A brief taste of the Texas capital.
And of SXSW.
And of ramen.
This week has been spring break for the MBA class. Unlike most of my colleagues, I chose to stay in Dallas and catch up on extracurricular work. That meant no trips, and barely a staycation, just a Saturday beside the pool with some beer and a good book. Seeing photos from my friends in Cabo and Maui and New Orleans was a jealousy inducing exercise.
And so it was on 9pm on Friday night, when the opportunity arose to get out of town for a day. My friend Nick was going to a career fair in Austin, and had a spare seat in his car for anyone who wanted to join. Leave Saturday morning, get back Saturday night. A brief look at the exhibitors turned up one of the companies on my list of places to work at post-MBA, so it was decided.
Nick picked me up just after 9 on a hazy Saturday morning in Dallas, the skyscrapers of downtown clothed in fog. We navigated ourselves onto the great artery that is I-35, and pointed the car towards the south.
The distance from Dallas to Austin is about 200 miles, which is roughly equivalent to driving from Sydney to Canberra. The Sydney-Canberra round trip is certainly doable in a single day (and I’ve done it many times), but you wouldn’t want to do it every day. And like the Sydney to Canberra run, Dallas to Austin is freeway the whole way.
That said, the journeys differ markedly in that due to the population density difference between the USA and Australia, there’s little of what you’d call real countryside; for much of the journey, it feels like an unbroken chain of fast food outlets and small towns clinging to I-35 for dear life. There’s no real geographical variation either, no giant river gorges to cross or lake shores to straddle, just very slow undulations in terrain. The biggest landmark along the way was Baylor University, and its giant football stadium that is under construction.
As we reached the northern satellite cities of Austin, the traffic slowed to a crawl. Initially we though it was the IKEA that sat alongside the freeway, but even after we passed that the traffic remained sluggish. Since we were both hungry, we stopped for lunch, and Nick introduced me to his favourite fried chicken chain (Church’s, if you’re wondering).
Back on the road, we inched closer and closer to the city centre, passing the Capitol and the UT Austin campus. A wrong turn off the freeway and suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of Rainey Street and South by South West, the massive Music/Film/Tech festival that takes over the town for a week each year. Pedicabs of all shapes and colours weaved in and out of the cars as we passed rows of old houses converted to bars that were already filling with patrons.
Eventually we found a parking spot and walked across to the career fair, where we ran into a few more of our MBA friends. Clearly we had all missed the information about the casual dress code, as we all were in business jackets, while the other visitors walked around in jeans and t-shirts (there was even a guy in a onesie). We should have known something was up when Nick and I were remarked upon as being “important executive types” in the parking garage elevator – clearly we weren’t in Dallas anymore.
Sadly, contrary to the information from the organizers, the career fair had little to offer for MBAs. Almost every company was after developers and software engineers, and even with our analytics talent, we couldn’t get much response, as all the recruiters were primed to talk to coders. That said, the companies at least gave us the contacts for the right people to talk to about MBA level and management positions.
On the way back to the car, we took a brief look at some of the stalls on display for SXSW Interactive, including some wicked 3D printers. Most of the really interesting stuff was behind closed doors though, and without a pass we couldn’t see much. In any case, rain had started to fall, so we headed back to the car to go get some early dinner.
Nick knew of a really good ramen place north of the city, Tatsu-Ya, that he was itching to have dinner at. It didn’t open until 5pm, but Nick assured us that we’d be queuing regardless, so we may as well arrive early. I thought he was exaggerating when he said this, but as soon as we arrived 40 minutes ahead of opening, people started forming a line behind us; with fifteen minutes to go before opening the line stretched out beyond the building and into the rain.
Right on 5pm the doors opened, and five minutes later we were seated and served (they at least work fast and have everything ready to go when they open). And the queuing in the cold was totally worth it; the ramen was perfectly cooked, in a rich broth unlike any I have tasted.
Ten minutes later we were back in the car, navigating through heavy rain to get back to I-35 and north to Dallas. The rain was relentless, cutting visibility and making the going slow. Each town along the highway became an encouragement as we counted down the miles to Dallas. It took nearly 4 hours to get back.
In the end, we travelled for over 7 hours for 90 minutes of a career fair and 15 minutes of ramen. You could argue that it was wasteful, but it wasn’t, despite the lack of success at the fair we made some good contacts and at least got a picture of the sector that we wouldn’t have otherwise had. And the ramen alone was worth the journey.
I’d like to go back to Austin again and see it with a bit more time to spare. SXSW Interactive looks pretty awesome, so maybe we’ll organize a trip for the next spring break to visit, this time with access passes.
But that’s a future problem. Tomorrow is the start of the final module for the first year, and that’s the bigger priority. We already have reading and essays to write, so I better get started. At least the spring break brought some travel, and for that I’m grateful.
Observations on music, coffee, and the occasional controversial thought.
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