Ode to Austin

I’ve called Austin home since 2005 when I moved here from Seattle in sweltering summer heat to start graduate school.  I’d planned to move to New York after completing my master’s degree in journalism at UT, but after just two years in this “weird” city, I’d fallen in love. The prospect of leaving my runs around the lake, play sessions with pooches at the Austin Animal Center, or evenings spent enjoying free tunes from talented musicians was heartbreaking.

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The attachment I felt for Austin was amazing since I’ve always been afflicted with wanderlust. For the first time in my 27 years I felt truly at “home” despite the fact that I was living in a 300 square foot studio, had no promising job prospects and most of my grad school friends had left Austin for jobs elsewhere.

When I felt affection for other cities in the past, it was always because of the people I knew and loved in them. But my feelings for Austin had nothing to do with any person – it was as if the city had taken on a persona all its own and I felt attached to the land, the lake, the old oak trees, the stunning sunsets and sunrises, and the bright winter days of warmth that lured my northern friends down for visits. These friends always comment that Austin has all the charm, friendliness and mom-and-pop shops of a small town, yet with the amenities and culture of a big city. The fact that I constantly run into people I know while getting my morning coffee or grocery shopping certainly makes Austin feel like a much smaller town than it is.

Austin has opened me up to accomplishments I could not have imagined when I arrived.

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During my nine years in this city I have played guitar, drums, bass, keys and sung on the stages of Antone’s, Carousel Lounge, Jovita’s, Freddie’s Place, House Wine and Opa. This is astounding considering I was terribly shy when I moved to this town, and couldn’t conceive of performing in front of a few people, let alone a room full of them. I’ve also been on all of Austin’s local news channels – there was a time when this level of exposure would have been beyond terrifying.

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I’ve run the full Austin Marathon twice, and the full Chicago Marathon once. Prior to arriving in Austin, I had never run more than a sluggish six miles, so covering 26.2 of them three times was astounding.

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And despite being terrified of flying and of heights, living in this city somehow inspired me to leap from a plane two miles above San Marcos for my 30th birthday. There is a sense of home and of hope in Austin that is comforting and makes you believe anything is possible.

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My West Coast friends and family cannot conceive of why I stay in such a “hot, dry, flat, right-wing state”. None of those I attended college in California with can understand why I won’t come back to a place with perfect weather and easy access to beaches, mountains and desert. But unlike California, Austin is affordable. I was able to become a young homeowner here, something that probably wouldn’t happen until much later in life on the expensive West Coast. Buying my condo was made more meaningful for me because I suddenly owned a part of the land I loved.

I was also able to start a small side business pet sitting and dog running, which has proven to be quite profitable. Austin is consistently ranked one of America’s best places to be an entrepreneur, and I love the freedom and creativity that comes with that mindset.

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Even before I was an Austin homeowner, I took an interest in local politics. Despite having been a political science major in college, I always found local politics to be beyond boring and felt that the national and international scene was where the action was. But because I came to care so much about Austin, its politics became personal for me. I began attending city council meetings, avidly watching local news and getting involved in causes I care about. When I started volunteering at the Austin Animal Center five years ago, most of the animals that entered the shelter didn’t leave alive. Now, thanks to the efforts of so many caring Austinites, the city has achieved the rare “no-kill” status of a 90 percent live outcome at the shelter. This is such a tremendous tribute to the type of people Austin teems with – those who actively work toward improving the world and band together to do so.

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DogFriendly.com recently ranked Austin as the third most dog friendly city in the America thanks to its abundance of dog parks and restaurants that allow your furry friend to join you on the patio. I obtained my first pooch from Austin’s pound in 2010. It’s been amazing to witness what a great friend-finding tool he is in Austin. People ask if their kids can pet him, I get to know other dog owners at the park as our pups play together, and great conversations are started with strangers who ask what breed he is.

Though the city is a kind of companion to me, I’ve also been blessed with a network of faithful friends that have supported me through hospital stays, sickness, late music performances on work nights, moves to new condos, job referrals, pet sitting and emotional crises.

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Austin attracts quality people – some are refugees from more expensive cities such as New York, others are looking to find themselves in a city that famously prides itself on embracing the “weird”.  For me, the weird is being a 30-something, un-coupled woman without children living with three rescued pets. When I go back to Seattle or California to visit, I am the only one of my friends that isn’t married and doesn’t have a child. But in Austin I am still considered “normal”. The city has allowed me to remain a “Peter Pan” – I’m not eager to grow up and be a conventional adult and in this city that is fine. There is no mold here for what a woman of a certain age should look like or be doing.

Some people spend most of their lives trying on different people and places in an attempt to find “home”. I’m so thankful to have found a place where I fit in and can meaningfully contribute. No matter what demographic you fall into, Austin has a place for you.

ChantelleWallace_Dimple

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