I stopped in Sam’s BBQ on East 12th street today for a late lunch. Sam’s is a gritty Austin BBQ joint in the heart of East Austin. I still had an hour to kill before picking my daughter up from Kid’s Acting on E. MLK and I was hungry, so I stopped in. I ate some great BBQ, drank some iced tea, read the newspaper, and watched some of the Longhorn’s basketball game while there.
As I departed, just before 3PM, a large group of about 8 or 10 Hispanic men were eating on the outside patio. As I started across 12th Street to my truck, a late model BMW with a mountain bike mounted on top, and being driven by a young Anglo man, turned into Sam’s BBQ driveway.
At that moment, one of the men barked, in a voice that could have been Cheech Marin’s, “there goes the neighborhood”. This was followed by boisterous laughter, me included. I gave the guy a lookback and a big grin with one of those “dude nods” of acknowledgment, that silently says “good one, man”.
The timing of the remark and the accompanying upscale imagery was impeccable. But contained in that 4 word wisecrack was a succinct commentary on the gentrification of East Austin.
What did the wisecrack say, really? My interpretation is “East Austin isn’t only for low income, blue-collar poor people anymore”. And also, “East Austin ain’t what it use to be, with all these changes”. Truly, for better or worse, there goes the neighborhood is right.
Condos, coffee shops, home flippers, new homes, new development, the coming light commuter rail stops, bike riders and better cars are all recent additions to the East Austin landscape. That’s not to say the hookers, drug dealers, housing projects and dilapidated homes have disappeared, but a bargain has been made in the minds of the gentrifiers that the superb location and promise of continued urban renewal trump the asthetic deficiencies.
Compared to the year 2000 through 2007 hyper-appreciation that East Austin housing experienced, some of the shine has come off in 2008, and flippers and investors approach real estate opportunities with a more somber prudence than before. Still, as a long term, 10+ year bet, I think East Austin is still a good buy for young owner-occupants who don’t care about or need good schools. If I were 23 and single, as I was when I first arrived in Austin in 1985, I’d be very attracted to the East Austin and its vibe. As a mid-40s husband and dad with teenage daughters, it’s not for me at this stage of life. As future empty nesters?…maybe.
Anyway, I love a great wisecrack and a good laugh, and I got both today as unexpected dessert with my lunch at Sam’s BBQ.