Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I Can't Quit You, Hyde Park.


It's time to face facts and be really honest about something: I miss my old neighborhood.

Do you remember your first really bad breakup, the kind that turned you a bit stalkery?  You'd casually swing through their neighborhood, just ... to see.  If he was home.  If she had anyone else over.  Whatever, no big deal, you always take this route! you tell yourself.  Except really, you never do. 

That is how I feel about Hyde Park.  I keep cruising through the streets, finding little excuses to stop by.  I scheduled an interview there last night, just because. 


In their 2011 Best of Austin issue, The Austin Chronicle described Hyde Park as the "mama grizzly of neighborhood politics."  I laughed because it's so true -- there's no one sassier than the Hancock Neighborhood Association, and trust me, I've attended meetings -- but to me, Hyde Park feels less like a maternal figure, more like an ex-lover that I just can't shake.  

I was talking to this girl the other day in my samba class, and she told me she was renting a house in Hyde Park.  She described the location.  

"Oh my God," I said.  "Can you hear the roosters in the morning?"  She heard the roosters.  

"Do those people in recumbent bikes still ride by, and shoot you dirty looks for driving a car?"  She saw the bikers.  

"Have you ever walked by that one house, I think it's around Avenue E, and peeked through the backyard trees, and all of a sudden there's this huge, beautiful peacock strutting around?  And sometimes it comes right up to you and fans its feathers?"

She was not familiar with the peacock.  Thank God.  A) Because I don't think anyone is unless they willfully trespass private property, and B) because I might have collapsed in her arms and wept.

***

The thing is, Hyde Park isn't even the grandest neighborhood in Austin.  There's Tarrytown, prom queen of Austin neighborhoods, and the zealous cult (that I'd like to join) of 78704.  If you don't live in Austin, you could swing through Hyde Park once and say to yourself, "ok, cute!  This is very cute.  Now, where is that Sixth Street everyone's always telling me about?"

It's not a neighborhood of mansions, or famous attractions, or even hills.  Hyde Park is flat.  Grid-like.  Victorians and bungalows dot the streets, a few tricycles sit in the driveways.  It was Austin's first planned community, and it still has that sleepy, vaguely Mayberry feel to it. 

But to me, Hyde Park was wild, exciting, and scandalous.

There is a spiritualist church in the neighborhood that performs seances.  There are transients, and one of them accidentally burnt down Mother's -- a cafe down the street from my old house -- in 2007.  There are these two gentlemen who shall only be referred to as "the loud guys," because nobody knows their names, all we know is that they have profound hearing loss and conduct conversations by shouting at each other (and additionally, at unsuspecting, innocent bystanders).  

I was once in Fresh Plus buying goat cheese when I got accosted by one of them, and his greeting -- "HEY!  ARE YOU BUYIN' GOAT CHEESE!  I LIKE GOAT MILK!" scared me so badly, I whirled around and nearly socked him in the stomach with said goat cheese.  I heard the two were "banned" from the neighborhood H-E-B because they terrified customers, and while this seems a little rash, I'm inclined to believe it.

What I'm getting at here is: Hyde Park is full of stories.  There are places in the U.S. that attract a greater concentration of "characters," if you will, places like Savannah, Georgia.  Places that have fraught histories.  Hyde Park was designed to be a white-only community in the 1890's by Monroe Martin Shipe, marketed to rich elites, and later to working class, regular folk.  That's why there are houses both huge and teensy, and maybe why Hyde Park feels half rich, half bohemian and messy.  

***

This might seem random, but I met Wayne Coyne last weekend at Fun Fun Fun Fest.  (As you may or may not know, Wayne Coyne is my personal idol).  And for all the enormous, global success Flaming Lips has enjoyed over the years, Wayne & Co. could have easily picked up and moved to New York or L.A. or Tokyo, but instead, they stayed in Oklahoma City.  Wayne lives in a house close to the scrappy neighborhood where he grew up as a kid, with five brothers and sisters, and also not far from the Long John Silvers where he used to work.

Now, this is the kind of thing I totally relate to.  That sentimentality for your "roots" (who, me?  Sentimental?).  Childhood home roots aside, I think of Hyde Park as my Austin roots, and my new neighborhood doesn't quite feel like "mine" yet.  

To solve that problem, I've thought about doing a series of posts on my new neighborhood, before I realized that would be the most boring thing ever.  So instead, I'm just going to keep going on walks around my new neighborhood, Allandale, keeping my ears open for stories, trying to get a sense of its history. Ross and I bought a house here in April, our first, and we picked this area because it had a big backyard where he could build a studio, it still felt central, and most importantly, we could afford it.  

But what's the deal, Allandale?  What's your story?

Here's what I do know: Burnet Road used to be a freeway, connecting Austin to Burnet County.  That's why it has that long, straight character, why there are car dealerships and old diners.  Burnet Road is probably the most utilitarian stretch of street in all of Austin, the one place in town where you can buy a new couch, get acupuncture, get acupuncture for your pet, shop at a store devoted entirely to light bulbs, taste award-winning pie, hospitalize your shoes, visit an old shooting site for Dazed and Confused, go to church, go to rehab, get your car inspected, and do some yoga, all in one afternoon.  If you come to my house, I can walk you down to Custom Sounds (located, funnily enough, across the street from a library) and we can trick out your car with a sick stereo system. 

I now possess an encyclopedic knowledge of subwoofers.

So there are definite perks to living in Allandale. 78757.  My new 'hood.

But that doesn't change the fact that I still feel like this each time I drive through Hyde Park.


Sigh.  You were my first neighborhood love, Hyde Park!  What we had was special.

I'm still trying very hard to get over you.

(All above photos taken by me, of Hyde Park on Instagram.)


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