Does the Austin Lifestyle Keep us all Feeling Younger?

Sylvia and I attended a friend’s birthday party last night at a local restaurant. We were among the oldest people there, but we blended in just fine. I met a college guy who just recently graduated McCallum High. Our friend is in his mid 30s and the crowd of guests ranged from young 20s to late 40s/early 50s. The music being played was 1970s “Go Go” music, of which our friend is a fan. It was a typical Austin get-together of a diverse group of friends and acquaintances having fun.

My 48th birthday was last week. I’m either in denial about aging, or Austin is just a place where we don’t really feel like we’re growing old. I still feel the same youthful exuberance I did when I first moved here in May 1985 at the age of 22, only I’m a bit wiser and more financially responsible now. The hard-partying days are behind me. And I have 14 and 17 year old kids and, thus, a different set of worries and priorities.

But Sylvia and I were with a more age-homogeneous group of friends the night before. This was a bunch of her old real estate pals from the 1980s. She was an outside sales rep at GranTree Furniture back then and did sales calls at apartments, lease-locator companies and real estate offices in Austin, trying to sell furniture. She became friends with a large group of real estate agents. They would eventually talk her into getting her real estate license, which she did in 1988 (in the middle of the worst real estate market in Austin history), and she became a Realtor instead of an interior design specialist.

Anyway, as I looked around the table at these dozen or so veteran real estate people, I thought that I certainly can’t look as old as they all do. To me Sylvia looks the same as she did when I met her at age 29. We all certainly act about the same. Why is that? Why aren’t we all members of an Elk’s club, or the Moose Lodge, as our parents were at the same age when we were growing up, playing bingo on Saturday nights and showing up for $1 cornbread and beans on Wed nights? Drinking bourbon and water and playing darts and shooting pool? Why weren’t the women at the table wearing “old lady” clothes instead of the good looking outfits they had on? And us guys were all wearing what any 20-something would be wearing in Austin on a night out.  Yep, we live in a town where a 20-something could borrow clothes from a 40-something, noone would be the wiser.

Aren’t we supposed to dissolve from the Austin lifestyle “scene” once the grey hair starts coming in. How dare us show up at ACL Fest next week, wearing sneakers and jeans. Who gave us baby boomers permission to invade and take over Facebook and to learn how to Text? Why don’t I own a recliner-rocker and drive a Buick 4-door like good Dads my age should?

Because I live in Austin TX, where growing old is not an option, and staying cool is easy.

So, is it just me and my imagination or is there in fact something uniquely ageless about Austin, it’s lifestyle and vibe, and its people? I think there is, though as I type, I’m wondering if I’ll be able to put it into words. Perhaps, in fact, people my age really are old, boring and out of the loop of all things wonderful and cool about Austin. Perhaps it’s just my constant interface with people moving here, many who are younger than me, that keeps me connected and plugged into to the vibe and vigor Austin offers. Maybe me and Sylvia are in the minority. Thus, maybe the premise of this blog article is invalid. Hmmm.

Or maybe Austin really does have something going on that other cities lack. I think it does. Live music for one. It’s everywhere, and it’s good music. Even at a ratty little BBQ joint like Green Mesquite on Barton Springs Rd, there is free live music in the beer garden out back. We have UT and other area universities and colleges which provide a constant influx of youth culture and vibe, which bleeds out to the rest of us in, at minimum, an indirect way. Austin offers outdoor amenities and activities that preserve youth, or youthful feelings, such as swimming at Barton Springs, Deep Eddy or Twin Falls. Heading out to the Lake Travis, or tubing down the Guadalupe. Of course, one has to avail themselves of these activities to receive the benefits, but I think many Austintes do.

Also there is the quirky “Keep Austin Weird” vibe which, I think, gives us permission to loosen up and relax and not take life so seriously. Indeed, there are exceptionally few restaurants in Austin where shorts, tee-shirt and sandals would not be welcome, if not normal, attire. It’s as if the entire aura of Austin is one that says “you don’t have to act and dress like you’re all grown up”. We are free to “ChilAx” (as my daughter calls it) in Austin, and it’s ok.

An exhaustive research into this topic would look into the percentage of “boring old people” stuff that sells in Austin to see if it’s substantially less than what sells to similar age demographics elsewhere in the country. For example, do Sears, JC Penny and Bealle’s sell the same product mix in Austin as they do in, let’s say, Oklahoma City, where “hip” is something that breaks when you slip coming out of Luby’s? Or does the JC Penny apparel line have to be adjusted for Austin because people here dress differently, more casual and relaxed? How many Mercury Marquis sell per capita in Austin versus Des Moines Iowa? It would be interesting to know.

I don’t have the resources to do the proper research so I’ll have to go with my gut instinct and say that Austin is in fact a place where we all remain younger longer, and we enjoy a more youthful lifestyle and a broader mix of social activities with a wider range of people than do those in more traditional, fuddy duddy cities in the U.S.  And that, among other things, is what makes Austin a great city in which to live and not grow old.

5 thoughts on “Does the Austin Lifestyle Keep us all Feeling Younger?”

  1. I completely agree! My husband and I attended his 35th class reunion, and everyone looked so old. It was weird and we really couldn’t figure it out!

    Luckily, we live in Austin.. where growing old is not an option, right?

  2. My sister, who is in her early 30’s, moved here from SW Florida in 2009 and has experienced some culture shock due to the youthful atmosphere. She has been pleasantly surprised at realizing that you can purchase trendy clothes at Goodwill, and somewhat frustrated that she can’t count on the local NPR station to play Classical music. She finds KUT’s music to be a little too weird. All in all, she has ended up liking the laid back lifestyle far more than she ever thought she would.

  3. All depends what your yardsticks for getting old are……The physical changes are still going to happen….emotionally, there should be some distance, just from the difference in maturity levels. While it is nice to be accepted into youth culture in some ways, would you really want to be embedded TOO much? What youth culture are we talking about? 18-25?
    In that case, we just become a part of the Zeitgeist of the 70’s Pepsi commercials. No, not everyone can be a permanent 18-25, and who would want to? Part of the beauty of life is going through stages. Each one makes us wiser and more complete. Trying to hang onto the acceptance of a young culture, or priding oneself on not passing through the same stages as most of your age cohort? Hmmm…Where does that end? Life and reality catch up to us all…Age is a part of that reality. That Peter Pan quest definitely will dissipate sooner or later. At a point, we do have to admit we have aged, and stop chasing rainbows.
    Austin is not a 70’s Pepsi Generation commercial. Just a mid sized city with a slightly younger than average population. And what is more, if all the “young” people stay for years to come, they will all become an old age cohort together as well. Sorry, I think both of you guys, though I do understand your joy for life, have a jaundiced viewpoint of your age cohort. 48 year olds in general are far healthier and younger looking that any prior, and Austin does not make any magic happen than is not there in other cities. We are not talking Disney here. I swear, the way people idealize Austin reminds me of a cross between a Disney fantasia and a 70’s Pepsi commercial….Life is what you make of it anywhere.
    And the reality is, we all age and die, even in Austin….and in 10-15 years, a sizable contingent of seniors will rack up the average age there anyway. Just enjoy life, and avoid the facetious pedestal of “eternal youth” you give Austin. Every “young” person there will grow old and die….This is not a fantasia we live in here… escape from age….no escape from age and death anywhere on this blue orb, including Austin…


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