About Doing the Streets

Red Chairs. I just love chairs. Especially red chairs. We had a red chair when I was young and I can still see my Dad sitting in it reading the newspaper under the $5 lamp he and Mother got from Good Will in the ‘40’s. They always took the paper. In the 60’s, they got the Morning News and the Times Herald every day. Two papers in one day. Dad always read them both and Mother always worked the crossword puzzles. She was a crossword puzzle wizard. So is one of my sisters. I am not.

Many years later, I have the red chair. I have the lamp, too. I brought the red chair down in a uhaul after Dad passed away, years after Mother. By that time, it was pink and green, or some such, having been reupholstered by Beth the decorator. I’ve redone it in three fabrics. The last two times, I moved on to vinyl. Lori the fabric expert told me about this rich woman who had a sofa recovered in vinyl for her Texas ranch house. That sounded pretty good. Vinyl’s really come a long way. It’s great with the animals. I just spritz it once a day with lysol and paper towel away paw prints.

I still call it the “red chair” even though it’s black vinyl with silver upholstery tacks.

A few years ago, I was looking for a new chair for the guest room and, not so surprisingly, put together a red one at one of those places where you pick the frame and the fabric. A few years after that, I started looking for a chair for the living room. Of course I found, and yet, another red chair I loved. I found it at Macy’s in the mall. The chair was really one part of a sectional sofa. Red leather. Only part of the sofa left. On the floor. As is. I still love it. Armless.

My friend Frank had been doing some remodeling on my house. Reminded me of the Winchester house. They say Sarah kept remodeling and building on because she thought if she ever stopped, she’d die. I guess she stopped and did. I’ve pretty much stopped and am still going.

I asked Frank if he’d use his truck to pick up my new red chair. So, one afternoon, we went to Macy’s at Highland Mall. As we approached the pick-up lane, I started talking about an article I’d read in the paper that week, saying how Highland Mall was a ghost town. Nobody shopped there anymore. It had been the first big mall in Austin many years ago but now . . . all downhill. Frank said it was because everybody shops online. Then, the idea came.

The Idea. I started thinking about how nobody even knew what shops were in the mall. Maybe, if they had known, they would have kept coming. Of course, by then, Highland Mall had that forty-year-old-mall-smell so maybe it wouldn’t have mattered.

My idea, though, has been a long time coming and I hope will blossom into a fresh and wonderful way of looking at our great shops and venues hanging together on our spirited streets.

Doing the Streets.

I want the user to have a fun, virtual trip down the street. Of course, Doing the Streets has to start with the flagship. South Congress. The melting pot of Austin. The living culture.

So, Frank, do you think you can make it so the user can move down the street?

Frank can do just about anything he has the time to do and sets his mind to. Before long, he comes up with a little program. Photos. Three stores in a row. Click and the stores move along. Then he keeps working to make it better even when you don’t ask him to because that’s just the way he is. So, before long, he sends me an attachment called “A better scroller”. I start to believe that my vision will come to life.

One step after another. The journey. That’s the part I love.

The Journey. I needed someone to work with me to design the website. So I looked on Craigslist. A million people want to design websites and those million people post a million portfolios. I looked at them and usually closed them after a few seconds. I somehow ended up setting a meeting at Thunderbird Coffee with the first guy. Although he was somewhat excited about my ideas at first, he gradually appeared petrified at their complexity. Way over his head. So, when I posted for a graphic designer on Craigslist, I included “not for the feint of heart”. I think this attracted Noel.

I got a million responses to my ad and didn’t like any until I saw Noel’s. After looking at her portfolio for about thirty seconds, I knew she was the one. I hoped she thought I was the one. I wrote. She wrote back.

Noel. We met at a coffee house just south of the capitol on a cold night in January. She biked there. I drove. We hit it off immediately. She probably had cold press—she is way more worldly than I am; I probably had a latte with splenda. She had many tattoos and, when she wasn’t doing graphics, toured as a fire-eater named Betty. Many people call her Betty but I never have. She doesn’t seem to be eating fire anymore. Moved on to yoga and guitar. I’m glad.

For a while, we struggled with the organization and thoughts about functionality and ended up briefly working with a young man in a black overcoat. That didn’t last long.

As we continued to struggle over development, we began to design. Noel is so great. A quiet listener. So extremely talented but she never forced her designs and tastes on me. Even when she has a preference, she is very easy in making it known.

I love being the client with Noel. In my life, I have hardly ever been a client—mainly a ball-go-getter; you know, the youngest child; anything to be in a game of jacks—so it felt really good. I wanted her to feel the energy of my own house because I wanted to replicate it for Doing the Streets. She came and saw. She showed me bunches of color palettes to choose from. I love the South Congress color palette and can’t wait for the next one! It looks just like my guest room and is just as happy! Noel amazed me as she came up with ideas and designs.

She still amazes me.

As we slowly moved forward, I made some contacts, got some referrals on ways to go, had some meetings but nothing was really working. I don’t know why so many people seem to poo-poo ideas. Egos can really screw things up, especially controlling egos. All shapes and sizes, some very cleverly (or not so) disguised.

Anyway, Noel somehow figured out the way to go and found a small local developer. At this point in the process, I already knew I needed to be clear from the start that I was looking for a web developer, not a graphic designer.

The First Developer. Noel and I met with the developer—two guys, actually. They seemed pretty enthusiastic about the ideas for the website. In the best way I knew how, I asked if they would be comfortable leaving the design to Noel and me. They said that would be ok, although the energy changed just a little. Oh, well. I could work with a little change in energy. (Looking back, that energy change makes so much sense.) So I hired what turned out to be my first developer. The website moved forward slowly. The secret world of coding.

One of the highpoints along the way was our visit to Allens Boots. Sean, the soft-spoken manager, was kind enough to let us come to the store and create a prototype for the website venue interiors. He even allowed us to film him as he created two sample videos. I have looked at his store tour video a million times and I still love it. Most of all, though, I continue to be overwhelmed at how gracious he was to work with us. (When we filmed the videos, I bought a pair of boots. Just couldn’t resist. Cranberry. Ah.)

The Song. At some point early on, I knew that I wanted to write a song about South Congress. And I knew at some point that I would be calling Rodney. I’d never written a song and didn’t really know where to start. The lyrics seemed as good a place as any so that’s where I started. The history. The couple going down the street. Him buying her a red jacket. The bridge. The girl with the ankle tattoo. The blind boy in flip-flops. The redhead singing the blues. SRV. The spirit. Eating and drinking. Shopping. Boots. Vintage. Music. One hot steamy day in August, I took my notepad and went up and down the street taking notes. Great street. Great people. So much. Verse three.

I sat on the sofa with my laptop writing lyrics. Some nights, I’d write a line or so. Some nights none. But, before long, the story was coming to life. I called Rodney.

I had first seen Rodney when I student-taught at the school for the blind. He was in the first grade and he was a pistol. Riding a bike. Playing. I was lucky enough to teach Rodney and his friends a few years later. The school had a great band director and they learned to play trumpet, drums, sax, clarinet, piano. You name it, they played it. Going to band was the favorite part of their day. Incredible amount of talent. I remember how excited they all were when one of their friends hit high D on the trumpet. Probably the coup de grace of their band career was “In the Mood”. They brought down the house. I can still hear it and see those little men playing their hearts out.

Somehow, we managed to keep track of each other for all these years. I called Rodney and told him I was working on a song. Well, sort of. That’s where he came in. That’s just about all I had to say. Sine qua non. In his own quiet way, he marshaled the forces and, before long, we had Rodney on drums. He can do anything. And Steve on Sax, injecting an indescribable spirit and musicianship into the mix. And Jimmy on keyboards, effortlessly moving to whatever key or embellishment the song needed. Then Brad on lead guitar. A je ne sais quoi, an ability to wait quietly until we were all wrapped around the axle before he pulled us out. He waits until the end to play his cards and his guitar. And Nick on the bass. Wonderful Nick, the quiet cajun, no fanfare, always in the background, providing the tie that binds.

We had a void for the vocals because Jimmy just wasn’t sure he wanted to be the singer. Jane to the rescue. Jane has taught music for many years, most of those years for the school for the blind. Lucky school. Lucky kids. She is awesome. She’s had her own band for years. She graciously agreed to join us for vocals and more keyboards.

I struggled to finish the lyrics as we all struggled and searched for their melody. It took me forever to figure out that I had written lyrics for a 32-bar verse, finally clearing the way for the chord progression and eventual meager melody.

What a group. I love the song! Most of all, though, I loved the journey with these wonderful musicians. Each of them is so uniquely talented.

Frank. I’ve been working with Frank on one thing or another for about fifteen years. Like I said, he can do just about anything. Since he had been awol for a while, I had tried a couple of other photographers briefly. Nothing had worked out. So, like I have done so many times, I went back to Frank. Sometimes with me, mostly on his own, Frank trekked down to South Congress to shoot pictures and, after many consults with the developer, slaved for hours (and hours) putting together the panorama that is the heart of the website.

The Video. There had to be a video. The street is filled with sights and sounds and movement. So, on First Thursday, the premier monthly date on the street, Noel and I set out to video along with the girl and the guy doing the street. We were pretty green and had to go back to her apartment about sunset to download because I didn’t have any extra memory cards for the Nikon. Definitely a low-budget effort. No group of professionals here. But it worked. A vintage red jacket. Alas, farewell to the silver trailers.

It seems like it’s always a stretch to find the next person to work with. I did the drill and, like always, over time, found someone I liked. It seems like everything is intertwined. Easy-going Matt and I met at Jo’s several times. I sifted through and catalogued miles of video. I made my picks. Frank joined us once when I started floundering a little bit. Matt cut, snipped and pasted and brought the video to life.

The House. I got sidetracked (and blindsided) in the website journey with the wonderful (huge) project of renovating a house in Travis Heights for resale. It ate my lunch. Trial by fire and subcontractors. I think I began both projects about the same time and can’t even believe I thought I could juggle them both. I couldn’t. The website waited quietly. The developer moved out-of-state. The song was a wrap. The house was finally finished and sold. Overall, I couldn’t have asked for any greater project.

Lisa. At some point when I was renovating the house, I decided I would stage it myself. Midcentury Modern. With original artwork by my awesomely creative sister. I could have been an HGTV episode about a crazy woman who didn’t really know what she was doing but, somehow, it turned out great. A journey of 1000 miles. I got pieces from every vintage store in town. For the furniture pieces, Lori helped me pick out all the fabrics and we had so much fun together! The fabulous team of Marilyn and Salvadore reupholstered the pieces and you just can’t believe how good they looked. I still have some of them and, hopefully, they will reappear someday in Lynx: A Gallery—of my sister’s works, you know, and my vintage finds. Who knows? You never know. You just keep moving and having fun.

But. . . back to Lisa. So, I was combing Craigslist and saw a 1960’s Danish Chair. I went to see it at Lisa’s house and loved it! She said that her father had been an air force man and had shipped the furniture back to the family from Denmark in the early 60’s. God, what a find. Lisa mentioned that there was a compatible sofa and, of course, I got that, too. I asked Lisa what she did for a living and she said she had her own bookkeeping shop. Knowing that my “bookkeeping” consisted of two large ziplocks stuffed with receipts, along with my check carbons and master card bills, I asked her a bunch more questions and, before long, Lisa became my bookkeeper. I was so green at that point that I had no idea how much I would come to appreciate her. Her compulsively correct work lets me sleep at night. After the house sold and I was de-staging, I asked Lisa if she wanted to buy back the two pieces (at cost, of course), now beautifully reupholstered. I almost begged her to buy them back because it just seemed like she should have them. She thought about it but ended up saying no—every time I asked her. When I was on the verge of selling to another buyer, I gave her one last chance. She took it and now has the beautiful pieces in her home. She meditates in the chair. Awesome. Meant to be. Like so many things, if you just give them time.

Towards the Finish Line (or so I thought). I breathed for about a month after the house closed and started down the website path again. Remotely. It’s May 2015. The panorama is finished. Frank is still building ingenious databases at his day job and building out a local theater (in the now-defunct Highland Mall) at night. The musicians are gigging three or four nights a week and our next song is coming to life. Noel is working remotely from her new old house while she dreams of Burning.

I guess distance is not always a good thing. I struggled (and struggled) to get the development ball rolling again. But the ball pretty much wouldn’t start rolling again. Different vision. Different expectations. Woe.

Brad. At the point where I had no more ideas about how to make the project move forward, Brad and I were standing in my driveway after we finished a session working on another song. I began moaning and venting about my stalled project and Brad quietly suggested that he might help if I wanted. What? At first I wasn’t connecting (you know, because mostly he plays a turquoise stratocaster) but then I remembered Brad’s multi-year non-musician background as a Dell project manager. (It’s Austin. Musicians with alter egos. Bruce Wayne by day, Batman by night. Gotta make a living so they can pursue their real passion.)

I sort of smiled to myself, thinking how nice Brad’s offer was, never expecting to take him up on it.

Brad joined me as project manager in June 2015. My last gasp at moving forward. We worked hard creating an infrastructure for the project and setting goals towards the finish line.

Brad is great. Even with Brad and our newly created infrastructure, the ball still wouldn’t start rolling again. No matter how. No matter what. Time for a new developer.

Orion. Brad and I worked up the specs for a new developer (Brad talks developer language) and by November, we had one. Orion and his team are great. Even answer emails on the weekend. Wow. Orion kind of reminds me of Noel. Competent, very laid back. Offers but never pushes suggestions to make everything better.

We started moving forward again with a series of “Sprints”. The first Sprint was our test-sprint. We set our goals, our budget, our timeline and Orion took off. (I get it now; this is the way it’s supposed to work.) Voila! The Sprint 1 goals were finished on budget and timeline and we were off to the next Sprint.

Without pause, we moved steadily forward. Sprint 6 is finished and we’re ready to launch. It was all so seamless, it snuck up on me.

Gretchen. You know, attorneys are a fact of life. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. I moved through three before I finally lit on Gretchen. I guess I usually keep going until I find someone great. And she is. Building a website is filled with trademarks and agreements and terms of use and copyright and lots of stuff that most people don’t want to think about. Including me. But you just have to. Gretchen somehow makes all of this stuff seem simple and doable. And, sometimes, even fun. She has lifted me up when I needed lifting and has given me great ideas for the website. Imagine that. I hope she is with me for the duration.

Down the Street July 12. South Congress is one of the most amazing streets on earth. I began my own trek down South Congress to ask the merchants for permission to take photos of the interiors of the awesome shops, restaurants and bars. For whatever reason, I decided to start with Hudson Meats. Connecting the dots backwards but not forwards. A strategy. A leap of faith. Or blindness. Or the universe.

I love it that South Congress is such a potpourri. Sausage and meat processing next to a barbershop next to a restaurant next to a vintage clothing store across the street from a church next to a haberdashery down the street from a monster house of wax at the other end of the street from a fire station . . .

I went into Hudson Meats and introduced myself to Ashley B. She was great. Yes, please, come back to take a picture. I think you need a window cling for your website so we can all put it on our doors. What a great idea. I love it when people give me great ideas. On to Crofts and Leighelena. Yes, we’ll participate. Then, on to Monkey See Monkey Do.

The employee at Monkey See said the owner was in the back and maybe I could talk to him. He was and I did. Brandon told me about the South Congress Merchants Association (he’s the president) and the Public Improvement District and the Improvement Association. All very interesting stuff to me (I’m really not kidding). I started showing him the website and he loved it . . . very quickly! We moved. We brainstormed. One thing lead to another and, well, I’m thinking . . .

July 22. Sometimes I write down a plan. Sometimes I don’t. My plan for Doing the Streets has always been “If you build it, they will come.”

I built it (with more than a little help from my friends) and I think they are coming. We’re launching September 6. (Happy Birthday Dad, Rodney and Henry!) We’ll see.

I remember one time in Reno, standing in front of some wheel spinning and watching someone put down a $5 chip. I couldn’t even imagine putting down a $5 chip. But now, I’m playing my $5 chip. It’s the biggest chip I’ve ever played . . . and probably ever will.

The Street. South Congress is an awesome street with an awesome history. You gotta see it!

Enjoy the website!

Carol Vaughan