In recent years, I have tried to resign myself to gathering wrinkles and accumulating creaks with a sense of humor, aspiring to be one of those gracefully aging ladies I so often read about in the obituaries. Reviewing some of my recent posts to this blog, emails, and some comments on social media sites, I find my numerous political observations to be as astute and enlightening as always, particularly regarding the war on women and other conservative claptrap – but some of my other remarks sound more like whines and gripes. Confronting me was this disturbing question: “When did I become a grumpy old woman?” Since you may not believe it possible, I’ll share with you some of the evidence of my fall into lady grouchhood.
For example, I complain a lot about sound. Yes, my hearing isn’t what it used to be, but I know other people with excellent hearing who agree with me about the acoustics at a certain performing arts center in this town (you know who you are). It’s a shame because it’s the one where Broadway-on-the-road productions and other plays are performed. Moreover, in the recent past great effort and big bucks were was spent to improve the acoustics – to no avail, as far as I can tell.
The noise in restaurants can be unbearable. So many eating establishments claim to specialize in food, but appear to be vying for serving up the loudest ambiance in the deal. It’s particularly annoying because architects and interior decorators know how to reduce bouncing sound waves with carpeting, acoustic tiles, soft surfaces in lieu of hard and smooth ones. Instead, even upscale places feature cacophonous dins caused by conversation amidst concrete floors, glass, mirrored, and metal decor, topped off (or not) in many instances by warehouse ceilings. The worst example of bad acoustics shall remain nameless, but does business on South Congress and commits the other offense of extreme rudeness by not taking reservations (but that’s another subject).
And then there are movie theaters who play the half hour of movie trailers in eardrum-busting surround-sound. I’ve read that the purpose of high volume is to ramp up viewer adrenalin levels to build excitement about the promoted movie. My reaction is more akin to “fight or flight” as I fumble around in my purse for my ear plugs. For the same reason, live amplified music has lost its allure for me. No one in the music business knows any volume other than ear-splitting loud. My ears can buzz and feel tender for hours if I spend too much time in the company of the refrigerator-sized amplifiers.
Another big gripe is air conditioning in overdrive. I hate the fact that I must take a coat or jacket with me everywhere, all year round, because there are few buildings, offices, restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores, coffee chain stores, etc., wherein the air conditioning isn’t going full blast, sometimes accompanied by ceiling fans!!! Not only is my skin a mass of goose pimples, but my food doesn’t like it either. The kitchen staff can slave over a hot stove to prepare a dish of hot food, but cold blasts of air aimed at the table will chill the dish before I can finish it. Don’t get me wrong, air conditioning in Texas is a blessing, but I’d almost prefer a few beads of sweat to slowly succumbing to frost bite in a veritable meat locker. And what about waste not, want not? Aren’t Austinites devoted to conserving energy?
And how’s this for grumpy: What’s with the marathons, 10Ks, and other runs in the central streets of Austin? Many times of day, negotiating Austin streets is difficult because our streets and thoroughfares were designed for a much smaller population and have failed to keep pace with growth. Add to our transportation woes, the lack of a true mass transit option. But the Austin powers-that-be seem intent on making it even more difficult to get around town. On any given weekend, or should I say every other weekend, big swaths of the central city are closed so that sweaty people in gym shorts can run. Run on streets designed for cars. Run by buildings they do not intend to visit. Run by residences that the owners can not leave or access for hours. Run by stores where they do not intend to shop. I have nothing against running, it’s just where they want to run. Why not build a running course – like the bicycle veloway – somewhere out of town, maybe over by the Exposition Center? Jazz it up like a miniature golf course and have runs amidst nature, under trees, around ponds and fake alligators. Runners can still dress up, wear wigs, and engage in various antics. I’m sure photographers will still show up. Meanwhile, the non-running citizenry (the vast majority) who want to use our city streets for their intended purposes are not stuck in traffic waiting for the race to end.
And not far behind these running events are the festivals. Austin has its traditional local events like the Zilker Kite festival, Zilker Garden festival, Fun Fest, Eeyore’s Birthday, etc. But forget “local!” Austin is fast becoming a festival mecca for the country, if not the world. Why are we promoting this??? Why invite 50,000 or so people to come live with us for a week or two despite the City’s inability to move the existing population around? And it’s not just these festival weeks. Too many folks who come for a week decide to move there because they come from somewhere really bad or they are deluded into thinking they will be able to park their cars somewhere downtown. Austin is already adding population at the rate of about 4,500 a month, making it the city with the second highest growth rate in the nation. So, are we vying for Number 1? Why don’t we leave this Number 1 thing to the UT football teams? It’s worked out so well for them.
So, those are my big issues. There are many smaller ones, to be sure, like people talking on cell phones in public places, but even adding together the large and small issues, I’m not sure they necessarily total up to grumpy old woman status. Instead, maybe they are simply indicative of a sensible person of indeterminate age who appreciates the finer things in life . . . like driving someplace for a pleasant outing without first devising plans equivalent to D-Day invasions to avoid the festival crowds and running events; actually hearing the spoken lines in a play whose ticket cost a small fortune; enjoying music or spectacle without having to wear ear plugs; and enjoying a nice table of good food accompanied by conversation at a normal volume in an environment that doesn’t require a parka (or listening to someone’s cell phone conversation).
My younger self, a benevolent soul, has told me that she completely understands my frustration because she lived at a time when it was still possible to experience those finer things of Austin life (except for good acoustics at the Bass or Palmer Auditorium, if we go back in time). Given her encouragement, I think I’m going to steer clear of the grumpy old woman tag a little longer. Instead, I’m going to consider myself as someone who loved a city that is irretrievably gone and the quality that was. So, maybe I’m not a grumpy old woman . . . just a gal with a broken heart. I can live with that and a few extra wrinkles . . . but just a few.