Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Bus Ride

The first half hour is as frenetic as it ever was. Get up. Get dressed. Water on to boil. Grind the coffee. Prepare the snacks, get the pen, the wallet, the glasses (both pairs?). Whew. Not yet. Shave, get phone, keys, cap. Wait paperwork for today? Ok, almost out the door. Coffee? Change? Cap? keys. Oh yeah I have them already.

Then the drive. O so short, just up the hill I don't want to tackle at 8am and off to the parking lot across from the bus stop. 8:03. Bail. Cross the street. Breathe.

Taking the bus is a commitment. Since it only runs every half hour, I have to plan it carefully, but the effort is worth it. It is worth it, not just in savings on gasoline/money, which, these days, at $4+ a gallon, is a good motivation for parking the truck and riding the bus. It is worth the effort because it is something I actually enjoy and even look forward to. I am certainly not doing it to 'go green', although the happy coincidence is that is does all of the above.

The ride starts with a half-filled bus already. The riders are the same as they've ever been, on every bus I've ever ridden to work, here, in England and France. Blue collar workers and college students. These days, and in this place, this means Hispanic women and the rather dark but clean looking community college students. I suppose that even though I am technically in a white collar job, I have always considered myself to be a member of the working class, and have always taken some pride in that.

The bus winds its way down Westgate Boulevard after I get on, past the rows of duplexes and low rent apartment complexes that line the road up to the intersection with Lamar Boulevard. Today the road was also line with families waiting for a lost or very late school bus. Moms and grandmoms and uncles and aunts stood patienetly with their toddlers and grade schoolers as our bus roared by. By the time we reach Lamar, the bus is full and one person is standing.

Lamar is almost like a time warp as I watch it roll by the big windows. Some of the businesses have been here since before I got here in 1969. Like the Broken Spoke, which, with it's dirt parking lot and ramshackle assembly of weather worn buildings and, of course, the Lone Star bus, is literally an Austin icon. Then there is the Martinez brothers Taxidermist at Oltorf, right next to the XXX bookstore, and across the street from the old Phillips 66 station that has been, for the past twenty years, a State Inspection Station well know for it's rather laid-back approach to the art of car inspecting. I took my decrepit and barely-running VWs there for many years and kept them on the road thanks to the old Lebanese fellow who still runs the shop. I see him out side, puffing on a cigarette, examining the latest rust heap to roll into his bay.

Up comes the Party Pig, which is next to Lone Star Grill and Propane. Both have been there for ten, maybe twenty years. there is the discount tire place, no more than a cinderblock bunker that spills out it's tires to the street every morning. I don't but somebody must be buying tires from these guys. Someone is buy tacos at Maria's Taco Xpress, which, thanks to Walgreen's, is not set back just enough that traffic no longer spills out onto Lamar and blocks our progress. Progress is Lamar. On past the Southwood center with the Alamo Draft House and Maudie's Cafe.

Next, the Rising Sun Automotive shop and the taco stand in behind it. There is Aamco transmission, then Uchi restaurant, Doc Holliday's Pawn, Austin Reprographics and the Bicycle Sport Shop as we roll down to Barton Springs. Ah McDonald's. And across the street, Jack in the Box.

Tucked in behind the Taco Cabana and the new apartment complex that now takes up most of the stretch between here and Town Lake is the nine-hole, par three city-run golf course know as Butler Park Pitch-n-Putt, but you have to look quickly to see it any more. Across the street, the old Binswanger Glass company has been torn down and another condo complex is rising in it's place. Next door to that is the Schlotszkys, with at least has the feel of having been here a while but it too is only about ten years young.

Next up we cross Town Lake. The construction here is frenetic these days. There are at least three thirty-story condominium complexes being built along the lake today, and much more reorganization of the lake front at Lamar is under way. Today there were no fewer than six cranes gathered at that corner, preparing the ground for yet another skyscraper. It's more than symbolic, though it is that for sure.

As soon as we emerge on the other side of the lake, we see the Whole Foods Complex, with brightly colored waving flags and a cool city chicness that is the opposite of the small town flavor of South Lamar. Now we are on North Lamar, roaring past the Lone Star Saloon, then the old/newly renovated Tavern at twelfth street, then winding our way up towards the hill on which the UT Tower is perched. I can see it, of course as we pass the Texas Medical Association headquarters and the miniature Eiffel Tower that marks the Antique Store across he intersection with Martin Luther King Boulevard.

We have entered the campus area now, and my stop approaches, at 24th, just past the old Eisley School building (still pink!) and finally the Caswell Tennis courts, where I descend from the bus and begin my walk to work.

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