According to the Nielson Company, which invented the concept of “market research” some 80 years ago, the people of Austin read and contribute to blogs more than residents in any other U.S. city. An outfit called Scarborough Research seconds this, estimating that 15 percent of adults who live in Austin are bloggers.

That’s about 573,000 people. Blogging. In one city.

So when Jill and I rolled into Texas’ famously free-thinking state capital — a place referred to in less progressive Lone Star circles as “300 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality” and “the People’s Republic of Austin” — I turned to her and made a rebellious declaration: “We’re not going to blog about Austin.”

My rationale: Austin needs another blog post like it needs another burned-out hippie or boot-wearing state senator. Besides, after 37 cities and 10,000 miles, I figured Jill and I needed a break. I suggested we find a weekly rental, wander aimlessly around town, read books by the lake, catch a live band or two, and generally take a vacation from our vacation.

I wanted, too, to see Jill saunter down the sidewalk unburdened by her camera and the constant artistic demands that come with having it slung across her shoulder. Is it fair that she squints at our every destination through a viewfinder while I amble at her side hardly ever scribbling a note? The answer, Jill reminds me frequently, is no.

I must also admit to another, more selfish motive for my proposed blog boycott of Austin: I don’t really like blogging.

Maybe its Austin’s countercultural spirit that compels me to make this declaration. Or maybe I’m just copping out, threatened by the creative class of thirtysomethings who mill about the city carrying laptops in leather messenger bags. Surely their blog entries are cleverer than mine. I bet they shoot video and post daily and have advertisers. I hate them.

I am generally not a man who’s prone to self-consciousness, but Austin is one of those cities — not unlike Boulder, Colo., or Cambridge, Mass. — that tweaks my nose and makes me question my credentials. Austin is Lance Armstrong. Austin is South by Southwest. Austin is Dazed and Confused. Whole Foods is headquartered here. “Austin City Limits” is filmed here. Wes Anderson matriculated here. Austinites who aren’t smart are pretty: Tattooed girls sunbathe topless in Zilker Park, and Matthew McConaughey jogs shirtless around Lady Bird Lake.

I contributed to my own private unease by finding us accommodations in SoCo, a neighborhood sandwiching South Congress Avenue that is the steady-thumping heartbeat of all things cool in Austin. From our garage-top studio apartment we were within walking distance of the city’s hippest hotels, coffee shops, fashion boutiques and food carts.

Jill quickly became obsessed with the latter — old trailers, trucks and buses that have been converted into food stands that serve everything from fried avocado tacos to grilled quail to bacon doughnuts. (That’s right: bacon doughnuts.) It’s like being able to eat every day at a magical state fair where the concessions are operated by the Food Network.

Jill ate at Torchy’s Tacos three times in five days. Its trailer shares a graveled plot of picnic tables with two other food carts (Man Bites Dog and Holy Cacao) to constitute the South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery. Jill also drooled over Odd Duck Farm to Trailer, where she ordered the grilled quail and I tried a pork-belly slider. I wasn’t crazy about the fancy food most of these trailers dish up, but the price was right, and I did enjoy being able to dine outdoors with the dogs.

When not filling her gullet with trailer food, Jill was stuffing her feet into cowboy boots. She had decided she would not leave Texas without buying a pair as a souvenir, and she tried on two-dozen varieties at Allens Boots. Pulling on and pulling off new boots ain’t easy, and Jill emerged from Allen’s with beads of sweat on her upper lip and blisters on the undersides of her index fingers. (She also emerged bootless. Her quest would have to continue at boot stores beyond SoCo.)

Congress Avenue is also home to the Continental Club, a live-music institution in the Live Music Capital of the World. The Continental Club began its life as a private supper club in 1957, when it hosted acts like Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey. It is purported to be the first place in Travis County to sell liquor by the glass. The Continental morphed into a burlesque club in the ’60s before returning to his musical roots a decade later, when Austin icons such as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Joe Ely and Kinky Friedman played to audiences bathed in cigarette smoke and neon.

We were lucky enough to catch Dale Watson and his band on a Monday night at the Continental Club. Watson has the salt-and-pepper pompadour of aging greaser, the tattooed arms of an ex-con, and the gleaming horse teeth of a televangelist. His performance is pure SoCo: smooth, retro, satirical. Watson’s act would be considered campy on any other stage in any other city — listen to “Whiskey or God” and “Mamas Don’t Let Your Cowboys Grow Up to Be Babies” — but the guy was born to play the Continental Club in Austin.

Walt Wilkins and the Mystiqueros

Dale Watson provided the opening set for my and Jill’s near-nightly musical tour of Austin.

We saw Walt Wilkins and the Mystiqueros play at Saxon Pub and were treated to an amazing show by LuceroShooter Jennings, son of Waylon, opened — at Emo’s on 6th Street.

Really, if you can’t find good music in Austin, lean your face toward the nearest plane of glass and see if you fog it — you might be dead.

Maybe the only thing better than Austin’s food and music, in my book, is its walkability. In five days there we barely moved our car. Besides strolling around SoCo, we walked the length of Congress Avenue to the Texas State Capitol. This Italian Renaissance Revival marvel was the seventh-largest building in the world when it was completed in 1888, and it remains the biggest (if not tallest) state capitol building in the country. Its construction also prompted one of the largest barter transactions in U.S. history — the capitol’s principal builders were paid with tracts of land in the Texas panhandle. (The laborers who built the capitol weren’t compensated quite as well; most were convicts and migrant laborers who earned a pittance for six years of toiling.)

Even though Austin’s population is about the same as San Francisco’s, its downtown skyline is comparatively unremarkable. The state capitol is the reason for that. For decades, building restrictions prevented the construction of any skyscraper that would obscure views of the capitol from other parts of the city. Those restrictions have recently fallen by the wayside, however, and in their void have risen condo towers and a cloud-kissing W Hotel. Even in a progressive city like Austin, not everybody can agree this is progress.

Texas’ magnificent state capitol is responsible for one other thing, too: Jill finally finding the perfect pair of cowboy boots. During our meandering walk back toward SoCo from to the capitol grounds, she spotted a small downtown shop bearing the sign “Heritage Boots.” She went inside and fell in love with the first pair of boots she tried on.

So we left Austin feeling good. Miles of urban hiking had awakened our leg muscles, a new playlist of country songs rang through the car speakers, and Jill’s ideal souvenir sat upright in the back floorboard as if worn by an invisible cowgirl.

I have a feeling, though, that my shins are going to lament the purchase of those new boots when Jill — whom I implored not to carry her camera in Austin — finds out America’s most blog-crazy city has inspired me to write a 1,300-word post that is in desperate need of photographic accompaniment.

Oops.

—Scott

6 Responses to “Did you just Google ‘Matthew McConaughey shirtless’?”

  1. Christina says:

    I’m so proud of you Jill! I love reading these posts. It makes me feel like I’m there with you guys. Embrace every second that you aren’t in a cubicle. Love ya!

  2. Audrey says:

    Loved this post. I’m glad y’all enjoyed ATX. It’s a beautiful city.

  3. pamela says:

    this makes me want to visit austin even more. to walk the city. and eat the breakfast tacos. listen to music. and buy i-want-to-be-like-jill boots.

    ps. “shirtless matthew mcconaughey” is better than “dead possum” which apparently is one way people find our blog.

  4. Great post, Scott! Austin sounds like a lot of fun. It’s a place Rod and I are hoping to visit this winter. Thanks for the tips, they’ll come in handy. And, as far as your self confidence goes – I’m sure none of those 573,000 bloggers in Austin have anything on you!

  5. Tim Riley says:

    Don’t knock your blogging skills, you do a great job. Austin is a fun town, and it sounds like you and Jill did it up right.

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