Monday, January 30, 2012

Making the Case for Austin, Texas (Not Too Hard)

Preface: The battle between Steve Jobs and me continues. I made fun of him last fall. Then he died. Then I read the book about him and told everyone what an asshole he was. So what does he do? From beyond the grave-- er "the cloud"-- he reaches into my iPhone and eradicates nearly every picture I took of my niece's trip to Austin last week. That bastard! Seriously-- the pictures are completely gone. I do have a few I managed to salvage since I had texted them or used them on FB. But Steve Jobs? I will win the next round, pal. Meanwhile, for those of you who already saw most of the pics below, sorry I can't show you the rest of the collection. Don't blame me, blame Steve.

In early January 1983, my father drove me to Philadelphia International Airport. I had never been on a plane before. And now, at 18, I wasn't just going for my first plane ride. I was leaving home, heading to college in Florida. My father squeezed my elbow, mumbled, "Don't get into trouble," and left me at my gate. I was clutching a ratty old pillow-- with no air travel experience I didn't know if I was allowed to bring a pillow, so I brought this crappy one in case I had to throw it away.

When we touched down in Tampa, I stepped into a whole new world. I still can remember the shuttle van that took me to my dorm, how I looked out the window and saw so many palm trees and could not believe my eyes. Though that January would get very cold-- Tampa actually froze that year-- I was so eager for my surfy college life to begin that I insisted on wearing my OP shorts and surf shirts everywhere.

I knew so little about life back then. I'd chosen the college simply because a couple of my friends went there, and their brother had gone there in the past, and I'd had a crush on him. Great reason to choose a school, right? In fact, I'd been accepted at a few other schools, one of them very prestigious, but my high school counselor told me that my parents couldn't afford it, to just forget about it. He didn't suggest that, since I ranked fifth in the class, I might qualify for scholarships. Not coming from an academic family, I didn't have access to this information on my own. So I figured he was right and went to the little state school down the road for a month before transferring to Florida, aka NJ of the South.

Winding up at a mediocre state college was not the worst fate. There were built-in pools behind every dorm where I honed my tanning skills and I made some of my best, lifelong friends there. My four years at the school proved that experiences can be what we make of them, and my time on the school newspaper shaped a very interesting career. (I still laugh my evil laugh when I think back at a couple of asshole teachers I had-- I'm talking to you Leo Stalnaker-- who predicted my writing wouldn't get me anywhere.)

So even though I know that wherever my niece goes to college, she'll do just fine, when she told me she was going to come down and check out UT, I got really excited. I wanted to do my part to make sure she had an exceptionally good time here and, without putting too much pressure on her, I wanted to make a good case for Austin as her first choice. Geena is valedictorian of her class and she is looking at a lot of different schools, including Princeton, which is a lot closer to her NJ home and, perhaps, ranks a little higher than UT in the big picture.

But UT has one of the top-five engineering schools in the country-- Geena wants to be an engineer-- PLUS (and this is a big plus) AUNT SPIKE LIVES HERE!!! Yay!! I would love to be Geena's go to local adult to show her around town on a regular basis, take her to Hill Country Weavers for knitting supplies (I taught G to knit and she is an amazing knitter), and continue her Taco Education.

It was fun taking a tour of UT with G. I'd read about these tours they give to entice prospective students and their parents, but this was my first time to go on one since Henry has chosen to attend the University of Life. I found it pretty interesting that they barely mentioned academics but, as we walked along the campus and through buildings, other amenities were pointed out to us: UT has the biggest HD TV on a college campus! (It's called Godzilla-tron); UT has a rock climbing wall!; UT has social swimming pools!; UT has a BUNCH of fast food restaurants including the world's busiest Wendy's!

I also liked the spin they put on stuff. For example, our tour guide-- who was really good-- had a script that included facts like this: "The average temperature in Austin is 70 degrees." He didn't mention this average comes from adding up all those 120 degree days with the 20 degree days and dividing by 2. Also, he explained that the yellow safety poles throughout campus had a special button feature. So if you are being chased by a mugger, you can hit the button then run to the next yellow pole and hit that button, and so on, so the campus cops can track you. This had me imagining someone turning to an assailant and saying, "Pardon me, could you wait just a moment whilst I hit the next alarm button? Thanks very much!"

Because I'm lucky enough to know everyone in Austin, I contacted my friend Howard, an engineering professor at UT. He invited us up to his office, where he happened to be doing a little experiment. He took time to talk to Geena about the academic side of UT and I'd love to show you a picture of the two of them together, but, as noted earlier, Steve Jobs does not want you to see that picture.

When we weren't on campus, I had fun running G all over the place. Breakfast Tacos at El Chilito's, a pretend tattoo at Southside Tattoos, Queso at Magnolia Cafe, Butterscotch Budino at Texas French Bread, a tour of the studio where Henry is mixing his debut record, Farm to Market Grocery where Henry works, Cherrywood Cafe (sadly John Aeilli was nowhere to be seen), Hill Country Weavers, BookPeople, Wheatsville, and a long walk around Mueller.

I can't wait to hear what Geena's decision will be. I'm crossing my fingers she'll come to Austin.

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