Before I could book my flight to Austin I had to sign the General Austin Flight Agreement, which says that, “Once arriving I solemnly swear to agree with everyone how much Austin has changed for the worse.”
On the flight my neighbor told me she loved Austin. “But it really has changed so much since I moved there ten years ago.”
“Yes,” I said. “For the worse?”
“Definitely,” she said. “The old Austin is pretty much gone.”
“That’s too bad,” I said sympathetically.
Yesterday morning I took a walk along Shoal Creek and then Waller Creek to downtown. It looked mostly the same as it had in 1982 ago except for a few big buildings.
Once I got downtown I stopped by Mellow Johnny’s bike shop. I’ve yet to see a bike shop in Los Angeles like MJ’s. The first thing that strikes you is a giant Ride Board that lists upcoming club rides every day of the week. The second thing is the coffee shop that is more a part of the bike shop than the retail area. The third thing is the repair shop that greets you when you walk in, and the fourth thing is the shower which is available to pretty much anyone who needs to de-stink.
What’s striking about Mellow Johnny’s is the fact that foremost it’s a place for cyclists to hang out, and only after that is it a place to buy bike crap. The placement of the repair shop is awesome. Regular customers don’t come back often to buy new bikes; they come to get their derailleurs adjusted. Oh, and the shop opens at 7:00 AM, when cyclists are up and about and in dire need of a coffee fix.
As soon as I walked in a sales guy asked me not if I needed any help, but “What music are you jamming to, dude?”
We started talking. I told him I’d walked from 24th and Lamar. “Amazing amount of construction, huh?” he said.
“It’s incredible how Austin has changed,” he said.
“Yeah. My wife and I moved here four years ago. It’s a completely different city.”
“For the worse?”
“Mostly. The old Austin has been swallowed up by development.”
“That’s too bad.”
About that time a group of riders came in from the morning ride and lined up at the coffee counter. I got in behind them and started chatting. One was a guy named Alan, a judge. The other was named Matt. Finally I walked over to the big wooden communal table where everyone was sitting. “Mind if I join you?”
“Sure,” said a guy named Martin. “As long as you’re cool. This is the cool table.”
“I’m not very cool,” I said.
“That’s okay,” said a guy with a huge mustache that was waxed so stiffly on the ends you could have hung your coat on it. “As long as you say something cool.”
I asked about the rides and people began talking animatedly. Bikers are the same everywhere. They are happy to chat with you about the local rides, which ones are hard, which ones hilly, who are the hammers, and the good-natured back-and-forth between friends about who dropped whom when and how and where. Most of the guys at the table rode for the Violet Crown Sports Association, Austin’s oldest racing club.
“I used to race for VC,” I said.
“When?” asked Martin.
“My first race was in January 1984 at the Bloor Rd. to Blue Bluff time trial, where Jack Pritchard gave me a Laverne & Shirley board game for winning. Our team kit was a blank purple Vigorelli jersey.”
There was a bit of awed silence as I pronounced the mythical words “Jack Pritchard.”
Suddenly I wasn’t some stranger in jeans to whom they were being polite. “Do you know Jay Bond?” asked a guy named Andy.
“Yeah,” I said. “He built my first pro bike. Or maybe it was Phil. A Picchio Rigida. The ones that all had cracked rear dropouts. It was purple.”
“Wow,” said Andy. “Jay’s my neighbor.” The triple authenticity label of mentioning Jack Pritchard, Phil Tomlin, and Jay Bond could only have been strengthened by saying the hallowed words, “Tom Paterson,” which of course I did.
We talked about Jay’s famous 55-mph straight-line fred fall coming out of Leakey a couple of years ago, about his sister Felicia, the illustrator for “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” and most importantly about whether or not Jay still had his blue steel Pinarello and his red steel Eddy Merckx.
I checked my watch and saw it was time to head back. “Great talking with you guys,” I said. No one had mentioned how much Austin has changed or about how the Old Austin has gone.
That’s because, you know, it hasn’t.
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