Home, Sweet Home

Senior editor Gary Cartwright on Austin and what he likes best about the liberal city he calls home.

texasmonthly.com: You mention in your article that the residents of Austin have a libertarian streak. Do you feel that Austin today is just as liberal as when you first moved to Austin in 1968? Why or why not?

Gary Cartwright: Austin wasn’t an especially liberal place when I first arrived, or at least it didn’t seem so to me. The city’s only newspaper was drab, stupidly conservative, and doggedly on the side of business. The paper’s lead columnist regularly blasted what he saw as a growing hippy culture and believed that rock and roll was a particularly diabolical invention of Satan. Progressive government didn’t come until the late seventies, when environmentalists began to run for and win city council seats. With the arrival of the creative community that I describe in my column, the culture began to shift to the liberal side.

texasmonthly.com: I might be stereotyping just a bit here, but I’m guessing that because you are a writer, you naturally gravitate toward creative, intellectual, and political life. What about John Doe who never finished high school? Why do you think someone like that would stay in Austin?

GC: Austin appeals to people of all educational levels and philosophies because it’s such a beautiful and interesting place. The lakes and streams, the hiking trails and camping spots, and the rolling hills invite exploration and excite the imagination The university is a source of pride even for high school dropouts, as we saw this year when the University of Texas Longhorns were fighting for college football’s national championship. Suddenly every delivery man and short-order cook was wearing burnt orange and talking about how “we” are doing in the national polls. A guy at my gym, who is a third-grade dropout, has convinced himself that he’s a UT alum.

texasmonthly.com: Why doesn’t Austin have a first-class museum? Or a professional sports team? Do you think Austin will always be second-rate on those playing fields? Why or why not?

GC: Good question. People in Austin have been talking about a top museum and art gallery since I arrived, but somehow they never get built. The new Blanton Museum of Art at UT will help, as will the Long Center for the Performing Arts now under construction on Town Lake. The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum has attracted considerable attention and is a great addition to the central city. Austin doesn’t have the population (yet) to attract a major-league sports team or a world-class art or theatrical facility. In a real way, UT is our connection to big-time art and sports.

texasmonthly.com: What do you love most about Austin? Why?

GC: I love living close to UT and to the Capitol. Except for a brief time on Lake Travis and in West Lake Hills, I’ve never lived far from the center of town. The stretch of Austin from Town Lake to, say, Forty-fifth Street is my comfort zone. Shopping at Central Market or the new Whole Foods is my idea of supreme happiness. Austinites take food seriously, thanks to some of the most innovative grocers in the world.

texasmonthly.com: What do you like least about Austin? Why?

GC: Traffic. It is getting out of hand. Developers are going crazy building condos and townhouses in downtown, which, on the one hand, is great for the city but on the other, a massive headache for people like me who live close to downtown. It used to take five minutes to drive across the Lamar Boulevard Bridge to my gym. Now it takes at least fifteen. I’ll learn to live with it, of course, but I don’t have to like it

texasmonthly.com: Describe Austin in five words.

GC: Home, love, friends, work, home (again). Does the parenthetical count as a word?

texasmonthly.com: If you were trying to persuade someone to move to Austin, what would you tell him?

GC: With the exception of my wife’s real estate clients, I never try to persuade anyone to move here. I suppose that the arguments that I lay out in my column make Austin sound like paradise, but I’m well aware that this town is not for everyone. Otherwise, the rest of Texas would surely be vacant.

texasmonthly.com: If you were trying to get someone to move away from Austin, what would be your argument?

GC: I sometimes mention poisonous snakes, intolerable heat, and the very real possibility that more earthquakes along the Balcones Fault are inevitable. Also, the Longhorns can’t continue to win forever.

texasmonthly.com: What was the most difficult aspect of working on this story?

GC: There was nothing really difficult about doing this story. I talked to a lot of people, both friends and strangers, but I knew instinctively why Austin and Travis County were different. The only problem with writing the story was what tone to set. Be funny? Analytical? Caustic? Cute? I didn’t want to come off too arrogant, unless arrogance was necessary. I’ll leave that judgment to others.

texasmonthly.com: Is there anything you would like to add?

GC: God bless Texas.

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