It’s a warm and breezy Saturday night in Austin on Texas Relays Weekend. We did up a special store window at Wild About Music in Bob Marley + hip hop theme to welcome our 40,000-ish athletes, families and guests to town like every year. Daytime business was great, both Friday and today. But by 6pm things died off to nothingness and never revived by the time we normally close at 9pm. Totally deadsville. Absolutely not the norm for a weekend evening in Spring. So we hit the street to see wazzup.
Whoa! 8:00pm and 6ixth is fully barricaded with hardly a trickle of folks on the sidewalks, let alone anyone walking up the traffic lanes yet. And clusters of cops — everywhere. Block after block after block.
Every single car parked along E6th, and on every side street between Brazos and IH-35, is being towed. Let’s just guess 50 cars…at $250 a pop to get it back from the nasty doberman-run-yard in far-east or deep-south Austin…and that’s about a cool $12,500 in extra gravy business for the wrecker deamons — thanks, APD!
As I slowly walk the street’s six historic blocks, I take particular note of places that are closed, which normally would be open, on a sizzling Saturday night. Without question, the grand prize goes to the Blind Pig and Shakespeare’s Pub which are not just closed, but also friggin’ BOARDED UP! I kid you not. Watts Riot / Hurricane Ike style plywood over all openings! As if that lovely awning over Shakespeare’s wasn’t the biggest eyesore on the Street today, the plywood really completes that perfect slum look. Even the gypsy t-shirt “shop” and Black Cat Tattoo Parlor across the street look like they’ve been spooked into closing for the weekend. I hear they are all off on some annual “retreat”. LOL. Finding religion, no doubt.
Moving eastward through intersections of massive plastic barricades weighted with water fillings thanks to AFD, I soon find myself in the totally desolate — but still barricaded and towed clean — blocks east of Red River. The Boiling Pot signage says “Open 11-11 Fri & Sat”. But not THIS Saturday night. All dark and shut down tight at 8:30 and may have been that way all day for all I know.
All the way over at IH-35 there are flashing lights and barricades pretty much everywhere in all directions. That nice big surface parking lot beneath the freeway – recently having undergone a complete makeover and now sporting those sweeping aluminum poles under the road with glowing blue lights? — yep, you guessed right, CLOSED down by APD. Why should cars be allowed to park there? Better that they sit in gridlock on the access roads as drivers try to figure out where the f**k they’re supposed to circle to next.
Fortunately for the guests who still choose to patronize our street despite these very ominous welcome conditions, it’s business as usual at El Sol y La Luna, Esther’s Follies, Iron Cactus, Alamo-Ritz, Maggie Mae’s and Parkside — some of the great experiences you can always count on when visiting E6th. And I must say that the Sanderson family has done a marvelous job of facade restoration and integration on their newly opened The Stage venue, all beautifully lit up with a country band visible and audible through the windows (not sure they’ll see a packed house tonight but, hey, ya never know).
On my walk back westward, I am compelled to ask one of the officers in a group of 10 or so huddled into the center of these orange and white runaway-truck-type barricades what they are for? I’ve never seen them before. He replies that, at around midnight tonight, APD is expecting “10,000 or so hyper young athletes and their friends to start running…racing…back and forth down the street from end to end. Like gazelles, they will be leaping over these barricades. Often the surrounding crowd gets trampled in the process. These barricades are to help split up the crowd as they are running, as well as to protect the officers while they duck behind them for protection.”
No shit? This I gotta see. Heading back into the street for a witching hour update once I post this story and pics. Hey – I was raised in Detroit. I love to mingle.
THE MIDNIGHT UPDATE
Phew. Just back from another wander up and down the street. And I gotta say: it’s a whole LOT more crowded out there now! It took an hour to walk six blocks in two directions. At times, totally at a standstill for several minutes — like a human IH-35 –usually where there was a DJ spinning some fine tunes in one of the venues.
By far, most of the action is out on the street, not inside any of the businesses. The young folks are all dressed up and steppin’ out to see and be seen. Bicep to bicep, it’s one mass of sweaty bodies out there. And I can tell you this: there is no way any “hyper young athletes” are going running down any section of that street.
With this further observation I can say that having all the cops out there keeping an eye on things is definitely a good idea. I do think they get started way to early, though, with the mass presence of blue uniforms. It sets an ominous tone that ruins the vibe until all the crowds finally show up and “cover up” all the APD squads. Also, the groupings of 10 seems wrong: walking single file in formation…lined up on the stoops in front of closed buildings…arranged in a circle in their mid-street pens. Oh, and did I mention additional squads perched high up on the rooftops of several buildings in each block…cameras, binoculars and radios all buzzing away?
I found the vast majority of all the kids out there to be friendly, smiling, polite and just hanging out after a long day or three intensely competing in the Clyde Littlefield relays up on the UT campus. And the scantily clad ladies were certainly doing their best to make all them boys grin ear to ear. I’m also glad to see some groupings of porta-potties on several of the side streets; they were being used.
In closing, I can’t help but wonder if there is some way to turn several years of excessive anxiety and hysteria into something potentially more positive. Maybe actually setting up a few stages on some of the side streets and have DJs playing music these kids want to hear? Hand out Gatorade and water. Everything is already blocked off anyway. At least they can dance for a few hours rather than just stand along the curbs or try to walk back and forth on parade. Many are too young to get into the clubs anyway. I saw little money being spent anywhere except at the half-dozen convenience stores where there were lines outside and a beleaguered clerk at the door, locking and unlocking the entrance to let a couple people in as a couple people left.
We Austinites should work a little harder to throw these kids a friendly end-of-day party for a couple hours to say: hey, welcome, thanks for being here and for bringing your talent to our town. That’s the Austin vibe I know and it was felt throughout an equally crowded SXSW just a couple weeks ago.