Oh Austin Where Art Though?

I moved to Austin, TX in 1998 during one of the hottest summers on record, and of course to melt the ice cream even further I moved in August, the hottest time of the year. When I moved here, Ricky Williams, Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey were “the” celebrities most associated with Austin. UT football was at it’s pinnacle with a Heisman Contender (Williams), Texas A&M/UT Football game was still the prime game of the season, A&M still built their time-honored bizarre bonfire the night before the rivalry game, Ruta Maya was still situated where Halcyon resides today (Lavaca/4th), Liberty Lunch was in full affect still attracting some of the biggest music acts at its historical site, the tallest structure downtown – One Capital Plaza towering at 32 stories did not obscure the view of  Texas’ favorite historical landmark the state’s capital, George W. Bush was Governor, UT campus particularly the stadium was still a true horseshoe,  there was sufficient parking accessible on campus, and UT was 6 buildings less than they have now, the UT Tower where one of the most infamous earliest school shooting rampages took place in 1966 still had its observation deck closed, only to be re-opened in 2000 after a 23 year stint because a series of suicides. Austin for the most part was way under 700,000 people, if you crossed the river you either lived in North or South Austin, traffic was minimal, the music scene was growing and intact, there was no ACL yet and SXSW was a small music/film conference. The best part of Austin for many people that live here is the fact that it is the least Texas City in Texas, it’s Southern California weather, and it’s unassuming cultural nature. It is a liberal oasis upon itself and one thing is parallel, Austinites wouldn’t have it any other way that is until the hipsters showed up.

Slowly we’ve seen the California/Austin merge as this has been occurring for almost 20 years now. Austin has become the mini silicon valley for Californians where housing was insanely cheap, land was accessible and opportunity to build a tech business was promising and tax compensated. I’ve observed the Austin urban evolution with my own two eyes, and it has been abysmal and stirring in so many dissimilar ways.

When I moved here in 1998 I lived in east campus on Dean Keaton (26th st.) and Medical Arts – I split the rent with my roommate, $800/month all bills paid, cable included and that was at the loftiness of Austin’s real estate boom. A year later I moved to the “original” South Austin (78704 zip code) which was still affordable back then and paid about the same rent minus all bills paid. Today that same apartment rents for $1500 a month and Caroline the property manger still lives and works on the premises. Back then that section of South Austin was a little dodgy but we didn’t care, we just wanted to listen to music, live close to the action, drink cold beer, hang out at the G&S Lounge at Oltorf and S.1st and drink $2 imports, cash only of course. I became good friends with a South Austin icon, Jimmy who owned the G&S Lounge, known as the Beer Nazi, if he didn’t like the way you looked he’d kick you out of his joint, you never saw a fight and you played by Jimmy’s rules.  I remember one time in particular he kicked out one of my good friends just because he said he didn’t like the way he talked, that’s just Jimmy. After moving to South Austin, I finally discovered my niche in the city. From there I lived in several location in South Austin, off of Brodie before it had it’s boom, S. 1st. before it was cool to live on S. 1st., Mopac West before it became Westlake luxurious and then after all was said and done I moved back to east campus. In 2001 it was still economical to live on campus, (Duval and 32nd) my apartment was $500 month all bills paid. I could ride my bike to Spiderhouse Coffee House Cafe when they just served coffee and beer and had a small funky patio with old lawn furniture and mis-matched tables and chairs. There was no table service you had to walk up and get your own drinks inside by the tattooed and very unfriendly wait staff. And when I was hungry or hungover I could walk down to Crown & Anchor and get a cheap and damn good burger/fries and a Live Oak Heffe for under $5. And it is still damn good and it is the only establishment that hasn’t completely sold themselves out to the hipster movement, nothing has changed about that place, nothing at all. For breakfast or late night eats I could roll over to 32nd and IH-35 and get some Eggs Rancheros or Black Bean Tacos at Star Seeds Café, a grungy, dingy eatery where the Sex Pistols would be blaring at 9 am on a Sunday morning, wait staff could very well have spit in your food and the bathrooms had a warning sign above the toilets “sit on the toilet seat, crabs jump 8 ft” brilliant – but the patrons didn’t care and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Star Seeds still has a mild seedy charm, but the walls are painted, the bathrooms are clean and the wait staff is still horrible but the food has remained just as good as the first time. If I was wanting to have a nice meal I could cruise on over to the East Side Cafe, which during that time was in a very shady part of town, unlike its gentrified state now but had great food, fresh ingredients and awesome service.  Mi Madre’s, still my favorite Tex-Mex Restaurant is still across the street lapping up all the hipster/yuppie dollars that roll in on those over packed Saturday mornings.

On those searing summer days, I would frequent and still frequent the “caught in a time warp” Barton Springs Pool, which hasn’t changed much neither nor has its prices. Back in the day I used to pay $2 admittance, now it’s $3, well worth every penny. You can catch sight of the city skyline and still enjoy the way Austin was/is and always will be in this little piece of organic spring fed heaven in the middle of the city.

It wasn’t until I moved to Chicago for a couple of years that made me realize, how much Austin lacked that deep cultural experience, museums, fine dining, shopping, professional sports, large music events…lesson learned, be careful what you ask for, culture we wanted, culture we got, along with overpriced high rise condos that re-invented the Austin skyline and blocked the state’s favorite monument, flamboyant restaurants, gaudy yogurt shops, fashionable clothing stores, lavish shopping malls, fancy cupcake bakeries, copious contemptible food trailers, excessive population, excessive traffic, a pathetic and vile effort at public transportation, despotic high end music venues, overpriced-overcrowded music festivals, an over-priced-over the top F1 event and an enormous nest of trust fund hipsters donning overly skinny designer jeans, fake Ray Bans sipping on $6 extra dry cappuccino’s while taking over the city I once knew and turning it into Williamsturd.

I sound bitter, it’s the cynic in me but I can’t help remembering back in the day listening to the old school Austinites natter about the yuppies moving into town and taking over their little slice of hippy heaven, I guess I’m the same way. I love my city and remember it a certain way, change is inevitable but that doesn’t mean I have to like all of it.

I had been living in South Austin for 12 years before I decided to fall in love with a North Austinite and moved North of the river in 2010 while the Austin I once knew began it’s dramatic urban transformation. Quite honestly I now realize living North, there is something to be said for having a place in the city where there are actual trees in your backyard, down to earth middle class neighbors, access to a greenbelt park right next to my house where we know every person and dog by name and a place in the city that has already experienced its boom. It’s quiet up here and when we do get the urge to drive downtown, we do it and without hesitation because we are Austin and there is nothing wrong with change and culture shifts, you just have to embrace it and enjoy the voyage even if it isn’t the variation you had hoped for. I will always have my memoirs of the way Austin used to be, and I will always feel like that modest 22-year-old wide-eye punk rock girl from the Midwest that took on the Live Music Capital city in Texas and won. Heck, It’s where I began to subsist and experience my life passage and quite frankly I can’t reasonably fathom being anywhere else, hipster haven or not, this is my home, this is my island, this is MY oasis….

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