Travis Heights – Past and Present

Took the day to follow the breadcrumbs to my old neighborhood. I spent the better part of three decades in Travis Heights, during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. So much of my youth played out in the streets and parks winding along South Congress (in the days before the circus came to stay.) My boyfriend played in a band, I played soccer and worked part time, went out most nights and enjoyed rent that went from $125 to $150, then $250 and eventually, after 25 years $425/mo. Soap Creek Saloon, the Austex Lounge and the lone survivor, The Continental Club were an easy walk. You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a musician or an artist. Today, the new homes are a mix of boxy, architectural digest McMansions and older bungalows on steroids, with a few originals sprinkled around awaiting transformation. It is the story of new, old and aging Austin, where gentrification is whimsical and typically lacking in grace.

Today, I wanted to walk the path at Stacy Park, sit in a tree and visit the places I once called home. Some of my fondest memories are there with my dogs: Star, a big black dog and Cosmo, who was white with black patches on his eyes and tail. CosmoThey streaked up and down the park and usually stayed close to the woman who ran with the wolves. It was fun, we were fast and I only got bowled over once, a painful tailbone injury I will never forget. The cliff that hung over a part of the creek bathed in the moon’s glow once long ago – stark white with 3 black dogs looking for rocks – had collapsed. That moment lingers in my minds eye, a memory silhouette infused with hexagonal moon tower light. The waterfall on the other side of Pecan Grove has been cleared and the creek flowed steady, but I didn’t check to see if the daddy long leg colony bounced in a bunch under the cliff and I missed the 9 foot tall cattails. There were crawdads in the creek then – the neighbor boy who tried to convince me (unsuccessfully) that Rush was the greatest band ever would bring me the big ones. 502EMary

502 E Mary Street was my home then, which I shared with my partner, Jim. The big tree in the back yard is still there, a stately tribute to the times Star would peel my cat Simba off by his head, running around the yard with him dangling in her mouth. I stayed for a while after Jim went west, living with Connie and then Saffron, who sang in the Chromatics. It was all about the music. SimbaStar

In 1980 I traded working part time at the library and going to school for the art gallery and video studio, waiting tables and partying like it was 1999, but in 1980. Patti Smith, Iggy Pop and David Bowie gave way to the B52s, Devo and Talking Heads. Antones moved to the old Shakey’s Pizza location on Guadalupe and we got Paul Ray and the Cobras, Stevie and Jimmy Vaughn and Angela Strehli. At Emmajo’s and Jalapeno Charlie’s Butch Hancock, Jimmy Dale Gilmore and Joe Ely were playing alone and together – still are, though both Emmajo’s and Jalepeno Charlie are gone.

When I moved to a tiny house a few blocks over at 506 Leland it was raining men, women, transsexuals, all manner of strange bedfellows. There was no method to my madness, just a walk on the wild side. I remember Michael Florio in his platform shoes and his Puerto Rican afro singing that Lou Reed song to me in the back of a van just before I set off with a band of Merry Pranksters for the Shenandoah River Valley to camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains. But I digress. Gardener's Tiny House at 506 Leland

For ten years the Amdur Gallery informed much of my artistic and hedonistic sensibilities, while Dixie’s Bar and Bus Stop and Café Brasil helped close the chapter on my carefree, youthful indiscretions. Such a great time to write, paint, make videos, ride my bike and dance. While it didn’t do much to put money in the bank, living the life in my 20s and 30s infused my spirit with a joie de vivre I might not feel as often now but I can always remember, vividly. My parents might have had the war and the American dream, but my youth in Travis Heights was time well (mis)spent. Like an atmospheric southern novel, heavy with the sound of cicadas and the scent of blooming trees, I occasionally dream of those nights, laughing and prowling the streets with my friends. I felt it today when I walked the trail and returned to my homes, thinking of my loved ones come and gone and my daughter, who joined me on Leland and started a whole new life.

CottageIn the manner of people who don’t have much and whose guardian angels (my beloved landlords) provide welcome transitions, I moved next door from the gardeners shack to the slightly larger cottage at 508 Leland. Aurora, my daughter was just starting to walk when our friends helped hand carry our possessions over and we stretched out into a new yet familiar home. Lee, her dad and I managed to live together for a few years, and then it was just Aurora and me for the next few. There are so many wonderful memories of my friends and our children who grew up together in Travis Heights. Aurora jumping on the jogging trampoline in the rain in her bathing suit and umbrella, swimming at Stacy pool and walking with her to Travis Elementary, coffee cup in hand. We were close, in a way single parents and their only children are. Times were sometimes tough, but they were fun and filled with love as well. We made it through with the help of friends and family, for which I am eternally thankful.

AuroraEvWe didn’t stay alone for long and the next era, like Texas weather is filled with extremes: sunny by day, thunderstorms at night.

The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain. Dolly Parton

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