In Austin, we're renting a little guest house that's next to this big Victorian house in a lovely, quiet neighborhood just south of downtown Austin. When we arrived Sunday night, the owners weren't home, so we decided to get a bite to eat. Luckily, there's a BBQ joint less than half a block away, so we scarfed down some ribs and drowned our aching roadtrip muscles in beer, while we listened to the band warm up on the patio. It was fantastic. And in such an Austin way.

Then we realized there was a Walgreens across the street, so we stopped in to get a few supplies. But as soon as we walked through the door, I had a flashback to NYC. The layout of this Walgreens was almost identical to the one a few blocks from our apartment in Brooklyn. I had always hated going there - the staff was miserable, the lines were long, and half of the inventory was locked up in plastic cases, so you'd have to ring some buzzer and wait 15 minutes for someone to allow you to buy a toothbrush. But this place seemed nicer - brighter, cleaner, welcoming. It was a strange feeling: homesickness, tinged with relief that it was so different from home.

When we got to the counter, the chipper checkout girl - a young, rotund Latina - said "How was your night last night?" and went on to talk about how downtown had been so crowded. We were so taken aback by the cheerful interaction, that it took us a while to remember that the night before had been Halloween (which we hadn't really participated in since we were on the road). We stumbled through the conversation, and as we left, J and I just looked at each other - what the hell was that??

In the few days since then, I've had several interactions with store clerks, etc. In general, they are friendlier than the New York version (when I thank someone, instead of icy silence I actually receive a "you're welcome"), and definitely more attentive (asking if you're finding everything ok, etc) - but none of them have been as conversational as that Walgreens girl. Which, frankly, is such a relief.

When I go for walks in the neighborhood, the people I pass don't wave and say "good morning" like they would in a small town. It makes me think that Austin is small enough that people aren't rude, but large enough that you're not expected to talk to everyone you see. To many people, I'm sure this would be a let-down. But to me it's such a comfort to hold on to just a bit of that cherished New Yorker anonymity.

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Comment by Mari Brown on November 7, 2009 at 10:51pm
i love that you have the comparison photos of the two walgreen's! also the BBQ shot is making me hungry. i totally relate to this post. it reminds me of my experience at the DMV in boulder. i had steeled myself for a thoroughly unpleasant interaction and was astonished when everyone working at the DMV was in a GREAT MOOD. i was like, is this possible? i had taken it for granted that the DMV was just liquid evil. but it doesn't have to be...


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