At Last, A Road Trip to River City

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AUSTIN — It has been 55 weeks since my last visit to River City. We received our second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine more than a month ago and thus feel safe to travel. I still took the usual precautions, wearing a mask in public, generous dollops of hand sanitizer, doing my best to keep my distance. That was impossible at Buc-ee’s in Temple on Sunday afternoon, where I stopped to refuel and relieve. That place looked like Miami Beach on Spring Break, except everybody was fully clothed (thank goodness) and mostly masked. I figured out later it was the last day of Spring Break, and folks were heading home.

I stopped in Georgetown first to visit friends there, meeting outside at El Monumento, a spacious Tex-Mex restaurant with ample outside seating and a nice view of the San Gabriel River below. The last time I saw this quartet in person was on March 8, 2020. Already, we were uneasy then about hugs and talked at length about the pandemic, how serious it might become. We talked politics as always, on the cusp of the Texas primary, five old progressives gathered together. I’m the spring chicken of the flock, a fact that is increasingly rare these days.

It was wonderful to see them again, hopefully on the downslope of this strange and terrible year, to talk about a pandemic and, of course, politics. The pandemic is certainly not over yet, but we can its end coming, as more folks are vaccinated, and cases continue to fall. At least that’s my prayer.


In Austin, I once again stayed at the Holiday Inn-Town Lake, as I have at least 100 times over the decades. One can walk out the door and be on the trail in a minute, joining the joggers, bicyclists and dogs crunching the gravel trail along Lady Bird Lake. It is one of my favorite spots on Earth with its view of the Austin skyline, rowing crews sharing the water with waterfowl, the smell of spring wafting along the steady breeze.

I happily walked for about an hour, as always admiring the dogs, grasping snippets of conversation. I once had this idea to set up a parabolic mike and record folks walking by, and turn it into a play, called “Overheard On The Trail.” Over the decades I have heard people discuss pending divorces and cheating spouses, workplace gossip, last night’s date disaster, money woes and drug deals. Eavesdropping is a longtime pastime; it comes with being a journalist. At least that’s my excuse.

One change in the past year is the proliferation of tents set up along the grassy area between the trail and Cesar Chavez Street, housing homeless folks. Sadly, it reminded me of the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression — though the tents were nicer than the shanties folks built back then out of whatever material they could find. I’m sure the pandemic has exacerbated Austin’s homeless situation, but at least the tents are a step above people burrowed into a sleeping bag on the ground. I noticed several folks doing just that, hard by the lake’s shore.


          The next morning, I returned to one of my favorite haunts, the Texas State Library and Archives building, across the street from the Capitol, whose lawn was dotted with happy children romping in the grass on a sunny day. The library was open by appointment only, made well in advance. Masks were required, and I dutifully wore mine for three hours while taking cellphone photographs of print copies of the San Augustine Red-Lander. The newspapers, in bound volumes, are in remarkably good condition for being 180 years old — published in 1841. I was the only person in the archives room, with a masked librarian seated behind a plexiglass shield a dozen feet away. In my three-hour allotted time, I was only able to get through about half the bound copies, so I will be back within a month or so.


I left the library and headed to Güero’s Taco Bar, quickly grabbing a seat at an outside table just off South Congress Avenue. This is one of my favorite Tex-Mex places anywhere. Their margaritas are my favorites, and I am a veteran connoisseur. Fully sated, it was time to head home after spending two nights away from home for the first time in more than a year.

But it won’t be the last.

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