Growing up in Austin, Texas is unlike growing up anywhere else. The city has changed faster than anywhere else in the country. This became apparent to me when I was laying by the rocks in Zilker Park, watching some friends spin fire to the beat of club music.
“Where are you from?” A guy wearing a “Keep Austin Weird” t-shirt asked me.
“Austin,” I replied just as the bass hit. The sound reverberated through the yellowed grass so that my voice could barely be heard.
“No, no I said where are you from,” He clarified, provoking my confusion.
“Uh…I’m from Austin,” I squinted at him, and his choice of clothing.
“Wait actually? You’re like the second person I’ve met who’s actually from Austin. No one’s from Austin anymore.” He looked at me with disbelief. “What’s it like being from here?”
I laid back down on the grass and gazed at the unrecognizable Austin skyline. There are so many new buildings, it’s almost unbelievable that this is the city I grew up in. Central Texas has been the fastest growing region in the US for the last 12 years and this is in part because people are drawn in by Austin’s “weird” vibe.
The original vibe of Austin is fleeting, and is something that I have merely picked up on in my young years spent exploring the city in the midst of its cultural earthquake. Many teenagers grow up in a boring suburban town with nothing to do or in big cities where they aren’t old enough to do anything. Austin wasn’t like this; there was plenty to do for teenagers.
I legally produced graffiti art in the graffiti park that used to be located Downtown (it has since been turned into a high rise.) I thrifted in the shops on Burnet Road like Top Drawer Thrift (which is no longer there.) I drank milkshakes at Nau’s Enfield Drug (which is now closed.)
I feel very privileged to have grown up in Austin and to currently live here. Austin is an exciting place to live as a young adult. There are endless job opportunities and there’s somewhere new to go every weekend. There’s always a new restaurant or secret speakeasy to find. However, watching the city change is bittersweet and it always will be. Luckily, there are still crazy places where the old culture of Austin still exists. (Read our article: 7 Weird Things to do in Austin, Texas)
People like myself, who grew up here, are disoriented because things have changed so fast. Many kids who grew up in Austin are moving out of their childhood homes, that was sold to a Californian, and into unfamiliar apartment complexes. When they grasp for home, in search of the Austin where they grew up, it’s almost impossible to find. But as someone who has experienced a sense of growing unfamiliarity with my home town, just when I think that I’m living in a strange new city– I get a taste of home.
About two years ago, in 2021, I found myself eating at Santa Rita. I ate there pretty frequently as a kid but I had completely forgotten about the restaurant. When my friend suggested we eat at “Santa Rita,” I didn’t even realize that I had been there before until I got there. A waitress weaved through the tables, I followed her steamy route as she carried a tray of sizzling fajita meat. She unloaded the plates at a nearby booth by a wall of old wooden shoes that were covered in signatures. It was then that I recognized my handwriting on the wall,
“ABBEY ARCHER, 2013”
I was shocked when I saw it because I didn’t remember writing that on the wall. It was nine years ago at that point. I did, however, vividly remember running around the sundial while waiting for a table as a young kid. I remembered going to explore the bizarre toy store (that used to be) around the corner. After I ate my long-awaited plate of cheese quesadillas, I’d get back inside of my dad’s Chevy Suburban. Then before we left the parking lot, he would always stop. He’d point at the tall building across the street and say, “On September 28th 2001, you were born right there in Seton Hospital. It was on the 3rd floor and I will never forget it.”