Austin Before the Bust (Millennial Edition)

Two decades ago, we lived in a small three-bedroom house in North Central Austin less than ten minutes drive from Top Notch.

Austin Before the Bust (Millennial Edition)
The best breakfast tacos in Baltimore County!

Two decades ago, we lived in a small three-bedroom house in North Central Austin less than ten minutes drive from Top Notch.

Yes, that Top Notch on Burnet Lane from the movie with Matthew McConaughey with muscle cars, baseball, bullying and lots of smoking. It was also a five minute walk from Threadgills. (We’ve got a picture of that on our wall, too, but I thought the breakfast tacos were more interesting.)

I ate there on my last business trip to Austin before it closed. It was also five minutes by car from The Frisco if you headed West on Koenig, across from the HEB. Google the Night Hawk and Frisco. It is quite a story. It is also gone now.

Before the Frisco, you would pass First Texas Honda where I bought my first Honda the Summer before 9/11. That dark blue Accord with a stick would survive two Chicago winters, require 2 new clutches, and was still running after the brakes went out in 2017.

We also bought a dark blue Odyssey there in the weeks before we left Austin — flush with relocation money, bound for Chicago with 2 kids, 2 dogs, and the cat my wife had when we first started dating.

In the Summer of 2001, the stock market had already begun to slide.

We waited in our cubicles at Cisco (watching Office Space on pirated DIVX rip) to see if we would be let go in the “Hundred Year Flood.” I had a Catalyst 5000 in my cube for some reason. Because I could, I guess. This was the summer of Code Red when worms ran wild on the corporate network and I had to go home and get any work done. John Chambers told us “deal with the world the way it is, not the way we’d like it to be.” But those days, they did it right. Those laid off got six month packages.

(I later heard horror stories from a member infosec team how they went out of their way to allow people to copy and save their files. Not like what you hear in the current Big Tech layoffs where you open up your laptop one morning and find yourself locked out of your device.)

The Honda dealer has moved, too. I’m not sure about The Yellow Rose — for those of you that remember North Lamar in the mid 1990s, before full-blown-gentrification, density, and light rail forever changed the landscape of the Brentwood neighborhood.

The perfect neighborhood, my wife still says. I would see both Threadgills and the Yellow Rose on the way to the Southwestern Bell Telephone office on Huntland Drive. I was not long for “the Bell” as we called it.

With multiple friends from San Antonio that took jobs at Cisco, I’d made somewhat of a name for myself for a Linux distribution that included a bunch of network security tools like Nmap. I was at the right place at the right time.

The turn of the millennium was also a time of mergers and acquisitions. SBC would later become AT&T all over again after combining with Pacific Bell and Ameritech. I once went to the office once in Dublin. (Not Ireland. Still haven’t been there yet!) The new nationwide head of Network Integration was also not for me. The only thing I remember about that trip was a slide referencing Crossing the Chasm and my first and only ride on BART.

Working at SBC, I went to meetings in Little Rock and Oklahoma City and did one CheckPoint firewall in a small business somewhere. Back then, they gave out free coffee and doughnuts at the SWA gates in Austin Bergstrom. Otherwise, there was little work to do. I was bored.

I attended my first Sales Kickoff in Dallas in 2000. I assume February, because that is when SKO’s always are, right? The SBC exec rode in on Harleys. The audience cheered. Was the exhaust safe? I can still smell it. That night, I got a fake tattoo of a snake curled around my neck. It seemed like the thing to do if you didn’t fit in with sales folks. And yeah, like most SKO’s there was a lot of drinking. I responded to proposals and taught myself MySQL, PHP, and Python. That is what I rememer about “the Bell.” A couple of months after their peak market cap, I joined Cisco and commuted against the traffic, either up Burnet on or on 183.

By the late 90s, Austin was no stranger to me, having attended that competing university two hours east on US-290. I had spent a weekend each month with my Army Reserve unit on Camp Mabry for a decade. When not in the field, we’d double up in cheap hotels or I’d stay at the filthy old Texas Guard barracks for less than $10 a night. The Motel-6 on Rundberg Lane off I-35 was another spot. Or we’d find a couch in someone’s apartment who went to UT. We did not go down to Sixth Street as much as you would think college students would in those days.

After months of driving up I-35 San Antonio on weekends to look at houses (and take long walks next to town lake) we bought it late Summer of 1999 at the peak of the DotCom boom. Many of those companies are gone.

We bought our 2nd house on the first day on the market. I was making enough money and our house in San Antonio was cheap enough that we could afford both mortgages for a while.

The first night we called a food truck and they came to our house and made something that took way too long to make. What was this guy doing? It was really good though.

Food trucks were mysterious then. Austin was still weird. My wife says it is still special. I guess. I really have no desire to back — let alone, live in Texas now. Four years later we’d sell it for $60K more than we bought it for, but probably could have gotten $100K. We put it into a fixer-upper in Allandale on the other side of Burnet. I still remember the name of our realtor. I hope we have thrown away the closing folder with his business card on it. He was young and new to the business. He did not act like a realtor.

Back then, we hated how realtors acted. Today, this house is valued over a million dollars on RedFin and you wouldn’t recognize it. The garage is expanded to include multiple bedrooms near the back of the lot. But we lost all that equity of our two Austin houses in the housing crash during the Great Financial Crisis on an overpriced house we bought in Skokie, IL.

We rented for nearly 3 years when we moved here to Maryland and were afraid to buy again. We bought the cheapest house we could afford in the best, most diverse school district for our Asian-American daughter.

We were lucky. We got help from my parents until we sold it at a loss a week or two before the week the Stock Market crashed in 2008.

The massive oak where a great horned owl scared the shit of me one night is long gone.

My wife still makes fun of me being scared of owls, though.

There were still original owners from the 1940s in the neighborhood back then. There were state workers, like our neighbor to the left of us. There were rentals that UT students could afford. I assume those days are gone.

The house in Crestview had a small kitchen with a washer and dryer and no built-in dishwasher. We bought a new retro-style table and put in black and white tile floors the way they do in diners. Kind of like what we have in our house now except the table in the picture above is actually old. The couscous would fall and stick from my oldest’s high chair and it was tough to keep clean. It required a spatula to scrape away.

It was cramped with a single bathroom and mostly two-prong outlets with no grounded power. This was when DSL was still hard (and slow) to get.

Nothing happened when January 1, 2000 arrived, but in the first year there we had to get the main-line replaced and I learned to appreciate the transparency of pier and beam foundations.

I got into an argument with my recently about the exposed plumbing in our laundry room.I like that, you can see when something goes wrong and you don’t have to tear shit up to fix it. We replaced the roof. We got the original lead paint encased.

This past Christmas break we stayed in an early 1900s AirBnB in an old Virginia rail town in the Shenandoah Mountains. The kitchen didn’t have a dishwasher and my wife explained to our kids how our old house in Austin had a portable dishwasher that you could connect to the sink.

Only my oldest, now in his mid-20s can remember “the green house” in Austin. He doesn’t know it, but his diverse musical tastes were influenced by growing up listening to KGSR. He wants to return to Texas.

We’ll see what happens.