Life on the East Side: Become a realist and learning to love where you live
The other night my boyfriend and I heard a loud boom outside of our house. Within minutes the crash was followed by sirens, one after another. Cops and fire trucks sped by and then stopped at the corner; we peeked out the window but couldn't tell what was going on.
Concerned, we bundled up and headed outside to investigate. We stood on the corner staring into a sea of red and blue lights, trying to see what the commotion was. Finally, we asked a nearby cop, who informed us that a car had flipped over. We walked back into the house, wondering how the heck someone could flip their car in a 30 mile per hour neighborhood zone.
Fifteen minutes went by and we still heard the cops outside, working away; my curiosity got the best of me, so I went back out to inquire further. (We were told that the driver was ok and driven to the hospital, so I felt more comfortable getting a closer look.) There, where the creek meets the road, was a car: upside down, it's front windshield smashed on the concrete, it's nose dangling over the edge of the road and into the creek.
The car was anchored to a firetruck and police officers hurried to take the battery out, cleaning dripping oil from the water. Our neighbor, whose house is fifteen feet away, said the theory was that the driver was driving down the creek bed—at 45-50 miles per hour—and hit the concrete barrier where the creek meets the road, flipping 10 feet up into the air and landing upside down.
Another neighbor (who goes by the name MacGyver and lives in the nearby BBQ pit) told us he thought the car dropped from the sky. The next day, when we could see better, we concluded that neither theory seemed probable.
I went to bed slightly uneasy, but comfortable with the fact that the driver survived. Little did I know that he had, in fact, died.
Today, I walked by the site. A head rest from the vehicle stills sits 30 feet into the creek, spray-painted orange by the police officers, this day-glo object sitting alone in the grass—a constant reminder of this horrible accident. Nobody has come to claim it or clean it up. Same with the driver's CDs, which are sitting in a tiny puddle.
Why am I telling you this sad story? I don't know. Maybe because it happened—it happened outside my house. This terrible thing happened and the next day, if you didn't know any better, you would drive right over the spot without an inkling of what transpired. It made me think about all the stories—good and bad—that have happened all over my neighborhood. Every hour, every day, for years.
The neighborhood I live in is East Austin.
It's a neighborhood I love strolling through, driving through, talking to the people who inhabitat it. When I see examples of the amazing culture and history that exists in East Austin, it can bring tears to my eyes. Sometimes I also hear gun shots, car alarms and sirens. There is never a shortage of excitement—both good and bad—on the East Side. I've felt complete bliss and downright fear living over here, but at the end of the day, I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
I have lived and worked in in the area for three years. I know many of my neighbors and participate in community events, and I enjoy feeling a part of a neighborhood. What I love the most about East Austin is its dense history, but also its growing innovation.
One could call that gentrification and I will save that topic for another post, but the worlds of old and new meet in East Austin. There are generations of family-owned restaurants, family-owned businesses, decades-old bars and music venues. You also have a farmer's market benefiting the charity, start-up businesses that cover everything from horticulture to urban farming to recycling and colorful art projects and events. Do we run the risk risk of the new engulfing the old? Absolutely, and hopefully we will work as a community to prevent that. East Austin is one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Austin and I hope that never changes.
At one point, my relationship with East Austin faltered. Friends houses got broken into. My house was broken into. My car was broken into. A young woman was assulted right in front of a bar I frequented. I got nervous. I started questioning my comfort with the neighborhood I loved. Suddenly everything was scary.
I didn't want to stop loving East Austin, but everywhere I looked, I thought something bad was going to happen. I began checking the Austin Police Department crime map and even once—which was possibly one of the worst mistakes I ever made—listened to the Austin police scanner. My fear grew irrational and independent of anything that was actually going on in Austin. This dark cloud broke loose and began growing a mind of it's own. I had to remind myself that Austin is like any other city—well, actually it's not, it's one of the safest cities in America. My fear was growing out of the fact that I was no longer a kid. I had become "a realist." Once I began to recognize that, I developed an understanding with my neighborhood.
Nothing can compare to its spirit and its character. Nothing can compare to the families playing ball in Fiesta Park, the church-goers on Sunday morning, the coffee shops nestled in old storefronts, the murals, the alleyways, the grassy lots, the sounds of kids playing in the street. Nothing can compare to the stories I hear, the people I meet and the always evolving, always fascinating narrative that is East Austin.
When people who live in North or West Austin chuckle when I tell them that I live in East Austin, I want to punch them in the face. Yeah, it has it's moments—but it's my neighborhood. And I love it, dammit.