Smile Politely

Keeping Austin weird

It’s the first time I’ve dicked around Austin for a weekend business festival that’s not pretending to be about music. This one pretends to be about basketball.

For the casual fan, it’s pretty much the same experience. Everything costs too much, if you can get in. Buskers and panhandlers fight for turf along Sixth Street. There’s always live music, everywhere. No one ever really stops drinking.

For the participants, there’s hope and desperation. Whether you’re a songwriter or a point guard, you came to Austin believing in yourself. You’ll probably leave disappointed.

But some of you will generate a buzz. Your buzzworthyness will be discussed and judged by people in Los Angeles and New York. The NCAA Tournament is a billion dollar enterprise. It sells advertising.

I’d like to say Austin is just as I left it. But anyone who knows Austin knows that Austin’s growth spurt, now in its … well, figure the year Austin was founded, and subtract 1.

The population doubled every 25 years since that time. Sixty-five thousand people moved here last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.

I spent a lot of time here between 1999 and 2005. In fact, I was performing at SXSW the last time Illinois made a memorable contribution to March Madness.

The massive Hilton went up during that time. That was loud.

But it’s always loud here. I’m staying with my friends, in the Avenue Lofts complex. It’s right in the middle of things. When the bars close at 2 a.m., the motorcycles all rev up. At 4:30 a.m., the dumpster trucks roar through. In the daylight hours, Sixth Street never stops percolating.

An interesting difference this year: Instead of afternoon whisky drinks, the new tradition is afternoon feeding. My friends have more nannies hanging around the loft, and fewer drummers. There’s still about the same amount of burping.

Basketballwise, there’s not much to report about Day 1. Yes, the NCAA mandates a boatload of media obligations for the teams. But that’s simply an inconvenience from their perspective.

I inconvenienced Dustin Ford, the Illini assistant responsible for scouting the Colorado team. Here’s what he had to say:

[[mp3 dustin_ford_scouts_colorado_buffaloes]]


There’s not much to tell, but many column inches to fill. The storyline of the day, created and perpetuated by “legitimate” journalists, is André Roberson’s impending shutdown of Brandon Paul, and Brandon’s ostensible psychic crisis. Brandon shrugged it off: “I played against Vic Oladipo last weekend.”

The “open practice” is an extended shootaround. Behind the scenes, coaching staves might be scurrying to identify opponents’ patterns and weaknesses. But they don’t show their hand. Thus, the most interesting thing we learned Thursday is that Vince Young hangs around Vince Young’s Steakhouse, and Brandon Paul met him there.


Jason Heggemeyer, Illini athletics ticket manager, said his office had moved all its 400 tickets (elsewhere reported as 500, but I’m pretty sure he said 400). He added that 1,300 Austin-based Illiumni were expected to attend. To top it off, tickets were on sale well after Selection Sunday’s Show. Austin’s tech community is a big deal. Lots of ECE grads come here every year. And when people come here, they tend to stay. Thursday afternoon, the temperature was upper-70s, partly sunny.

Later today, a few hundred of them will be drinking just about a block from the loft. I’ll be listening to stupid questions and boring answers, but I hope to make last call. Whether Illini fans are drinking away their sorrows, or gittin’ rowdy about Miami, the Austin police know how to deal with it.

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