My parents bought their first house on the bluff that overlooks Barton Springs and Lamar in 1976 for $23000 (yes, you read that correctly -- three, beautiful zeros), when my mom was 25 years old and my dad was a tender 24. My current age. They waited until the mid-eighties to have children, perhaps a sign of the economy, and I grew up on the smooth, rounded corner where Josephine Street ends and Hillmont begins. I wasn't a child of the 70's -- I was a child of 78704.

Back then, $23000 bought you a 1200 square-foot house with cool limestone outer walls that I would press my body up against in the summer heat when I'd finish running through the sprinkler. My refined ear would count the seconds between screeching cars and the impact of the wrecks on South Lamar, like listening for thunder and lightening and attempting to gauge the speed and damage that had been done. Sometimes there was no impact, but sometimes, wailing sirens followed the hollow smack of metal. I would wonder who had been hurt and how badly -- morbid thoughts for an eight year old, but there they were -- and how their lives would be affected the next day. The romance of the nightly urban thunderstorms eventually wore off, and in the mid-90's my parents cashed out and we moved to a new neighborhood that was allegedly quieter. Perhaps it was suburbian sprawl or just our proximity to Mopac, but the din never seemed to subside.

With the crashing of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, I can't help but feel myself listening for the impact, straining to hear over all of the other background noises: rising gas prices, election cycles, Constitutional injustices, IED's exploding.

But maybe it's the cacophony of so many other fears and concerns that I cannot make out the audible crash. It's just an anticlimactic silent flash of lightning followed by no thunder, only the clattering of rain on the roof of my home that I rent in 78749.

Childhood. I never walked ten miles in the snow, uphill both ways. I never popped tar bubbles in the middle of a street sticky with fresh asphalt. I never washed my clothes by hands or harvested crops or slaughtered a pig for dinner. I tried to sell lemonade once but no one ever walked by, so I gulped down the juice and closed up shop.

I feel like my generation has been abandoned, raised halfway and tossed out of the nest into the dank undergrowth of mismanagement. We've got it all so terribly wrong, and we didn't even get to pick the wrong choice.

I've resigned myself to the fact that until I jump up several tax brackets, I will be banished to suburbia should I ever buy a house. 78704 might have raised me, but it will probably not be where I get to raise my children.

Coming to terms with that awareness is not easy. I feel myself braking, hard. This isn't a near miss. They're going to have to call 911 for this one. I hear the impact.

11 Response to "Crashes."

  • Man Chac Says:

    What a lovely, sad post...I've been thinking about this alot lately, and I didn't even grow up in Austin.

    I'll see a new building or mansion or condo and try to remember what was there before, or just wonder what was there before, and who....

    Now I'm headed off to TC's to listen to blues in what's now a hispter haunt. Strange.

  • $1 Says:

    Baby boomer's screwed us. Less then a trillion in national debt when started voting. 80% of our now 10 Trillion debt was left by 2 Presidents in over 200 years of government can you guess who they are? It's pandering to the Baby Boomer's and either they don't care or are too dumb to know they're screwing us.

  • Tali Says:

    This is a great post. 24K? OMG peeing my pants right now... but 78745 really isn't that bad...

  • Robert Says:

    My folks bought the house I grew up in, near Ben White & S. 1st, in '72, for $15K. I too tried to settle back in the old neighborhood to raise my brood, but we only lasted 6 years before the market became such that we couldn't afford NOT to sell. I take some solace in the fact that it's nothing like the '04 we knew anyway...but some of these much-abused 'suburbs' (Elgin, Buda, Hutto, etc.) are actually more like the old southside than S. Austin is now, mainly because middle-class Texans still live here.

    You've got your own choices now. They're not all as appealing as your parents' might have been, but the challenges - and potential rewards - are arguably much greater for you and yours.

    And the beer's better, for the most part. There's that.

  • rooroo Says:

    interesting post, rach. my parents bought a two-family home in a close suburb of boston in the late 70's. my dad's always on me to do the same and it's like, "you spent $35k on that shiz, it'd cost me ten times that much." it's a different world today.

  • FUBAR Says:

    For the first time in a very long while, this generation of Americans may well not get to boast that their children will be better off than they were.

    It would certainly be nice, following on the heels of all the patriotic July 4th celebrations, if instead of our leaders merely boasting of how proud they are of America, they...we...rolled up our sleeves and helped make America a place fully worth being proud of.

    Now THAT would be patriotic.

  • Logan Says:

    i had totally forgotten about those until you just said so... i LOVED to pop those with my fingers or even my shoes later tracking it into the house.
    i also really like saying CACOPHONY!
    Great blog!

  • Mean Rachel Says:

    It sure is a conundrum, though, that you should live close to where you work & play. But if you can't afford to live there, you suddenly have to go further out.
    Well, then what happens when you can't afford the gas to drive from where you live to where you work?

    You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. It's getting harder for this generation to make it.

  • Robert Says:

    That's the current dilemma of damn near everyone I grew up with. The non-creatives who do the work that makes Austin go can't afford to live there. Hell, I've got an APD veteran who and a CoA maintenance worker with 15 years under his belt, who live right next door to me here in Elgin. Lots of state employees, etc.

    But we're getting into a whole 'nother discussion about urban planning and marketing where I just might piss some people off...

  • M1EK Says:

    Any city that grows eventually suffers this problem - you have to adjust to economics and buy a condo (which is what I did in '97). More people, same amount of central land = higher prices (much higher, if you let people like Laura Morrison stop the development of more multi-family in the area).

  • Libby at Aurora Primavera Says:

    >>For the first time in a very long while, this generation of Americans may well not get to boast that their children will be better off than they were.>>

    I hate to tell you this, but I’m a Boomer, and I am without a doubt worse off than my parents. My parents raised a family of five on one modest salary, took a two-week vacation every summer, put three kids through college with a minimum of financial hardship, and lived a pleasant retirement financed by a pension. I won’t even try to quantify the quality of life benefit that my childhood and the whole family enjoyed by having an at-home mother.

    To raise my children required two incomes. Providing college education meant indebtedness, and health care and health insurance has been an exorbitant expense my parents did not know. I’m supposed to be responsible for my own retirement savings (even there—good luck with that 401K plan because you’re on your own and only a financial wizard could figure out the fees and whether or not you’re getting screwed).

    Americans are convinced they live in the best country in the world. But quality of life cannot be measured by the number of plasma TVs, ski trips, Pottery Barn couches, granite countertops, and black SUVs. The middle class who elected Bush governor and president is living in a state of mass delusion as to their welfare. Their net worth is less than their parents and eroding ever faster, sinking in a sea of credit card debt according to our own government statisticians. But as long as middle class Americans can buy cheap electronics and a 2500-square foot house, they don’t care.