More than meets the eye

Today, my perspective of Austin changed 180 degrees.

When I first arrived at Austin, I was honestly not having the most comfortable feeling. Austin is known for being a very culturally-unique city, it’s slogan “Keep Austin Weird” says it all. I read a lot online about this city and I guess I got a bit freaked out by what people were saying. Night music scene is probably what Austin is most famous for, and many travelers who visited Austin told their stories about all the scary things that go on along the streets. Downtown was often described as not being the safest of places, and how peddlers can be aggressive and offensive to passerbys. 

After reading all that, I obviously couldn’t feel totally at ease when I came here. Of course there were pro-Austin reviews and write ups too that described Austin to be just as safe as any other city.

Having said that, you must be thinking why then did I decide to visit Austin? I came here for only one reason — culture. I’m a music junkie and the fact that this is the world’s most famous place for live music bought my heart. I did my homework, of course, and though there were much negative reviews of especially Old Pecan Street that’s filled with famous bars and pubs, there were things I read too that convinced me there must be more to than just what people say. Take extra caution I will, but visit I must.

I figured two things:

1. Any US city has its own dangers. Even any city in this world has its fair share of dangers, for that matter. I have visited 5 cities already on this trip and I cannot confidently say that any one of them is entirely safe. Every city has its safe regions and its shady dangerous ones. Some have more, some have less. Most US cities are clad with peddlers, baskers and homeless people on the street. Poor attitude towards them is merely digging your own grave. From past experiences, politely declining them usually suffices. Most will even thank you for your consideration and wish you well.

2. Any place or area that has sale of alcoholic drinks will mean possibility of meeting drunk people. Under the influence of alcohol, anything can happen. Anything. Hanging around places with pubs and bars at 2am alone is of course potentially troublesome and dangerous. I don’t actually think that Old Pecan Street is any more dangerous or unsafe than places like Gaslamp District in San Diego. It’s the same anywhere and so I figured the best to deal with this is not to put yourself in a spot in the first place. I have seen Old Pecan Street in the evening, it’s not at all scary like what people describe; it’s just like any other pub street.

The more I see of Austin, the more things clear up and the better I feel. I’ve had some misconceptions of this place and was honestly over-paranoid. I have seen downtown and yes, like any other city, it gets quiet in the day but near sunset onwards, lots of working class people stroll the streets and dine at restaurants in the area.

Biking the lake trail and several areas of the city made me change my view of Austin even more. I’d wonder where do all the people go in the day, and then I found out that everyone’s picnicking at parks, going for walks or bikes along the lake or taking a dip at Barton Spring Pool. That part of the city is awesomely beautiful. I thought Greenlake Park in Seattle was going to be the nicest lake I’ve seen, but Lady Bird Lake in Austin can definitely put up a good fight. The trail is so, so gorgeous and so natural with trees hanging over the dirt path and rocks by the lakeside.

Austin is extremely bike-friendly (as I have read about). People bike everywhere and it’s so cool that in certain parts of the city, they have designated lanes just for bikers. And mind you, these bike lanes aren’t the narrow ones you’d see while biking across Golden Gate Bridge. Urban planners ain’t stingy at all; bike lanes can be almost as wide as car lanes (of course they’re a little narrower, bikes are so slim). You’d feel privileged as a biker in Austin. Pedestrians and drivers alike respect and look out for bikers, the pavements in the city area aren’t that cluttered with people so it’s surprisingly acceptable to bike on pavements. Even on the road, cars are mindful when people bike on the road and people here seem pretty patient and easy-going. I usually avoid biking along road shoulders if I can but in many cities you have to bike on roads because it’s actually more dangerous to bike on pedestrian pavements with the immense number of people walking around. In Austin it’s really enjoyable to bike on the roads. There aren’t many cars in the city during the day so many a times almost the whole road is to yourself, which is pretty awesome. Cars generally give way to you and slow down if they come behind you (and that always makes me paiseh and try to speed up).

The weekend is here and I can feel the streets becoming more lively, it’s nice. I usually tend to have not-very-pleasant impressions of cities that look old and a little crummy. Many parts of Austin I’ve seen looks like that, but what I have come to learn is that an old-looking city doesn’t imply that the people are weird/dangerous/bad. In fact I get the feeling that Austin’s actually a lot safer than many other cities I’ve been to (of course excluding areas with highly drunk people at 3am). You don’t see as many homeless and druggy-kinda people around. And most don’t even bother about you.