A couple of weeks back I stepped off a plane into the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport terminal. This terminal definitely was like no other I've been in. Live music in the terminal. Really. As I made my way toward baggage claim I couldn't help but notice in one of the souvenir shops a rack of burnt orange t-shirts with white print: "Keep Austin Weird."
Having been in this particular city a few times back in my young adult stage - during college football season - there's no doubt a town like Austin is truly, er, out of the ordinary. I recall a walk through a shopping mall on a Saturday afternoon. The public address system stopped the Muzak to announce the UT football score, followed immediately by "The Eyes of Texas." Every local, in Pavlovian response, began to "Hook 'em Horns." Nearest exit, if you please?
Fast forward three decades: I learned, after my first Shiner Bock of the week, the "Keep Austin Weird" campaign was developed to encourage tourists and locals to patronize local businesses. My co-workers and I proceeded to be as "weird" as possible that week. Each evening, after we managed to free ourselves from our work, we ate in locally-owned restaurants, drank locally-brewed beers, and sampled some of the best cuisine and culture the area had to offer. But, the story ends badly; I was disappointed to find no convenience stores (with gas pumps) open at four in the morning on a Saturday. One pockmark on an otherwise entertaining, "weird" sojourn.
But "weird is not new for me. To paraphrase the old Barbara Mandrell tune: "I was weird when weird wasn't cool." Suzanne and I make the effort to go either where the locals go to eat, drink and be merry...or patronize businesses which are locally-owned and operated. We keep a short list in our minds of places to go when we hit town, with a slightly longer list of places we want to go check out in the near future. We try to hit at least one new place each time we hit the road.
Being "weird" does some fantastic things:
You never lack a good story. Who would have thought Roscoe, the cook who made Suzanne's absolutely house-rocking black bean burger, and my "Cajun Lucy" the other weekend, was a former mechanic and construction worker? (Maybe a construction worker, because he built one hell of a cattle bomb for me.) Or the fetching young lady with the streetcar tat tending bar is training for a half marathon with her daughter?
You always receive a warm welcome. We dragged a couple of our local running friends down from their planned dining locale and planted them in front of Roscoe for some of his fare...turned them on to a Baton Rouge brew and all. When we came in you'd have thought it was an episode of "Cheers." I'll take love like that when I walk into a bar any time.
Word gets around. One of my former preachers once talked about "the law of one-hundred-and-fifty." He said that in our lifetime we have the ability to influence the opinions and habits of one-hundred-and-fifty people, at the least. If I'm a business guy it's in my best interest to treat every customer and every person I meet with kindness, courtesy and respect: even if it doesn't directly affect my business it can affect my reputation. Depending on how tightly-knit your community is that number expands farther than you can imagine...think of the "Six Degrees to Kevin Bacon" game if you want to disagree.
"Weird" is not strictly an economic state of mind. It is also a state of personal character. Not everyone needs to be "vanilla," "corporate," or to follow the crowd. It takes strength of will to decide what is "true for you," and to continue that course to the best of your ability. Some times that means solitary run sessions or not racing every weekend.
You don't have to be a traveling fool to keep things "weird." You can keep it "weird" wherever you may be.
All you have to do is keep your eyes and your mind open.