The Scars and Detours of this Pandemic

Yesterday, as I traveled down one of Austin’s neighborhood streets that does double duty as an east-west thoroughfare, I impulsively detoured from my route home. Some quirk of the mind summoned me to deviate a few blocks south to pass by a house my family occupied for a number of years after moving from Northeast Austin. From there, I decided to retrace the steps I took on my daily walk to Bryker Woods Elementary School where I attended the second semester of sixth grade, having moved in the middle of the school year.

The detour, in essence, was a trip down memory lane, or at least, an attempt to see what actual memories still remained along that lane. At the former residence, I noted that much was the same except for new windows partially installed and a proliferating landscape. Along the route to school, I vaguely recalled that I made my younger sister walk some distance behind me. Could I really have been so mean?

In vain, I strived to find familiar sights. I tried remembering what that sixth grader was thinking as she trudged along the street followed by her third-grade sister at a distance between “too close” and “not too far.” Was she dreading the day ahead thinking about the new friends she was slow to make and missing her old friends, her Girl Scout troop, and the school she had attended for over five years? Did she notice the irony that the name of the street she walked and the school she missed was the same? Harris. Was she wishing she didn’t wear glasses, had prettier hair, owned cooler clothes?

As I struggled mightily to reconnect with my younger self, I realized that this sudden nostalgia was an aspect of pandemic thinking. Many of us in isolation, no doubt, do more than take our temperatures and test our ability to hold our breaths for ten seconds. With so much time coupled with fear, I often find myself in these reflective moods, seeking keys to who I was and who I am now, pulling at existential threads, pondering my mortality, and wondering why we need bucket lists when the best thing in the world is just waking up healthy and hugging a loved one.

So my desire to reconnect continued as I surveyed the elementary school grounds that, of course, had appeared so much bigger in my memory. I noticed that portable buildings occupied the area of the kickball diamond where we used to play during recess. Strangely, I sensed my younger self the strongest on that missing playground. Waiting her turn to kick, she felt painfully self-conscious and awkward, hyper-aware of her failure to fit in with these girls.

In my mind’s eye, I could still see Ellen, one of my classmates, who was always the pitcher (for some reason) in the field’s center where she’d do a little dance as she sang, “There she was just a walkin’ down the street,” before she moved forward and let the ball unroll from her arm. I had a girl crush on this natural beauty – tall, thin, and blond with an animated personality. In short, she seemed everything I was not.

In comparison to Ellen’s coolness, my younger self was somewhat nerdy (had that word existed), overly serious, and inhibited. She no longer sensed the existence of that extroverted young girl who had lived in that northeast Austin neighborhood surrounded by friends, enjoying all kinds of play and activities. The result  was that after a couple of years of relatively loneliness, she turned inward — surrendering that free-spirited self of her past.  She developed coping skills —  pretending that she was someone who was liked and fit in. Eventually, she began to believe in her act and was able to reanimate at least part of her authentic self.

But, unlike the children living through this pandemic, she wasn’t scarred by having to deal with a brand new world with life or death in the balance. She was not closeted away from others, from grandparents, the library, or the parks. She was not taught to fear contact with others – it would be many years until the “stranger danger” mentality needed to be taught.

I fear to think how plague-thinking will impact the children today, living in isolation with only parents and other siblings, feeling the world they knew dismantling piece by piece. Where does a third-grader, like my sweet grandson, find the psychological clutch to downshift into this smaller world without stalling or ruining the transmission altogether? Will these children be able to recover from this detour from their childhood, regain their footing and trust the world again?

We have to ask these questions because this is a crisis like no other in recent memory. It’s different because it’s so all-encompassing – not just a hurricane on the coast or even the World Trade Center attack on 9/11 in New York. “No, this affects all of us and all the things closest to us: our health and safety, our children and parents, our ability to move freely and sleep soundly, our ability to go to work and send our children to school,” says Charles Blow in his New York Times opinion column. And unfortunately, he notes, we have a president who can’t be trusted to show a modicum of competence, or the ability to at least partially quell our unease and foreboding.  Trump’s handling of this episode guarantees that fear and panic generated by this pandemic will leave scars etched in the American psyche.

This makes sense to me. I know about scars, although mine are relatively small and personal, especially when compared to those chiseled by the Great Depression and the polio, tuberculosis, and other health epidemics. But, indeed, this experience and the alchemy of loss, loneliness, and fear will create wounds that will stain our days long after the pandemic ends. As we are whipsawed around on this leaderless train, all we can do is hold on … hold on to our sanity, keep up social distancing, hug our children close, and hold on to our belief in a light at the end of the tunnel. Safe travels, my friends.

Epilogue
The kickball pitcher, Ellen, and I reconnected years later as adults and she became one of my best friends. May she rest in peace.  Ellen Roberta Bradley, June 5, 1953 — January 21, 2016.

 

 

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Love in the Time of Coronavirus

If there is one thing I’ve discovered during this pandemic, it’s that we love our toilet paper. In fact, for those of us lucky enough to survive this (please stay home, folks), I believe that the enduring symbol of these times won’t be the social isolation, grocery store swarms, or the incoherent ramblings of our Commander in Chaos. No, I think it will be the lowly, unassuming roll of toilet paper.

Like so many of us, I have had a long and personal relationship with toilet paper. And yet, I’ve never given it the love it deserves for its contribution to my quality of life. As one of those things I’ve always had access to, it’s been easy to take it for granted. After a recent scare involving our water supply thanks to zebra mussels, I often marvel at the miracle of being able to summon potable water from my faucets, but I haven’t been similarly appreciative of toilet paper.

Even while camping as a Girl Scout, toilet paper was always available. We might have built latrines – digging big holes and lashing together poles to fashion a primitive tripod with a seat (because we weren’t up for squatting). But we always brought toilet paper – no making do with leaves or other primitive modes of getting the job done.

Then, there were the days as teenage girls when we literally wasted toilet paper, getting together to “paper” a guy’s house, or better said, his parent’s house. We’d get rolls of toilet paper and in the dark of night, throw them up in the tree branches to create looping streamers when the roll fell back.  What better way to let the young object of our affection know that some girls had a big crush on him? Waste a few rolls of toilet paper was the answer we came up with! Of course, today I think of the clean-up required and wince at our thoughtlessness (juvenile delinquency). But, it was a thing back then.

When I lived in Peru – I actually gave toilet paper a passing thought. But it wasn’t the lack of it, rather its disturbing characteristics, being only slightly softer than tissue paper and colored in a strange magenta hue. The good thing, however, was that houses generally came with bidets, so the uncivilized toilet paper could usually be eschewed in favor of the very civilized washing facilities. After 18 months of residence in the country, the bidet was the one thing I wanted to bring with me back to Texas, even where the toilet paper was high quality. Remember when we needed Mr. Whipple to remind us not to get overwhelmed by the softness of the Charmin in his grocery store?

So, this pandemic has forced me to contemplate what might happen if we were to run out of toilet paper. I’ve heard recent stories of people cutting up t-shirts, using them as toilet paper, flushing them down the toilet, and thereby clogging up sewer lines. Just. Don’t. Go. There. I have a friend who is contemplating some kind of rag solution, but is smart enough not to risk clogging up the system. Instead, he is toying with the idea of disposing the used ones in a pail like we used in the BDD days – before disposable diapers. If you had babies back then, you’ll undoubtedly remember the diaper pail, a lidded container with water and Pine Sol for tossing soiled diapers until it was time to run them through the washing machine.  You knew it was time when, upon opening, the wafting fragrance was more toilet bowl than pine forest.

But it’s nice to see how this love for toilet paper is bringing us closer to our friends and neighbors as we share in this looming crisis. On Next Door, one of my southwest Austin neighbors has written that he could show us how to use only one square of toilet paper at a time. Thankfully, he decided not to post the video, but I feel he would probably share it in a private message if asked. That alone brings us closer.

Similarly, as a public characterized by political divisiveness, it’s refreshing to find one thing we can all agree on.  We are a people divided into carnivores vs. vegetarians, MAGA hat owners vs. Obama lovers, dog vs. cat lovers, vaccinated vs. unvaccinated, Apple vs. Windows users, but we can ALL agree that toilet paper is a good thing.  Of course, we may have differences in preferred brands, but ultimately, when the need exists, the brand is negotiable.

And, by the way, we probably shouldn’t blame our neighbors for hoarding and, thereby, creating this shortage.  I urge you to read the explanation for the shortage as detailed in this article from Medium.

Basically, it explains that factories are hindered on the production end by the sudden shift from businesses and schools needing large amounts of industrial toilet paper on those big spools to residential consumers needing paper in little rolls, which works much better in our bathrooms. So there’s a mismatch of supply and demand for the two products, exacerbated by the fact that few factories make both types. The good news is we can go back to loving our neighbors; bad news, the mismatch isn’t easy to fix.

Right now, I’m glad that my bathroom is well-stocked with toilet paper. After all, I’m pretty much alone here so the metrics of my usage are pretty low. That said, I drink a lot of liquid, some to stay awake, some to quell my rising panic. But even if I were to run out, let me show you the one roll I will not use:

Preserving this roll is very important because it’s simply too wonderful to finally see Donald Trump’s visage somewhere that makes sense. Feel free to download my picture for your screensavers. After all, we need to take our pleasures wherever we can find them these days. Stay safe, my friends!

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The Unpardonable Occupant of our White House

On February 18, 2020, the current occupant of our White House, Donald Trump, granted clemency to eleven individuals who – except for two drug offenders – had been convicted of crimes involving fraud, bribery, tax evasion and other sorts of corruption. You know, the best kind of crimes, as I’m sure Trump and his history would confirm. (The only one he might like better is an assault on women’s genitalia.)

I’m not saying Individual 1 didn’t have the right to issue those pardons and commutations. The president’s power in this regard is what they call “unfettered.” Even so, most Americans expect some kind of fettering by a deliberative review process that includes the Department of Justice, the Pardon Attorney, and others in the executive branch.

Needless to say, since it’s Trump we’re talking about, none of that happened here. All eleven recipients had an inside connection or were promoted on Fox News. Some were vocal Trump supporters, campaign contributors, or, in one case, had a son who partied with Donald Jr. Connections is the name of the game with Trump.

As for names, Trump granted relief to Bernard B. Kerik, a long-time friend, Edward DeBartolo, former 49er’s football team owner who hosted a pre-inauguration party, Rod Blagojevich, former Illinois governor and onetime “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant, and the infamous investor Mike Millken, championed both by Rudy Giuliani, and the billionaire who hosted a recent $10 million Trump fund-raiser. Even three obscure women serving time on drug or fraud charges received pardons based on the recommendation of Alice Marie Johnson. Remember Ms. Johnson? She was pardoned by Trump in 2018 after Kim Kardashian West spoke to Trump on her behalf. Ms. Johnson served here as a “pardon whisperer,” some have said.

No, the normal pardons process wasn’t even considered by Trump, the man who claims to know everything. It doesn’t matter that groups of Americans were harmed by their crimes and might look askance at their escape from the consequences.

I can’t think of a better contrast to Trump’s approach to the clemency process than President Obama’s Clemency Initiative, ensuing from his keen and oft-stated interest in criminal justice reform. By the end of his term and the initiative, Obama had granted commuted sentences to 1,705 prisoners serving extremely long sentences compared to today’s standards, mostly for drug crimes. In fact, half of all federal inmates are drug offenders. And, of course, they are mostly poor and/or minorities.

But what really differentiates Obama’s approach to clemency compared to Trump’s is the process. First and foremost, none of these individuals had connections or high-profile champions. Instead, the inmates needed to file petitions for commutation or a reduced sentence. The Office of the Pardon Attorney and others in the Department of Justice then reviewed those petitions based on the following criteria, requiring that inmates:

1) be serving a sentence that would have been substantially lower if convicted of the same offense(s) today;
2) be a non-violent, low-level offender without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels
3) have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence;
4) have no criminal history;
5) have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and,
6) have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.

Based on these criteria, the Department of Justice was able to provide 16,776 recommendations to the White House, including all of those serving life sentences for drug offenses by the end of Obama’s term in January 2017.

This remarkable number was achieved through the efforts of many individuals both in and outside of government. Because tens of thousands of prisoners could be eligible, non-governmental agencies and private attorneys were asked to help with the Clemency Project 2014, as it was called, to find and present the best cases. Their efforts would be pro bono (unpaid).

Responding to this request were the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Federal Defenders, the ACLU, and Families Against Mandatory Minimums, as well as individuals active within those organizations and other lawyers wishing to participate. Ultimately, 4,000 volunteers found this project worthy of their unpaid time. Altogether, they processed 36,000 applications and represented 894 of the total 1,705 inmates whose sentences were commuted by President Obama. The American Bar Association believes that this might be the largest pro bono project in American history.

At the receiving end of these petitions and recommendations was W. Neil Eggleston, then White House counsel whose objective was to make a recommendation to President Obama on every petition. This became an increasingly pressing goal near the end of Obama’s presidency, when petitions increased dramatically. Accordingly, Eggleston’s own staff – which was normally involved in selecting judges – was freed up to help in the administration’s waning months. Additionally, lawyers elsewhere in the White House volunteered, even though it meant working nights and weekends. “I think this project was enormously rewarding for the lawyers in the White House,” Eggleston has said, noting that many thanked him for the opportunity to participate.

The most committed to the cause was, of course, the highest-ranking attorney in the White House, President Obama. He would call Eggleston to his office to debate the details of individual petitions and, during his busy last week as president, Obama made time to review and grant 540 commutations.

In regard to the President’s commitment, Eggleston tells about the occasion in April 2016, when seven clemency recipients (some from past administrations) visited the White House. They had been invited to speak with staff about their experiences after prison and how to improve the justice system. Around noon, however, Obama walked into the room and invited them all to lunch. Over an hour or so, he heard their stories. Explaining that an hour is a huge amount of time for the president of the United States, Eggleston told an interviewer, “He cared a lot personally about this project.”

Like all of our greatest presidents, Obama is a decent man who brought compassion, principle, humanity, and a sense of justice to the presidency. His clemency project is just one example. And while it was intended to benefit the 1,705 inmates who received the commuted sentences, there is no doubt that the attorneys and volunteers involved will long remember the parts they played in this effort. After all, how often in life do you get the chance to make such an enormous difference, not only in the lives of men and women, but also in affirming the hallmark value of our country – justice for all?

Sadly, Donald Trump would never understand this. His shortcomings as a leader of this country are, of course, well known by now. He is nothing more than an uncouth hustler who conned his way into the White House. As he pardons his friends and his friends’ friends, he continues to show how unworthy he is.

Trump is America’s unpardonable president. May we never repeat this mistake.

 

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The Antivenom for Trumpian Times

Generally, I score optimistic on the life-outlook meter. But after three years of the orange madman helming our mothership, it’s hard to whip up even a soupcon of positivity. As we whirl around the sun at Trumpian whim, anything seems possible – and all of it negative.

Like most of us, I feel powerless on this carnival ride. I worry about nuclear North Korea and World War III breaking out in the Middle East.  But if Jared can’t fix it, who can?  I guarantee you, the Ayatollah isn’t taking my phone calls.

It doesn’t help that our public discourse has taken on the aspects of toxic sewage slime. The blame for this lies, partly, with talk radio and social media sites that have emboldened people to abandon civilized dialog and spew their pugilistic, profanity-laden tribal passions. But even more blame should be heaped at the feet of our madman-in-chief who takes pleasure in whipping up the hate, racism, and the general godawfulness that his devotees used to keep among themselves.

If only there were an antidote to snark, a neutralizer of artistry and grace that would celebrate community and feed our souls. It may sound crazy, but could infusions of poetry provide us some immunity against despair?

This possibility occurred to me after reading a blurb by Austin poet, Robin Cravey – written long before the Trump regime and these seasons of our discontent. On the back cover of his book, Diverging, he writes,

A culture lost between aimless materialism and empty religion is one failed by its poets. Human culture is self-awareness in the universe. Poetry is self-awareness in culture. Poetry is also universal awareness in the self. It closes the circle.

Robin Cravey

You may wonder, perhaps, what happens when this circle is closed? I wondered, too. Could it be a cessation of angst and the existential fears that render us incomplete, anxious, and susceptible to fear-based intolerance?

In fact, I had been reading more poetry after a presenter at a summer writing retreat had made a strong case for it improving our prose. I tried it at bedtime and almost immediately noticed my awareness shifting away from the potholes of daily life. By  simile, metaphor, meter, assonance, and alliteration, a new lens was focusing me on the marvels of life, the emotional responses to wonder, and our shared tenancy on the planet with all its living creatures. Even brief poetic immersion induced a sense gratitude and reverence that I don’t often experience without a magnificent sunset involved. Might that work for others? Could we begin tweeting, if tweet we must, in the key of Awe?

Wimberley 2013

Closing the circle also suggested a reconnection with our earliest selves who were fed a steady diet of rhythm and verse along with mother’s milk. Rock-a-bye, baby, soothed us, Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man… , called us to play, and Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle . . .  delighted our budding imaginations. Did we wonder why everything didn’t rhyme like Jack and Jill going up a hill or Little Miss Muffet sitting on her tuffet? Only the most precocious among us cared what a tuffet might be – it was enough that it rhymed with Muffet.

Then our young minds moved on from the nursery with an owl and a pussycat who went to sea . . . and danced by the light of the moon. Dr. Seuss was a perennial friend. With misty eyes we might have read Poe’s Annabel Lee, the maiden who “. . . lived with no other thought than to love and be loved by me.” Or we might have thrilled to Rudyard Kipling’s manly verse, Gunga Din, or Robert Service’s Yukon foray in The Cremation of Sam McGee. In English classes, we found Emily Dickinson contemplating Death stopping by and Robert Frost stopping in the woods with miles to go before he slept.

But, soon thereafter, many of us abandoned poetry – maybe we wanted it to be rhymed instead of metered. Free verse was hard to embrace because aside from O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo? it didn’t enchant us or whet our appetite for more. Eliot’s Waste Land and Joyce’s Ulysses, seemingly written in Enigma code, frustrated us.

We are older and wiser now, and, no doubt, hungrier for connection, be it with the universe or our inner selves. No spoiler alert here: we won’t find it on Twitter and Facebook. Might we return to our early love of verse and discover kindred spirits in the images and expressions of the universal so intricately wrought by the likes of Mary Oliver, Walt Whitman, and H.W. Longfellow, to name a few? Is poetry really dead to us?

Some contend that poetry is alive and well because we have rap music. But rap songs are not pieces of great artistry for the simple reason that they are not written to be. Rather, the words merely serve an external beat. While the lyrics possess musicality (repetition, assonance, alliteration), that musicality is incomplete without the beat and notes of the music.

And when was the last time your spirit soared to rap song? Compare Tupac’s verse (“If you make it through the night, there’s a brighter day/everything will be alright if ya hold on …”) to Maya Angelou’s poem that we heard her intone at President Clinton’s inauguration:


The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out and upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope –
Good morning.

Maya Angelou

Such words inspire and remind us that we are not adrift, stranded in a morass of our primitive and most brutish natures. We are beings who have courage, grace, and hope. We co-exist with our brother- and sister-travelers, sharing the same existential reality, its inherent fears, and our need for hope and compassion. Cravey sums it up in the last stanza of “Kinship,” a poem from Diverging:

I feel therefore I am
kin to every feeling being
I love therefore I am
committed to speak up against hate
I act therefore I am
free to change the world
I am therefore I believe
every living one has the right to be

During the last 1,111 days, I’ve often felt less kin and more stranger in my own land, a refugee from the state of decency, occupying a territory governed by divisiveness. I need more than just another story of murders and detectives to take residence in my head.  I’ve found that poetry has the power to transport my awareness to another level of existence, where labels like democrats, republicans, socialists, and concepts like racism, hypocrisy, and bigotry are meaningless. In this heightened state, I find hope . . . hope for a restoration of our country’s ideals, hope for a healthier planet, and hope for the rediscovery of civility as the guiding principle of our discourse. So, Ms. Oliver, Mr. Frost, Mr Auden, Ms. Alexander, be my bedfellows, stir my soul with your words and help me face, with hope, the miles to go before I sleep.

Hey, diddle diddle . . . let’s take the antivenom, let’s close the circle.

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An Ode to the Symphony

Living through the debacle of the Trump presidency, I imagine that I share with others the sense of dread that greets my mornings. With the help of my snooze button, I manage to avoid wakefulness a few times, but eventually I force myself to concentrate on the broadcast from the NPR-tuned clock radio. It’s a good sign when I hear conversation about a movie or book, or maybe an interview with a presidential candidate, all indicators that Trump didn’t start World War III while I was sleeping. I’ve found myself relating to Maureen Dowd, one of my favorite political columnists, who reports girding herself every morning for the latest vitriol coming from the White House, her energy sapped before she even gets out of bed.

Many friends have suggested that I would feel better if I just cut down on news consumption. But I am compelled to check on the travesty du jour because I worry about the raging narcissist with nuclear codes and abuser of small children who follow their parents despite Donald Trump’s personal preferences. As Mayor Pete Buttigieg says, “It is the nature of grotesque things that you can’t look away.”

Which brings me to my soul yearning for escape and the sweet solace of the symphony. Before the music even begins, I forget our national nightmare, finding myself calmed by the sight of six dozen or so musicians, after their tuning session, sitting immobile on stage at the ready for their signal to break into motion.  The thousand or so audience members are settling in and chatting softly. But, as lights dim, they, too, fall still into a profound silence – the hall is preternaturally quiet with nary the ping of a cell phone, the whine of a child, or even a whispered word. Here, in the Dell Concert Hall in Austin, Texas, a city renown as the allergy capital of the world, no one sneezes, coughs, or even clears a throat. I savor these wondrous few moments infused with both serenity and anticipation.

When a smiling man with floppy black hair and glasses strides in from stage right, looking more like Harry Potter than Leonard Bernstein, the silence is broken sharply by applause as instantaneous as glass shattering on concrete. Maestro Peter Bay steps up to the conductor’s podium acknowledging the audience with a brief bow. The silence returns as he lifts his baton and with one precise flick of the wrist starts the music that will suffuse our ears and lives for the rest of the evening.

At one recent performance, the concert began with the William Tell Overture by Gioachino Rossini.  I’ll venture to say that all audience members are familiar with at least the last three minutes of this overture, having grown up watching the Lone Ranger astride his horse, Silver, galloping across our television screens to its accompaniment. But the magnificence of this musical piece never shines as brightly as it does when played by a full orchestra flooding a hall with near-perfect acoustics, the instruments in perfect balance, tugging at our collective consciousness and spurring on our passions. As the horns pump energy into the melody, the strings play furiously, reined in only by the magic baton. Adrenaline courses through our veins as our spirits soar, transported to another level of awareness beyond our anxieties and earthly concerns. We want it to continue – to ride ever faster on our stage-bound steeds!

And yet, the last note must be played. Its airy life has barely died when the audience explodes like a champagne cork, excitement no longer containable. Minutes of sustained applause are required before we can gather ourselves and get our bodies seated and stilled again. After another respectful bow, Maestro Bay leaves the stage.

We wait for the next item on the program – a Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major K. 218 featuring visiting soloist, William Hagen described as a “brilliant virtuoso,” in a quote from the bio printed in our programs. Notably, he would be performing on the 1732 Arkwright Lady Rebecca Sylvan Stradivarius.

And so, Maestro Bay returns to the stage with Mr. Hagen and the precious violin. Ascending the conductor’s podium, Bay takes his baton and begins the process of weaving together his musicians, the soloist, and the sound from one of the world’s 600 Stradivarii into the blissful musical tapestry that Mozart intended.

Maybe I was merely in the throes of musical emotionalism, but at times I felt far away from where my body sat – I seemed to be floating within the collective awareness of millions who had listened to this concerto across the world during the almost 250 years since its inception. Periodically, the Italian craftsman, Antonio Stradivari, would come to mind.  Did he ever imagine that audiences in a country that was barely discovered when he lived would be enthralled by his craftsmanship 300 years later!  Could Mozart and Stradivari ever have dreamt about their places in the cultural soul of Western Civilization?

Granted, classical music is considered classic because it has stood the test of time, because true genius doesn’t lose its currency with each new generation. But there’s something else about it – the way its melodies and motifs embrace and transport us to another dimension  where there are no political parties, concentration camps, wars, divisions between people because of their origins, skin color, religious preferences, or who they love.

Yesterday, on July 4th, the Austin Symphony Orchestra, along with orchestras all over this country, performed the 1812 Overture while audiences tingled to the sounds of cannon fire at the music’s climactic end. Did anyone complain that it was written by a Russian composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, to commemorate Russia’s successful defense against the Napoleonic invasion in 1812?  Did anyone complain that it’s an un-American piece of music?

Chances are that no one complained.  The 1812 Overture was played right along with the Stars and Stripes Forever, because despite its national origins, it’s become American, just like The Star-Spangled Banner (set to the tune of an old English drinking song) and My Country ‘Tis of Thee (sang to the tune of God Save the Queen, the British National Anthem).

When we applaud for our orchestra performers, we are commending them for more than a job well done. We cheer them for their devoted care-taking of a timeless and all-embracing musical heritage and for their ability to reset – in 90 minutes – the rhythm of our lives from a 24-hour news cycle to a flow of centuries.

In these days, when we are bedeviled by a leader whose goal in life is to win the day’s news cycle with an emphasis on discord and aberration, we need more harmony and artistry to sooth our increasingly tired and troubled souls. Here in Austin, I urge you to support the Austin Symphony Orchestra, the Austin Civic Orchestra, and the Austin Symphonic Band, so they can continue to support us. As long as they perform and this music survives, I can continue believing that so shall we.

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Defying the Kill Shots of Never

Long-time readers may recall that I’ve tried to build a convincing case for high school reunions hoping folks will attend and end up enjoying them as much as I do. Admittedly, my efforts may be akin to cultivating affection for root canals, but I persist.  I believe that if I come up with enough good reasons, maybe I can get some of the fence-straddlers to come down to my side.

Believe me, reunions can be addicting. Our class of ’71 enjoys getting together so much that many classmates clamor for something more than the regular five or ten-year reunion schedule. For example, in April of this year, we held a get-together to celebrate our 65th birthdays, which we advertised as a Medicare Part-EE. We similarly celebrated our 50th and 60th birthdays even without clever names for them.

Obviously, we wouldn’t keep doing this if there weren’t a big group of us who relish spending some hours together, catching up with old friends, hearing forgotten stories, or finding a connection with someone we only knew distantly in our school days (or daze). The most common complaint I hear is that the parties aren’t long enough!

At our last event, I attempted something new – by squinting just right, I could almost envision my fellow students as their younger selves. Instead of schmoozing around on the floor of Scholz’s, we were milling around between classes, after lunch, at a party, or in the Holiday House parking lot.  Did those youthful versions, I asked myself, ever imagine we’d be singing ourselves “Happy Birthday” at the ripening age of 65? Hell, no!

But, did we ever think we’d be gunned down at our high school before we could even graduate? Never!

I’m still haunted by Emma Gonzalez’s words at the March for Our Lives describing the reality that she and her surviving classmates at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will face for the rest of their lives:

Six minutes and 20 seconds with an AR-15, and my friend Carmen would never complain to me about piano practice. Aaron Feis would never call Kyra “Miss Sunshine,” Alex Schachter would never walk into school with his brother Ryan, Scott Beigel would never joke around with Cameron at camp, Helena Ramsay would never hang around after school with Max, Gina Montalto would never wave to her friend Liam at lunch, Joaquin Oliver would never play basketball with Sam or Dylan. Alaina Petty would never, Cara Loughren would never, Chris Hixon would never, Luke Hoyer would never, Martin Duque Anguiano would never, Peter Wang would never, Alyssa Alhadeff would never, Jamie Guttenberg would never, Jamie Pollack would never.

I can still see her face as she held the marchers in stillness for the six minutes and 20 seconds of horror that the students endured. As I stood among my treasured friends celebrating our 65th birthdays, I could only add to her list of “nevers” — the murdered students will never celebrate a 10th high school reunion, nor a 20th, 30th, 40th, or, in fact, any. The victims of that Parkland high school shooting will never get together and celebrate their qualification for Medicare cards or any other of life’s milestones.

Our class maintains a list of deceased classmates. I think we started compiling the names and posting them at our 25th reunion. It was a short, partial column with the names of about 10 students, a couple who died before graduation in accidents, a couple of suicides, a flood drowning, a college murder, etc. In the years since then, the “In Memoriam” list has grown to two full columns, each addition being a somber reminder of our fleeting time.

Looking around at the 65th birthday party, I thought about that list and tried to imagine it with 16 additional friends that we would acknowledge, no doubt, at our very first reunion. Which 16 among our student body would it have been? Would we never have known the iconic bakery owner, the award-winning playwright, the various actors, singers, dancers, or the educators and counselors who have shepherded so many young souls? Maybe some of the doctors and surgeons would never have grown up and been able to treat us, our friends, and families.  Who among the lawyers, volunteers, professors, government employees, and the mothers and fathers would be missing from our ranks?

It made me realize that the best reason for being there that night and at every other reunion event is much simpler than anything I had thought of previously. The best reason is because we can!  We can get together and remember the idiosyncrasies of that English teacher, the hoopla over dress code hem lengths, student council battles, keg parties, crazy choir trips, the tree-scaling ski boat, war protests, and all the other things that consumed us back then.

The Parkland victims will never get to reminisce, to laugh about crazy high school antics, and remark to one another, “It’s amazing we’ve lived long enough to qualify for Medicare!” The Parkland victims will never get to share each others’ stories about surviving cancer, caring for their elderly parents, the joy of grandchildren, or finding love after a bitter divorce. Sure, they are spared life’s disappointments and heartbreaks, but who wouldn’t argue that they should have been able to make their own calculus of whether good times outweighed the bad? Why was a mentally disturbed gunman given the ability to shatter their dreams and liquidate their futures, good or bad?

All I know is that whenever classmates gather, we are defying so many odds and  celebrating the special bond of survival . . . one that we took for granted and that no other high school student can ever do again. (Here’s where I spare you the diatribe about our politicians who won’t regulate guns in our society. You know what to do about that.) I’ll simply suggest that the next time you find yourself pondering whether you should attend your high school reunion, remember the murdered students of the many American schools where gun-toters have planted their rounds of “never.”  Show up and celebrate simply because you CAN!

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Speaking from the Closet of Shame

I know a woman who was raped in college. She did not report it. Nor did she tell her parents or any of her friends. She didn’t speak with a doctor, mark it on a calendar, or write about it in a journal. If she were to come forward today, she’d have no corroboration.  Some people would find it inconceivable that she wouldn’t tell anyone after it happened, and consequently, contend that she can’t be believed.

This woman would explain to those people that she didn’t speak up because of her profound shame.  She chastised herself innumerable times for putting herself in the situation that led to the event, and, thereby, being complicit in her own victimization. After all, hadn’t she been taught that all young men suffered from raging testosterone and what they all wanted? She was a smart person who had been utterly stupid.

Her rapist was the older brother of a boy in her high school, who she didn’t really know, but was a friend of a friend. Their father was a very important person in the state, leading her to believe he came from a “good” family.  The guy, who we’ll call X, was tall but not stocky, wore wired rimmed glasses, and, in general, seemed mild mannered, somewhat immature, and a bit timid with women.

It was the first semester of her freshman year in college where she was taking the last required foreign language credit after placing out of the first four. Accordingly, the class was full of college juniors who had slogged through the preceding four and were anxious to be done with this last requirement. Not too far into the semester, X realized that she had a better grasp of the material than he, and asked her to help him prepare for upcoming tests. She agreed, figuring it would help her prepare, too. Over the semester, they had two or three sessions in a neutral location.

After finals in December, X called her and said he was having a small Christmas party for some of the residents in a mental health facility where he volunteered and asked whether she had any “girl things” he could give the women as presents, e.g., purses, hats, or what not. She appreciated the good cause and brought some things – as he suggested – to his apartment. First mistake.

Upon her arrival, he brought out bottles of tequila and margarita mix that he had recently purchased on a weekend at the Mexican border. She should try some, he urged, and he blended up a delicious concoction, more sweet than citric, making it very easy for her – not a big drinker – to consume. It was like lemonade. Second mistake.

She was a bit buzzed when he suggested they go outside and play Frisbee, which seemed like it could be fun.  Did the physical activity pump the alcohol faster through the blood stream to the brain? As they played, she began feeling very inebriated and slightly nauseous. The Frisbee play seemed to be another mistake.

Back in the apartment, she realized she wouldn’t be able to drive, but had an important errand to run. X agreed to drive her where she needed to be. Along the road, they stopped a few times so she could vomit out the door. Afterwards, they returned to the apartment where he suggested she lay down until she felt capable of driving home.  By this time, her multiple mistakes left her no option.

Shortly after laying down, she blacked out. When she awoke, much of her clothing was off and he was on top of her on the floor. It was like waking from a terrible nightmare to discover the monster in the dream is real and your limbs are paralyzed. She had no strength to push him off and her repetition of “no” and “stop” had no effect on him.  Then she blacked out again. When she next came out of the blackness, she was in a bathtub and X was attempting to wash away the vomit from her hair and body.  Was he being considerate or cannily destroying evidence?

At some point after the bath, she was able to make her way home, although the details of that drive remain sketchy. If asked today, she wouldn’t be able to identify the apartment location except to say it was somewhere south of the river.

In the aftermath, she felt she could never tell anyone what happened because she would have to admit to being an accomplice to her own rape. If her mother had taught her anything, it was that the apartment of a man she barely knew was dangerous territory. Moreover, she had allowed herself to get profoundly drunk (assuming he hadn’t added drugs), consuming the alcohol quite willingly. And since she couldn’t remember much, could it be that she somehow consented? Wouldn’t the totality of her actions lead a reasonable person to discount a rape claim?

Later circumstances convinced her that there was no consensual sex – he failed to contact her ever again and made sure he never ran into her on campus or anywhere else, for that matter. Presumably, he spent a long time worrying about whether she would report the incident. Meanwhile, she worried about whether she could be pregnant with his child.

She spent about six months avoiding close contact with young men, nervous about putting herself into any situation where she didn’t control all of the circumstances. Eventually, a developing expertise in denial allowed her to go on with some sense of normalcy. Since no one knew about it, she could pretend it never happened.

Did she have panic attacks or any long-term debilitating condition? No. Her ability to function in the world was not impaired. But relationships with men were more difficult.  It wasn’t so much because any trust in men had been shattered, but because she lost trust in herself — could she trust herself to accurately judge people for who they really were?

In later years, she would remember that night and imagine how she could have been killed, maimed, and/or impregnated. She could have had a car accident on the way home or been stopped for drunk driving, having to reveal what happened, becoming the “talk of the town,” given the identity of his father.  She erases those visions with extreme gratitude that none of them occurred. Nevertheless, she knows she will always carry the vision of that man on top of her, taking advantage of her utter helplessness.

Now, almost five decades after this episode, she watches as Brett Kavanaugh seeks confirmation to our highest court, and ponders whether she could come forward and tell her story like Dr. Blaisy Ford were X in Kavanaugh’s shoes. Could she withstand suggestions, which would surely come, that she put herself in that position – didn’t she know that boys will be boys, even when they are college juniors and were raised in “good” families? Would she have the strength to testify in the face of death threats and other insults hurled her way by the deplorables (appropriately named by Hillary Clinton)? Would she crater under withering questioning by the gray-hairs on the Senate Judiciary Committee, be reduced to a blubbering puddle on the national stage?

In the final analysis, there is no evidence to corroborate my, I mean, her story. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen everyday in America.  There is a closet of shame where victims live and rarely leave.  That must change.

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How the NRA is Killing Christmas

Even before Charles Darwin explained species survival, our children have always been our most precious assets, our links to immortality. Like others in the animal world, humans instinctively protect their offspring until they can manage on their own. In the last couple of centuries, however, parental protection has expanded from teaching survival basics to obscuring life’s harsh realities. Until we deem their tender minds ready for the nastiness of a dog-eat-dog world, broken hearts, death, and taxes, we cushion them with a world of magic, fantasies, and sweet imaginings.

 

In her captivating novel, Hap & Hazard and the End of the World, author Diane DeSanders’ young girl in post-WWII Dallas wondered why the adults around her were so desperate for her to believe in Santa Claus, one of the many things she was precociously beginning to doubt. After enduring a steady barrage of her third degree, the girl’s father takes her to the movie, Miracle on 34th Street, hoping to establish Santa’s bona fides. It was an unsuccessful effort, as, afterwards, she reports:

It was clear from that movie that if that little girl was going to have a happy mother and a happy daddy and a nice happy house with a swing in front – and you cannot just go around being happy until you have all these things in place – then that little girl was going to have to go ahead and believe in Santa Claus and in all the things in which we’re supposed to go ahead and believe . . . . If only I could have a big brother or even a big sister, someone older, or just someone – I need someone– who will tell me at least what it is that we are pretending.

Of course, the honest broker she sought would tell her that we were pretending the world was a good place full of magical beings like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Prince Charming, the Easter Bunny, and in general, all sweetness and light. Nothing bad can happen to a child in such a delightful world and there would be plenty of time to learn the sad truths later.

These magical creations certainly played their role in my typical American childhood for an appropriate number of years. It wasn’t hard to believe in a world of goodness in my young Austin neighborhood where we never locked our doors and played outside all day, free to wander and pick our playmates. I never feared for my safety, never saw a real gun, and never learned to recoil from a stranger. We rode our bikes everywhere and were allowed to watch anything on television since the most violent show was Gunsmoke or, maybe, Bonanza, with one bad guy antiseptically shot or injured per episode. Watching Saturday morning cartoons was a religious ritual, my favorite being Mighty Mouse. He always came to save the day.

That all seems so quaint as we contemplate the world of today’s child having so much to fear. My grandson, age 7, knows that doors must be locked, stranger means danger, and, is a bit nervous when playing outside unless there’s an adult within calling distance. He will assure me that he’s watching an “age-appropriate” program on my iPad, well aware that violence, gore, and horror are lurking around the corner, ready to give him nightmares.  Even “Tom & Jerry”cartoons are considered “too violent” these days!

Thank goodness he still has Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny!

But how much longer until he learns that among the dark corners and dangers of the real world, there exists the possibility that he and his friends can get shot at school? How does Santa survive in the same young minds of children required to do life-saving lock-down drills so they won’t take a bullet and die?

During the duck-under-our-desks days of my youth, I don’t remember the notion of Russian bombs being scary.  Such attacks were theoretical, unlike the actual school shootings of today that are hard to avoid in any house with a television. Adults can try to screen children from the news and use only the names, Sandy Hook and Columbine, for example, to make the horror of child murder sound less horrific, but they will eventually learn the truth – that they may be the next targets of a deranged shooter at school, church, or any public gathering place.

Equally horrifying are our purported leaders sitting on their hands doing nothing about it (although Florida lawmakers have taken some baby steps). Nothing happens, of course, because the Republican party, that so-called party of family values, is owned – lock, stock, and barrel – by the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.), which deceptively suggests an interest in mere rifles while actually supporting unfettered access to every kind of killing device with a muzzle. As we consider this organization, look to every other country in the world and you’ll see their number of gun deaths are nowhere near our number. These countries have mental illness, guns, children, and politicians. What they don’t have is the N.R.A. It’s not rocket science: killing the undue influence of the N.R.A. is the only way to protect our children from the line of fire.

In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, the surviving teenagers have given me hope this can happen, even when so many have tried and failed before. So far, their voices have moved a nation, turned “N.R.A.” into a dirty word, and spurred others to reject political pablum in lieu of action. They have called out “bullshit” where they see it and who would dare muffle them? After facing a gunman ready to kill with an AR-15, or being deafened by the discharge of round after round exploding into the bodies of fellow classmates, they have earned the right to say anything they want – particularly when it’s the truth! I support them with all my heart, broken anew every time I think of the children, particularly the smallest from Sandy Hook, and imagine their young bodies destroyed by a cheap bullet from a weapon of war, lost to Santa Claus forever. It could be my grandchild next. Or yours.

This country needs comprehensive gun control, just like every other country that calls itself civilized. As the Parkland teens are urging so forcefully, we need to target those politicians who value staying in office more than the basic family value of keeping our children safe. We need to vote, America, like our lives and those of the people we love, depended on it!  We need to donate to organizations working against gun violence.  As these teens have said, thoughts and prayers are bullshit — something politicians say to usher us past the last shooting and back to a state of collective amnesia until the next one.

Can’t we finally refuse to be ushered, reclaim our power, and vote against the N.R.A. everywhere it rears its horror-strewing head until a safe day at every school is restored as part of the American dream? Surely, every sane citizen must realize that Prince Charming will not kiss us awake from this nightmare and Mighty Mouse will not save the day. Unless we go to the polls and vote in favor of reasonable gun control, we might as well kiss Santa Claus and all the magic of childhood, good-bye.

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Austin’s Sickening Cedar Problem

Most years I feel a civic duty to warn my fellow Austin residents that cedar fever season is upon us.  If you are in Austin now and still not sneezing and dripping, don’t count your chickens, yet.   The annual pollination festival is amping up this week and will continue into February.  The swallows might forego Capistrano, but Austin’s cedars are a loyal lot and they will bloom come hell or high water.   You’ve been warned.

Don’t Move Here

Among the reasons for not moving to Austin, I bet you think our transportation woes head the list. Or the lack of affordable housing. Or the high property taxes.

cedar.pollenBut you’d be mistaken. The number one reason not to live in Austin is CEDAR, specifically cedar pollen that pollutes our air and induces the truly abominable cedar fever. “Cedar is juniperus ashei,” allergist Dr. Eric Schultz explained.  “It’s one of the worst allergens, or most potent allergens on the planet. Here in Central Texas it’s rampant, especially in Austin.”

If you aren’t a current sufferer, you might think I’m talking about a runny nose or some sneezes here and there. Again, you’d be wrong. It’s far worse.  For weeks you can be plagued by sore throat, amazing phlegm production, constant runny nose, watery, itchy eyes, intermittent sneezing attacks, and a hacking cough. A guy who moved from Los Angeles to Central Texas reported that he had to start allergy shots after encountering cedar. “The fact that I can hold a regular conversation and see you five feet in front of me means it’s made a world of difference so far,” he told a reporter.

Sometimes the cedar pollen makes its appearance just in time for the Christmas season.  I can’t count the number of New Years Eves that have been ruined by this menace.  Even if I slide by Christmas because of a late pollen release, I could be sneezing my head off by New Year’s.  Having suffered at this time of year for as long as I can remember, you may forgive my bah humbug attitude toward the whole holiday.  Our family Christmas pictures attest to my misery.  Among those, you’ll see a girl with a bright red nose, a la Rudolph, and squinting eyes because she’s struggling to stay awake, being drugged to the gills with antihistamines. The best Christmases were those we spent in Dallas celebrating with grandparents.

Getting Immunized

Like the LA guy, I opted for weekly allergy injections that consist of ever-increasing doses of the allergens that I am sensitive to with hopes of building up an immunity to them.  This approach requires a visit to the allergist’s office to get the weekly shot, and then a wait time of 15 minutes afterwards to make sure you don’t go into systemic shock. If this were to happen, my understanding is that a shot of epinephrine would be quickly administered. (I always envision John Travolta in “Pulp Fiction” giving Uma Thurman a shot in her heart!) But I digress. How effective are these shots? Usually, they work to minimize my reactions, but with very high pollen counts, I still suffer.  Just not as bad.

Medicine Cabinets for your Allergy Meds

So, in the interest of full disclosure to potential Austinites, you’ll probably need more than just Austin real estate.  You should have a medicine cabinet with ample room for the following: antihistamines (non-drowsy and drowsy in both pill form and nasal spray), throat lozenges, pseudoephedrine (a.k.a. Sudafed for which you need a picture I.D. to purchase), cough medicine, analgesics, eye drops for allergies, and guaifenesin (Mucinex, Maximum Strength is best). And that’s just the first tier. Second tier drugs are those nasal irrigationneeded after your allergy attack has degenerated into a sinus infection or bronchitis. Then, you will probably need a steroid injection or prednisone pills, along with antibiotics and perhaps a respiratory anti-inflammatory (e.g. Singulair). Along the way, you may want a Netti pot/nasal irrigator or a bottle of saline solution to wash out your nasal passages and a cold mist humidifier to keep the ambient air moist. Did I mention Kleenex? Lots of Kleenex.

Now, I hear some of you saying, “This is not going to happen to me – I’ve never had any allergies, so I’m probably immune.” Not necessarily so, I assure you.  Sensitivities to pollen can occur at almost any time.  And if you think you can predict anything after a single cedar season, again, you are misinformed. It takes about seven years before new residents fall prey to Satan cedar.  But, at least you can say you had seven good years.

But remember:  It’s not all about you. If you have children, why would you subject them to this torture? They can get cedar fever, just like I did, and if they are miserable, you will be miserable. And if you are in cedar fever hell already, you will be doubly miserable when your kids are sick and you are washing out their nasal passages and sucking out nasal production (polite word) with those bulb things. There’s nothing more pitiful than a sick kid. And if you have a sick spouse? Quadruple agony!

Cedar Tree Removal?

In short, cedar is the most evil tree ever allowed to spread anywhere.  Moreover, there seems to be a controversy about whether cedar trees suck more water from the ground than other trees. Water sucker or not, I think it’s time to start a cedar removal movement.

But Austinites will not advocate the destruction of a single tree, and not because they may be needed as hardwood planking for West Austin McMansions. In Austin, we protect all of our trees, even cedar, because we frown on discrimination on the basis of color, country of origin, ethnicity, or costs to society.

But cedar trees don’t deserve tolerance from Austin’s tree loving citizenry.  Its pollen makes life miserable for at least half of the city’s populace. Imagine the loss in workplace productivity and the other trees that must be killed to produce more Kleenex and replace the printed page I just sneezed all over.  And public safety is surely in danger with so many people driving under the influence of cedar or all the meds we must take to survive it.

Another Music Festival

But there could be a silver lining to this cedar fever misery.  If we make a concerted effort to publicize it, maybe fewer people will move to Austin, and this horrible tree can serve a higher purpose. How about a new city moniker: “Cedar Fever Capital of the World?” And  while we’re at it, let’s consider a Cedar Fever music festival at Zilker Park, giving our city leaders another opportunity to authorize the trampling and destruction of park grass.  Only certain musicians could participate — those who are roused from their sick beds to perform, all the while sneezing, sniffling, and tripping on antihistamines. Just like Woodstock!

austin trafficDo you think that if more people around the world heard about our cedar trees they’d stay away? If so, I think I could start tolerating the tree (albeit from a distance). And just maybe, this could be the ultimate solution to our god-awful traffic!  In between sneezes, let’s spread the word!

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Keep Your Cleats Off of Austin’s Parkland!

Have they lost their collective minds? I’m talking about Austin city council members who are considering a plan from Columbus, Ohio’s professional soccer team,  Crew Soccer Club, to move to Austin and build a stadium on downtown lakeside parkland – Butler Shores Metropolitan Park. This kick-to-the-groin plan includes eliminating the three historic Little League ball fields and fails to provide for parking, among other things that don’t make sense.

Aside from the destruction and giveaway of city parkland, what confounds me the most is how this idea materialized. Specifically, in my six decades as an Austin resident, I’ve never heard anyone say, “What Austin needs is a professional soccer team.” Anyone who has lived here thirty minutes knows that Austin is a football town that bleeds arterial orange for the Longhorn football team and bursts a capillary or two over Longhorn baseball and basketball. If soccer were a money-making sport worthy of an investment, UT would have bulldozed the Engineering building to build a stadium for a university team. Since they haven’t done so yet, I rest my case.

Mind you, I have nothing against soccer. It’s a fine game that my children played when they were young, learning teamwork and honing physical coordination skills. Soccer also provides  an opportunity for the young and energetic to run up and down a field almost non-stop for sixty minutes without parents having to worrying too much about concussions or lost teeth from errant bats and sticks.

Skyline View for Soccer Fans?

In fact, if this company wanted to put the stadium over by the Travis County Exposition Center, or almost anywhere that doesn’t involve gifts of prime city parkland in a very congested area, I’d be applauding the deal. It seems, however, that the team’s owner, Precourt Sports Ventures, has its heart set on a downtown location so that television viewers “would know exactly what city the game is being played [in].” Let me just say, Precourt, I don’t think anyone watching the drama on the soccer field cares a flying flip about which city’s air those players are breathing. If using the city as a prop is truly a necessary element, I would urge them to watch episodes of Austin City Limits where the skyline is just a big wall mural. Maybe something like that could be rigged up. And by the way – Austin doesn’t need more advertising! We’re full.

Does Precourt Know Anything about Austin?

Another disturbing issue is judgment. If I were looking for a business partner, Mr. Mayor and council, I’d wonder about the reasoning capacity of a company deciding that Butler Park, off Toomey Road, just a block north of Barton Springs Drive and within a stone’s throw of Zilker Park, is a great location. To access such a stadium, fans would have to hope that neither Zilker Park, Auditorium Shores, the Long Center, or Palmer Auditorium are having big events.  Not only would attendees have to contend with congested streets both coming and going, but competition for parking in that area is stiff, spilling into the adjacent neighborhoods that already have to endure ACL for two weekends a year and the Trail of Lights during the Christmas holidays. Precourt wants to make their ordeal more permanent.

But wait, you might remind me, Precourt has said they doesn’t think parking is necessary for soccer fans. “Fans can access the stadium,” says Prescourt,  “just like they travel to their jobs in downtown Austin?”  (I spewed a mouthful of coffee all over the table when I read this!) Have these people ever been to Austin?!!! Are they confusing us, as many often do, with Portland?

Let me save you the research, Precourt, Austin workers travel to their downtown jobs by CARS!! And I don’t mean Priuses and Mini Coopers – I’m talking about sports utility vehicles and pick-up trucks!  Our bus system needs several more decades to become a viable mode of transportation and our train “system” sporadically drops people off from the northern hinterlands to east Austin. Simply put, there is no mass transit worth talking about.  And despite the miles of bicycle lanes you may have seen, not that many drivers have been convinced to ditch the cars and start pedaling.

If They Build It, Where to Park?

So, let’s get serious. Where will the 20,000 (planned capacity of stadium) soccer fans park? Maybe half of them will use some sort of park-and-ride system the soccer team arranges, but I suspect that thousands more may try using the garage at the Long Center/Palmer Auditorium. Others may look for spots at Shady Grove and the other establishments along restaurant row on Barton Springs. Will soccer fans have a few drinks or a meal at one of them and then, just casually walk past their cars to the stadium, figuring that lunch was enough to buy them a place all day? Okay with you, Shady G?

And then there’s the Zachary Scott theater complex adjacent to the proposed stadium that has weekend matinees and evening performances. Will they need to hire security personnel to police their lots? (By the way, won’t screams of “GOAL!!!!!!!” by 20,000 fans rock the theater walls and spoil the performances?)

Little Leaguers — Another Casualty?

And let’s not forget the razing of the three baseball fields used by South Austin Little League that have been hosting young players since 1951.  These fields accommodate about 250 families and no one wants to move them unless a new site with upgraded facilities can be found nearby.  Maybe they’ll find a way to obtain historic designations.

Is Good Faith Dealing with Precourt Even Possible?

As for good faith dealings with this team, Precourt seems to be holding the city of Columbus hostage, threatening to move to Austin unless Columbus can come up with a downtown locale for a new stadium. In response, an Ohio legislator has filed suit against the team alleging that a 1996 Ohio law requires a professional sports team that uses tax-supported facilities or gets public financial assistance to give six months advance notice of its intent to move and provide the city or local individuals the opportunity to purchase the team.  This law seems to apply to this soccer team by virtue of its below-market rate to lease state land for parking, having a stadium sitting on tax-exempt land, and benefiting from a State appropriation of $5 million for parking upgrades.  Representative Mike Duffey says, “This is our team, our town. We’re not going to go out without a fight!”

Does Austin really want to jump into the middle of this love affair/law suit for a sport we don’t really care much about? Are we just being played to get leverage for the stadium the team really wants in Columbus? And don’t forget, if they hold one city hostage, nothing prevents them from doing the same thing to us.

 

So, here’s my bottom line: we don’t need no stinkin’ soccer team, especially one owned by people who don’t have a clue about Austin, its culture, its infrastructure and have already shown their stripes in another city.  Precourt doesn’t seem to understand that we love our parks and other recreational facilities.  Austin citizens just approval two bond issues for our parks in November.

So, let’s tell Mayor Adler and the City Council that this is not the right team to welcome to Austin especially if they want to get their mitts (and cleats) on our parkland.   Precourt has betrayed the people of Columbus.  Let’s hope our City Council doesn’t betray us.

What We Want

And in case anyone asks what Austin really wants?  Tell them we could really use a world-class art museum.  Maybe we could strike a deal with Fort Worth to send us one of theirs, you think?

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