By Cara Rogerson
When I moved to Austin, TX in 2013, the announcement was met with lukewarm applause. Back then the city was still characterized as a college town with a bad case of hippie fever, dusty and sleepy except for the occasional killer music festival. I was barely even able to afford a studio apartment back then – but I was fueled by optimism and leftover ramen noodles, and just dumb enough to make it work.
I made a lot of things work back then, in spite of my chronic lack of money, and especially in spite of my comfort. I remember many a cold night bar hopping on 6th Street, wearing nothing but cheap pumps and a tube dress. I remember chasing after free yoga classes and hitting my power pose on an old beach towel instead of a proper mat. I remember stumbling upon free music events around town and sitting on whatever inanimate object was at my disposal (i.e. garbage cans, parking bollards, the ground).
By the mid-2010s, as I embarked on a mental and emotional growth spurt, I watched Austin grow alongside me. Ever so slowly our baby fat fell away. The killer music festivals became “official destination events” for people worldwide. I straightened up and focused on a career path rather than my next weekend diversion. The city shifted away from Slackerwood and hippie hollow and developed a market for hipsters and tech startups. I upgraded from a studio apartment to a single bedroom, complete with a boyfriend. The ground under my feet gradually became more solid, but it certainly was losing its exciting edge.
Eventually, my social life took a nosedive. The price tag of the city’s typical excursions doubled as Austin evolved even further into a stage of tech-based affluence. Moguls moved into their custom mansions in the hill country and millionaires from around the United States started snatching up property within city limits, shouldering out the very people- the artists, the entrepreneurs, and yes, even the hippies -who contributed to the funky texture of Austin. Suddenly my city was trendy, desirable, elitist – and as a full-grown adult, I couldn’t afford to participate in its glorious renaissance.
Technically I still can’t. I’m into my 30s, still in that same single bedroom with the same boyfriend. After a year of huddling within the same four walls, listening to the news recycle itself over and over, I’ve been gasping for new experiences and better memories. But I’ve discovered that, as I get closer to mid-life, I tend to approach it at a steadier pace – so steady, in fact, that it comes to a crawl in the face of a social life. 6th Street simply isn’t an option anymore. I’d rather pay for yoga indoors than scramble to find an empty spot on the rooftop of the downtown Whole Foods. And what’s the fun in listening to local music if you can’t find a comfortable seat?
It turns out a comfortable seat was the solution to my problem all along. An impulse purchase from True Places last month resulted in a folding chair on my doorstep, and within days I was cooking up reasons to use it. Where could I go that would put some mileage on this thing, but not bore me to death?
Suddenly, just like that, Austin blossomed for me: backyard bonfires, park picnics, live outdoor watch parties, 5k runs…the city that I condemned as this symbol of stupid, unattainable extravagance crashed back down to my level. Within 3 weeks, I managed to spend time with all of my local friends scattered about the city. I was enjoying Austin again, reintroducing myself to a city that I hadn’t truly seen in many years. And the best part? I could sit! No more compromising comfort for the sake of a thrill.
It would be an overstatement to say that a folding chair revolutionized my life. In truth, I simply underestimated my need to guarantee myself a good seat. Austin’s next stage of evolution will be as arbitrary and amusing as my own, but at least now I have a comfy spot to sit, and watch, and relax.