I don’t know if anyone would argue for the superiority of “Wacko Waco” over Austin, my hometown and perennial maker of “best places to live” lists. But there are some things that are better here in Waco, my college town, that people might not know. Behold.
1. Traffic / commutes / parking
Stuff is closer together since it’s a smaller city. In Austin, it’s not uncommon for me to drive 15 miles down a highway to go run, go downtown to do something fun or shop somewhere nice, or see friends. Urban sprawl, y’all. In Waco, I live 2 miles from the track, 1 mile from school, 1/2 a mile from the grocery store, 1.5 miles from work and downtown shops and restaurants. It’s a major expedition to go to the Target 5 miles away. I can bike almost everywhere. There are never traffic jams and rush hour is unheard of. Finally, public parking downtown is a breeze. Campus parking does suck (that’s why, if for no other reason, you should bike!) but it sucks in Austin at UT too. Anyway, this stuff makes daily life a lot more pleasant.
2. Cost of living
In general, food at restaurants, rent and entertainment is a lot cheaper here. And theaters … which brings me to…
3. $5 movies! Seriously. Not even matinee.
And since they’re not crowded you can literally decide to go to a movie 15 minutes before it starts, drive there and find a seat in plenty of time. In Austin, this requires a lot more planning and money. Tickets cost twice as much.
4. Street cred. ‘Nough said.
5. The Zoo
Austin’s got an “animal sanctuary” with three-legged wolves and old turtles. Commendable, indeed, but not close to matching the Cameron Park Zoo with its array of animals, the natural habitats, playgrounds and sculptures, and twisting pathways and boardwalks covered with shade trees. It’s big enough to be well-entertained for an afternoon, but small enough to where you’re not overwhelmed. Fun for dates, family outings and out-of-towners.
6. Places to ride your road bike
Austin’s road biking community can’t be topped, but as far as actual routes it’s a lot more convenient to ride in Waco. I can go wheels down right outside my door and hit rural roads in a couple miles. In Austin, I’m surrounded by more dangerous roads. I either have to ride through the city with a bunch of stop signs and street crossings, or drive 20 minutes to start my ride out of town.
7. Less distractions
I have a huge fear of missing out on fun stuff. I know there are cool concerts, bars, restaurants, fitness meetups, book signings or art galleries to go to in Austin every night, so if I spend an evening at home I feel like I wasted it. By contrast, Waco has a lot less to do (unless you’re into country music, ugh) so spending a Friday night baking cookies and getting a DVD from Redbox passes for sufficient entertainment. This fits in nicely with the runner lifestyle which requires a certain amount of restraint from the trappings of a rockstar lifestyle. This is actually what I tell people when they ask me if Waco is boring, if it sucks (no, you suck) or say “I’m sorry,” when I tell them I go to Baylor. Yeah, it is less exciting than other places sometimes, but that’s good for me. Besides, as long as you have cool friends, you can have fun anywhere.
In conclusion, most of these reason of why Waco is better stem from the fact that there are a lot less people who live in this metro (200,000 ish compared to Austin’s 1.7 million). This creates a paradox. You either have great service or a great experience, like a secluded mountain bike ride through Cameron Park or 1-on-1 customer service like at the running store where I work. Or you get crappy service because the place is way too popular for its own good and can’t scale their business big enough to help you, like at Chuy’s on the weekends.
I’ll be in Waco for the next five months at least, soaking up all the light traffic, cheap stuff, zoo animals sightings and good bikin’ I can get. Come visit anytime.