic of playing shows during a music festival so big you can feel the current of electricity throbbing through the air.

And then SXSW ends and Austin goes eerily quiet during the gloriously peaceful week that follows.

Jay-Z To Perform Interactive Show at 2012 SXSW