Editor's Note: This story appeared in the December 2015 ORANGE Issue IV.
From the tower of garbage known as Cathedral of Junk to the holiday Leslie Cochran Day celebrated to honor the man in the thong and tutu, there are an endless number of people, places and things that keep Austin weird. The ATX staff compiled a short list of what truly makes Austin the unique city it’s known for.
Illustrations by Elizabeth Kim
In an age marred by division, the North Austin Muslim Community Center stands beside the Brentwood Oaks Church of Christ on Lamar Boulevard. Standing apart from trends of separation and conflict, Austin runs on this coexistence. It is a city where mosques and churches can be neighbours. More broadly, people from different backgrounds with different beliefs pursuing different ambitions can all claim residence in the Live Music Capitol of the World. Rather than promoting conformity, Austin encourages diversity. I see it when interfaith and intercultural events introduce Austinites to their neighbours. I see it when I drive on North Lamar Boulevard. Austin inspires people to be the best versions of themselves, to respect and learn from one another.
What makes Austin weird are the neighborhoods and districts that define the city. From the famous South Congress to the chic downtown area with its wide range of bars and specialty shops, each district has something different to offer. A personal favorite of mine is East Austin, which has a down-to-earth vibe. It’s filled with laidback locals, unique eateries and restaurants that pride themselves on their produce, as well as small boutiques that occupy the nooks and crannies in between the streets. Whatever your style is, there is an Austin neighborhood that will suit your aesthetic, though you may find yourself loving them all.
How easy it is to mistake an Austin hipster for a homeless person? Oftentimes when you’re walking around on Guadalupe Street or downtown, it’s difficult to distinguish your local hipster guy from someone who actually needs money for food. Between the messy hair, the worn down beanie, the dirty plaid button down, the rugged beard and the cigarette in mouth, it’s pretty easy to make the mistake of giving a dollar to someone who may not actually be in need.
The diverse group of both residents and tourists seen in Austin is unparalleled to other cities. As an outgoing introvert, I’m the type of person that can be content with walking down the streets of downtown Austin or South Congress and watch the countless, particularly distinct faces that pass me by. It’s refreshing to see college students who aren’t afraid to go against popular culture and truly be themselves. This city is the prime place to experience a culture different from yours, hear a conflicting opinion or two and see life through the eyes of another.
If there is a surface in Austin, it’s probably covered in some form of illustration. Here, street art is the norm, materializing in the form of miniature gas-masked queens to elaborate psychedelic murals. There’s even an open space called Graffiti Park at Castle Hills where anyone can legally tag the walls. Oversized sculptures, like the giant fork in front of Hyde Park Bar & Grill, arise from seemingly nowhere. Almost anything, no matter how wacky, might be part of a masterpiece, like the Cathedral of Junk located in the backyard of a man named Vince. Most establishments are overflowing with unusual creativity, either stocked with obscure vintage collections, like at the store Uncommon Objects, or decorated with bright tiled mosaics that have become a part of Austin’s landscape.
If you moved to Austin after 2012, you might not know who Leslie Cochran, or simply Leslie, was. He was an Austin icon who was known for being homeless, often wearing nothing but a thong and high heels on Sixth Street and running for public office numerous times. Many Austinites believed he was the personification of “Keep Austin Weird” because of his minimal attire like thongs and tutus. Leslie was a kind-hearted individual who brought lots of laughter and joy to the streets of Austin. Sadly, he died in 2012 but is still commemorated today with a statue on the corner of Sixth Street and Congress Avenue, and on March 8, Austin celebrates Leslie Cochran Day.
What makes Austin weird is how weird it makes you. A month after moving to Austin, I impulsively dyed my hair blue that soon turned into a Christmas tree green. Not long after, I got my first tattoo… and then another… and then another, all within my first year living in Austin. Would I have done these things if I hadn’t moved out of the small, conservative city of Bryan, Texas? Probably not, considering the fact that every time I went home, I was guaranteed to get a few odd glances toward my green hair. They say going to college makes you reveal your true self, so maybe I’m just a natural born hardcore, punk rock gal. Or maybe the weird ass city of Austin made me this way.
One of the things I noticed about Austin when I moved here my junior year of high school is that the weirdness doesn’t stay confined to downtown. My neighborhood is deep in West Austin and is one of the most eclectic places I’ve been to. Huge mansions are scattered next to manufactured homes, and there is a wide variety of people living in the area, like bikers, hippies, suburban moms, Boy Scout troops, skater kids longboarding down hills and wakeboarders cruising up and down Lake Austin. There are so many people from different walks of life in this place, and yet everybody chills at the same neighborhood park on the water to enjoy a summer day, embodying Austin’s carefree spirit.
Story by Kassidy Curry
In a city that embraces weirdness, an Austin couple created a business exploring the different personalities of the city’s homes. “To me, a weird home is a home that you go into and you remember it, it’s different,” Weird Homes Tour founder Chelle Neff says. “That person’s home really represents their personality and it stands out to you.”
When they first decided to create the tour, Chelle and her husband David reached out to their friends on social media to help them find interesting homes. They began to tour different homes around the city, often homes of artists, and created a tour of eight different houses for their first tour in May 2014. They had a tour May 2015 as well and will host one in May 2016. Some of the homes that have been featured in the tours are Bouldin Creek’s Casa Neverlandia — the Neffs’ favorite — and Professor Jeff Wilson’s dumpster home.
For 2016, Weird Homes Tour is expanding to show homes in Houston. In future tours they plan to show homes in New Orleans as well. “I feel like in Austin, we don’t fit a mold or a box, we have a culture of everyone being diverse and different,” Chelle says. “I feel like our homes match that culture as well.”