Move from Upstate NY to Austin, TX?
June 21, 2010 10:14 AM   Subscribe

I have the potential for a job in Austin, TX. I live in upstate NY. I have never been to Texas (other than a layover in Houston) and never lived outside of NY state. How different is the cost of living? Is the culture clash going to be overwhelming? Am I crazy to even consider this?
posted by tommasz to Work & Money (39 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I did it the other way around. Several years ago, I left Texas and moved to upstate NY for grad school. In the end, everything worked out just fine. Some notes:

1.) The weather is much warmer than what you have in New York. Your winter clothing will see almost no use.

2.) Allergies in central Texas can be pretty bad. If you're a sufferer, you might take this into account. Personally, I was absolutely knocked out by mountain cedar - which happens to pollinate December to February. That brings me to...

3.) Stuff grows and pollinates year round.

4.) Texans are usually very nice, but Austin in particular has a lot of people from around the world living there. You shouldn't experience a serious culture clash if you're a generally nice person in return.

5.) The culture is very relaxed in Austin. It's a pretty fun town with a lot of college life, bars, live music, and outdoors stuff.

6.) The barbecue is amazing. So is the Mexican food. Living in upstate New York, you have never had good barbecue or Mexican food. Trust me on this.
posted by fremen at 10:24 AM on June 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

The weather change might be a shock to your snow covered system. I've only visited Austin, but I lived in Rochester and oh boy does Austin trump Rochester in so many ways. Cost of living in Austin is going to be more than Rochacha, but it won't be as bad as say, New Jersey. If you're on the fence about Texas, remember that your general perception of Texas does not fit Austin at all.
posted by mrsshotglass at 10:25 AM on June 21, 2010

I am not familiar with Rochester, but I am with Buffalo and I have visited Austin at least 8 times. I really like Austin as a town. Believe it or not, I like Buffalo too, but in a much different way. Austin is a progressive city with a lot of varied culture due to the University being right there. I do think you are in for a culture shock if you have only known living in western NY. If I were you and I were single both of which I am not, I would commit to moving and give it 18 months before I decided if I liked it or not. I would guess that some cost of living like apartment rental rates are higher in Austin, but other everyday items are lower in Rochester or the same. I think you are crazy not to consider it, but if you are the type of person who likes a comfort zone and does not like change, keep at your current job fighting for expense reimbursements and live in Rochester.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:25 AM on June 21, 2010

Am I crazy to even consider this?
Why would you be? Many people cope perfectly fine living and working on the other side of the globe. Some even enjoy it a lot.
posted by oxit at 10:26 AM on June 21, 2010

Best answer: Other notes: the cost of living in Texas is cheaper than Rochester. I have family living in Rochester who are moving to Dallas in the coming year, and they've been amazed at how cheaply they can build a house in Texas compared to the costs in New York. Your overall tax burden will also be lower, although your property taxes may actually go up (not sure on that one).

That said, Austin is a popular place to live and lacks the same build, build, build mentality of Dallas. Nice homes can be had for cheap, but you may need to commute a little to find them. Still, you should expect to see your overall cost of living drop.
posted by fremen at 10:28 AM on June 21, 2010

sprawl, suburbia, and omg HEAT (i fried an egg on the sidewalk in austin as a small kid). texan politics are in general very depressing. austin is sort of a hipster mecca, but you'll still find plenty of texans. my friends from up north comment on just how obese the general population is. there's a lot more church and a lot less of the arts.

is there any way you can go spend a week there first? now would be a pretty good time to see the summer in action (although, june is nothing at all compared to august).
posted by nadawi at 10:28 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I strongly suggest visiting before making a commitment. I grew up in San Antonio, and Austin is the only place in Texas I'd consider living in.
posted by lukemeister at 10:32 AM on June 21, 2010

Austin is pretty great if you can hack the heat. It's got a good city center and doesn't suffer from the same sort of sprawl that Dallas, Houston and San Antonio do. It's the liberal center of Texas with a good share of hippies and liberal tech types.

This question has also been asked A LOT here, so a quick search should yield some answers.
posted by youcancallmeal at 10:35 AM on June 21, 2010

Best answer: I've lived in Albany for 2 years and have lived in Ithaca for 3 years. A couple years ago I lived in Austin for a year, and I've ben there many other times to visit family. There are cultural differences between Texas and New York state, of course. But I would in no way describe the "culture clash" as "overwhelming" or say you're "crazy" to move there. Austin is very laid-back, colorful, music-oriented, and hipster-ish. It is the only time I felt a bit foreign in the United States, but I didn't mind that and it was barely perceptible -- I mainly experienced it as having a different accent than most people.

Cost of living is quite low in Austin for being such a major city with so much to offer. I think it's about the same as Albany, and living in Austin is a lot more fun than living in upstate NY. If you Google "cost of living" you'll find websites that let you look at more specifically useful info.

If you want to be assured that people do this, here's an interactive map of where Americans moved in 2008, by county. If you click on a county, it'll show you from/to which counties people moved to/from that county. (There was a threshold of 10 people moving in order for a connection between two counties to show up.) For instance, I look at people who did an Albany/Travis County move (in either direction). There were about 20 people who went in each direction. That's about a tenth as many people as did an Albany/New York (Manhattan) move in either direction, which you'd think would be extremely common. (Austin is in Travis County, not Austin County.)

As others have mentioned, the weather will be a big difference. I was a little jarred by how in winter it would just start to get cold, kind of like the chilly late autumn that I'm used to ... but then instead of doing the natural thing and getting cold, it got warm again! "Oh, I guess it's never going to actually be cold here." I never needed my winter coat. It gets up to 100-ish in the summer. This is a personal thing, but I was surprised by how little I was bothered by the heat. I had lived in upstate-NY-esque climates until then, and I think I had just gotten mentally used to the idea of extreme temperatures -- mainly cold. Extreme in the other direction doesn't bother me either.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:40 AM on June 21, 2010

I lived in the ATX for 15 years and it is great. What fremen said mostly. I didn't have allergy problems. A friend of mine used to live in Rochester and wouldn't go back there for a bazillion dollars. The weather is great (it is a little hot in the summer), there's lots of stuff to do, the BBQ and Mexican food is delicious. There's a great music scene and stuff to do every day.

Austin isn't a big city but has a lot of conveniences. Like upstate NY you can't fly nonstop everywhere but there are frequent flights to LGA, JFK, Newark, Atlanta, Denver, Chicago, LAX, SFO and Houston and DFW of course. What that means is one hop to practically anywhere on the planet.

Here's a Cost of Living Calculator that you should take a giant grain of salt.
posted by birdherder at 10:41 AM on June 21, 2010

Austin used to be a cheap place to live, but with demand has come extremely rapid growth, and I believe cost of living (housing especially) is above the U.S. average now. There was a chart recently showing that Austinites spend more on food per capita than any other city in the nation, although I suspect that has more to do with eating out a lot and buying organic hippie-compliant groceries than it does with a high baseline for food. In my opinion, housing in the city is fairly expensive, especially considering the housing stock is not great quality. In the suburbs it is considerably cheaper.

Austin is hot. We hit 107° before the end of May last year. And the year before that. We had 60 days over 100° last year. I've also seen 90° weather in February.

Austin is pretty car-dependent (see: sprawl). There are places in town you can live with little/no dependence on a car, but those places are expensive, and you still need to plan your life more carefully (a lot of retail development has moved to the periphery over the years, making life even more car-dependent). Public transit in Austin is pretty dismal unless you happen to be going somewhere on a well-served route.

You do not need a passport to come to Austin, and your U.S. currency is good here. It's different, but not alien.
posted by adamrice at 10:47 AM on June 21, 2010

Pretty much what everybody has said so far. Austin isn't "deep south" like most mid-sized southern cities -- probably due to three things -- UT is huge, 50,000 students and 20,000 staff/faculty, State gummint is all here, so lots of profesionals & political savvy, and high-tech. There's geeks galore, if that's your bag.

The big adjustment I had to make (moved from SF) was the out-of-doors. I had to adjust my sense of scale. Texas goes on for days in any direction, but there's no real huge grandeur. That bothered me for a while until I learned to look for beauty in smaller, more out-of-the-way nooks & crannies, and I've found it and love the outdoors here. When I go forested places these days, I feel cramped and claustrophobic because I've gotten used to the semi-arid breathing room, especially to the west in the hill country.

If you do end up here, I'm happily volunteering to be a abysmal font of regional knowledge -- just ask, and I'll do what I can to get you pointed in the right direction.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:08 AM on June 21, 2010

Another data point: A friend of mine spent 4 years in Ithaca then 8 years in Rochester (where I am) and has been in Austin for the past year. He thought Rochester had a lot to offer (heh) and so Austin is amazingly fun for him, particularly when it comes to eating. He's gotten used to the heat, with air conditioning standard everywhere and a pool at his apartment complex. The cost of living doesn't seem to bother him, and he's on a postdoc income. It seems like if you're into food & music, Austin is all around a fantastic place to be.
posted by knile at 11:11 AM on June 21, 2010

Best answer: As one of the five residents of Austin who hate the place, I wouldn't feel right without saying "For the love of all that is good, stay away."

Oddly enough, you will hear the same thing from many of the lovers of this place. (You aren't from California, so you are a step ahead, but you are a yankee.)

Definitely come for a visit before you make your decision.
Before you do that, post another question outlining what your likes and dislikes are and asking for recommendations on what to do in this town. When you visit, you will see the fun side of Austin. Be aware of the other side as well. Most of it has been outlined above, but I will make my own list:

You are and always will be a foreigner in this state. Be glad. This state sucks. My in-laws use "Yankee" as a derogatory term. So does most of the state. Do not expect anyone to know anything about the rest of the country (except for other expats). Expect Texans to try and convince you (or get you to admit) that Texas is the best place on earth.

Allergies. By some metrics Austin is the second worst city in the US for allergies. I never had them before I got here. I do not like allergy meds, so I try and only take them on the days when my eyes swell shut. As a result, I am a handkerchief addict.

Heat. It is damn hot here. However, everyone here cannot take the heat, so if it bothers you, you will be in the majority. Even natives keep their houses around 74 degrees Farenheit. The only problem with this is that stepping outside becomes painful after a few minutes in the super-chilled air of most houses and all stores and offices. Sweat is seen as a sign of shame here. If you ride around in your car with the windows open and sweat, people will think it is disgusting. IF your car does not have air conditioning, you may want to buy a new car. Sometimes you can't afford to sweat through your shirt.

Outdoors: Austin prides itself on being an outdoorsy city. This means that they spend a lot of time in little parks. If you like backpacking, biking or hiking in places where building and people are few and far between, you will have to drive for 5 to 10 hours to find it. 5 hours to get to malarial swamps. 10 hours to reach the pristine beauty of the desert. Texas spent 10 years as an "independent" country. During those ten years they did two things: 1. Beg the US to annex them, and 2. Give away or sell every square inch of state-owned land that they could. The end result is that despite the large number of state parks, they all can be walked across within 30 minutes to an hour. (except for the ones in rather hard to reach places). So if you like easy mountain biking and hiking on gravel paths, this is an "outdoorsy city".

The barbecue is excellent . . . for what it is. I am a fan of swine. Texans will barbecue one or two parts of the pig and turn the rest into sausage. Blasphemy in my book, but their dedication to the art is something I can appreciate. There is also a lot of good Mexican (I hate Tex-Mex, but there is some of that too). Other cuisines are growing here and the food scene keeps getting better.

Cost of living. Austin is expensive. I looked at some comps for my house (small and in town) and my property seems to be about 4 times more expensive than a similar house in Rochester. Houses are cheaper in the 'burbs, but the 'burbs WILL be a culture shock. More conservative and you will have to drive everywhere. If you intend to live in apartments, there are a range of prices, but you usually get that for which you pay. Rentals are usually houses are usually expensive, equivalent to a mortgage on a similar house (in my recent experience from conversations with friends). But prices don't really tell you anything without comparing salaries and pay scales as well. Austin is not a town where teachers, police and firefighters can easily afford to live. Most of them live in the 'burbs and commute. I think you will have to research whether the offered salary will be enough to allow you to live where and how you would like.

Culture Clash. It is really hard to tell you how different the culture is going to be. I have family in western NY and they are significantly more conservative and religious than I am (though I probably own more guns). I think if you gave us a better picture of who you are, what you like and dislike and what you believe then we might be better able to answer your culture shock question.
posted by Seamus at 11:16 AM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I grew up in Houston, went to college in Austin and lived there from 2002 to 2009, and now I live in LA. Here's some stuff I can tell you:

- you're not going to have any sort of culture shock in ANY of the big Texas cities -- they're all diverse/multicultural/whatever and aren't backwater in any way -- but Austin least of all. If you have some perception of Texas in general, it will not fit Austin. Few people in Austin even have Texan accents. Austin is very liberal and artsy; just as an example you'll see immediately, your servers at restaurants will often have multicolored hair and many piercings and tattoos and may be transgendered and no one bats an eye. If you care, there's a large gay community and tons of gay places.

Like an above commenter, Austin is the only city in Texas where I wouldn't mind living. Until I'd been to LA I assumed I would just stay in Austin my whole life and I was content with that.

As for Texas in general, I'll just say that after growing up in two of its big cities and frequently visiting San Antonio and Dallas, I find it extremely weird to be in parts of the world that are predominantly white (I'm white). I'm used to there being a lot of black and Hispanic and Asian and Middle Eastern people around and I don't even think anything of it until they're suddenly not there anymore. Culture clash for my husband and I was Virginia, but I think most people that haven't been to Texas just think all Southern states are the same. Virginia felt bleak and lifeless and terribly conservative and backwater to us. In Texas we only feel that way in the small towns, and to us they mostly exist as something we drive past while moving between the bigger towns.

- housing is not that bad. Austin housing is higher than the rest of Texas but still pretty low. I would think it's cheaper than anywhere in New York but I don't have a good gauge on anything outside of NYC. You can rent an apartment for $500 in some parts of Austin, though some of those are really crappy and in bad areas of town. Some aren't, though! My husband and I rented a very nice apartment in a good area of town next to a lot of stuff with a balcony overlooking the green belt for $900/month from 2007 - 2009; it was less than a dollar per square foot and pretty new.

- cost of living is cheap. I agree that the amount spent on food is going out to restaurants and buying hippy stuff. Food in Texas is amazing, yeah. Tex-Mex is great and you can't get good Tex-Mex outside of Texas; I don't know why because I don't think there's any secret to it, but it's seemed to be the case no matter how hard we've tried. It's one of the few things I miss now that I live in LA, and LA has amazing food too. When I lived in Virginia for a bit and Maryland/D.C. area, the food seemed awful in comparison no matter where I went.

- while it's true that Austin is mostly pretty hot and frequently humid, it's also extremely rainy with weeks of torrential lightning storms and flooding -- some years more than others -- and during the past decade it has snowed in February/March some years. So make sure you bring at least a jacket, even though you probably won't need the rest of your cold weather clothes. When it does freeze in Austin, the whole city shuts down because the roads and people's cars are not equipped to handle it. I think the longest freeze I experienced there was about a week. Texans are expected to know how to drive in insane rain, though; unless it's flooding over a couple inches nothing will be cancelled. You will probably have to drive in rain so torrential you can barely see anything. It's not as bad as it sounds.

As others have mentioned, those same months during the other years have been extremely hot. There's never any way to know how nuts the weather will be in a given year.

- if you like clubbing or live music you'll like Austin even more than I did.

- if you like rock climbing there's a ton of places to do it and they're all gorgeous, but the heat really detracts from the experience most of the year.

- there are places near Austin to go caving.

- the green belt in Austin is beautiful.
posted by Nattie at 11:21 AM on June 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm from Rochester and moved to the South about 5 years ago, albeit after a stint in Pittsburgh for college in between. (And yes, I know I know, Austin and Texas in general isn't the same as "the South" but there are pervasive social differences that took getting used to that are the same in Texas from what I hear.)

You'd have worse culture shock I think if you were moving anywhere else in Texas, but Austin is really known as one of the most progressive hipster-y parts of the South period (have you seen Richard Linklater's Slacker? It takes place in Austin and very much has the feel of the city as its main character). There's the university (with its kickass librarianship program) and a ton of outdoor walking culture unlike just about every freakin' where else in the South (to me, that was hands down the worst change I had to get used to--if you were in Dallas or Atlanta you'd see more Hummers and SUVs and clogged highways and vast parking lots than you ever dreamed of). Getting used to the weather differences took some time--you seriously will need your long-sleeve winter-y gear maybe two months tops the entire year, and the rest of the time at first you'll wish you could go naked.

My experience socially has been that people are a lot friendlier on the surface, but then it takes time to grok all the nuance and backstabby pleasantry. It felt like back home people either just straight out ignore you (default setting) or are your actual friends. In the South people will be really open to just about anybody relatively speaking (strangers talk to you in public in a really chatty way about all sorts of things and it's normal), but it's paradoxically confusing because you can't tell when people really like you until you get to know them better. If you're already bad at reading subtle social cues like I am, this can make it worse depending. That said I really do now like the way strangers and new acquaintances will tell me all about their personal lives; I find it weirdly touching and amusing and will kind of miss it if I ever leave.

It could just be me but it also felt like showy displays of new or seeming wealth were more popular, you know, McMansions and look-at-me cars. A lot of that stuff felt really tacky to me at first and I kind of looked down on it.

I don't know about Austin, but one thing that surprised me is that food culture feels way more important where I am now. Memphis has more awesome ethnic hole in the wall restaurants than Rochester could ever dream of (whoever mentioned Mexican above is right), and not only that, eating socially out in a casual but super delicious environment is a total given here that it never felt like it was up North. Maybe it's the patio-friendly weather, I don't know, but that aspect I love most I think. Also, I'm ashamed to say it took me a while to come around to it but really, given regional food the fair try it deserves--other than barbecue and border Mex. I don't know what that is exactly in Austin, but in Memphis I finally realized how fucking great well made sweet tea, okra, grits, boiled peanuts, etc. are. Now I cherish those things.

The other thing that surprised me was socially maligned groups like gays, athiests, etc. are paradoxically more solidly visible because they're more openly maligned and legally persecuted here than in New York. So you see way more gay bars, more pride events, way WAY more antagonistic athiest presence, etc.--because they're fighting a more open battle maybe? (I don't know if this is the case in Austin though, since it's a more liberal place anyway, but then again, Texas at large...)
posted by ifjuly at 11:35 AM on June 21, 2010

Best answer: I lived all over Texas until age 18, when I went to Rochester for college.

Rochester has lovely seasons, especially fall. Texas has no seasons, except for about 3 weeks of winter. Summer is the rest of the year. Austin isn't as humid as other parts of the state, such as Houston, but the summers are still brutally hot (to me).

You'll never see more than an inch of snow there, so no worries about shoveling.

I've found Austin much snootier than the rest of Texas. By contrast, I was struck by how friendly upstate New Yorkers are. Don't take it personally, and you'll be fine.

The traffic in Austin is astonishing, particularly for a town that size. I was told that decisions were made in the 1970s to discourage people from moving there, including refusal to update the city's infrastructure. True or not, I can say that I-35, particularly the split, still gives me hives. Driving is a singularly unpleasant activity in Austin.

On the other hand, the food is great. It's a young city and there are always interesting activities going on. Don't miss swimming in Barton Springs and checking out the Hill Country in the springtime (Johnson City is quite pretty; ditto Fredricksburg).
posted by orrnyereg at 11:41 AM on June 21, 2010

Best answer: Grew up in Buffalo, went to college in Ithaca, lived in Houston for a few years and went to grad school in Austin (and my folks and sister still live in Houston).

There is a slight culture shock moving from upstate NY to Texas. Yes, Austin is a liberal/hippie mecca in the state, but there is still a big difference in the way of life. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but it's there. It just feels different. People act a little different. The pride in the state is weird and is nothing like growing up in WNY. The Texas legislature seems to hate the city it resides in and the politics are a bit wacky.

It's really freaking hot. Unbearably so, at times. Houston is worse because of the humidity, but Austin temps really get up there in the summer. You'd think you would spend so much more time outside because of the lack of snowy miserable winters, but I found myself hiding from the sun and the heat a lot in the summer. You go from air-conditioned home to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned mall/work/movie theater... The sun became my enemy.

It's sprawly - sure Austin has a great city center, but there are also lots of suburbs and it's pretty car-focused. Traffic is bad. And the city center is expensive to live in. I wouldn't be surprised if the cost of living in Austin was a bit higher than Rochester, although I haven't had to look at housing prices in upstate NY since I left college.

I had a lot of fun living in Austin, and as many others have said, it's the only city in Texas where I'd consider moving back. But as much fun as it was, it never felt like home to me - I always felt like a visitor. (As a reference point, I now live in Chicago and pretty much felt at home from the minute I got here.) But there's no way to know how you'll feel about it unless you give it a try. I think everyone should experience living in different areas of the country/world if they have the opportunity, so I suggest going for it if you can.
posted by misskaz at 11:59 AM on June 21, 2010

Best answer: I spent a few years in the DFW area and moved to Buffalo. I did not like living in DFW one little bit.

The cost of living will be about the same. No state income tax, but the sales tax is about the same and the property tax rates are on average even higher than in NY.

A difference is that instead of getting suburban NY schools and NY-level services for your taxes, you get Texas schools, which while okay are probably not as good as the suburban districts around Rochester, and you get Texas-level government services which usually boil down to "Fuck you."

The heat is oppressive. Unless you've taken long vacations, you just Do. Not. Get. what it's like to live in weeks on end of 100F+ highs. It keeps you in, it keeps your kids in lots of the day, it slaps you upside the head anytime you leave your house or office.

It's easy to think that getting away from the snow will be awesome, but I always found winter in D/FW to be kind of gross. There's something that's just pathetic and sad about seeing a home with an inflatable snowman on their brown-grass lawn in 50 degrees, and there's something wrong about the time of the year when it's actually nice to be outside being the time of year with the shortest days to enjoy them. And I dunno if Austin gets them, but ice storms are teh suck.

I'm going to go against other people here and say that the culture is deeply different. On the one hand, you probably know that Texas is conservative and Austin is liberal. But you move an inch outside Austin, even as far as Round Rock, and you will find churchy protestant conservatism that is rare in NY. And it's a creepy, triumphalist fuck-you conservatism. Anyway, I've found daily life here in WNY substantially different than life in DFW.

The bigger difference I've seen with culture though, I can't say if you'd have in Austin. When I lived in D/FW, there was absolutely no community. There were people in their little shells and they never came out and they never talked to you, just a family's little walled-off enclave in a larger walled-off enclave of a subdivision. I've had to substantially readjust myself in this respect -- in Texas, if there was a knock on my door that I wasn't expecting, I knew with certainty that it was a scammer, because it literally always was, but now I go to the door with my grumpy face on and it's a girl scout selling cookies, or someone taking a petition about wind power, or the local VFD, or the Democrats trying to get the vote out. Also Texas was the sort of place where people would not-uncommonly shout obscenities from their car at biscotti and I when we were walking the dog on the sidewalk. I've no idea whether Austin and its suburbs tend to be as horrifyingly anonymous, atomistic places as the DFW suburbs were.

No Wegmans.

Traffic in Austin is shocking for a town that size. I don't think I've ever seen 35 in Austin moving well.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:09 PM on June 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the great answers. Looks like the heat (which I suspected) and the allergies (which I did not) might be deal-breakers. My allergies are mild to moderate but my wife's are severe. We manage here but all year might be asking too much.

This is all still preliminary so I don't feel any pressure to decide. I have a lot to think about in any case.
posted by tommasz at 12:19 PM on June 21, 2010

I've no idea whether Austin and its suburbs tend to be as horrifyingly anonymous, atomistic places as the DFW suburbs were.

As bad as Austin's suburbs might be, and they seem bad sometimes, there's no comparison to DFW, which is indeed a Giganto-World of Suburban Suck, outside of immediate downtown and Deep Ellum.

Also, we don't have the ice storms like Dallas much.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:21 PM on June 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

I would think it's cheaper than anywhere in New York but I don't have a good gauge on anything outside of NYC.

Nah, housing in western NY is just about free. We paid $125K for a 4 bedroom house in a first-ring suburb in one of the fancier school districts. And that was not an especially good deal.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:29 PM on June 21, 2010

Oh, and you will shit yourself, whether in glee or wonderment, when you see your first Texas high school football stadium. And I do mean stadium.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:31 PM on June 21, 2010

No Wegmans.

Indeed, Wegmans is a treasure that just doesn't exist anywhere else. But the HEB isn't that bad, assuming you shop at one of the newer ones or at one of their Central Market stores. Also, Whole Foods is an Austin company, so you can always shop at the mothership.
posted by fremen at 12:40 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wow, everything ROU_Xenophobe said seems spot on to me, good points. I was trying to figure out a way to word the super-suburban-y loneliness aspect that seems heightened in the South with its spread out enclaves and car culture and he nailed it. I think Austin might be better about the communal feeling aspect, but that dearth of shared thriving public outdoor space is something you definitely feel in the South, and I hate, and I'm sure it has to do with the fact nobody walks anywhere (I used to resent this so much, until I realized it's not anyone's fault exactly; hot weather and oppressive sun makes it very hard for people to want to walk). The fact nobody does means even if you want to be the weird one who does, you feel incapable because pedestrian concerns are moot in city planning and it feels more dangerous because you are so deserted so the ONLY other pedestrians you will encounter will be panhandlers and muggers.

Also, I don't know how close you lived to the bay or the lake in Rochester, but I was very surprised to discover just how much I missed being near a sizable body of water and the breeze and feel it brings (the Mississippi for some reason just so does not count to me!). That landlocked feeling still depresses me and is one of the reasons I want to move back to Pittsburgh with its three beautiful rivers converging downtown...

I don't know why but my allergies actually disappeared when I went from Rochester to Memphis; the trees here don't give off whatever it is that bothered me. And my seasonal depression disappeared too of course, since it's ridiculously sunny here and well, Rochester is lucky if you get 2 days in a row of sunny afternoons.
posted by ifjuly at 1:04 PM on June 21, 2010

Best answer: Just another anecdote on allergies. I grew up in Westchester, Co., NY, and have lived in St. Louis (also known for allergies), and currently divide my time between Memphis and Boston. I have never, ever in my life had allergies as severe as I did during the 5 years I spent in Austin. Seriously every. damn. day. 365 days a year. One year the oak pollen was so bad that I could literally feel my sinuses burning as I walked across campus--I basically tried to hold my breath until I got to my car.

There are a ton of cool things about Austin that I miss (like the tex-mex--no where else comes close), but ultimately I like breathing more. If your wife has severe allergies I seriously recommend that you both visit first, just to see if she can deal.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 1:06 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

if her allergies are already severe - they will get much, much worse in texas.
posted by nadawi at 1:07 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: RE allergies

I never had allergies prior to arriving in Austin.
(I'm not sure I even believed in them.)
My first year was spent with a constant low-grade "cold".
It stayed that way for 4 years. Somewhere in there I realized what it was.
My fifth year was awful with my eyes swelling shut while driving in Austin's awful traffic.
Since then, my allergies have gotten better but I imagine another year will come when I will spend hours sitting on the side of the road, listening to music, waiting for my eyes to open again.
This year's oak pollen counts came close.

If there is a history of allergies, prepare for more, but your wife may be lucky and have no allergic response to Austin. I wouldn't bet on that.
posted by Seamus at 1:31 PM on June 21, 2010

But the HEB isn't that bad, assuming you shop at one of the newer ones or at one of their Central Market stores.

HEB is awesome, at least the one at 1000 E. 41st St. (off Red River). It has a nice mini organic store right in the middle, and it's significantly cheaper than Central Market (which is owned by HEB).
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:17 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Austin is absolutely not like DFW or Houston in terms of feeling like there's no community. The sense of community is the one reason I like Austin and why I would never live in Houston or Dallas despite having spent most of my childhood there. Austin is full of shared outdoors spaces and places people walk around and whatnot. Granted, the heat does tamp down on that a lot and there are only a few sizeable urban areas to walk around in -- the Drag, downtown, South Austin, and a few other scattered areas -- but they're extremely popular and you're probably gonna go there for various things anyway. There's a ton of outdoor parks that are always filled with people, especially the ones with a lot of shade or swimming like Bull Creek Park or Barton Springs. On top of all that, so many of the areas of Austin are designed around a college lifestyle, so the community stuff is purposely built in. In DFW or Houston it's hard to find a place with community; there's just a few rare pockets or neighborhoods. In Austin, you have to purposely choose to live somewhere cut off from community stuff.

Also, there are sizable bodies of water in Austin -- again, another reason why I like Austin and not the other major Texas cities (although the River Walk in San Antonio is nice). Lake Austin, for one, is a big deal, with lots of boating and restaurants and shops along it. Barton Springs and Lady Bird Lake are pretty huge and you can walk around them for miles -- there's tons of boating and stuff in Lady Bird Lake -- and there's Hippy Hollow and Hamilton Pool. If you include areas that simply having natural running water there's a lot more stuff; various parts of the green belt fill with water, Bull Creek Park has some beautiful waterfalls and streams and tons of people swim there, etc. I'm probably missing a ton of places, too.

I would advise the OP to take any generalizing about other cities in Texas or the South with a grain of salt, since I'm seeing some stuff expressed that is the complete opposite of Austin. It's not going to have much effect on you that DFW is depressing, for example, since you won't be living there; it's far enough away that in most places it would be in a different state. Let's not forget that Texas is pretty huge -- it takes over twelve hours to drive across it - so while it's true that some places have stuff in common it's still a diverse place and you're not gonna catch cooties from the other cities.

Allergies are pretty bad, though, yeah. I never had any allergy problems but I had friends who did.
posted by Nattie at 3:33 PM on June 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Lifelong Austinite, so I can't compare to Rochester, but I can tell you some things about Austin that people who have lived here only briefly probably can't. I also used to work for a real estate agency, so I have a decent idea of prices.
1) Yes, there is sprawl, but nothing like you will see in Houston, Dallas, or San Antonio.
2) I have several times heard Seamus refer to the "suburbs," but I don't know exactly where he's referring to. There are neighborhoods with houses ranging from 5 minutes from the heart of downtown to an hour from downtown. There are neighborhoods with 2-2 houses in the $200k range within a 10 minute drive of the more populated downtown area, and DEFINITELY condos within 5 for less than that.
3) It is SUPER HOT. There is no exaggeration there by anyone. If you have a car, covered parking or window tint, and a functioning A/C are most desirable (I've gone without all of these things at different times and it was doable, however).
4) If anyone uses the words "deep south" and "Austin" in relation to each other, they're just using the wrong vocabulary entirely. My family moved here FROM the deep south and I've spent time in both. They're like different planets. Texas is a big state, and is kind of its own culture outside of the regional descriptors. Beyond that, Austin kinda sticks out among Texas. It's a blue area in a sea of red, politically. In the towns outside of Austin, things are much more conservative. Fact: the most conservative people I know in Austin are expats from places like Virginia and California.
5) Austin used to be way more laid-back and things were a little shabby, nothing was super fancy. Now, with all the tech money or something, fancy high-rises and expensive restaurants, and big money stores and boutiques are popping up everywhere. The city is in transition, for better or worse.
6) Seriously, if you don't like it, don't move here. All we need are more people from other places that hate Austin and want to make it more like wherever they're from. I don't think Austin's perfect, and in fact, plan to leave ASAP, at least for a few years, but it's a pretty cool place compared to most other places I've been, and a huge number of others apparently feel the same way based on the huge influx of people we get every year.
posted by ishotjr at 4:10 PM on June 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

I came here a few years ago, and I did live in upstate NY a couple years. I'm adding yet another message about the heat, because my gawd. I hate summer here and live for the winters. I also learned to hate southerners, a certain amount of which is drawn from me being a... mean person. Individually I've met some born and bred Texans that are the most awesome people, and then get horribly surrounded by the most hick of people at a Texas Stars game and cringe all game. Hey, at least the locals have an interest in hockey.
posted by BurnMage at 4:13 PM on June 21, 2010

as an addendum of sorts, be prepared to be surrounded by people that think the earth was made in seven days, and be amazed.
posted by BurnMage at 4:14 PM on June 21, 2010

Also, there are sizable bodies of water in Austin

Um. The point of comparison was not a desert, it was Lake Ontario.

The mere fact that the lakes are in Austin instead of being on them, or that you could walk around them without mounting a major expedition, argues against their being "sizable" in the sense implies by the earlier comment, which made it clear that the Mississippi River was not sizable.

It's not going to have much effect on you that DFW is depressing, for example, since you won't be living there; it's far enough away that in most places it would be in a different state.

I hear you, but it still makes a difference in that as soon as you leave Austin, you're back to being hip-deep in "Real" America. If you want to get to another reasonably-sized city that's generally more liberal than conservative, you'd have to drive to... DC? Albuquerque? Tucson?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:25 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

The mere fact that the lakes are in Austin instead of being on them


the mere fact that the lakes are in Austin instead of Austin being on them...
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:26 PM on June 21, 2010

ROU's got a good point about the nearest outposts of civilization. If you strike out from Austin in search of culture, basically, you've got a tiny dab in San Antonio (I actually love that city, but not for its high-brow culture) a decent smattering in Inside-The-Loop-Houston (The sheer landmass of outside-the-loop- Houston is terrifying) and other than that, it's about 8 hours even to New Orleans, which is the first real outpost of civilization.

To the west, you're looking at 14 hours to Albuquerque or Santa Fe.

Oklahoma's to the north -- on the whole, probably the most rabidly conservative state in the union. Plus, more flat desert.

If you can slog it NE into Arkansas, Fayetteville & environs are fantastic, but it's a long damn ways, too.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:39 PM on June 21, 2010

Also: I'm sorry to be generalizing from your name, but if you're a practicing Catholic you might inquire as to what the experience of being Catholic in Austin is like. I really don't know, not being Catholic, and don't mean this as a negative; just something to ask about.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:51 PM on June 21, 2010

Best answer: I'm going to add two points to all of this:

1st don't make your decision based of the allergy reports. Yes, lots and lots of people do have allergy problems in Austin. The biggest part of that is cedar (which isn't really a cedar but what everyone in Texas call this scrub tree, it's everywhere and what happens when you cut down the cypress and deplete the aquifers. I lived in Austin for about eight years of collage (yeah, I know, but that is more than one degree), and have lived south of there for a couple of year now, and it has never bothered me. My niece, who grew up in DC and has terrible problems with oak pollen there, was here when my two live oaks were spewing pollen everywhere (giving the cars the same green patina common to Washington), had no trouble here.

The point is, allergies are weird and, since you've never met the stuff from central Texas, you may be lucky and not get those allergies. (an aside: In the 1880s a guy know as O. Henry moved to Austin because of respiratory problems, and though he hated it, it seemed to have helped.)

2nd; I've spent most of the last twenty years in real cities, Washington mostly but some others briefly, and what really hit me moving back here was the damnable numbers of strip malls or, much worse, just slab built buildings along the sides of the roads almost right into downtown. It's the result of poor planning in the fifties and sixties probably, but the city is still living with the results, poor traffic and eyesores. It's amazing though once you get used to it, along Lamar (a major street going all the way through town and beside downtown) there is this very old (I think) limestone building (not just veneer, which is common), that is a garage and dis count insurance office, it's not far from the Broken Spoke, which still has live music five nights a week and is where I learned to do the Cotton-eye Joe in another century.

And btw, the people that complain about Austin traffic, just don't know. It's "bad" about two hours morning and evening, meaning it adds ten minutes to a thirty minute commute, let them try NoVa or LA traffic for a month.

If you do like the outdoors, wait until you meet Barton Creek! And it's to the south of town where the real estate prices are lower too (unless you want to overlook the greenbelt, of course.) (this might have grown to more than two things.)
posted by Some1 at 6:20 PM on June 21, 2010

1. If your car doesn't have A/C, sell it there and buy one that does. If you don't have a car in Austin, you're screwed.

2. Comparisons between Austin and any other city in Texas are invalid.

3. The population in Texas has almost doubled in the last 30 years, and the population in Austin has gone from about 419k to about a million. So, yeah, the traffic can be bad. Most of those people moved here from somewhere else, so the culture is not monolithic. Culture shock shouldn't be a problem.

4. If you want to chat, memail me and I will give you my ph #.
posted by Daddy-O at 10:59 AM on June 22, 2010

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