I wasn’t going to stay in Austin long.
More than enough memories here of a decades past, between childhood and growing up.
But my friends were out drinking at a roadhouse bar just north of the Austin City limits before the conference I’d flown out for.
“Do you have family here?” they asked at dinner at Opal Divine’s, over tortilla soup and Shiners.
“Not anymore,” I explained. “Buried dad last year. But my family’s been here for ages. Great Grand mom in Bastrop, lost to fires a few years ago. I can get stuck here. Find myself lost driving to Mexico with a six pack of beer."
I was only going to stay for the conference. And then get back to beloved Brooklyn.
But then I looked at the sky. The warm night, the trees, the breeze, and the summer heat, sitting out for hours, where I’d sat for thousands of nights.
On the way to the elevator, hadn’t thought of Dad and everyone else from here, from those years.
But then I looked at the sprawling, open hot Austin sky, where we’d all and had a feeling I’d been here before, driven, stopped, just been.
A trip down from Dallas in summer 1989, when I had no money, and everyone took care of me, telling me they did not care. I was welcome. They were glad I’d come. We floated down the brazos, shared a shower, and talked all the way back to Dallas, feeling a part of everything, the sky, the road, the music, the ruins the ages. We were part of everything. The sky was us and we it, created illusions, hallucinations, a mirage in the distance, oil disappearing in the distance, just as we get close to it. Now, I can never touch it. But I’ve been chasing it. And it keeps reminding me that it will never really go away.
But for a moment, we were of it, it was of us, our colors shone and we reflected, in the Dallas skyline, talking and recalling and being.
Drove back and forth and back and forth, saying goodbye, back out west, to South by Southwest for Spring break, and back through the gulf coast, a dingy hotel in Nola, hot on the Mississippi Sound, and back up the Palisades.
And back and forth, one more trip back in 1991, to say dance, drink beer, share, and say goodbye before a trip to Italy, even if we didn’t want to remember how much had happened since that first trip in 1989, driving in the country and laughing and dancing through a thousand shows, still kids at the cusp of something between youth and adulthood, between the city and the country, whirling across the state, back and forth to South by Southwest, shows in Ft Worth, back to Austin summers. And then it was over, a chapter was closing, that part of our life like a mirage, disappearing in the distance.
And then it was over, never to get back.
“Lets stay together” played on the tape machine as I looked at the Austin sky leaving the city in the distance, off to Italy, Germany, California, Los Angeles, Joshua Tree, San Francisco, and another other life, extending from Chicago back to Yonkers. We were not staying together.
“You’re childhood is over. Your childhood is gone,” Robin Hitchock reminded me as I drove around San Francisco years later, going to see Johnny Cash at the Great American music hall, finding another city, another life, seeing Robin play, dancing to hip hop, while Don Cherry played, merging jazz and world beats, to a different chapter of what would be, away from that Austin sky. I never really wanted to go back.
Dad wasn’ t there to visit me this time in Austin. Last summer his ashes found their way back into the forests here, through the Bayou, outside of preservation hall, and a taco stand outside of Houston, escaping the highway off road forever. Not here to meet me at the conference to meet up for a drive to and from, New Orleans, or Mexico, or San Antonio, or Dallas, or Castroville, as we’d done so many thousands of times before. Only notes I found in the back of an old book I carried from an old conversation on the way to New Orleans about Matthew, the book of luke, beatitudes in healthier days, now long past, rarely to return. After that, on every trip he got weaker until he could not leave the house. This time, he was with me on the road, in the Austin sky.
When I look at it, it reminds me my life has held many things, many gifts, many friends, and my family, a great grandmother who lived 99 years, originating from here, bearing her three sons, and then my life, and those wandering adventures that are gone, disappearing memories, mirages, appearing and reappearing in the distance on the hot Texas road.
I wasn’t going to stay for long. Too many memories here, in the Texas sky.