Thursday, July 5, 2012

Around Austin

Texas has no income tax. Sales tax is 8.5% here in Austin because 1% goes for CapMetro, the bus and rail lines.  Dell, Motorola, and a dozen more are here, hundreds of small high tech firms and design studios dot the economic landscape which is dominated by the University of Texas and the state government.  Then, there are cinema, music, and fine arts. KMFA-FM plays no NPR or other news; and Composer's Datebook reminds us that "once all music was new." (The NPR affiliate is KUT-FM, which also launched an alternative format KUTX-FM.) I live in a Mexican neighborhood (no surprise), but a mile up the road, two banks have signs in Chinese.

5th floor near 6th and Lamar looking north
(Whole Foods HQ not visible at far left).
Note all the trees.
You don't see a lot of people getting speeding tickets here. In fact, as a Michigander, I find it downright frustrating to be behind two enormous SUVs each doing 25 in a 40 MPH zone, along the main drag, Lamar Boulevard.  (The street honors Mirabeau Lamar, second president of the Texas Republic.  Houston Street is a small lane, easy to miss.  Sam Houston wanted the capital someplace else.)  Freeway ramps are longer than the roads between towns back East.

The Bar Crawler caught in broad daylight.
But business is booming and bursting and reforming and reformulating.  You will find real estate, minerals, computer chips, computer games.  The culture - music, cinema, fine art, theater - is an economic sector, of course. NPR-affliate KUT-FM provides a deep playlist of local and contemporary music. In addition to Whole Foods, Schlotzsky's home office is here.

The McCombs College of Business at UT is one of several
to have received an antique stock exchange station.
Michael Dell began building personal computers in his dormitory room at UT.  The town as seen busts: people turn nostalgic about the good old days of the 1980s.  An Austin American-Statesman article last year offered hand-wringing because recovery from the Dot Com Meltdown still might not yet have reached the gaming coders.

The Goodwill stores have a computer museum,
funded in part by Dell.
A Cray stands among the vintage machines.
The land is diverse, more like Ohio than it is like New Mexico.  We went through a drought last year with record highs for record days, but that, too, is one of the environmental textures.  When it rains, it pours.  We just passed the apex of cricket season.  You get so many in one place, you can smell them.  Same with grackles.

At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Austin offers much.  Nearly two million people agree.  Housing is disproportionaltely expensive as a result.  The city owns the electric power company and rates rise as their operating costs fall.  Taxicabs are regulated and all charge the same rates.  Pedicabs are regulated differently.  In a lot of ways, Texas is very much like Massachusetts.... but don't tell them that.  The Texas flag flies at the same height as the American flag; and the Texas flag is larger than the American flag. You don't get that in Massachusetts.

Also on Necessary Facts
Austin at Night
Stadtluft Macht Frei
South by Southwest 2013
Images from SXSW 2013
South by Southwest 2012

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