May 28, 2020
“You’re not in traffic. You are traffic,” I heard on the radio last year, and it resonated with me. Here we Austinites were, almost a million of us, sitting in traffic jams all day long, insanely frustrated by the wasted time and by our fellow drivers. And then along came the pandemic, and suddenly MoPac is humming at 65 mph at rush hour. It’s not much of a silver lining to grasp for when reading news reports of 100,000 U.S. deaths from COVID-19 and 40 million Americans who’ve lost their jobs over the past 10 weeks, but there it is. You can drive around town and even find a parking spot.
Take the Greetings from Austin mural on S. 1st Street. I’d wanted to take a photo of our foreign exchange student in front of it last fall, but when we drove by there was nowhere to park and throngs of tourists were lined up to pose in front of it. So we passed. Fast forward to yesterday, only days before her scheduled departure, and the street was deserted. We parked, hopped out for the selfie, and I marveled once again at the surreality of quiet streets in one of the busiest parts of town.
At a stop light, I glanced over at Peter Pan Mini-Golf and saw that even the boy who refused to grow up is responsibly wearing a face mask. Another sign of the times.
The glowing Tau Ceti mural at E. 2nd and Brazos towers over its empty street corner. Contrast this un-peopled moment with the same scene from last summer. It’s a quieter, COVID-era Austin, even as the city opens up again.
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