Blake Shelton – Austin (2001) (Video) (Lyrics)
(Written February 22, 2023)
Have you ever fallen so in love with a place that you still dream about it years later – and you fall so in love with your memories of that particular time and place that you instinctively know that reality will never come close to what you remember? It can happen. In 2002, I fell in love with Austin, Texas. In reality, I fell in love with a time and place that no longer exists.
It started out innocently enough. When I began planning my year abroad – one semester in Quito, Ecuador and another in Caceres, Spain – I knew that I would also need to make plans for the summer after Spain. I lucked out. The spring of my sophomore year at Michigan State, I landed a position as a paid intern at IBM in Rochester, Minnesota. I must have been on a roll that semester because I also landed a paid co-op opportunity (6 month contract) with Applied Materials (AMAT) in Austin, Texas. Ultimately, I accepted the position with IBM and asked Applied Materials if I could pursue the co-op opportunity the following summer/fall. They said yes, and I left East Lansing for a series of adventures that would take me away from campus for over a year and a half. I was well on my way to pursuing several of my dreams at once, including a career in tech.
My time in Austin did not start off well. When I arrived in June 2002, I didn’t know anyone. I ended up subletting my first apartment from a UT student. It was OK, but my only roommate in our four bedroom apartment spent all of her time with her boyfriend. Often the only trace of Carly was the reeking skunk smell of pot. Soon, things would change.
The first week or two at Applied consisted of orientation classes and touring facilities in what’ve been loving termed bunny suits. What I loved about AMAT was their place in the tech industry. We didn’t make the chips; we made the machines that make the chips. After a long day of orientation, an engineer I’d just met, Melissa, asked if I wanted to go get a drink and have dinner after work. Little did I know just how much she would impact my time in Austin.
Melissa and I became fast friends over dinner. Once I began describing my experiences studying abroad in Ecuador and Spain, she began telling me about her former coworker at Motorola, Andy, a fellow engineer. She thought that we should met, and frankly, I think she was trying to set us up. There was only one catch: Andy was currently exploring Machu Picchu in Peru and wouldn’t be home for some time. It would be worth the wait.
In the meantime, on July 24th, 2002, on my way to work, a huge moving truck made a left-hand turn in front of me when I had the green light. He hadn’t seen me. In the accident, I broke my big toe and the metatarsal. The molding on the driver’s side door of my car also sliced me behind my ear. If I had had a passenger, he or she probably would not have survived. In the aftermath of the accident, things somehow came together. My mom flew out to Austin to help me find a lawyer and a new car. She couldn’t believe how well I knew the city even though I had only been there just over a month. I had to help navigate in the days before Google Maps due to my cast.
By the time I had a walking cast, all bets were off. I quickly found out that the six month sublease I’d been promised was really only for three. Livid, I needed a new place to live within a few weeks. In the end, I found a much better place to live just in time thanks to Applied Material’s internal listings. The months living with Karen and her toddler son were great. It was almost as if I had the good fortune to live with a fun aunt for several months. Things were finally looking up.
In all the chaos of the accident and moving, I finally met Andy. We ended up on a blind date at the type of place that could only exist in Austin – Flipnotics. The first floor was a quirky retail t-shirt shop. The second floor included a restaurant/bar with a small performance space for live music. We were there for the music. I wish I had a video of Andy’s face when I opened my car door. He was horrified to realize that I had a walking cast up to my knee and that he had invited me to a venue requiring climbing a large set of stairs. Fortunately, we hit it off right away.
One of the best things about Austin, then and now, is the live music. It isn’t called the live music capital of the world for nothing. Andy was the perfect companion with whom to check it all out. It turns out that as a hobby Andy had a radio show – ATX Live – on the local co-op radio station KOOP. Soon I would met his friend and manager Cheryl. Andy would later serve as president of KOOP for several years. It isn’t every day that a man you admire and respect introduces you to someone who soon becomes one of your best friends. That is precisely what happened.
Over the next few months, Andy, Cheryl, and I had numerous adventures. I admit, I had a huge crush on Andy by this time. Cheryl did her best to try to get us to end up together, but it wasn’t meant to be. However, the fun I had that late summer and fall are never to be forgotten. The three of us attended the first Austin City Limits Festival in Zilker Park. Cheryl “conveniently” couldn’t join us the second day. The antics that took place that weekend are stories in themselves that belong with other songs. At the end of the festival, Andy and I ended up at a favorite local restaurant called Shady Grove. As it was within walking distance of the festival, we had to order takeout and eat/drink on the lawn, it was that crowded.
Later, Andy had LASIK surgery, and unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned. He ended up blinded for a week. As it was near his birthday, Cheryl and I threw him a party at his house once he regained his sight. I finally got to meet a bunch of his friends, coworkers, etc. It ended with Andy having to smooth things over with local cops late in the evening. Our “dress to be seen”/birthday party was a complete success.
As Halloween approached, Andy asked if I wanted to go to a house party hosted by local musician Chelle Murrey. Once we arrived, I dressed as a gypsy and Andy dressed as Zorro, Andy told me that he had a surprise for me. It turned out that a Beatles’ tribute band were going to play at the party, and knowing that I was a Beatles’ fan, he wanted me to have the opportunity to check them out first. I will never forget it. I bought Chelle’s CD that evening, and even though the music hasn’t quite held up, it will always remind me of Austin.
Shortly after one more party – this time a birthday/going home/Christmas party for me in mid-December at Karen’s house – I had to pack up my new-to-me 2002 silver Grand Prix and make the long journey home – alone. I arrived back in Michigan right before my birthday and Christmas. A year and half and a thousand adventures later, I would be returning to Michigan State in January 2003 to finish my degrees. I would graduate in May 2004. I never wanted to leave Austin behind.
On December 15th, 2002, a cold, foggy day in Austin, I left, listening to Chelle Murrey, trying to keep it all together. Austin represented everything I wanted after graduation – a good job, great friends, beautiful place to live, and for the first time in my life, a social life that actually felt like me.
My senior year at MSU, I did everything in my power to land in Austin. I made it to second round interviews with both Dell and Applied Materials. Unfortunately, my manager at AMAT left a few weeks before I did. He didn’t even get a chance to do my review before he left, that was left to someone I had only known for a week. In essence, I had no one on the inside fighting for me. Only half of the engineers and supply chain grads were hired. Sadly, I wasn’t one of them.
I did put my time back in Austin to good use, however. I met up with Andy and finally told him how I felt. In essence, he told me that he viewed me as a little sister. He explained that he was at a completely different stage in life. At 22, devastated doesn’t begin to describe how I felt. Looking back, I completely understand where he was coming from at that point. At 29 and about to finish his MBA, he already owned his own home and was established in his career. I still needed to finish undergrad.
It is funny how I should have seen it coming. He bought me a cowgirl hat at the Austin City Limits Festival because he was afraid I was going to fry otherwise. As cold weather set in, he warned me about trying to drive on ice in Texas. In essence, I may know how to drive on ice being from Michigan, but others in Texas do not. My dad would have been impressed.
Today, Andy is married and still lives in Austin, now owning his own business. I’d love to track down Cheryl. I have a feeling that if we were able to catch up after all these years, it would be as if no time had passed at all. The only person with whom I am in contact is Karen, who keeps reminding me from time to time that Austin has changed – and not for the better.
In essence, this is a love letter to the Austin I knew in 2002. Some of my favorite landmarks and haunts, namely Flipnotics and Shady Grove, no longer exist. I still follow AMAT and the semiconductor industry. How could I not after 2020? The Austin City Limits Festival has grown beyond all recognition. I can only imagine how the city has changed and evolved. I just hope that it is still as weird as I remember and remains a welcoming place for young undergrads trying to find their place in the adult world. Those memories of Austin will always be a part of me.