Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Begin Again

First day of school for the 2014-15 school year was yesterday, for Miss Anna Banana Fo Fanna and me. She's in 8th grade now. Me, a little hard to say. Junior-ish. Whatever.

Actually, the UT fall semester doesn't start until tomorrow. Austin Community College, where I have two classes, started up yesterday. But one of those is a compressed online course which doesn't kick off until 9/22. So, yesterday, I took off work at 3 PM, biked up to UT, declared my major as Rhetoric and Writing (not marketing; surprise!), and had my UT ID made.

Big mistake.

Campus has changed a bit since I was a regular there, and what I once knew as the Undergraduate Library (UGL) is now the Peter T. Flawn Academic Center (FAC). It's not a library at all anymore. There are computer labs, and it's where you go to get your ID made. Well, when I was a (cough, cough) sweet young thing, we called the UGL the "Ugly," and apparently this is where karma comes back to bite you in the ass, because when you're 45 and hydrate like a mofo and you bike to school when it's 101 degrees and have your picture taken at the FAC, well, "pretty" is not the first word that comes to mind.

Seriously, I might drive there Saturday and have them retake it.

Anyway, classes did start at ACC yesterday, so I showed up enthusiastically at my Texas State and Local Government class. Instead of feeling self-conscious about the fact that everyone else in class is younger than my second child I should just take shameless advantage of my inside knowledge as a state government employee and try to nuke the curve. This does concern politics, after all.

A young lady arrived early and was sitting front and center 30 minutes before the start of class. She was reading Ayn Rand. So all hope for the future either is or is not lost, depending on where you stand. Do I cancel out her effect? Or do we both contribute, equally detrimentally, to the current Texas political Gestalt? Discuss.*

I fired up the computer tonight to complete my first, practice, not-for-credit writing assignment for this class, and found an email from my Advanced Writing class at UT - one of my upper-division major requirements and a class I'm extremely excited about, although I also have to take an Intermediate Writing class (it's not a prerequisite) and it seems odd to do that one afterwards. I am wondering if I can just turn in my blog and get a B.

My writing professor has just gotten jury duty. Jury duty! So we can't have class tomorrow; it's a Monday-Wednesday class, so no meeting Friday; next Monday is Labor Day, so... Well, I have some suggested reading to tide me over, but I have to say I'm a little disappointed. Are university professors not exempt? Could he not have submitted a written excuse that would have blown the court's judicial socks off? I mean, you know, writing. Right?

He obviously isn't a state government employee.

*Preferably in German

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Geraldine and the History Lesson

In the interest of disclosure, what you are about to read is a blog post about a well-loved guinea hen.

Rainey Street, in Austin, didn't use to be Rainey Street, according to this 1919 map: it was merely the southern end of Sabine Street, an Eastside street at its terminus with the Colorado River (Town Lake).

It's a safe bet that 1920-era Eastside residents weren't first adopters of that newfangled horseless carriage technology.

Much later, the advent of the interstate highway system transformed many urban areas. In Austin, it created what some called "the Great Wall," dividing West (money, privilege, upper-middle class, and downtown) from East (poor people, who by some inexplicable coincidence all happened to be ethnic minorities).

One odd thing that the new I-35 did was completely cut off Rainey Street from its former East Austin neighborhood. The thing is, the great West-East divide was not actually anything new. Visit Austin today, and on the once-residential west side of downtown, you find many grand old houses now serving as law offices. Just a little further west, bordering on the Hill Country, you find the old-money neighborhoods that spawned such Austin illuminati as Carole Keeton Rylander Cougar Mellencamp Strayhorn and her son, Austin High alumnus and former White House press secretary Scott McClelland. To the west of grande dame Pease Park, mansions rise from the greenery around Shoal Creek to house such modern Austin aristocracy as Robert Rodriguez, who lives in a castle fashioned from an old water tower.

To the east, the houses are modest, and there's a mercy in that. These tiny houses east of what was once East Avenue, now Interstate 35, boast only one or two small bedrooms and a bathroom each. But because they lay in the no-man's-land of economic blight well into the 1990s, gentrification has largely spared the historic old houses, if not the character of the neighborhoods that once dwelt there.

Rainey Street is a particularly recent victim, or a victim in progress even, as recently as yesterday afternoon. Rainey was part of the working-class East Austin neighborhood east of East Avenue. I-35 created few new distinctions there, except that, largely due to the superior economic status of neighborhoods south of the Colorado River, it veered sharply to the east just north of the bridge, and cut a little triangle of neighborhood, including Rainey Street, off from its former Eastside neighbors.

Somehow, nobody really noticed for decades. Rainey Street remained residential, quiet, and quite forgotten, cheek and jowl with the working-class travelers' Holiday Inn on the north shore of Town Lake just west of I-35, and a still-extant nursing home a couple of hundred feet away. The Chain Drive popped up there, as tongue-in-cheek gay bars tend to do. But otherwise, life went on largely as usual. Working-class residents lived in small, rather cute, very small frame houses and led largely unremarkable lives, working at blue-collar jobs and raising small livestock, on a small scale. It was small.

I'm not sure (probably a Google search would turn it up instantly, but the hell with it) what the first restaurant and/or bar was to open on Rainey Street. It wasn't more than 6-7 years ago that it started to catch on. Well, it was inevitable, naturally; we're talking a couple of blocks from downtown, an easy walk from hoity-toity hotels, and with a quiet street of low-income property owners, the houses and taxes were dirt-cheap, and the structures had a distinctive retro appeal. So one place moved in, then another. And why wouldn't it? If it's easy and inexpensive to open a lucrative business in a convenient area, it would be silly not to.

Rainey Street's blossoming was probably more sudden than many gentrification stories. It was a residential area so recently. All the actual Austin people are gone now, with trendy bars, and trendy restaurants, and trendy traffic taking the place of longtime residents. And one of those longtime residents was Geraldine - a guinea fowl, of the abovementioned small livestock.

Geraldine was quite a longtime resident, nevermind the fact that she was only eight years old - though, by guinea fowl standards, that might be about 97 (another easily Googled fact I can't be bothered to look up). Unquestionably, though, Geraldine outdated the gentrification of the street, and she (or possibly he) rapidly became a mascot for the newly-fashionable area. Geraldine was a common sight, picking bugs (imaginary or otherwise) out of visitors' car tires, or just strutting about, acting as if she owned the place, which compared to anyone else in the vicinity she certainly did.

Because people are essentially beautiful, Geraldine was fed and cared for by her new neighbors. She was a common sight, and rapidly became a well-known icon. When her favorite roosting tree was cut down to build trendy condos, Geraldine's friends offered substitutes in the backyards of the establishments where they worked. Some visitors tried to catch her, hoping to bring her to a safer home. She was known far and wide as "Geraldine, the Rainey Street Guinea Fowl" (though once more, she may have been a boy).

And because people essentially deserve to be wiped off the earth via cataclysmic disaster, Geraldine was run over by a car yesterday. Her burial was this evening.

There's talk of closing Rainey Street to the motor vehicle traffic it was really never designed to handle in the first place. People do insist on bringing their cars there, and getting aggravated at not being able to secure a parking space within a quarter of a block of the bar where they hope to get wasted. I don't know if whoever ran over Geraldine ever even noticed, or had any idea who she was.

It was a sad day.