I NEVER PAID MUCH ATTENTION to the Austin-Dallas lifestyle rivalry until my daughter Tyler was born earlier this year. I live in North Dallas, a few blocks from where George W. Bush lived before he became governor. A couple of weeks before Tyler’s birth, Evan Smith, the deputy editor of this magazine, also became the father of a newborn daughter. Evan lives in the center of Austin, a few blocks from where the alternative rocker Bob Mould lived before he moved back to New York.
“I assume you’re buying the Neiman Marcus baby furniture for your child, all painted white,” Evan sniped. “And what are you dressing her in, Baby Armani?”
Evan informed me that his daughter, Carson, was sleeping peacefully in a crib purchased at an Austin store that specialized in what it advertised as “organic beds and beddings.” The blond-wood crib, Evan said with a certain smugness, contained no dyes, no paint, and no varnishes—implying that while Carson would not be poisoned in her infancy, Tyler quite possibly might be. Furthermore, Evan announced, Carson would be wearing mainly cloth diapers—“We don’t like the idea of having plastic on our baby’s bottom,” he said—and she would be draped in baby clothes made of natural fibers. “And have I mentioned that Carson will never be seen in clothes with corporate logos?” Evan asked. “That means anything with the words ‘Christian Dior’ or ‘Ralph Lauren.’ We’re not going to put her in Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny outfits, either. We don’t want this baby to be part of the materialistic logo culture.”
For a moment, I thought about Tyler’s nursery. She sleeps in a gleaming white crib from a baby store that serves coffee and croissants to its customers, and her closets contain outfits by every designer you can name—all gifts from Dallas friends. On one shelf are three pairs of inordinately cute Dior baby booties (I can’t help it—every time I see those damn things I have to buy them), and she owns a pair of handmade white leather Mary Janes, a gift from a former Dallas model. “You know,” our friend told my wife, Shannon, and me, “a girl can’t have too many shoes.”
“Oh, that is so Dallas,” a gleeful Evan said when I told him the shoe story.
“Hey, they were a nice gift,” I snapped. “Didn’t you get gifts too?”
“As a matter of fact, we did. A married couple we know gave Carson a pair of baby Birkenstock-type sandals.”
“Your daughter can’t even walk, and she’s already a parody of a hippie!” I crowed.
“Nonsense,” Evan said. “She’s serene. She’s growing up naturally.”
By now you would think we would all be bored with this old battle: Dallas versus Austin, chic versus counterchic, Star Canyon versus Threadgill’s, blond hair versus dreadlocks. Today you can find pockets of Dallas that are just as hip as Austin’s warehouse district, and you can drive through Austin neighborhoods populated with just as many button-down baby boomers as there are in Dallas’ Preston Hollow (which, as it happens, is my neighborhood). A rational person might assume that there is nothing more to fight about.
I am here to inform you that not only is the battle still raging but two little girls, recently emerged from the amniotic deep, are already being armored to carry on the rivalry well into the next century. Soon Carson will be told that God has blessed her by keeping her out of Dallas—the home of the shallow and superficial, of show-offs and status seekers who know of no way to express themselves except through the purchase of more and more expensive things. Meanwhile, Tyler will learn to give thanks that she will not have to spend her childhood among that overbearing, self-satisfied group of Austinites who spend their evenings in coffeehouses and dimly lit bars listening to obscure music and telling themselves between sets how wonderful their lives are.
If you look at the way their parents are raising them, the girls seem destined not to have much in common—except that both of them were named after Southern novelists (Tyler for Anne Tyler and Carson for Carson McCullers). Evan and his wife, Julia, have been subjecting Carson to a children’s album made by the drummer who played with the Grateful Dead, who mixed music with his wife’s heartbeats and womb sounds. Shannon and I have been playing Lullabies of Broadway for Tyler. Carson’s stroller has French words printed all over it (“In case it’s possible to learn French by osmosis,” explained Evan). Tyler’s stroller has a sunroof. On the wall of Carson’s nursery is a folk art painting of a large white dog with huge teeth done by an artist who is a drug user. On the wall of Tyler’s nursery is a painting of a sweet dog named Spot.
Our children’s births were even announced to the world in absurdly opposite ways. Evan and Julia have a Web site ( www.mediatruck.com/carson) that features a photo of a rapturous Evan holding Carson in his arms. Tyler’s birth made the society column of the Dallas Morning News. In my excitement, I also placed a wooden stork in our front yard along with a sign, about the size of a one-car garage, that proclaimed, “Welcome Home, Tyler!”
I am well aware that no Texas city is ridiculed the way Dallas is. Everybody makes fun of our ostentatious love of big hair, glittery clothes, and expensive restaurants; our great mansions with no front porches; our blinking, phallic Reunion Tower; our bad television shows (the most recent being Walker, Texas Ranger); our professional football team; and of course, our professional football cheerleaders. If Tyler turns out to be a blonde, my wife and I will have to sit her down and solemnly inform her that even if she ends up teaching at Harvard, it won’t matter; she will forever be labeled a blond Dallas bimbo by the rest of the country.
Of all the Dallas haters, however, Austinites have a particular antipathy toward us. They