Even as we completed our Trajectory Towards Transformation six months ago, we knew we were in for a return run to Austin, one way or another. Even with 2 trips in U-Haul trucks, we still could not move all of the accumulated treasures and debris of 27 years in that house. We had to leave a lot of boxes behind as we made the move from Austin to Cañon City. We always planned a last “hit & run” visit to pack up the leftovers and squeeze in a good visit at the same time.
We toyed with making the trip in August but, fortunately, came to our senses. Our son pointed out that returning to Texas in the heat of the summer for physical labor would be just plain stupid. So we set our sights on late October, aiming for cooler weather. To avoid driving yet another U-Haul truck, we opted for their U-Box service, where they deliver a large empty storage box to an address, you fill it, and they ship it to the destination.
Tuesday was our travel day: we drove a couple of hours up the road to the Denver airport to catch a non-stop flight to Austin. After our multi-stage journey — drive-airport-plane-airport-ride-hailing (Ride Austin, the homegrown alternative to Uber — friendlier riders, too, according to our driver) — we made it back to Dexter Street. Our wonderful neighbor and host for this visit, Wendy, welcomed us with sandwich makings as we settled into her house that first night.
And we got our first sight of our old house — or rather, where our old house used to stand. It had been torn down and hauled off months ago along with the dying sycamore tree. The only thing left standing was our gate to the side yard, now curiously unattached to anything and standing open.
Sara had dreaded seeing the vacant lot, worrying that it would seem as if our time there had been erased, too. Instead, it looked wonderfully overgrown and totally unconnected to us, our life there, or the rich memories we built there.
We started Wednesday strolling through the old neighborhood for breakfast at Maudie’s Too for a dose of Tex-Mex breakfast tacos. Looping further south on S. Lamar before heading back, we wandered over to South Pop (South Austin Museum of Popular Culture). There we viewed the memorial wall paying tribute to Austin musicians and icons who have died. I noted some upgrades to some longstanding memorials, as well as the clearing of a panel in preparation for this year’s installation, always performed in conjunction with Dia de Muertos.
As we marveled at the back corner stage and its mural of Austin cartoon icons, George walked out of the museum itself and offered to let us look inside, so we got a private showing of sorts. My old friend Leeah, who runs the place, came in shortly before we left, so I got to say hi and mention the Kerry Awn Nothing Strikes Back menus and posters I had promised to donate to the museum before we left.
That afternoon, we headed over to visit our friend, Paul, and hang out on his magnificent back deck overlooking Town Lake — now called Lady Bird Lake, but some of us will always think of it as Town Lake. We watched the sunset and ordered pizza to stay there on the deck as long as we could, finally borrowing Paul’s car to wander back to Wendy’s for the night.
Did I mention our decision to go without a car while visiting? We figured a lot of what we needed to do was within walking distance and we could ask friends for rides if needed. What a relief that turned out to be — we totally avoided the aggravation of driving in Austin traffic and stay focused on fewer activities and friends.
Thursday, the U-box got delivered. We spent most of the morning sorting through and loading boxes. While we worried briefly that one U-box would not be enough, we actually realized mid-Thursday we would likely have room for everything we had stored at Wendy’s. As we sorted through boxes and piles, though, we also realized that virtually nothing had been put into storage that could easily be discarded. If that had been the case, those items simply did not get moved over to storage.
So Thursday was packing and staying in the neighborhood. Our old friends and neighbors, Ray & Theresa, invited us over to dinner that evening. As we strolled down Dexter Street to their house, we got stopped twice to visit by neighbors: Patrick, who lived at the end of the block; and David & Cindy, the people who had bought our house! So it was fun to be visit with neighbors twice on a two-block stroll down our old street to see friends.
We met Ray & Theresa through school when their daughter, Eliza, and our son, Lucas, were in 1st grade together. The other overlap we quickly discovered: they were Deadheads, too. Okay, Sara’s not a Deadhead, but she knows I am and indulges me, and enjoys my Deadhead friends.
Anyway, whereas we fled the Zilker neighborhood, Ray & Theresa recently remodeled a bit on their home, creating a screened porch room that opens up into their living room. Did I mention Ray is an incredible chef? Let’s just say the dinner was scrumptious and the conversation delightful, a perfect end to Thursday evening for us.
Friday daytime was mostly packing the rest of the stuff — well, almost all of the rest of the stuff, that is — resting up a bit and making contact with other friends.
See, that evening my favorite Austin Grateful Dead cover band, DeadEye, was playing at the Threadgill’s World Headquarters Beer Garden. Knowing I would see a lot of friends there, I had arrived in Austin in “stealth mode,” having told only my buddy Albert that I would be there. It also offered a perfect chance to catch a great chicken-fried steak as well, so we met up with our old friend, Natasha, to eat before the show.
Sure enough, starting before the band started, I got plenty of startled reactions as folks spotted me.
“I thought you were in Colorado?”
One friend, Amber, had the best reaction when she saw me: her eyes widened, jaw dropped, as she stopped, saying, “Get out of here right now!” before giving me a quick hug.
Anyway, while the night was a bit chill, the band was hot, and we danced to Dead tunes late into the night. They capped their show with a rousing encore of “Werewolves of London” and any local werewolves heard us howling that night.
With almost all of the leftover stuff packed into our box, we dedicated Saturday to visiting two sets of friends. Again, with limited time, we had to limit who we spent time with, but we definitely wanted to catch up with James & Kara, our friends who got married at the English castle last year. While we were selling our house, they were looking to buy their first house. They found one and bought it, so we got to visit them in their new home, complete with recent remodeling work from James’ father. We just barely missed his dad coming back over from England to do some more work on the house: building a deck and backyard fence. Kara’s dad had contributed several pieces of furniture he had made, so their house was brimming with handmade love. The visit went by too quickly, but it was great to see them starting off life in their new home.
Then, my buddy Albert picked us up and whisked away east of town to Bastrop. He & Rebecca had moved into a longtime rent house they owned within the last year, yet somehow, Sara and I had not visited them yet. So we spent Saturday afternoon in their sprawling backyard high above the banks of the Colorado River running through a park in the middle of town, with another gorgeous view for sunset as Albert fired up the grill. The evening was just about perfect: fajitas & friends, tunes & tales into the night.
We even discovered Sara’s old dresser that we had given to Albert & Rebecca several years ago. After each of their kids used it and they moved, it got moved out to storage. Reunited with a long-loved dresser thought lost, Sara was beaming. We considered trying to get it to Austin and into the box — but decided it would be even better to use it as an excuse to return again at another time to pick it up.
Sunday then was mostly a leisurely breakfast in Bastrop and returning to Austin for a day of rest. Coincidentally, an old favorite band, Denim, was playing that afternoon, back down at Threadgill’s WHQ, a sweet surprise for my Sunday afternoon.
When I got there, I also got to greet another Austin icon, Gary P. Nunn. I finally got to tell him personally about being part of the rowdy crowd there in Luckenbach back in August 1973 when he introduced “London Homesick Blues” (with its anthemic verse, “I wanna go home with the armadillo…”) to the world.
A little while later on this particular Sunday afternoon, Gary P. would lead yet another rowdy crowd in singing that show-stopper at the “Back to the Armadillo” concert over on Auditorium Shores. Part of me thought about hitting that — back in the day it would’ve been a no-brainer — but for this Sunday, I preferred the lower-key Denim gig. And the boys definitely delivered!
Denim singing about spring in Texas: it doesn’t get much more Austin than this!
After the show, my old friend & neighbor, Suzanne picked me up and we headed over to Shady Grove to meet Sara for dinner and a visit. Again, our time with Suzanne was brief, but that made each moment all the more precious. Just wish we could’ve caught some music with Suzanne —she’s the one who got Sara up & dancing over the last year or two!
Monday morning, we strolled over to Snooze for a final breakfast with our host Wendy. Later, I dropped off those Nothing Strikes Back poster/menus to South Pop and walked the memorial wall again, remembering all these old Austin friends gone.
A final call to Ride Austin and we were off to the airport. We grabbed some Salt Lick barbecue there in the terminal to complete the Texas trinity of foods — Tex-Mex, Chicken-Friend Steak, and Bar-B-Q — and off we flew. Flying our favorite airline, Southwest, once again proved a winner with our flight attendant’s hilarious little twists on the standard welcoming comments, ending with “You won’t get THAT on Delta!” I thanked him as he made his way through the cabin and he quickly responded, “No one’s walked out on my act yet.” We love flying Southwest — that’s just another reason why.
We left 78 degree Austin in the afternoon and arrived to 34 degree Denver and a chilly, sometimes snowy 2-hour drive through the night home to Cañon City, our home sweet home.