Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Times They Are A-Changing

I no longer drive to my day job five days a week. Now I telecommute two of those days.

On mornings that I drive to work, it is darker than it was a few weeks ago. Also, when I drive to work, I’m no longer able to listen to Radio Free Austin during the drive. The FCC shut it down. Now I don't listen to anything, because all the stations are lousy.

The sun starts coming up when I park in the west campus area. When I first came to campus in 1977, I could park a lot closer. Now I have to walk considerably farther and if I arrived any later than 6:50 I wouldn’t be able to find a parking place at all. I still refuse to buy a sticker for one of the UT parking garages.

The street I walk to campus looks much the same as it always did. Most of the houses and student apartment complexes are the same. And the moonlight tower still stands 103 years after it was first erected. But one stretch of street is completely different. Here, everything has been leveled to make way for three large condo buildings.

On the retail side of Drag (Guadalupe Street), the businesses have changed many times over the decades. There used to be several locally-owned bookstores, for instance. They all bit the dust a long time ago. The Texas Theatre, which showed porn movies in the 70s and 80s, is now a pharmacy. Chipotle’s used to be a Whataburger, and before that something else, and before that, etc. The Scientology Building used to house several businesses in addition to the Scientology offices—a copy shop, Gourmet Hamburgers, various other things that came and went, and on the upper level a bookstore, an arcade, and a typing service. Now, except for the copy shop, the rest of the building is devoted to Scientology. And down the street on the corner of 22nd was the Varsity Theater. Later it became Tower Records, now it’s a Follet’s bookstore. And down the street in the other direction, is Dobie Residential Tower. In the 70s it was all brown brick, now it's covered in blue glass. Dobie Mall on the lower two levels has changed too. There used to be a McDonalds, a head shop called the Magic Mushroom, a sandwich shop called the Sam Witch, and other businesses long gone and replaced many times over.

My first two years in Austin I worked at a typing service in Dobie Mall. It was a good student job. It was part time and the hours flexible. We were paid by the number of pages. I was fast and accurate, so did well. I had a key to the office and would sometimes work on weekends, often by myself. The typewriters, IBM Selectrics, were all lined up on a long table against a wall. So you sat there typing with your back facing a big window that looked out onto the Dobie parking garage across the street. One day, while I was in the office by myself, typing, a man dressed in full drag went on top of the garage to kill himself by jumping off. A crowd gathered, the cops were called, there was a big dramatic scene, and he was eventually pulled to safety. I missed the entire thing, because my back was to the window.

The typing service closed in 1979. After that, I went to work at the typing service in the Scientology Building. I worked there till 1982 when I graduated and got a job at the university. That was the same year I turned 30. Now I'm 54 and still working there—but not for long. I retire in a few months.

The campus mostly looks as it did when I first came here. The UT Sniper Tower still stands, but there is fencing on the observation deck to keep people from jumping off. That happened a few times in the first few years after the Whitman shootings. What with the suicides and the ever-present fear of a copycat sniper, university officials decided to close the observation deck. It was reopened a few years ago, but only at certain times and by reservation. You know, in all the time I've been I’ve never been on the observation deck. Maybe I should make a reservation and check it out before I retire. I always wondered about the view. Whitman's view, when he shot all those people.

The Texas Union hasn’t changed on the outside, but inside it's been remodeled a few times since I came here. Also, the food court is completely different. It used to be all locally-owned concessions, now it’s Wendys, Taco Bell, Starbucks, and other franchise operations. Also, there used to be a full bar in the Union. A lot of classes—my creative writing class, for instance—never met in a classroom, but always at the Union over pitchers of beer. Later, in the 80s, alcohol was banned from the Union. End of an era.

Many memories of the Union. My first semester at UT I attended a poetry reading by Allen Ginsburg in the Union ballroom. Also, I used to spend a lot of time on the couches in the study lounges, reading, sometimes sleeping. One time, I went to the bathroom in the Union, and, while I was sitting in one of the stalls, looked up from my newspaper and saw a guy peeking through the crack in the door at me. I yelled at him and he ran off. I haven't been back there since.

It’s not just the Union, every place on campus holds memories, some good, some not so good, some with interesting stories, some not so interesting. A lot happens in thirty years.

You would think that every day I'm on campus I would be flooded with memories, but actually, when live with a place for so long, day in and day out, you mostly stay in the present. As a general rule, I have to consciously make an effort to bring up a memory, unless I’m in a reflective mood like today, nearing retirement.

For years, I would take walks all over campus during my lunch hour. But I stopped some time in the 90s. Not sure why. I guess I just got tired of it. Nowadays, I have to have a specific reason to walk across campus. Usually it’s to go to the library on my lunch hour.

There are buildings on this campus I haven’t been inside in years, entire areas of campus I haven't seen, even though they’re only minutes away. Maybe I should take one last walk before I retire and revisit those buildings, relive a few memories, say goodbye to UT.

No, I probably won’t. If I ever take such a walk, it will be years later after I've been away awhile. On my last day working at UT, I’ll probably leave the way I’ve left every other place in my life. Put in a normal workday, say goodbye to my co-workers, walk out the door, walk to my car, drive away to my new life, and not look back.

The times they are a-changing …