As we drove through Round Rock on our way to Austin for a quick overnight stay, my mouth hung open at the miles and miles of thick commercial development. What was once rolling cow pasture was now an outlet mall. What was once a two lane road connecting Round Rock to Austin (Hwy 1325) was now an eight lane super highway complete with mix master and toll booth that I think you can see from space. Every square inch of land that borders I-35 is filled with restaurants, car dealerships and big box stores.
My first bridal shop was off of Main Street in downtown Round Rock in the 90’s. It sat just west of the Dell Computer Headquarters when Dell had a total of five buildings. From the looks of it, Dell could probably qualify for its own zip code now. I was a member of the Round Rock Chamber of Commerce then. We would have monthly mixers where the local business owners would get together and discuss how to bring new business to the area. We averaged about 25 members at each function. I guess those mixers really paid off. The retail and restaurant industries have definitely found Round Rock, Texas.
We drove down the toll way towards the Arboretum area in Austin to find the hotel where we were staying. I didn’t recognize anything. The new highway made everything look so different that I never could get my bearings. Everywhere I looked I saw a depressing amount of concrete. Only because a sign said Braker Lane did I know to turn off the highway. We checked into the hotel and I was a relieved that the landscaping was looking a little more Austin-ish. The property was filled with live oaks and thick green ground cover.
When we woke up the next morning we decided to find our old neighborhood. We lived off of Far West Boulevard, the same area I had relocated my bridal shop when I expanded the business. When we got back on Mopac and drove down a mile or two, I had to blink twice to make sure my eyes were not deceiving me. Right on the highway was a big beautiful white building bearing the name Neiman Marcus. This did not compute in my brain. Neiman’s in Austin? When we lived here the Austinite “uniform” was Teva sandals, a Dell gimme shirt and patchouli cologne. Austin prides itself in a very organic (if not hippie) lifestyle. But apparently Neiman Marcus thought Austin fit their demographic. Could it be that Austin has changed? Had it join the ranks of DFW in metropolitan living? In the ten years we’ve been away did our town have the nerve to grow and develop without us?
We turned onto Far West Boulevard and immediately things looked better. The condominium complex we lived in was still there and except for a fresh coat of paint looked exactly the same. Same HEB grocery store, same post office, same Wendy’s, same beautiful live oaks. I was starting to relax…until I tried to find my bridal shop. The shopping strip where it was located had several new businesses. That’s to be expected except they seemed to be lower end stores. That worried me a bit. When I found where my shop should have been it was just a big space with the windows covered up in black sheeting. I think I had heard somewhere that it was moving (expanding I hope!) We drove over to Anderson Lane and recognized even more restaurants and stores. Suzi’s, one of the best Asian restaurants was still there, Louis Shanks Furniture and of course, Austin Nuts (I wonder if they knew how apropos the name would be all those years ago?) I found my relocated bridal shop in a newly renovated shopping strip across from the Alamo Draft House (now that was a place that sounded interesting! ) Looking in at all of the beautiful dresses and tiaras I was warped back in time when all that was my life. It made my heart race a little. All in all the shop looked very nice, not the way I would have done it but nice nonetheless.
The kids were starting to complain about being bored and hungry so we trekked over to central Austin to find some place to eat that looked familiar. A lot might have changed driving into to Austin but this part of town was exactly the same. Old houses converted into funky little businesses and restaurants with xerascaped front yards still lined the streets. Mike and I looked at each other with big smiles on our faces. This was the Austin we knew and loved. We turned off of 35th street onto Lamar and were greeted by EZ’s. Eaten there a hundred times. We decided to make it a hundred and one. Everything was exactly the same.
Finally, with a little sadness we started to make our way out of town towards our beach vacation. I hadn’t thought much of Austin these past years. Raising kids and growing a business seems to monopolize my time. So I was surprised to learn that under my ultra-conservative exterior, after all this time, the hippie in me lives on. Thank goodness it lives on in Austin, too.