- Enjoyed a vanilla shake at the Health Camp Drive-In, "on the Circle," in Waco
- Had a beer with a former co-worker at the "Derrick Hands Club" in Mexia
- Took a refreshing dip in Lake Travis--the water being absolutely perfect
- Met my cousin for a mango margarita and Mexican food at the Fonda San Miguel in Austin
- Busted my book budget at the best little Orthodox book store in Texas, while Rdr. Mark treated me to a glass of his specialty tea
- Enjoyed two long swims in the best motel pool in Texas
- Had a chicken-fried steak at the Bluebonnet Cafe in Marble Falls, still going strong after 78 years
- Visited my grandparent's graves in the old family burial ground
- Attended Great Vespers (in Greek) at Holy Archangels Monastery in Kendalia
- Read copies of Fr. Stephen Freeman blog posts during my seminar
- Had a fillet at Hill's Steakhouse on South Congress
- Savored early morning coffee, papers and croissant on outside table at Jo's on South Congress
- Pancakes at Magnolia Cafe
- Sunday dinner at the Stagecoach Inn in Salado
- Attended packed Divine Liturgy at St. John the Forerunner Orthodox Church in Cedar Park
Austin is one of the big "what ifs" in my life. Like most everyone who attended college there, I really didn't want to leave. Of course, the Austin of my memory and imagination is long gone. The city is our version of Silicon Valley, awash in money and experiencing explosive growth. I was surprised to see that the Austin suburbs have reached Seward's Junction on Highway 183 North. And there used to be a interesting little crossroads community called Bee Caves, on the road to Llano, right before the turn-off to Hamilton Pool. There was never much there--a general store, a Baptist church and cemetery, a clutch of homes and a cedar-chopper's shack with a hand-painted sign advertising his prices for fence posts. It is now, simply gone. In its place is a shopping mall and a huge highway interchange at the main turn-off for the ritzy lake area subdivisions. The hills around the city are chock-a-block with faux Tuscan villas spilling down their slopes, each a little more over-the-top than its predecessor. I had to wonder, what with all the concern about the banking and mortgage crisis and fears of a recession, etc., just how close to the edge of financial ruin the occupants of many of these pretentious homes must be.
But in spite of our best efforts, and in light of all that has been lost, thankfully Austin is still Austin. Progress has failed in its concerted attempt to destroy the place absolutely. For Austin still attracts a certain kind of person, and that is where the real beauty of the place lies.
My headquarters in Austin is always the Austin Motel, a funky little tourist court on South Congress (or as some are trying to tag the area "SoCo"). It dates back to 1938. Actually, a German family bought the entire block in 1888 and operated various mercantile business there before building the motor court. Incredibly, this same family continued to operate it up until 1961, when they sold it to the current owners. So, the property on the main drag in Austin, within sight of the Texas Capitol, has been owned by only 2 families in the last 119 years. You can read about its history, here. What clinches the deal for me, though, is the best motel pool in town. Designed in the old style for real swimming, it is a secluded little oasis under the shade of a 100-year old live oak. And right next door is Jo's, a walk-up coffee and sandwich place. There's no better place to soak up a little authentic Austin atmosphere than sipping your coffee on one of their street-side tables.
I enjoyed visiting with my cousin. She divides her time between her parent's old home in Austin and the ranch house that has been in her family for 5 generations, some 80 miles north of the city. In her great-granddad's time, the ranch had encompassed 1100 acres or so. Sales and family partitions have reduced that to the 143 acres her dad inherited, including the old home place. She has lovingly restored the old place and spends as much time out there as possible. The surrounding area is being developed into 10-20 acre ranchettes, which is in the nature of things, I suppose. We talked of Major, the Australian sheep dog who was the last in a long line of sheep dogs on the ranch. I remember Major from visits to the ranch in the early 1990s. After her grandfather's death in 1994, Major continued to live on the ranch, as my cousin's father made almost daily trips there. But in time, he was moved to the Austin neighborhood, where he passed away in March, at over 18 years.
Holy Archangels Monastery is a bit hard to find (as it should be, I suppose), but well worth the effort. The construction of the complex surrounding the church is quite impressive, and beginning to take shape. There were about 12 of us there at the service, in addition to the monks. Of course it was all in Greek, with men on the right and women on the left. But once again I was reminded of how important the monastic presence is to the continued growth and expansion of Orthodoxy in North America. The next morning, I attended Liturgy at an Antiochian congregation in the northern suburbs of Austin. They are currently meeting in a converted ranch-style home, with fairly advanced plans to build in the coming year or two. The service was packed--easily 80 people in the former home, with probably upwards of 100. The service was vibrant; everybody participated in the responses, like the good ex-Baptists and ex-Church of Christ folk they probably all were. I was struck by the youth of the congregation--young people and young families predominated. At first glance, these two services seem dissimilar, but taken together, each speaks to the steady growth and vitality of Orthodoxy down here in the South land.
Eat at Jo's