I don’t live in Austin, but I kinda wish I did. My friend from college who grew up there just bought a house within ten minutes by bike or bus from downtown for less than $110,000. I pay more in rent for my San Francisco apartment every month than he’s due for his mortgage. And while you can pick your leech locations in San Francisco, Austin’s genteel community spirit still proscribes security measures, encryption and other bandwidth-greedy hotspot administrator foibles, unlike the attitude of the WPA+PSK early adopter crowd encrypting their packets and restricting public access in The City.
Last Spring, while attending South by Southwest Interactive (South by So What to the locals), my informal research noted that eleven out of twelve bars visited offer unrestricted wireless connectivity (the twelfth had two routers, but both security enabled). Cafes actually had a slightly lower aggregate adoption rate. Granted, it’s a bad scene for teetotalers. But I’ll choose soda, lime and free access over macchiatos and credit card charges any time.
In two trips crashing with a born-and-raised local, Austin has quickly become one of my favorite urban islands which bridges the intellectual distance between East and West. And just as Microsoft and Amazon are the de facto market and policy determinists in my hometown of Seattle, so do Dell and AMD rule the Texas capitol. But there are enough free spirits with the right idea about what it takes to build a vibrant geek community to continually upset the creative balance towards the positive. Free wifi, comfortable seating, cheap drinks and gracious manners make Austin my favorite town for browsing, on or offline.
Highlights include Cafe Mundi on East 5th street — a uniquely American oasis. On the ‘bad’ side of the highway (where spanglish and gentrification are beginning to meet for battle), they offer strong coffee, tasty pastry and outdoor seating. A short walk, a shorter bike ride and a cheap cab fare from the brick-clad design district, 6th street bender boulevard or late night hop along Red River. Alternately, after taking an inspiringly brisk dip in Barton Springs, stop by Austin Java’s south side location for coffee, convo and comestibles.
Photo of Richard at Cafe Mundi by John Cohen.