I haven't written for a while because I've been caught up in the trauma and confusion of moving. For the past 12 years I lived mostly in Belgrade, Serbia -- and for the last 10 years in the same apartment. Two weeks ago, Cat and I moved permanently to Texas, with a couple of months of preparation before the move and a couple of weeks of house-hunting and such since. Given that I'm something of a pack rat, the process was difficult and time-consuming.
Austin, Texas is certainly different from Belgrade, and that doesn't necessarily mean better. Depends on how you look at it. And Austin really isn't "the Heart of Texas." The true heart of the state is probably somewhere near Dallas, not in the city itself but close enough to include both the gun-totin' cowboy hats of the small towns and the gun-totin' cowboy hats of the big cities.
If you want to include more of the gun-totin' cowboy hats who were born in Mexico, or whose families immigrated from there (legally or illegally), then you'd have to move the locus of the heart further south, but not that much.
It's no surprise to anyone with any political awareness that Texas is a red state (in terms of that awkward red-blue, conservative-liberal, Republican-Democrat paradigm). What many may not realize, though, is that the state capital, Austin, and more generally Travis County, is a distinctively blue dot in that giant red splotch. That's explained mostly by the presence of the huge University of Texas flagship campus, with over 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students and over 16,000 faculty and staff. It's widely recognized as one of the best academic and research institutions in the country, and quite naturally the home of many liberal thinkers. Austin is also self-identified as "The Live Music Capital of the World," with at least some justification, and it's home to quite a few high-tech enterprises, most notably Dell Computer Corp.
All of these factors, including it's status as the state capital, combine to explain the presence of a large number of people who tend to be liberal -- students, professors, highly-educated high-tech workers, musicians, artists, and a natural gathering at the seat of government of a greater than representative number of the state's Democrats.
So, given that I could have lived anywhere in the U.S. once I moved back from Europe, why Austin, Texas? Aside from the fact that Austin is more amenable to my political preferences, there are many other reasons. I was born in Texas, and I've been a resident of the state (legally, anyway) all my life. Beyond that, most of my relatives live here.
In addition, Texas has no income tax, along with about eight other states that still manage to provide reasonable services to their citizens. Yes, there are other taxes, including a sales tax, but they're not as bad as many other states. Of all the places I've lived in the U.S., the one I would most like to go back to is Columbia, Maryland. However, living there would cost me a combined county and state income tax of around eight percent. Since my income is the same wherever I live, I figure that I would have to pay approximately one month's after-tax income to the state for the privilege of living there. It's a nice place, but it ain't that nice.
Actually, I was torn between Austin and San Antonio, about an hour and a half drive to the south, and I still could end up in San Antonio. I lived there for two years in the early 80s, and I loved it. The city is a wonderful mix of Mexican and what might be called standard American culture, it's historically fascinating, and life is generally very comfortable. But it's gotten bigger and busier since I lived there, and that's a major drawback.
So I'm back in Texas and likely to stay here. Despite some drawbacks -- every place has them -- it's one of the better places to live in America.
Of course, I've still got Hawaii on my mind. It's been there since 1974, when I made the first of several visits. Maybe someday....
(This article was also published at Opinion Forum.)