Austin, historically, is a small conservative town. At some point that started to change and we developed the reputation for being Weird. As the city grows rapidly, the battle cry is “Keep Austin Weird!”
I’m sitting outside a restaurant off a narrow side street typing while Snoop knaws on a soup bone. It’s fairly peaceful here on South Congress in the Live Music Capital of the world where a band of frogs and crickets are well into their first set for the night. Through the chirps, I can easily hear the steady traffic on Congress though it’s after midnight. 20 years ago, you would have heard only the chirps. 40 years ago, Hills Cafe down the street would have been a cowboy diner located on actual ranch land.
When I first came to this city, we didn’t have any high rise condo buildings or high priced apartment complexes popping up where the affordable housing used to be. It wasn’t quite classic Austin; the Austin that got us the reputation for being so wierd and cool (the end of that era was benchmarked by the closing of the Armadillo World Headquarters), but at least we still had the affordable housing. One apartment was on East Riverside across lakeshore drive which borders the green belt and lake, just a quarter mile from downtown.
My rent for a 2 bedroom apartment was $650 per month. That’s where I had my first studio which I used to do the sound mix for Master of The Game, the first feature film to be shot at Austin Studios. That entire area was razed a few years ago and the modern apartments that were built to replace them are of the luxury variety. The rent now is around $1,600 per month (and up).
But, I’m not complaining. If I tried, it would sound inauthentic because I remember thinking, “I live so far from everything”. I guess, in order to feel like your in the middle of things, you need more development around where you’re at. I don’t mind the changes overall. The cost of living has skyrocketed which is bad for lots of people and will hurt the diversity of the community in the long run. But, the rest of the changes were probably needed for the most part. Up until the 1980’s, Austin had a major economy problem. I’ve heard the natives, one generation older than me, talk about it on several occasions. Unemployment was high and there was drug dealing and prostitution on South Congress only a couple miles from the capital. The Austin Motel (which is now pretty ritzy) used to advertise hourly rates on the marquis.
I also had a professor at the University who was a native. In class one day, she told us a story about her father who was on the city council in the 70’s when the town started to get wierd. He and the rest of the decision makers who chose how to expand Austin’s transportation system, actually made an effort to hamper growth by creating traffic jams. “Don’t build it and they will not Come” was the plan. So the town ended up with stop lights instead of a freeway type design with exits and overpasses. Huge mistake, because people came anyways and we’ve been trying to build our way out of that hole for decades. Based on the rapid growth we continue to see, that’s no likely to change anytime soon. I mis most of it since I’m not working an office job but I feel sympathy for the people who have no choice but to commute in rush hour.
I had the opportunity to live in Austin when it was small(ish) and since I’ve “been there, done that….bought the T-shirt”, I like seeing the new Austin and what it has to offer. I’ve been to lots of the classic Austin places and done some of the bigger events, but I have yet to do it all. I’ve been to Barton Springs, most of the parks and green belts, The Salt Lick in driftwood and all of the BBQ joints in Lockhart (but not Franklin downtown), I’ve been boating on Lake Travis, and tubing on the Guadalupe (but never saw the jet boats race on Town Lake during Aqua Fest…that was before my time), done the Lonestar Rod Roundup (but not the R.O.T. Rally) I saw Robert Plant at ACL Live but never Austin City Limits Music Festival), I’ve done 4th, 6th and Red River streets more times than I can count (but not Rainey Street), Done the Austin Film Festival several times, the conference twice, Eores birthday once (cool drum line) and the Pecan Street Festival a couple times, (but not SXSW or Austin WebFest), I’ve taken film and TV production classes (not acting classes), and I’ve seen the Austin Bats fly from underneath the Congress Street Bridge (and call it Congress “Street” bridge even though it’s really avenue) but haven’t been to Blues on the Green in Zilker Park (it is in Zilker…Isn’t it?)
I think this is the year to check some of those festivities off the bucket list.
The Other Neighborhood during the College Years