10 days, 10 states: Keeping it weird in Austin, Texas

“We were headed down the road, hit the border, by the morning, to let Texas fill my soul…”
-Pat Green

I will admit that I eat some pretty strange things on occasion, because when you’re on the road a lot, that’s simply what you do. Snails in France, squid in Singapore, and what might have been cat in Vietnam. Never in my life, however, of all the culinary curiosities that have found their way into my gullet, have I ever harbored the urge to roll out of bed and immediately start eating a taco.

In Austin, however, this is apparently just what you do. You get up. You brush your teeth. And then you go eat some tacos.

Rousted out of bed by my taco-needing, still-intoxicated-from-last-night college roommate who now calls Austin home, morning pleasantries were barely exchanged before making a beeline for a taco stand clear on the other side of town. What initially seemed like unnecessary haste proved to be a keen sense of timing. As it turns out, on any given Saturday morning thousands of young people in Austin, Texas are simultaneously craving tacos. Maybe tens of thousands.

Don’t believe me? I wouldn’t either. That was until I pulled into Taco Deli at 9:30am only to be thrust into the back of a line at least 65 people deep which wrapped around the side of the building into the hinterlands of South Austin. Already well documented by fellow Gadling blogger Elizabeth Seward as being a city known for its food trucks and DIY food culture, old and young Austinites alike have a serious soft spot for Mexican food in the AM.

And, I found out, so do I.

Morning meat aside, Austin is a city that has been well documented in Gadling lately, and justifiably so. As the “Keep Austin Weird” movement has demonstrated, Austin is one of the funkiest and most fascinating cities in all of the 50 states. A bubble of progressive thought in a traditionally conservative state, the movement to keep Austin as a locale which promotes independent businesses and champions large amounts of music, art, and culture has infused the capital city with an energy and an atmosphere that draws people to the city in droves.How large is the current allure of Austin? In a 2011 list put out by Forbes magazine, Austin was listed as the fastest growing city in the entire country with a 37% spike in population over the last decade. Add in the 52,000 students currently matriculating at the University of Texas, and you might understand the depth of the morning rush for tacos.

Even with its rapid growth. however, Austin remains the largest city in the United States that doesn’t have a professional sports team. Much of this is of course due to the Longhorns being the undisputed owners of every shred of sports passion from here to San Antonio, and most argue that there’s simply no room for a pro team in a city that bleeds burnt orange.

Don’t believe me again? Go to a UT tailgate outside the football stadium and begin to question the level of passion. As I undertake the epic road journey that has become “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”, I was fortuitously able to sculpt my itinerary around a Texas home game in an effort to experience the mayhem for myself. Judging from the the throngs of beer toting, burnt orange wearing good citizens of Austin, if you had told me the entire city had shut down for the occasion I wouldn’t have begun to argue. Though Austin may be a progressive bubble, this is still football in Texas, and nothing gets in the way of that. Ever.

Cruising through the uber-hip South Congress (SoCo) district of town prior to the game, it’s fair to say that there’s much more to Austin than breakfast tacos, food trucks, live music, and football. One of the most popular districts with visiting tourists, South Congress is an artsy, oft-photographed neighborhood rife with boutique salons and vintage shops that exude the “weirdness” Austin aims to maintain. As if to justify the funky vibe, a purple-haired man with a guitar and a pair of zebra pants comes waltzing out of the psychedelic themed costume shop Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, easily melting into the sea of energetic passerby.

Staring down the street at the Texas capitol building (which is the largest state capitol in America, and 7th largest building in the world when it was first built), the streets of South Congress teem with a curbside mixture of proud alumni, tight-jeaned hipsters, camera-toting tourists, hungover coeds, and some poor guy just trying to get a taco.

Thanks for welcoming me to your city, Austin. And thanks for keeping it weird.

Follow Kyle on the rest of his journey as he explores “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”.