Hartley Coleridge asked if love was a “fancy or a feeling.” My question is: can you love a place as it changes over time? Can you love a place even if the changes break your heart?
For me, the answer is yes. I’ve been in Austin regularly for just about my entire life. It started out with visits to my Grand-mere, who lived in an apartment behind where the Chuck E Cheese used to be on Burnet. My Mom and I would drop off my Dad for a day of caving, hit Northcross Mall for some ice skating (including a pizza slice from the place in the mall), then go visit her. I remember sunflower seeds in the carpet, a fish tank full of those kind that look like they’ve swallowed neon, a lively miniature Schnauzer named Julie who would go out a sliding glass door to a little patio, and paint-by-number.
By the time I was a teenager, my Grand-mere was long gone from that apartment, having moved to Louisiana to live on my uncle’s horse farm. My parents became inexplicably obsessed with blues music, so our trips to Austin revolved around hitting up a few landmarks (Amy’s Ice Cream and Threadgills, especially) before spending a long, smokey night in Antone’s (when it was on Guadelupe). This happened just about every weekend when I was 16 or so, and that’s when it hit me: I fell in love with the city. I knew it was where I wanted to be - a big (I’m from Waco y’all), laid back, open minded town full of sunshine and people out enjoying it. A place where not very many people knew me and I could really be whoever I wanted to be.
Life brought me to the University of Texas when I was 19, and that was it: I WAS HOME. I loved every single day of the 4 years I spent in Austin in the late 1990’s; even bad days weren’t that bad because hey I was where I wanted to be. How bad could it be if I could go to Zilker Park? How bad could it be if you were living exactly where you’d dreamed of for years? I wept for hours when life shifted and I had to leave it. Everybody I met during the 10 years I lived away from there probably was sick to death of hearing me talk about it; even the things I loved about Manhattan were things I loved because they reminded me of Austin.
My heart waited a decade. I didn’t visit it more than a handful of times during those years. I moved back as soon as life turned again and gave me that chance. And I’ll be honest: after a short time of kinda reliving the glory days, I couldn’t ignore the fact that the city I loved had changed almost to the point of being unrecognizable.
Where I perch my boots these days is in a town north of there but most people consider it a suburb. It’s growing like wildfire; it’s where my family has put down new roots, and we have a deep love for it that I will talk about another time. I still drive in to Austin, but not regularly, and when I’m there it just doesn’t feel like home anymore. Where is the love? Where did it go? I’m looking for it; I’m holding on to those shreds of it that remain deep in my heart. Under the condos clinging to the land like barnacles, I know the soul of the city is still there. Maybe a lot of creatives / artists can’t afford to live there anymore, but we can dream about it. And where the dreams are - well, that’s where the real action happens anyway.
All the photographs I’m sharing with these words are from 2012-2014ish *. Like the city, they’re some of the ones I love most.
* from back in the day when I decided I should watermark my jpegs and what can I say I just didn’t have it in me to dig out the negatives and redo them in time to get this out to you, so here they are watermarks & all.