Monday, July 22, 2024

Austin – Zeitgeist #1

Complain all you want about the traffic, the rising cost of living, the rash of condos, the second weekend of ACL Fest and how this once-sleepy college town has gone to hell in a pedicab. But the luckiest residents of Austin are the ones who just moved here.

Huh? “You must also love those assholes who try to squeeze into a full elevator.”

Not love, envy. Those folks who arrived recently with those rolled-up copies of Forbes in their back pockets take a lot of organic crapola. With all those touts of Jobs! Culture! Livability! Austin’s waist size has expanded from 32 to 42 and all these new people make for some tight-ass jeans. All those “Don’t Move Here” t-shirts are about as effective a deterrent as yellow lights on South Lamar and capital punishment.

But imagine how cool it is to live in an Austin where everything’s new. You know how you hear somebody talking about how they just started watching The Wire and you get a little jealous because that’s something you’ll never get to do again for the first time? It’s like that.

I moved to Austin 30 years ago this March and it’s hard for me to get excited about, say, going to the honky tonk preservation scene at the Broken Spoke on a Thursday night when Jesse Dayton’s playing all those old country classics. But I went there recently for a story and I could tell who had never been to that 50-year-old club before. They were glowing. Ain’t got nothing like this in Silicon Valley, yeehaw!

Yes, it used to be so much better here, but those days are gone. Living in Austin is like sex in that what happened in the past has only sentimental value, which when it comes to sex is no value. Who would you rather be, the old guy hunched over his cereal who used to bang Victoria Principal or the insufferable hipster in the trucker hat who goes home to that hot barista, the one without the tattoos?

One advantage that newcomers have is that they don’t know what Austin used to look like or how the people used to act. They can go to Torchy’s storefront on South First and not once think about Virginia’s, the beloved home cooking joint that used to be in that location. There’s no haunt to the jaunt.

The only Austin any of us know is the one we got. And I think right now we have to get something straight. If you were born and raised in Austin and still live here, you’re rare, but not special. So please stop bragging in Facebook comments. You’re annoying the 99% of us who moved here because where we lived before wasn’t so hot. Or, even worse, it was Lubbock.

Some moved here for jobs. They’re called Round Rock residents. But most of us moved here because we loved the party, you know, the vibe. It started as a room full of conversations on Goodwill couches and someone pulled out a guitar and everyone sang “Blister In the Sun.” But the bash now rages with a D.J. and drink tickets. Who invited all these bubblebutts?

But they have every right to be at this party gone out of bounds as you do. Legally, at least. You just got there early. And you’re free to leave.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about doing just that myself. Leaving Austin, my Austin. But then one evening I took a spin around town and forced myself to see this town through the eyes of a newcomer. The drive started near my first apartment on South First near Ben White and my mind went back to that time in ’84 when Austin was all new.

I crossed the river at Lavaca, then turned right at E. 7th. , one of my favorite streets in Austin because it’s the fastest way to get to the East Side. Outside the window on this 20-minute drive, I saw people on the streets, talking and laughing, hanging out at food trailers, popping out of nifty shops, sitting there drinking coffee. There was the statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan I saw driving over the bridge and the one of Willie Nelson just on the other side. East Austin was all over the place, from taquerias to Qui and a rock and roll dive called Hotel Vegas, the same name as when it was a flop house.

What a cool fucking town.

Austin is such a safe city that “living on the edge” means going to the HEB on E. 7th instead of the one at Hancock Center, so infused with that lived-in-Bushwick-three-years swagger, I ended the away leg of my drive at the grocery store where people have been stabbed over 11 items in the express checkout. HEB has everything, bruh.

I drove back on E. Sixth to Congress and took a left back to South Austin. These are streets I’ve driven down thousands of times and so they had become merely routes. But on the night I looked at the surroundings as someone who’d been driving a U-Haul through Texarkana the day before, I realized that we need to make a major distinction when we’re talking about East Sixth Street.

There are two wildly different ones. There’s the one-way East Sixth of street hustlers and tourists and loud, stupid bars and heavy metal pizza. This is the Sixth Street out-of-town sports announcers are always referencing when they call games in town. “(Winning team) fans are going to be partying on Sixth Street tonight!” Then there’s the hip, two-way Sixth Street on the east side of I-35 that makes recent arrivals from Williamsburg miss home a little less.

Randy Quaid and Dennis Quaid share a last name because they have the same father. East Sixth and East Sixth are not similarly bound by law or tradition. Maybe we just need to call the hipper side “East East Sixth.” Or officially change the name of the Bourbon Street section to “Dirty Sixth.” Tag it to the street signs. And for crissakes put a surveillance camera on every corner. Selling clips to “World’s Craziest Streetfights” and other such TV shows will bring as much revenue to the city as the F1 racetrack.

One thing strange about the east side of the freeway is seeing folks charge for parking. I recently had to pay $10 to park in a lot where I once bought a home theatre sound system for $10. But things change because paradise can never keep its trap shut.

About 150 people a day are moving to Austin, according to reports. That’s 150 people who’ve never slid into a booth at Curra’s for breakfast tacos and that cinnamon roasted Oaxacan coffee, who’ve never heard next year’s big band on the outdoor stage of the Mohawk, who’ve never been on one of the trails that hold sanity together like twine.

They’re the lucky ones, just starting season one.

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