The Rise (or Fall) of the Clarksville’s Last Holdout Corner Lot

The past and a vision of the future. Photo by Mary Lowry.

When I was four years old and first moved to Clarksville, a couple of teachers would’ve most likely been able to afford a mortgage on a small house in the neighborhood. These days a little 1300 square foot bungalow goes on the market for half a million dollars. Heck, I wouldn’t be able to stay in Clarksville if I wasn’t willing to live in 300 square feet of rented heaven.

My awareness that I would not be able to pay even property taxes on a tiny house in the area of town I fell in love with as a kid caused me to develop a deep affection for Clarksville’s last undeveloped corner lot. I’ve been admiring it for years, as it sat unchanged and boldly defying gentrification.

I noticed when the only structure on the lot–a little wooden shack– was joined by a practically capacious RV. The addition seemed to fit and the lot continued to remind me of the bedraggled houses, children and dogs that occupied the Clarksville of my childhood.

So it was with dismay that, while out for a walk the other day, I spotted the sign warning of the imminent transformation of Clarksville’s last holdout corner lot.

The lot’s future? The shed, the RV, the trees, all will be razed or removed to make way for the Four Luxury Townhouses of Woodlawn Plaza.

But who am I, a lowly little renter, to deny such progress?

Why Clarksville?

In order to understand the macrocosm of the history and culture of Texas, it’s important to understand the state on a microcosmic level as well.

That’s why examining the past and present of my favorite Texas neighborhood, Central Austin’s Clarksville. I’ve lived in Clarksville, on-and-off, for the past 29 years.

Clarksville sits a short 25-minute walk from the Texas state capitol.

A freedman’s colony after the Civil War; a shabby, eclectic middle class neighborhood during the years of my childhood; Clarksville is now gentrified, mostly white, and full of quirky, thriving local businesses.

Panic Politics

If ever a town earned the right to perpetual panic, New Orleans is it. The people of New Orleans face the economic and environmental consequences of the BP oil spill before they’ve fully recovered from Katrina. I’ve been spending a good amount of time in New Orleans lately, and panic is the last thing on the minds of New Orleanians.

On Frenchmen Street, a two-block circus of music and bars not far from the Quarter, a young street poet bangs away at his spontaneous verse on an old Royal typewriter and recites them for tips. He came to New Orleans from D.C. to work as an ambulance driver. A city hiring freeze left him a lot of time to write. But he’s not panicked. He was, I promise, happy, if in a bluesy kind of way.

I don’t meet many happy people in politics these days. I’m not sure I meet any. In the political arena, panic is everywhere. On the Right, there’s panic about zombie communism. Maybe we should shorten the name of this ultimate straw-bogeyman to zommunism. Anyway, On the Left, there’s panic about undead fascism. Those not panicked about being sold out are panicked about being accused of being sellouts.

One of Austin’s greater slacker rituals used to be the annual North Austin/South Austin tug-o-war called the “Tug of Honor.” A big rope was strung across the Colorado River, and hundreds of beer-drinking partisans lined up on their side of the river, grabbed the rope and tugged. At some point, one side or the other tumbled into the river. Now, we are much too panicked for that sort of revelry. But there’s another point here.

If you’ve ever been on the losing side in a tug-o-war, you know that moment of panic when your team is overpowered, its mutual footing lost. There’s a kind of oh-my-god panic. Somehow, in our current political circumstance, all sides seem to be having such a moment at the same time. The laws of physics hint that that shouldn’t be possible.

Continue reading “Panic Politics”

SXSoTouristy— Drunk? Blow here.

SXSW tourists enjoy SoCo.
SXSW tourists enjoy SoCo.

When I was a kid no one went down to South Congress unless they were looking for a costume or a XXX movie. But in the past fifteen years or so, the strip has become a mecca for people from somewhere else who want to be where the cool kids roam. This week Soco is more crowded than usual with tourists looking for a genu-ine Austin hipster experience.

A SXSW tourist catches a wave on South Congress.
A SXSW tourist looks to catch a wave on South Congress.

A Sunday bike ride up the jampacked street left me feeling as if my hometown had become a temporary Disneyland.

I took a left off of South Congress onto Live Oak and arrived at Big Stacy Pool, where I found a true haven from the scenester bustle. White, brown and black kids cannon balled into the water. Leathery old guys and young mothers tanned. A man hobbling on crutches slipped into the pool to swim laps with a pull buoy. Training triathletes blazed through the water. A little redheaded girl had a meltdown and her big bellied dad tried to handle it.

And a wild little latch key kid swimming in an obscene t-shirt helped renew my faith that parts of South Austin are still keeping it real.

Drunk? Free Breathalyzer Test. Blow here.
Drunk? Free Breathalyzer Test. Blow here.

Photos by Mary Lowry.

The Airplane Attack Next Door

plane-crash-austinIt was right down the street from my home. An unhinged man in a single-engine airplane crashed into an Austin office building. The Internal Revenue Service had offices in that building. I was in those offices not long ago for a compliance check on a non-profit I run. I got passing grades, by the way.

I have just returned from driving through the area. I stopped at the local bookstore and grocery store on the way home. Workers there said they didn’t even know it happened until some customers told them and they saw crowds gathering outside. Smoke still hangs in the air. There’s a chemical smell to it.

I’d watched news coverage of the tragedy earlier in the day. It’s a strange sensation. Full of the virtual reality of television coverage one minute. Present at the real-world scene the next minute. Most people are going about their business. Buying books. Buying groceries. Going home from work.

Americans are discussing whether the attack by Andrew Joseph Stack and his airplane is an instance of domestic terrorism. He was angry, angry at all kinds of people, angry at the government, especially at the IRS. This we know from the note he left behind. Does it matter whether we call the attack a crime or an act of terror? Continue reading “The Airplane Attack Next Door”

My Mother’s House: A Photo Essay Part 5

My mother's vision: ballerinas and pinatas
My mother's vision: ballerinas and pinatas

My mother, a prolific outsider artist, began working in acrylics and oils, moving on to mural and collage.

More recently she’s returned to an early medium–mosaics.

My maternal grandmother Tootie taught my mother how to do mosaics when my mother was a bored teenager in need of entertainment. My mother explained, “I asked Tootie one time what I could do. And she didn’t believe in people not being able to find something to do. So she asked me to draw a design. So I drew a watermelon with a lime green background and I made a mosaic of it. And she turned it into a tabletop and put it in the backyard.”

Continue reading “My Mother’s House: A Photo Essay Part 5”

Waiting for a Train: Progressives and Country Music

If I said that country music holds a key to progressive political success, would it sound so out of tune that you’d stand up and walk out on me?

Hit the door then, or lend me your ears, because I believe that’s the case. I prefer Americana or alternative country over mainstream, country pop. But I embrace the latter, too. There are important values and a profound combination of hope, community spirit, and wariness of authority in much of the music.

Despite the conservative, lily-white image of contemporary country, it’s multicultural to the core. Continue reading “Waiting for a Train: Progressives and Country Music”

Bush as Empty Cargo Shorts: How Perfect Is That

Austin, Texas was once a laid-back, creative haven full of college students, hippies, affable red necks and university professors. Even the conservative Democrats in power in the late ’60s and early ’70s went to pot-god Willie Nelson concerts.

George W. and Laura Bush, Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzalez, Karen Hughes – these people who held the Texas governor’s mansion from 1994-2000 just aren’t Austin’s idea of hip. So how did they captivate the city just a coupla decades later? Continue reading “Bush as Empty Cargo Shorts: How Perfect Is That”