John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Bruce Wayne would feel exceptionally at home inside this Transylvania-style airport.
Austin is famous for the 1.5 million-strong bat horde living underneath the Congress Avenue Bridge. During much of the year, the swarm emerges at dusk in a susurrus of squeaking, fluttering creatures as if hell's door itself had swung open. Here's what it looks like:
But visitors to this Texas Transylvania don't need to trek all the way downtown to bat-watch; in fact, they don't even need to leave Austin–Bergstrom International Airport. On many nights, the cavernous ceilings of this smallish, two-runway airport are patrolled with what at first look like hairy, translucent moths, but soon reveal themselves as bats, bats over the book store, bats swooping down the terminal halls, bats in over your beer at Annie's Cafe & Bar.
Some city airports trap pigeons, which typically flap around in helplessness. Austin's bats appear to be inside the airport on purpose, within the zone as they circle bright ceiling lights that must attract tasty flies and mosquitoes. On one evening earlier this week, groups of passengers had come full stop in the terminal and to take videos of the feeding frenzy on phones and tablets. I counted at least half a dozen bats dodging around. "Yeah, this is pretty normal," said one employee at a gift shop. "Austin is bat city."
I also tried to take video, but the critters were too fast and erratic to get footage that wouldn't make you motion-sick, a la The Blair Witch Project. Fortunately other travelers have documented the weird phenomenon for posterity. Here are a few of the better offerings on YouTube, although they don't convey the amount of bat activity that's actually going on:
Top image: Tambako The Jaguar / Flickr