Fond memories of an easy drive through the lazy swamplands of Louisiana ended abruptly as we entered the populous suburbs of Austin,Texas in mid-afternoon rush hour. Massive traffic jams on triple decked expressway systems, however, would not deter us from settling in calmly in North Austin at the Orangewood Inn and Suites. This Motor Inn remnant bore a heavily restored and clean testament to its 1960s past. As it began to rain, we envisioned an indoor weekend in Austin.
The next morning, as expected, promised intermittent downpours all day. Donning light raingear, we slogged our way south to the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, on the University of Texas campus. As a sea of school buses soon blocked our entrance to the museum, it soon became clear that we would have to compete with thousands of high school students visiting the campus in our tour of the exhibits today. I enjoyed thinking that at least many of these bright students would learn something authentic about our country’s history today.
Being a Presidential History Buff, myself, the museum did not disappoint. It provided an “up and close” look at a Texan political icon (LBJ), who held executive authority during the Vietnam War protest movements and Civil Right racial backlashes from 1964-1968. The Oval Office reconstruction , letters to key advisors, and impassioned, LBJ speech tapes all provided vivid evidence of the intense pressures surrounding this President maintain domestic peace and pacify his opponents to end the war quickly in this turbulent era. At the 10th floor observation window, the impressive Texas Tower rose in the distance to remind one of the ill-fated shooting spree by a former Marine sharpshooter that killed fourteen people from its Observation Deck in 1966.
The renowned Austin entertainment scene also provided interest for us today as we booked a a show called “Pop-Up Magazine” in the renowned Paramount Theater downtown. Built in 1915 as a live/movie theater, I looked forward to seeing a performance in one of the few remaining examples of “Vaudeville” entertainment era in America. The well-preserved interior of that time would also provide a stunning ambiance of sophisticated elegance to this performance.
The show itself did not disappoint as it included an engaging series of human interest vignettes narrated by nationally-renowned journalists/writers accompanied by live-music and original film. Surprise appearances by key individuals who personally experienced some sort of trauma in these accounts added to the emotionally engaging atmosphere. Picture a blind couple explaining their personal sacrifices in marriage, a homeless opera singer getting one more chance to perform live and a crooked- faced man who refused to endure plastic surgery to retain his inner identity. Who could have anticipated that such drama of such sensitive issues would have taken place tonight?
Austin, then was a charming place to visit on the 4th day of our road trip in spite of its endless urban sprawl. Possessing vital historical landmarks, unique motel icons, and a “trendy ” entertainment scene, it provided a valued lesson of urban preservation in Texas in spite of its endless prairies being encroached upon by oil production and suburban development. To be cognizant of finding new places that mirror Austin’s celebration of both “old and new” seems to be a worthy objective in my future travels.