Most people in California and at Burning Man gave me a look with a mix of surprise and disdain, when I told them that the destination after Burning Man was going to be in the state of Texas. When I added that I was headed for a city called ‘Austin’ their faces changed ‘Austin is pretty ok’, I was regularly told. They were wrong. Austin is not ‘pretty ok’. Austin is incredibly great!
The difference between the Burning Man / Grey Hound crowd and the people I met in Austin was massive. I met two of my former managers, which instantly reminded me of he horrible activity called ‘work’ 😉 For my entire stay, I was kindly hosted by one of those managers. I wasn’t the only one staying there, his lovely wife and their *five* kids were living there too. Add to that their dog and the three puppies that they temporary hosted after they were saved from bushfires; and you can imagine my gratitude for having a 37 year old kid added to the family for no less than 10 (!) days.
When I write that Austin is great, it’s because of the people you meet and the things you do. Sometimes it’s an excellent combination of the two, like meeting up with former colleagues you haven’t seen in years and go wakeboarding & wakesurfing (first time!) with them a couple of times.
Have you ever been to a ‘Texas gunshow’? Neither had I. Until now. It was strange experience in a dodgy part of San Antonio, where I just had visited ‘the Alamo’. We joked that the best sales pitch over there was ‘to explain to people that the best chance of making it back to their cars alive was to buy a gun’. Even when you know that a large number of guns that are sold are not suitable for hunting nor self defense, actually seeing somebody buy machine guns, remains a strange experience. Especially when they’re a family with kids and the next shop is selling nazi memorabilia…
You don’t need to watch a lot of movies, in order to know that American are crazy about sport. So I came prepared. My preparation wasn’t enough. To my own amazement, I was surrounded by literally hundreds of adults in an American football stadium for a match between 14 year olds during business hours (meaning that the parents had taken part of the afternoon off to see the match). If that wasn’t surprising enough, the match was filmed by multiple professional cameras, had cheerleaders, a flying team and a gigantic marching band during the start, half time and finish. The teams had specific coaches for offense and defense players and it all looked very very professional. One would expect fanatical parents, but I didn’t spot a single one during several trips.
Even though my stay in Austin was in total luxury and the area is typically referred to as ‘the bubble’ (for it’s well protected social environment), it was also the setting of one of the heart breaking stories of my entire trip. It unfolded over several beautiful sunny days in Austin. My host received a phone call detailing that her best friend’s husband didn’t return home from a solo fishing trip at the coast. At his wife’s request the hotel checked his room and found all his belongings including wallet. Initial thoughts were that he could have had engine problems, while fishing at sea or a rip tide during a nightly swim (he was a great sportsman). The police was informed and a search was started, including a helicopter of a friend. The following day, the man was found dead on a nearby island. If this wasn’t bad enough, the next day the police released information that the man was murdered. Shortly afterwards it was made publice that he had won a $400.000 lawsuit against his former employer, just the week before.
Even though I’ve never met the man, the story of his son sends shivers down my spine. His son and my host’s kids had a special event at their school, just weeks before the tragic event. All kids were asked by their teachers to come to school dressed like somebody they admired, for example an inventor, sportsperson or artist. The son made a special request with his teacher. He said ‘my dad has climbed all of the world’s highest mountains and there is nobody in the world I admire more than him. Can I please come dressed like my father?’.