Two punk kids are crossing the street. Real ones, too. Not those fake pop-punk kids with studs in their faces and pastel-colored vomit shirts. The real deal. Dyed mohawks standing straight up. Covered in black from their dog-collar chokers to their over-sized combat boots. It made me wonder what this place used to look like.
I’m standing on Red River Street under the tin overhang of the roof of Stubb’s BBQ. I’m surrounded by old brick and limestone buildings, flickering neon signs, tin and gravel. Not to mention about every kind of inhabitant Austin has to offer.
Red River Street appears to be the old bar district, not too far on the east side of Congress Avenue. I don’t know if it actually was, but watching all these people passing by made me think about Austin in the ’70s and ’80s. I recently read that “no matter what time you come to Austin, you just missed it.” I find that line extremely interesting and inherently true. Austin was always a little bit better before you go there. But the ’70s and ’80s, those were the peak – had to be, right? Willie was rocking Armadillo World Headquarters, Townes was still alive, and Austin was booming with all kinds of other talent. Musicians like Stevie Ray and the 13th Floor Elevators. Writers like Gary Cartwright, Larry L. King, and Billy Lee Brammer. Artists, poets, brewmasters, freaks. They all were gathering in Austin.
We love to romanticize the idea of all of those people walking down Red River Street. Cowboys fighting Rockabillies and Punks. Bikers and Hippies getting into it. None of them wrong, just themselves. We imagine it like a scene out of a movie. And it’s hard not to, because it basically was. But if you spend all your time romanticizing what something was, you’ll never get to enjoy it for what it is. Sure, Austin’s not nearly as cool as it used to be. Everything is more commercial, SXSW ruined the music scene in the city, etc., etc. But it’s still got a lot of it’s old gems hanging around. Like Stubb’s for example.
Downstairs in the old, limestone building that is Stubb’s BBQ, there’s a stage raised about 2 1/2 feet high, and about the size of a typical Austin taco truck. There are amps, chords, mic stands, and instruments packed onto the stage. I’m here to see The Damn Quails, but Cody Jinks is up first. He hit the stage wearing worn out cowboy boots and a Motorhead tshirt, covered in tattoos from his knuckles up as far as his sleeves will reveal. His gravelly voice cranks out old-style country tunes powered by a pedal steel.
His final song, “Hippies and Cowboys,” really lined up with the idea of Old Austin I’d been contemplating on the street. As the Damn Quails played, I realized: It’s not gone. It’s not dead. The ways of Old Austin are alive in the city, you just have to look a little harder for them.
Earlier in the week I had heard about a bar called The Highball having a Tuesday night “Cards Against Humanity” night, and I knew I must go. I scoped it out with a recently made acquaintance (That’s right, I’m starting to make friends). It was a blast. A man named Clint offered to let us play with he and his friends and showed off his “incredibly huge deck” of over 400 cards.
Wednesday I told the interns about it, including the new one (Did I forget to mention him? He’s from Hollywood). They agreed it is something we should do. Look at that. From homesick to intern bonding coordinator. Who knows where I’ll be by the time summer’s over.