A year ago this month: PT blog gets local

Old and new in Austin, Texas, looking up Congress Avenue (Scarborough photo)The Perceptive Travel blog is closing in on its first birthday….we officially opened our blogging doors on March 21, 2007.

Our benevolent “parent,” the Perceptive Travel Web magazine, fired up in early 2006 and is still going strong (check out the great stories in the current March/April 08 issue, including stops in Burma, Greece, the Caribbean, Kyrgyzstan and Vietnam, plus the usual insightful world music and travel book reviews.)

While we’re horn-tooting, PT Editor Tim Leffel just reported in about beating the crowds to Panama over on MSNBC.com.

Sometimes I do slow down enough to notice and appreciate the cycles and rhythms of the calendar year. As the annual Austin March Madness that is the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive/Music/Film festival approaches later this week, I enjoyed reflecting on last March’s post about eating local before they tear it down at the Las Manitas Avenue Cafe.

The story was about a lively Tex-Mex dive that is an Austin institution, but was going to have to make way for the wrecking ball and the arrival of a new Marriott hotel.

The building where it’s located is not architecturally significant, but the vibe of the place is pure Austin and a tribute to the indefatigable Pérez sisters, who built the place up from a University of Texas taco push cart starting in 1979.

Last March, I wrote:

“I won’t get into any more detail here, but I want to issue a clarion call. Go eat at your local joints and support them. Ask around when you visit places, and go eat at their local joints.”

The updated good news in the Austin American-Statesman is that as of January 2008, an agreement has been reached that will eventually move the restaurant up the street a bit, but “there will always be a Las Manitas.”

As I watched this story unfold over the last year, I’ve been struck by how many times I’ve seen the same saga across the planet. The predictability of a Starbucks or Chilis or McDonalds certainly has its place — as a 3-time expat, I can tell you that it can be total mental relaxation and bliss to walk into any Starbucks and be able to understand the menu and know what you’re getting.

However, people are finally understanding that a real sense of place cannot come from a chain business, which by its nature emphasizes the same experience everywhere.

A real sense of place, of not having Osaka, Japan feel like Oswego, New York, comes from local places run by local people with “skin in the game” in their community. I encourage you to support such establishments when you can.

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