When I cross Cuernavaca Road, I think of Sherry.

Not for any momentous reason. It’s that I have an associative memory, plus I’ve lived in this community for an actual long time now. Growing up, I moved nearly every other year, so I’m entertained that I at last have layered place-memories.

Sherry is a warm and briskly matter-of-fact person. I met her through Girl Scouts, where she is a great fit. The part of town she lives in? Less of a match, I think—it’s in one of the well-to-do areas of town. To put it mildly. While I can see her moving smoothly through any social circles, showing off money is not her style.

But then, when Sherry bought her house it would have been halfway to nowhere. The five-lane highway I zipped down to get there was then only two lanes wide, and there were large expanses of untouched scrubby hillside surrounding it. I have another Girl Scout friend on a similar property…a lot so large we’re holding troop camping training on it, yet only three turns away from a fast-growing corridor.

I like having lived here long enough to know these places, and the people who chose them. I think this older Austin, of rancher-artisans, is the foundation of the city character that draws people here. The amazing food scene, the tech-forward lifestyle, the live music in every cafe are certainly fun. But the combination of reflexive outdoorsiness and practical nonchalance that came before those things set the tone that visitors remark. The vibe that I enjoy reinforcing.

Am I “Austin” inherently or did living here make me so?

That “hey, take a breath, what needs to happen next?” approach I started cultivating in high school. And then some of my earliest memories involve hiking…and walking through art museums. Would I still choose clothes that teeter between chic and casual if I didn’t live here? What about that particular brand of calmness that extends personal space even to the recognizably famous? I’ve never liked making a fuss…

I have wondered about whether we choose places based on our temperament or our temperament is shaped by our places ever since my assigned dorm/house in college turned out to be my best fit among those possible—on the raunchy side, but cheerful, with equal opportunity in all its rowdy pursuits. If there was a mud pit, we would be the ones rolling in the bottom of it. I ruined a shirt and shorts in a food fight*, which we went back and cleaned up after dinner.

Perhaps it’s a case of circular reinforcement within the frequency illusion: those personal and cultural elements that echo each other are the ones that one identifies with, and the non-matching ones are set aside.

But my outdoorsy, quit-fussing-and-let’s-DO this approach…and my love of all the foods!…sure do make it great to live here in the center of Texas.

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