Gray Days in Austin

I've been 25 for a little more than a week now. We celebrated with what has become a tradition among my friends: an outing to Green Forest, a Brazilian-style churrascaria where generous portions of meat are served rodizio-style at the table. It was also Kristin's birthday so we had a decent crowd in total. Dom even brought a bottle of cachaça for freshly-made caipirinhas; Green Forest went BYOB but they still have the know-how and supplies to make Brazil's national drink as long as the customers supply their own alcohol.

The day after stuffing myself with delicious food I hopped on a couple of planes and landed in Austin, Texas. This was my second trip to Austin and my first one for pleasure; I went down on "business" in 2002 to help run a high school trivia championship with the then-nascent Livestat at the University of Texas. This time I flew down to finally meet Alli, a woman who I've known for at least seven years going back to our IRC days on DALnet.

On Thursday, February 17, it was nearly 60 degrees in Pittsburgh -- an amazingly warm day considering Punxuatawney Phil predicted "six more weeks of winter" on Groundhog Day. I left Pittsburgh two days later and arrived in Austin where the high temperature was 43. The weather while in Austin was eerily Pittsburgh-like: gray, cold, rainy, and with no end in sight. (The temps shot back up the day after I left.) Fortunately Austin provides a great many options to stay indoors. I visited the "Disneyland Whole Foods," the largest Whole Foods Market in the world at more than 250,000 square feet. We took in an IMAX presentation of Roving Mars at the Texas State History Museum and headed to one of the famous Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas to take in a night showing of Good Night and Good Luck. (Beer and munchies at a movie theater, served during the movie! Amazing!)

Austin's a city that is to Texas what Atlanta is to Georgia: the city is filled with cosmopolitan residents who openly buck the trends of the otherwise-conservative state where they apparently live. BookPeople, a local independent bookstore chain, proudly offers "Keep Austin Weird" stickers and memorabilia. The Austin music scene offers plenty of punk and jazz music; you have to scan through the radio dial a bit more than you'd expect to find a country station. Yet in true Texas style, the city is built outward much more than it is upward. With plenty of flat land available and roads perpetually being expanded, Austin has tons of gated housing developments and big-box stores in areas so sparsely populated they're practically suburbs. I naïvely asked Alli about restaurants and shops within walking distance of her home. In Providence last month this was a given and in Boston you can walk anywhere, but in Austin you've got to gas up and hit the roads to get anywhere.

Fortunately there's one thing that hasn't been neglected amidst this development spree: connectivity. Thanks to Dell, based in neighboring Round Rock, and many other technology giants, the city of Austin is absolutely blanketed with wireless Internet access. After leaving the IMAX theater we sought out a place to get dinner but didn't have an address. I took my laptop out expecting to run MacStumbler as we drove around cruising for open access points. Before leaving the parking space we were already on a municipal network. I left the laptop open with a map to our destination and on the way we picked up a dozen networks driving upwards of 50 miles per hour on wide service roads. It's no wonder the city was named one of the five most "Wi-Fi friendly American cities" right up there with Portland, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Now I'm back in somewhat wintry Pittsburgh, enjoying the closing weekend of the Olympics. With no plans for this weekend, maybe I'll actually tune out for a while and read.