Lessons from my first 100 days in Austin, Texas.
I was in a sling at the bus stop outside the emergency room when I got the call.
“Alison, it’s Erin,” my recruiter’s voice on the other end. She had news.
“They really liked you but thought you were ‘too creative’ for the role…I’m sorry…”
I squinted and turned away from the rays of the hot Texas sun and leaned against the warm, softly jagged cement. I thanked her for going to bat for me for the past month. She sheepishly expressed honest concern that I enjoy my weekend and I glanced down at my $1500 confederacy-blue sling with adjustable velcro that came with a free x-ray and Percocet sample. If there was ever a bench built for bus commuters, it should be outside the hospital.
“It’s the price you pay for the life you choose.”
The quote above was framed in a cafe I stumbled upon when I was wandering around London for the week that my flight (and 20K others) got re-routed returning home from a 6-week study abroad program in Paris. I could never get it out of my mind and it tends to be relevant in so many situations.
I ended up at the hospital bus stop expensively sprained and rejected that Friday afternoon because I had taken a chance…
“I’m New Here. Like Everyone Else.”
Says the tagline in my Hinge profile.
Austin’s got the rep of being the smallest big city in the US. Forbes names it as the #2 of the fastest growing cities for 2015, with half of the households being non-familial, so I was in good company. And just like the kind of human I was looking to be my partner someday, I was looking for the most interesting, humble place with a sunny disposition and room to grow.
I loved New York. Let me repeat. I LOVED NEW YORK. The tumultuous city living, the late nights, the holes-in-the-walls, the penthouse parties, the energy the closeness, the daily random observations, the momentum, the electric osmosis. But I hit a point where the walls were too close, I wanted space to breathe, I wanted movement and newness, and personal connection. But the movement felt more like a schlep, the newness exhausting, the connections to be more surface tablet touching, and the bright lights and noise, well, those that read me know how I feel about the sirens…
I needed a change. Here’s what I knew I wanted:
- a city
- space (think CLOSETS)
- active creative communities
- just friendly in general
- lower cost of living than NYC
- no more than 1 other roommate
- somewhere I could eventually buy my own place
Get Out There
I visited Austin for 5 days over Halloween 2015 before I decided to move here. I met Hulk Hogan at Handlebar — a bar that only employs men with mustaches. Everyone accepts this down here as perfectly PC, although I would have really liked to see a female mustachioed mixologist as long as it was realistic-looking. Hulk (his DJ dance-party stage name for the evening), gave us a bike tour of Lady Bird Lake the next day and drove me to all of my favorite street-art destinations. He was my first Austin friend and he worked for Facebook, so I knew he had a few friends of his own.
After many street tacos, late-night walks home through oddly clean alley ways, 4 different rounds of buck hunter, getting a runner-up award for my Bloody Mary costume at 11AM, getting turned away from the Driskill because of said costume eleven hours later, Whole Foods breakfast tacos, half-drank Lonestars, and the exhilarating joy of discovering a Thai restaurant inspired by its kitchy graffiti and who shall forever remain pun-named….
I was ready to call Austin my new home. Nevermind that one’s tourist life resembles real day-to-day as closely as a comedian’s bit onstage adheres to its subject’s factual-based coverage in the Times.
I never drink that much, I knew nearly nothing outside of downtown, and the only people I knew were Hulk, my friend in the MBA program at UT, her cat, and my glamourous friend in PR, a fellow ex-New Yorker who I studied abroad with in college and who I had dinner with and fell back in love like we did in Paris all those years ago.
This might be obvious, but do a site visit. And don’t just do tourist shit, do things you would normally do — visit coffee shops, take the public transit or get around how you normally would on a day-to-day basis.
Oh, and use this cost-of-living calculator by BankRate to see how you stack up in your new city. I just discovered this and it’s pretty rad.
As I met them, I asked people (and yes, Hinge dates) what they loved about their neighborhoods and what their commute looked like. I was determined to hold off on buying a car as long as possible (and I’m still holding strong), so location was key.
It’s Not How Many You Know, It’s Who You Know
People said, “Oh you’re so ballsy, moving to a new city where you hardly know anyone.”
Me: “If I did it in New York and survived, I can do it anywhere…” What I mean is I could do it in any first-world city where survival is implied and referred to in a lesser-known high sub-level “The Hustle” on Maslow’s hierarchy, where the majority of the people I would share air with regularly use LinkedIn.
Once thought to be a part of Esteem, ‘The Hustle’ is now it’s own Maslow sub-hierarchy.