an exploration of urban identity in the middle of Texas
Of course the discomfort did not emerge all of a sudden: it built up inside me, like always, without a clear definition. Their presence puzzled me, it clouded me—that’s the right way to put it. I wanted to stare at them, to raise those questions, without letting them know that I was looking. My gaze felt as sharp as a razor. Not because I was embarrassed or scared to look, but because I was the only one. To the eyes of everyone else, they were invisible. I saw them walk, I could even swear I heard them talk, yet no one seemed to listen.
I waited for Doug at his door, but he never showed up. Maybe he was just busy, like this morning, when he told me to come back at three. I stared at his blue house and took a photograph. I took a step back so that the bicycles could fit the frame. The neighbor heard the click and closed his door quickly without saying a word. Jolene, Doug’s roommate, kept counting money over a cooler. Maybe she was too young to talk to. A book lied on the floor unnoticed. The allure of its red binding led me to get closer and turn it over with my foot: a dirty bible.
Just take any route that’s going south—801, 803, 1, 3, 7—and hop off near the river, take a left on Cesar Chavez Street, and you’ll see it: a tiny village under the bridge. You can’t miss it, man. Well, I wouldn’t say cozy, but it is definitely a corner of the world. Don’t let the hammock fool you, these are hard-working people. Take a few steps further and you’ll see them make their daily bread and butter. Cleaning windshields, picking up trash, begging. No, their homes, or I don’t really know how to call them, are on the other side of the street. They have roofs but the bridge is the real shelter. See that guy? He’s reinforcing the foundations of his home: there’s a storm coming. When was the last time you did something to fix up your place?
AUSTIN LOCAL LIFE: SURVIVAL GUIDE
If you really want to get a feel of the real Austin and its denizens, spend your time wandering the city streets, sipping lattes in low-key coffee shops, sampling beer and breakfast tacos. So many food trucks, so little time!
Start your day with gingerbread pancakes at Kerbey Lane. Then head to South Congress Ave for lunch at Güero’s Taco Bar for the real deal—but don’t call it “SoCo,” the locals will side-eye you. Stroll east on Cesar Chavez Street and take a look at all the construction cranes along gentrifying E 6th St. Get a taste of Austin’s laid-back, slacker vibe by trying the blossoming restaurant scene in the city. Old-timers will warn you that east of I-35 is dangerous and to be avoided. Although the streets retain a gritty feel, and host their fair share of vagrants, the main thoroughfares feel safe.
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY TAKES FIRST SELFIE AT UT AUSTIN
AUSTIN, TX. Award-winning actor and Austin enthusiast Mathew McConaughey almost broke the internet last Thursday. During his appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, the host helped him take his first selfie along with other 3,000 University Of Texas at Austin students in the audience.
The 50-year old Texas born graduate from UT- Austin, where he is currently professor of practice, used his time on Fallon’s show to talk about what makes this city great: its people and its spirit. “In Austin, nobody’s too good,” McConaughey said during an insightful live interview, “but everybody’s good enough.”
The Longhorn movie star also spoke about the challenges of living in an ever- changing city. “Now, with our massive growth, we’re more than just a university town and a government town,” he said.
“We’re a tech town, we’re a business town, we’re a banking town and we’re a congested traffic town— but we don’t honk horns!” A few moments before taking the now- legendary selfie that has traveled the world, he said the challenge in Austin now is maintaining the “core value of the village that we used to be.” But this is Austin, and in this town, nobody is left behind.
I’m ashamed of these photographs. I swear. They’re not good, but most of my photos aren’t. That’s not it. You shouldn’t be allowed to publish these things without portraits. Straight damn portraits: look at the camera. There aren’t many good ones out there, especially in social-sciency things, because it’s hard. Celebrities and friends are easy, but try telling someone you feel so sorry for them that you want a picture: aim, look, shoot. Try it. Tell them you’re really interested in how they eat their chicken, the curious way they are able to survive in this place, and then hunt them down with a camera. I thought so. It’s a process: you need to talk to people, get to know them, earn their trust, and then just stab them in the back with a fucking black and white portrait—a delicate deceit. That’s fieldwork.
The deadline is near. Somebody put up some posters on the columns supporting this bridge: “NOTICE OF CLEAN-UP AND PROPERTY REMOVAL. ALL PERSONAL PROPERTY AND CAMP DEBRIS MUST BE REMOVED. ANY ITEMS LEFT BEHIND WILL BE CONSIDERED ABANDONED AND REMOVED.” A few weeks ago, Greg Abbott announced he is willing to use State powers to intervene and do something about Austin’s homelessness problem. “We will clean up homeless camps under highways in Austin starting Monday,” he wrote on Twitter.
Last week, the government actually “cleaned up” some camps: they kicked them out of their homes. Those clean-ups are evictions. Because those tents are their homes, like it or not. Those roofs are roofs, and those doors are doors. It’s their space, that’s where they sleep, that’s the roof that protects them from the rain. Look at them. Look.
“Yeah, I’ll be here, this is my hut!” Dough told me. I brought a few bottles of water with me this time. I didn’t know what else to bring but I know—I guess I learned—that making yourself useful is the least you can do when borrowing someone’s time. “I’m busy right now, but come back at three and we can talk.”
I had met Klim the day before that. He was a young black man wearing an orange polo and blue jeans. Maybe he was my age. He welcomed me to the small area where the five plastic camping tents stand. I mumbled something about writing an article about the “homelessness problem in Austin,” like an idiot. He pulled up his blue jeans and started talking: “We ain’t no troublemakers or drug-dealers. We just want a roof and a job, man. Is that too much to ask? It’s getting cold out here.”
I asked him if I could take some pictures of the camp, of the mattresses lying there in the open, of the little tent where the dog sleeps. It had a small bed inside it, but no dog. There was nobody else around, just the red book on the floor. “Go ahead. Just don’t take pictures of me, ‘cause of racial profiling and all that stuff.”
He told me to come again the next day at 8 a.m. sharp so I could speak to his neighbors before they go to work. I was afraid to ask what kind of work, and I still regret it. We were supposed to meet at the exact same spot: under the bridge, right in front of the blue tent. It was almost eight’o clock when I arrived, but Klim was nowhere to be found. I waited. After asking around for a few minutes, the incontrovertible truth suddenly kicked in: no one knew any “Klim,” because there was none. No one had ever heard from him. I had trespassed without knowing it.
–Rodrigo Salido Moulinié