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Cheeseburgers in Paradise

12/7/2007 12:00:00 AM

Tags: green building

I just spent a couple days in Austin, Texas, and I didn’t want to come home. That’s the way it is every time I go to Austin, but it was particularly hard this week because it was 80 degrees there on Wednesday. Some people in Austin grumbled that this beautiful day signified global warming, but to a Coloradoan facing frigid months back home, the Southern climate was pretty enticing.

I like the climate in general in Austin. It’s friendly and open, and refuses to fit into anybody’s norms. And it has by far the best choices in local hamburger joints of anyplace I’ve been to in years.

Austin was one of my first destinations when I came on board with Natural Home in 1999. Everybody told me to get myself down there if I wanted to learn anything about green building, and so I did. Marc Richmond, who was with Austin Energy’s Green Building program, showed me around town and took me to a Straw Bale Builders Association meeting, and we shot Gary Zuker’s handbuilt cob house and Frank Mayer’s cool straw bale addition. I had dinner with Pliny Fisk and Gail Vittori and spent the most amazing afternoon with them at their Center for Maximum Potential Business Systems. I came home from that trip stoked on all that possibility, and I’ve tried to get myself back down to Austin as often as possible ever since.     

I went this time to shoot a house for one of next year’s issues. It’s the home of Elliot Johnson, an Austin architect who designs green whenever he can (high-end clients just don’t always want that, he says), and it has some fun twists. Elliot got to play with some of the materials he’s been interested in but couldn’t foist onto clients without trying out himself first. He says he wouldn’t do cast earth again in Austin, and he’s building his addition out of Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs).

After the shoot, we ate at Wink, a trendy little bistro packed with Austin’s progressive set (and that’s a lot of people). The food there was superb, and local and organic, but a couple hours later I just couldn’t help but fall for another local cheeseburger, and fries, at Players (open til 3 a.m.) on MLK Boulevard. The burger may even have been better than the cheeseburger I ate at Fran’s on South Congress the night before (and that’s hard to believe).

Austin has good radio, too—manna in a town where you do that much driving. I got stuck on 90.1, the Ron Paul for President Network. I was just fascinated by it. And the thing I love about Austin is that no one thought that was strange.

Before I headed to the airport (where I had one last cheeseburger), I got to stop and look at the portraits of famous dead Texans at the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture and go shopping on South Congress, where I always find the most amazing junk. I bought tin lanterns for my entryway at Uncommon Goods (“raw materials for creative living”) and a $16 gold Ward Cleaver cardigan at the thrift shop. Both are making me extremely happy, now that I’m home. I might not eat another cheeseburger for a while, though.



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