Saturday, August 9, 2008

Moving Out.

J and I are moving some time soon to a house built from shipping containers and building materials salvaged from movie sets, which our friend JP (of M&JP) is building on their land. JP says it'll be done before Christmas.

I was talking with J a few days ago about how -- though I'm excited and happy about our future home -- the move comes with some sadness. It feels like a farewell to a kind of life that I dreamed of when I was a kid and lived for many years, in New York and then briefly in San Francisco, and to some extent in Nashville. A big city life where you live and work and play, shop and eat, all nearby or in places that are easily accessible by public transportation.

I've continued or tried to continue to live like that here in Austin, but it's a struggle because public transportation is so spotty. Sometimes, without a car, I feel isolated, stranded here. I can walk to the post office. I can walk to the bar, movie theaters, coffee shops, restaurants, and various other businesses. But I can't walk to a grocery store. And if I need something outside my neighborhood, I have to do serious planning. I can't just hop on the subway. Usually I can borrow J's truck. If I can't, a bus trip is often an hour and a half to get to a place that might take 15 minutes to drive to. Austin is a driving city, and I hate driving.

So moving out to M&JP's is like giving up, admitting that it may be impossible to have that life now. Life in the urban core is more and more just for the rich. The kinds of neighborhoods I lived in (the East Village and Lower East Side of New York, Ft. Greene in Brooklyn, Waverly-Belmont in Nashville) flip too fast now. There used to be a window of several years between when the artists moved into ghettos and the developers and yuppies came and wiped everything out. Now, I look at the neighborhoods east of our present home, where there is still serious poverty, drug dealing, prostitution on the street corners, not infrequent shootings, etc., and across the street they're building "luxury lofts."

Our new home will be about 4 miles from downtown and the U.T. campus. A reasonable bike ride and a very quick drive. M&JP are family to me, and though I'll be farther away from downtown, I'll feel less isolated there with them. The house is going to be beautiful. We'll have windmills and solar panels generating most of our power, a composting toilet, rain water collection will provide most of our water, a bigger vegetable garden. We'll be more closely in M&JP's orbit, a big and varied group of artists, friends, family. M&JP are like magnets for good, generous, interesting, hard-working, smart, creative people.

This move is a relief. No more yuppies nipping at my heels. It's the end of a long trail of spoiled neighborhoods that were once full of life and art and danger and possibility and are now full of strollers and retail chains and rents that are way too high for the marginal people.

(The new light rail system they're building now will stop near our new home and it goes downtown and to the U.T. campus. And we're right on two major bus routes, one of which goes to U.T., so my commute to school if I don't feel like riding my bike will be quick and easy.)


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how it is that you can't walk to a grocery store. There is a large grocery store slightly less than two miles' walk from your current residence.

That's not hard. If you can walk to the Chain Drive, you can make it to the HEB.


Steven said...

Yes, I could walk to a grocery store. But shlepping groceries two miles home is not part of the kind of ambulatory urban life I was trying to describe.

Just for comparison, it would be as if, when I lived on East 10th St. in New York, I bought my groceries in Times Square and there was no subway to ride home with all the bags. And that's not even a fair comparison because in New York all the way home there would be sidewalks, there would be people and street life, stuff to look at, benches to sit down on, and I wouldn't have to negotiate an Interstate highway.

But you're right, I'm much more inclined to walk a mile to hang out with guys and drink beer than I am to go grocery shopping. :)

Anonymous said...

Eh? There's sidewalk and interesting people, and no interstate, between you and 7th at Pleasant Valley.


Steven said...

You're right. I didn't know there was a grocery store there. But tell me honestly, would YOU walk from 7th and Pleasant Valley to my house (2 miles) with 3 or 4 bags of groceries?

Anyway, my point is not that it's impossible for me to walk to a grocery store. There's probably even a bus that would take me there and back, but since many of the buses in Austin only run every 30 or 40 minutes, I would have to plan my shopping day carefully. Again, I'm not saying this is such a huge hardship, only that it's not a life I'm used to yet. And I guess I'm also trying to make the point that Austin is not a pedestrian-friendly city.

Have you ever BEEN to New York or San Francisco or another major city where people walk and take public transportation everywhere? It's very different.

So -- come clean, anonymous. Who are you? :)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I've walked plenty of distance with grocery bags -- and 3 or 4 is doable. I know it's a pain in the heat, but a backpack is really helpful with that sort of thing. So is a bicycle.

Anonymous would prefer to leave you burning with curiosity.

Steven said...

Okay, anonymous. I guess people have left me burning with worse things than curiosity.