A University and a Willie

One key addition to many cities in recent years has been the E-scooter. They sometimes get a bad reputation, and on a late evening in Austin it’s easy to see why. There are literally hundreds of these things darting about, often ridden by people who’ve had a few drinks. And there’s no shortage of choice – from what I can see there must be at least five different providers which machines on the streets.

But used sensibly, they’re a godsend. Austin’s Downton district is pretty large, and if you want to go to other parts of the city, the E-Scooter provides the perfect ride, not least because there are miles of bike lanes keeping you safe from the traffic. Having already done the big tourist attractions of the State Capitol on a previous visit, I decide to venture a bit further. A couple of miles North takes you to the University of Texas campus, whose impressive tower is dominated by someone altogether more important. Though it wasn’t always so.

The useful UT history site says there was dismay in 1024, when it emerged that the University was the only one in the country without a statue of the great man. This is made all the more confusing by the involvement of a George BRACKENBRIDGE Washington, who was one of the university’s biggest donors back in the day.

Thankfully we live in more enlightened times when it comes to correctly recognising people. Today, flags are flying at half mast at the UT campus, though none of the passing students or visitors can tell me why. A news alert flashes up on my phone announcing the death of Madeleine Albright, the former US Secretary of State under Bill Clinton. She was an instantly recognisable figure, notably involved in America’s first set of sanctions against Iraq, and the later Nato bombing of Serbia.

That said, there are probably many today who don’t know Albright’s name. But if you’re in Austin, you have to know all about Willie.

Just about anything that Willie Nelson has ever done can be described as “legendary”, and yet when he first moved to Nashville in 1960 he struggled to find a record label to sign him. While Music City soon created “the Nashville sound”, bringing a distinctive style of country music to the fore, Willie had been there and done that, and in 1970 moved to Austin – founding what soon became known as Outlaw Country, notably with Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. A long time campaigner for legalising marijuana, he’s been in trouble with the law for that, and at one point allegedly owed $32 million in unpaid taxes. That figure was substantially reduced, but he never paid, and subsequently counter sued, eventually clearing his debts in 1993.

In any music bar in Austin, it’s likely you’ll hear one of Willie’s songs being sung. And in 2022, at the age of 89, he’s still performing. Legendary, indeed.

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