The Austin Trip – 2003 IV

It was early afternoon, so I had plenty of time to check out the downtown Austin scene. The sun was really intense, and I luckily found a curbside parking space in the shadow of the Austin Hilton (one of the two high-rises under construction). I unhitched the velocipede and took off to rediscover the center city. Just a block away, I was pedaling down the fabled 6th Street with its music lounges, bars, and eateries. On a Saturday afternoon, the joints were jumpin’. It was great to see The Street still alive and doing well.

I accidentally came upon the Driskill Hotel, a refurbished 1886 edifice. I tied up the bike and went inside. I’ve always been magnetized to the grandiose, turn-of-the-century palaces that had played host to celebrities and politicians for over a hundred years. I strolled through the handsome lobby with its exquisite woodwork and classic columns. An adjacent lounge even had a piano bar, a longtime feature that’s on the endangered species list. I talked briefly with a gentleman at the bar having an early-afternoon cocktail. The bartender asked me if I wanted to be served. In jest, I replied, “No thanks. It’s too late in the day for me.” The bartender wasn’t impressed, but Mr. Cocktail laughed and said, “Too late in the day. I like that one.” He was a guest at the hotel, so I asked, “How do you find your room?” He replied, “I take the elevator to the third floor, then down the hall to… Hey, I know what you mean, friend. It’s okay, nothing special. It has all the appropriate appointments. I love staying here because of its old-fashioned elegance.” “Yeah,” I said, “I know what you mean. What I love about this hotel is mentally visualizing all those grand inaugural balls they had here for newly elected governors. Man, I bet the bourbon was really flowing.” As I walked back to the bike, I thought how great it was that hotels like the Driskill still survived.

I biked over to Congress Avenue which has to have one of the most overwhelming vistas in the country with the huge state capital anchoring the terminus. It was awesome! I biked up and down the avenue, noting retailers, restaurants, and a movie theater all open for business. Trees and benches complimented the wide sidewalks which, by the way, were amply full of pedestrian traffic. It reminded me of my visit to a rejuvenated downtown Ft. Worth a couple of weeks ago…it was alive! All I could say to myself was: “Poor Dallas.”

When I got back to Ol’ Blue, she was still in the shade. I wouldn’t have to climb into a hotbox after all. I drove over to Congress Avenue to get one more view of that grand panorama. I crossed the river and suddenly found myself engulfed in another traffic jam. I remembered Suzi telling me of a “Weird Flying Machine” contest that was to be held on the river Saturday afternoon. That had to be the reason for all the traffic. Hey, it was no big deal. I liked seeing a city enjoying its riverfront. I hooked a left and started south, then east, then south again, “driving by the seat of my pants”, so to speak. I finally found U.S. 290 and I was westward bound towards the hills of West Austin. The directions to The Market proved to be right on. Inside the store, I encountered a lady by the name of Becky and said. “I’m an old friend of Jan Walner. Could you possibly give me directions to her house in Lakeway?” She started off verbally., but I soon asked her to sketch out the directions. When she had finished her rather circuitous-looking route, another employee, a short, balding gentleman, came up and surveyed her map and said, “In all due respect, Becky, I can show a much more direct way to get to Lakeway.” And that he did. I thanked Mr. Helpful (I neglected to get his name, darn it), and Becky said, “You got a ways to go. At least it’s a beautiful day for a drive.” Yeah, right.

As I started off towards Lakeway, the sun had become bit more intense, glaring through the windshield and the driver’s side window. It would have been much more pleasant if there had been a cooler cloud cover. Within a half hour, I was crossing the city limits of Lakeway where the sign read: “Population 8,027.” My gosh! I was expecting a little lakeside hamlet of 500 or so inhabitants. It turned out to be one of a number of burgeoning communities that had sprouted like mushrooms in the irresistible Hill Country west of Austin. I could only imagine the tons of traffic that commuted daily back and forth to Austin. The rural two-lane roads were inexorably being replaced with four and six-lane swaths of freeways. It was like the North Dallas and Beyond syndrome.