The Last 2015 Trip: Austin, Texas, for Christmas

Elisabeth, Ingrid, and Anna, all Swedish immigrants at the Julotta service, Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Elisabeth, Ingrid, and Anna, all Swedish immigrants at the Julotta service, Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

On Wednesday the 23rd, Linda and I flew down to Austin, Texas, to spend Christmas with Jack. Robin flew down earlier that day (granddaughters Dylan and Carson were with their dad, alternating holidays). We arrived at dusk, and immediately made fast for Jacoby’s, the first Austin venture of the successful set of enterprises in Melvin, Texas (150 miles northwest), that we visit each year when judging barbequed goat in Brady. We had a fine meal, capped by a wonderful pear and ginger cobbler. Yum. Drove back to the house Jack is renting as he gets himself settled into a new town and new job.

The big sky of Texas, on approach to Austin

The big sky of Texas, on approach to Austin

Jacoby's Mercantile, an Austin restaurant and offshoot of one of our favorite small-town cafes, in Melvin, Texas

Jacoby’s Mercantile, offshoot of one of our favorite small-town cafes, in Melvin, Texas

Night view of the Texas Capitol

Night view of the Texas Capitol

Was up at dawn Christmas Eve and out on Jack’s bike, south toward the great University of Texas at Austin. I had not taught there for almost two years and it had been even longer since I had a good look around. The bike was perfect for campus sightseeing. It’s a wonderful place. The next day I spotted a great quote from a Harper’s article ca. 1905:

“ . . . the University of Texas has such a princely endowment in lands that it is quite possible that it may someday be the greatest seat of learning in the Western world. When Austin shall have changed place with Boston and have become the modern Athens, probably more correct ideas will prevail in both places and in all that section lying between. But that it a long way off.”

Main Building, University of Texas at Austin

Main Building, University of Texas at Austin

"The Seven Mustangs," a sculpture on the UT campus commissioned by a wealthy oilman

“The Seven Mustangs,” a 1937 sculpture on the UT campus commissioned by a wealthy oilman. Texas author J. Frank Dobie, who wrote about the storied horse, penned these words affixed to the plaque at the base: Like the longhorn, the mustang has been virtually bred out of existence. But mustang horses will always symbolize western frontiers, long trails of longhorn herds, seas of pristine grass, and men riding free in a free land.” The spirit of Texas, for sure!

The Littlefield House on the UT campus

The Littlefield House on the UT campus

Next I circled the magnificent red-granite state capitol (repeating the nice refrain “everything’s bigger in Texas”), then down the hill through downtown and across the Colorado River. The drought that had gripped much of the state for several years is mostly over, and it was nice to say the river full. Bought a cup of coffee and pedaled up South Congress, up the hill past funky little shops and restaurants – the street, like much of the rest of town, is booming.

Morning view of the capitol

Morning view of the capitol

Skyline

Skyline-2

Boomtown, Texas

Storefront signs on South Congress Avenue

Storefront signs on South Congress Avenue

At 8:15 I knocked on John Morton’s side door. Morty and I worked together at American back in the day, and it was great to see him. We talked a lot about his new gig, as speechwriter for UT Chancellor Admiral William McRaven, former Navy SEAL and way-cool guy. Briefly chatted with spouse Kate and daughter Grace, then rode back to Jack’s.

Showered and headed out for a caloric breakfast at The Omelletry, then for an exceedingly thorough and fascinating tour of town. As Jack sizes up the real-estate market, he’s become well familiar with a range of neighborhoods. The bewildering growth rate means, for example, that $800,000 remodels are across the street from houses favored by drug dealers. Doesn’t seem to matter. The bad news is it’s a tough market for a single guy in a helping profession, but he’ll figure it out. Lots of cool districts, and we especially enjoyed Mueller, the residential and commercial redevelopment of the former close-in city airport (AUS moved for a former air force base in 1999).

Robin, Jack, and Linda at breakfast

Robin, Jack, and Linda at breakfast

Egg "cloud" on the ceiling of The Omelettry

Egg “cloud” on the ceiling of The Omelettry

Wing-roofed HEB supermarket at Mueller, the redevelopment of the former municipal airport

Wing-roofed HEB supermarket at Mueller, the redevelopment of the former municipal airport

The former control tower at Austin Municipal Airport

The former control tower at Austin Municipal Airport

Austin-style Christmas tree!

Austin-style Christmas tree!

Went to the movies, then back to the house, then out to dinner. Lots of restaurants were closed for Christmas, and those open were packed, including P.F. Chang’s. We didn’t make the planned 7:00 Christmas Eve service at Gethsemane Lutheran Church, which turned out to be serendipitous, for the next morning Linda and I drove out to the 8:00 Julotta service that was mostly in Swedish. We don’t often think of Western European nations as having a diaspora, but they surely do; the Swedes have long clung to, and share, endearing parts of their homeland culture. Linda and I immediately felt welcome, both because we are Lutheran, and because the greeting was warm. The group was small, the service brief and informal.

The new (1963) Gethsemane Lutheran Church

The new (1963) Gethsemane Lutheran Church

My 20-year experience with worship in Sweden (most recently with the Paulsson family in Umeå in September) gave me a leg up on the hymns: the umlauts and consonant-combinations were familiar: “Stilla natt, heliga natt / Allt är frid, stjärnen blid . . .” A longtime church member, Ingrid, delivered the homily, a wonderful lesson tying Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to the current wave of refugees. When the service concluded, Pastor Karl Groenberg joined us; he was born in Minnesota, and grew up in Seattle (“these are our people,” I thought). He had been at Gethsemane for 45 years; it is the oldest Lutheran congregation in the city. We would have stayed longer, but we were headed to another movie at 10:15.

I zipped out for a quick bike ride, back to the UT campus, and we headed out to dinner. First stop were drinks in the bar of the historic Driskill Hotel (1886). Hadn’t been in that saloon for almost 25 years, and it was nice to be back. We left for dinner, but the place was packed, so we reversed course, grabbed another table in the Driskill bar, and had a light, leisurely repast – not your traditional Christmas dinner, but it worked.

I've long appreciated the architectural detail on older UT buildings; the tile work on the top wall depicts an oil derrick (oil and gas have long provided endowment funds at the university)

I’ve long appreciated the architectural detail on older UT buildings; the tile work on the top wall depicts an oil derrick (oil and gas have long provided endowment funds at the university)

 

On the wall of the Texas State Archive

On the wall of the Texas State Archive

Sculpture on the UT campus, made entirely of recycled aluminum boats and canoes

Sculpture on the UT campus, made entirely of recycled aluminum boats and canoes

The second Gethsemane Lutheran Church, now offices of the Texas Historical Commission

The second Gethsemane Lutheran Church, now offices of the Texas Historical Commission

 

Flew home Saturday, passing through Dallas before the terrible storms. And that was travel for the quarter and the year.

Stained-glass ceiling, lobby, Driskill Hotel (1886)

Stained-glass ceiling, lobby, Driskill Hotel (1886)

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