My friend Cindy found the real estate listing for this land. We'd only been searching under the farm and ranch category but she looked up "lots" and this place popped up like a little shining beacon of light. The price was (almost) right and it was tantalizingly close to Austin. I remember poring over the listing 10 times. I had the thing memorized in 20 minutes. So much about it seemed right except for one very important detail - the town it's affiliated with. In fact, I remember literally hearing alarm bells in my head the second I read the name of the little town. It was enough that I closed the listing on my browser. Shut my laptop. Walked away from it for awhile. That's how strongly I disliked the town. Keep in mind, I had never actually been into the place prior to viewing the land. Instead, I'd driven on its outskirts and I'd heard enough rumors and seen enough negative reactions to its name that I wanted nothing to do with the place. In retrospect, my reaction wasn't very open-minded or benefit-of-the-doubt-y. I snap judged it with the best of them.
However, since we've spent more time here and especially since we've moved in, my perception of this area has changed dramatically. It would be a gross exaggeration to state that the town we're close to is charming. That's a stretch. It would also be hyperbole to go so far as saying it's a nice place to hang out. It's not. What our town does have though, is promise and history. Lots of both. Today I took the old farm truck out for a spin into town to pick up a post office delivery and return something to a Red Box movie receptacle (by God, we DO have a Red Box here!). It occurred to me today that this was the first time I'd "run errands" in this place. Normally, I'm only in town to drive through to a highway or grab a Route 44 lime iced tea from Sonic.
Since I started reading the book, Evolution of a State by Noah Smithwyck, I realize exactly what this spot used to be. More than 100 years ago, the hills and prairie just east of Austin were the blooming center of the Texas economy (outside of Galveston, of course). Bastrop's ample supply of timber and its location on the Colorado made it a prime spot for trade and business. All the land between that town and Austin were owned, farmed, and managed by just a few powerful families like the Hornsby's and Gilleland's. Their legacy is everywhere in the names of creeks and roads here. But what they molded from the earth has been all but lost to poverty and a departure from small farming after the irreversible impact of the 1950's droughts. One full block of my town maintains some of the original structures and a few blocks off the northern end of the "square" sits one of the most beautiful Victorian painted ladies I've ever seen. She is a three-story monster of brick and stained glass, each level wrapped in porches. Although she sags at the edges these days, it's obvious she looked over a bustling little town and acres of farmland from her perch on a hill. Right about now you'd probably expect some photos of this, right? A picture of that house and maybe the little stretch of old buildings (where one of my favorite Mexican restaurants lives). The problem is that it didn't really occur to me until I was crossing the old railroad tracks in town that I finally photograph these places. With only my iPhone, I just kept driving. Plus, there's a teeny part of me that's sure others will see the pictures and do what everyone does: wrinkle their nose and question my sanity.
I think you have to live here to see that there's shiny copper underneath this grimy penny of a place. On the outskirts, proper businesses are taking root. Austin's coming out this way, too and with that will be grocery stores and Targets. All of those amenities will be a welcome change but means more people and development. Tomorrow I'm taking my camera back down by the tracks where the old buildings still huddle together and house greasy spoon restaurants and empty warehouses. I want to capture this place on the cusp of whatever's coming next. It's a fleeting stage; a tiny town in between its past and its future. I think my town has been stuck somewhere in the middle long enough to develop a reputation is doesn't really deserve. Sometimes, you have to know the history of a place to believe it can be something again. Picking up my box at the post office, I was greeted, for the first time ever, by an overwhelmingly charming postal worker. She asked my name and introduced herself. If this is the kind of place where the mailmen know my name, and I bump into neighbors at the fried fish joint, then I welcome all the dirt around its edges.