More years ago than I care to count, a rugby teammate and I traveled to the Austin Rugby Tournament. This tournament was the highlight of the Texas rugby season for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons was the location. Austin is the state Capital, but more importantly, it was the party Capital of Texas.
Sadly, this piece is not about Texas rugby’s love of Austin or partying. This is about Austin’s geographic and societal dysphoria. Somewhere in the relatively recent past, probably the 1960s and early ’70s, Austin began to drift west culturally. By that, I do not mean West Texas. In some ways, Austin began to feel more like California than Texas.
The shift was partly due to the influx of former Californians. Whether they migrated to Central Texas to attend UT, or simply found a kindred vibe in the hemp haze floating around the city, they poured into town like lemmings running across the tundra. As their numbers increased, cultural changes began to emerge. Today, Austin is, in some ways, a landlocked eastern extension of San Francisco.
As luck would have it, there was a 7-11 within in few blocks of exiting 35. Pulling up to the store, we noticed a sad-looking character sitting on the curb in front of the door. As you can probably surmise, he was not simply taking a break; he was panhandling. My teammate looked over at me with a puzzled look on his face and asked, “You think there’s one at every 7-11 here?”
Though I did not recognize it at the time, the young teammate mentioned above noticed an early sign of this shift. His observation came after we rolled into Austin on a Friday afternoon. After driving 220 miles or so on the always under construction IH35, we needed a pitstop.
At first, I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. He was dead serious. Keep in mind; he was a college student in his first year away from home. Besides, a panhandler planted in front of a convenience store was not common in north Texas. In fact, you didn’t see guys and gals with their hands out working street corners, parking lots, or other locations much anywhere in Texas in those days.
After assuring my young friend that was not the case, we took care of business. We hit the restroom, grabbed some sodas, and headed to the tournament venue, Zilker Park. Zilker was another reason ruggers liked this tournament.
The park was immediately adjacent to Town Lake. There were some great little restaurants and bars within walking distance, and it was a prime jogging and sunbathing area for UT coeds. What more could a couple of hundred rugby players want from a tournament location?
Since the trip and question mentioned above, Austin shifted even further west, politically, and socially. As with cities in California, the relatively moderate climate, location, and left-leaning political structure made Austin more attractive. Wealthy movie stars, high tech entrepreneurs, transients, and a semi-permanent street population found the place irresistible.
Today, as with San Francisco, the homeless are everywhere it seems.* Despite the best efforts of churches and charities, and more recently, the government, people are panhandling all over town. Of course, some of these needy people are not homeless or destitute. Some are opportunists, taking advantage of charitable people. Panhandling is their job, and it provides a pretty good, tax-free income in some cases.
When I visit Austin these days, it reminds me of my last visit to San Francisco. There, people sleep on the streets, block doorways to businesses, and take care of their pitstop business almost publicly. Sadly, the local politicians in Austin are not satisfied with attracting people in need, and the super-wealthy who like Texas for its tax structure.
Recently, the movers and shakers controlling Austin took another step toward joining the crowd working to make Austin an extension of California. The city government decided to modify ordinances addressing certain behaviors by transients, homeless, and panhandlers. As one might expect, the changes caused concern within some segments of the population. As with any such modification, some concerns are legitimate, and some are chicken-little warnings.
Whatever the reality, the changes make Austin more attractive to those engaging in this behavior. The changes also make it more difficult for law enforcement to control the behavior of those who violate or push the envelope on these ordinances. These moves make it more difficult for businesses to operate and for the residents who wish to live in a civilized environment.
Sadly, the story does not end there. The Austin City Council voted earlier this year to cut the police department budget by 33 percent. The council seems to have two goals.
One is to change the way the department hires and trains officers for law enforcement duties. The other is to establish a new form of public safety department, not focused on enforcement. If this keeps up, the only difference between Austin, San Francisco, and Los Angeles will be the Golden Gate Bridge and Hollywood.**
*Critics of the last sentence will be quick to pooh-pooh such statements. They will claim there are only a few hundred living on the streets at any one time, but counting transients and the homeless is more difficult than counting Trump voters in a blue state.
**The pictures in this piece came from both Austin and San Francisco.
© oneoldcop.com – 2020