Category Archives: Texas

Blake Shelton – Austin (2001)

Blake Shelton – Austin (2001) (Video) (Lyrics)

(Written February 22, 2023)

Have you ever fallen so in love with a place that you still dream about it years later – and you fall so in love with your memories of that particular time and place that you instinctively know that reality will never come close to what you remember?  It can happen.  In 2002, I fell in love with Austin, Texas.  In reality, I fell in love with a time and place that no longer exists.

It started out innocently enough.  When I began planning my year abroad – one semester in Quito, Ecuador and another in Caceres, Spain – I knew that I would also need to make plans for the summer after Spain.  I lucked out.  The spring of my sophomore year at Michigan State, I landed a position as a paid intern at IBM in Rochester, Minnesota.  I must have been on a roll that semester because I also landed a paid co-op opportunity (6 month contract) with Applied Materials (AMAT) in Austin, Texas.  Ultimately, I accepted the position with IBM and asked Applied Materials if I could pursue the co-op opportunity the following summer/fall.  They said yes, and I left East Lansing for a series of adventures that would take me away from campus for over a year and a half.  I was well on my way to pursuing several of my dreams at once, including a career in tech.

My time in Austin did not start off well.  When I arrived in June 2002, I didn’t know anyone.  I ended up subletting my first apartment from a UT student.  It was OK, but my only roommate in our four bedroom apartment spent all of her time with her boyfriend.  Often the only trace of Carly was the reeking skunk smell of pot.  Soon, things would change.

The first week or two at Applied consisted of orientation classes and touring facilities in what’ve been loving termed bunny suits.  What I loved about AMAT was their place in the tech industry.  We didn’t make the chips; we made the machines that make the chips.  After a long day of orientation, an engineer I’d just met, Melissa, asked if I wanted to go get a drink and have dinner after work.  Little did I know just how much she would impact my time in Austin.

Melissa and I became fast friends over dinner.  Once I began describing my experiences studying abroad in Ecuador and Spain, she began telling me about her former coworker at Motorola, Andy, a fellow engineer.  She thought that we should met, and frankly, I think she was trying to set us up.  There was only one catch:  Andy was currently exploring Machu Picchu in Peru and wouldn’t be home for some time.  It would be worth the wait.

In the meantime, on July 24th, 2002, on my way to work, a huge moving truck made a left-hand turn in front of me when I had the green light.  He hadn’t seen me.  In the accident, I broke my big toe and the metatarsal.  The molding on the driver’s side door of my car also sliced me behind my ear.  If I had had a passenger, he or she probably would not have survived.  In the aftermath of the accident, things somehow came together.  My mom flew out to Austin to help me find a lawyer and a new car.  She couldn’t believe how well I knew the city even though I had only been there just over a month.  I had to help navigate in the days before Google Maps due to my cast.

By the time I had a walking cast, all bets were off.  I quickly found out that the six month sublease I’d been promised was really only for three.  Livid, I needed a new place to live within a few weeks.  In the end, I found a much better place to live just in time thanks to Applied Material’s internal listings.  The months living with Karen and her toddler son were great.  It was almost as if I had the good fortune to live with a fun aunt for several months.  Things were finally looking up.

In all the chaos of the accident and moving, I finally met Andy.  We ended up on a blind date at the type of place that could only exist in Austin – Flipnotics.  The first floor was a quirky retail t-shirt shop.  The second floor included a restaurant/bar with a small performance space for live music.  We were there for the music.  I wish I had a video of Andy’s face when I opened my car door.  He was horrified to realize that I had a walking cast up to my knee and that he had invited me to a venue requiring climbing a large set of stairs.  Fortunately, we hit it off right away.

One of the best things about Austin, then and now, is the live music.  It isn’t called the live music capital of the world for nothing.  Andy was the perfect companion with whom to check it all out.  It turns out that as a hobby Andy had a radio show – ATX Live – on the local co-op radio station KOOP.  Soon I would met his friend and manager Cheryl.  Andy would later serve as president of KOOP for several years.  It isn’t every day that a man you admire and respect introduces you to someone who soon becomes one of your best friends.  That is precisely what happened.

Over the next few months, Andy, Cheryl, and I had numerous adventures.  I admit, I had a huge crush on Andy by this time.  Cheryl did her best to try to get us to end up together, but it wasn’t meant to be.  However, the fun I had that late summer and fall are never to be forgotten.  The three of us attended the first Austin City Limits Festival in Zilker Park.  Cheryl “conveniently” couldn’t join us the second day.  The antics that took place that weekend are stories in themselves that belong with other songs.  At the end of the festival, Andy and I ended up at a favorite local restaurant called Shady Grove.  As it was within walking distance of the festival, we had to order takeout and eat/drink on the lawn, it was that crowded.

Later, Andy had LASIK surgery, and unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned.  He ended up blinded for a week.  As it was near his birthday, Cheryl and I threw him a party at his house once he regained his sight.  I finally got to meet a bunch of his friends, coworkers, etc.  It ended with Andy having to smooth things over with local cops late in the evening.  Our “dress to be seen”/birthday party was a complete success.

As Halloween approached, Andy asked if I wanted to go to a house party hosted by local musician Chelle Murrey.  Once we arrived, I dressed as a gypsy and Andy dressed as Zorro, Andy told me that he had a surprise for me.  It turned out that a Beatles’ tribute band were going to play at the party, and knowing that I was a Beatles’ fan, he wanted me to have the opportunity to check them out first.  I will never forget it.  I bought Chelle’s CD that evening, and even though the music hasn’t quite held up, it will always remind me of Austin.

Shortly after one more party – this time a birthday/going home/Christmas party for me in mid-December at Karen’s house – I had to pack up my new-to-me 2002 silver Grand Prix and make the long journey home – alone.  I arrived back in Michigan right before my birthday and Christmas.  A year and half and a thousand adventures later, I would be returning to Michigan State in January 2003 to finish my degrees.  I would graduate in May 2004.  I never wanted to leave Austin behind.

Chelle Murrey’s album Uncomplicated

On December 15th, 2002, a cold, foggy day in Austin, I left, listening to Chelle Murrey, trying to keep it all together.  Austin represented everything I wanted after graduation – a good job, great friends, beautiful place to live, and for the first time in my life, a social life that actually felt like me.

My senior year at MSU, I did everything in my power to land in Austin.  I made it to second round interviews with both Dell and Applied Materials.  Unfortunately, my manager at AMAT left a few weeks before I did.  He didn’t even get a chance to do my review before he left, that was left to someone I had only known for a week.  In essence, I had no one on the inside fighting for me.  Only half of the engineers and supply chain grads were hired.  Sadly, I wasn’t one of them.

I did put my time back in Austin to good use, however.  I met up with Andy and finally told him how I felt.  In essence, he told me that he viewed me as a little sister.  He explained that he was at a completely different stage in life.  At 22, devastated doesn’t begin to describe how I felt.  Looking back, I completely understand where he was coming from at that point.  At 29 and about to finish his MBA, he already owned his own home and was established in his career.  I still needed to finish undergrad.

It is funny how I should have seen it coming.  He bought me a cowgirl hat at the Austin City Limits Festival because he was afraid I was going to fry otherwise.  As cold weather set in, he warned me about trying to drive on ice in Texas.  In essence, I may know how to drive on ice being from Michigan, but others in Texas do not.  My dad would have been impressed.

Today, Andy is married and still lives in Austin, now owning his own business.  I’d love to track down Cheryl.  I have a feeling that if we were able to catch up after all these years, it would be as if no time had passed at all.  The only person with whom I am in contact is Karen, who keeps reminding me from time to time that Austin has changed – and not for the better.

In essence, this is a love letter to the Austin I knew in 2002.  Some of my favorite landmarks and haunts, namely Flipnotics and Shady Grove, no longer exist.  I still follow AMAT and the semiconductor industry.  How could I not after 2020?  The Austin City Limits Festival has grown beyond all recognition.  I can only imagine how the city has changed and evolved.  I just hope that it is still as weird as I remember and remains a welcoming place for young undergrads trying to find their place in the adult world.  Those memories of Austin will always be a part of me.

The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You – Part 2

texas-postcard.jpg

My Grandpa Russell sent this postcard from Moore Field near Mission, Texas to Julia Suszko (Grandma) in Hamtramck, Michigan in 1943. They later married in Mission, Texas – May 1943. Finding this postcard among family pictures answered a lot of questions about Grandma’s life between graduating from Sterling High School in June 1942 and marrying Grandpa by May 1943. I am so close to answering my questions!

The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You – Part 1
Somehow, I always sensed family ties to Texas, but until fairly recently, I didn’t realize how strong that connection remains. Growing up, I knew that Grandma Reid lived in Texas with Grandpa Russell during World War II. In fact, they married in Mission, near McAllen and the border. After training at Moore Field (near Mission), Grandpa Russell served in the Army Air Corp in Fort Worth. Grandma worked as an ice box riveter, eventually telling me stories about her experiences at Plant 4. I couldn’t get enough of the stories or the era. Unfortunately, I couldn’t simply ask.

Grandma and Grandpa

My Russell grandparents in front of their rec home in Fort Worth, Texas ~ 1943

Or at least I didn’t feel I could. Grandma and I always had a great relationship, but some things didn’t require words. During their time in Fort Worth, 1943-1945, Grandpa Russell, and later, my dad’s older brother Eddie, made up Grandma’s family. My dad and aunt wouldn’t be in the picture for years yet.

Sadly, both Grandpa Russell and Eddie passed away long before I could meet either. I felt bringing up and asking questions about Grandma’s life in Texas would be unnecessarily cruel. Yet, she did tell me a few stories, and I consider myself lucky. Grandma remained a part of Grandpa Russell’s family long after she remarried. It is through her that I gained a sense of what Grandpa Russell and Eddie were like and learned about the Russell family.

During the year I lived in Houston, I finally visited Fort Worth. I drove by the factory where Grandma worked. At a mile long, it continues to impress. What struck me most was the courage it must have taken for two young adults to leave rural Arenac County, Michigan and their family farms for the unknown of wartime Texas. While it is true that Grandma lived in Hamtramck, Michigan with family prior to moving to Texas, neither she nor Grandpa Russell had family in Fort Worth or even Texas. They, of course, were far from alone. Sacrifices made by the Greatest Generation, at home and abroad, will never fail to inspire me.

Consolidated B-24 Liberator

Consolidated B-24 Liberator – Consolidated Aircraft manufactured the B-24 in Plant 4 in Fort Worth, among other locations. This is likely the type of plane my grandmother worked on.

One of my favorite Texas stories is the story Grandma told of meeting her manager at Plant 4 for the first time. He went on about how wonderful it was to have someone with experience riveting in Detroit. In reality, his speech left Grandma terrified. She did have experience riveting in Detroit – true – but it completely differed from what she was now being expected to do. Who knew there were so many different types of riveting? Fortunately, she learned quickly.

After the war, my grandparents eventually moved back to Michigan and the Russell farm. Still, those experiences stayed with Grandma. In June 2002, as I prepared to leave for Austin, I said goodbye to Grandma at the canoe livery. Always the joker, one of the last things she said before I left was: “They’ll call you a damn Yankee, you know.” I brushed it off. In 1943, maybe. 2002? Never.

Well, Grandma proved to be correct. The first words words I heard in Texas were: “Damn Yankee, huh?” After landing in Austin, I loaded up my rental car with all I needed for the next six months. Predictably, in the era before GPS and Google Maps, I became lost on my way to my new apartment complex. I pulled into a supermarket and asked for directions. Of course, as soon as I opened my mouth, the nice man I asked responded jokingly “Damn Yankee, huh?” We laughed as he gave me directions. Yes, my time in Texas started off well.

When I think of family history and Texas, I tend to think of Dad’s family. His parents married there. Uncle Eddie, born in 1945 in Fort Worth, truly was a Texan. Well, there is history in Texas on Mom’s side as well. It is murkier, and I wish I knew it better.

Mom’s maternal grandparents, Bion A. Hoffman and Beatrice Smith, divorced during the 1930s. While my great-grandmother regrouped and went back to school to become a teacher, Grandma B. and her sisters lived with their grandparents in Lincoln, Nebraska. While I am not exactly sure when, Bion, or as my mom knew him, Grandpa Pat, eventually moved to Houston. In fact, he died in Houston in the late 1980s. While I can’t confirm this, I believe he ranched. If it is true, it makes perfect sense. Bion came from a long line of ranchers and farmers who moved west and eventually settled in Nebraska. Hopefully one day I will be able to confirm that my great-grandfather ranched near Houston.

While I didn’t fall in love with Houston – or even like it much – one good thing did come out of it all. Even though my sister and my brother-in-law met at Michigan State, they fell in love in Houston. Spring break 2005, my sister decided to visit and bring a “friend.” It didn’t take me long to figure out that there was more to the story. My nephews can honestly say that their parents fell in love in Texas. My family may be firmly rooted in Michigan, but there are also deep Texas ties.

The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You – Part 1

Texas

The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You – Part 1

Texas Flag

Ah, Texas.  Where do I even begin?  First, there is my own history in both Austin and Houston.  To make a long story short, I adored Austin and hated Houston.  Go figure.  My Texan friends tried to warn me.  Either way, I spent just under a year and a half in the lone star state, and everything that happened during those times (Austin and Houston) still shape who I am today.

First, there was Austin.  In 2002, I worked at Applied Materials as a co-op from June to December.  I hated it at first, but soon, it became all I wanted after graduation from MSU:  good job, good friends, and good music – maybe love.  It really was as simple as that.  As much as I enjoyed all the wonderful times I had there, the near catastrophes are what really stick in my mind.

On July 24th, 2002, I survived a major car accident:  a moving truck turned in front me of while I had a green light.  While I walked away from the accident with a broken big toe and metatarsal (that is how hard I braked), along with a few minor scrapes and bruises, any passenger probably would have been killed.  Considering that I used to haul my brother around in my 1989 Grand Prix all the time, that shook me.  What if he had been with me?

The accident itself took place out on 290 just before Applied Materials.  I’d been on my way to work, and I later found out that my boss witnessed my crash.  Somehow, I had many people looking out for me that day.  One witness to the accident happened to be a nurse, and she stayed with me until the ambulance arrived.  While I have almost no memory of anything until the hospital – probably due to shock – the Texas State Trooper who came to interview me about the crash couldn’t have been nicer.  Then again, the accident clearly wasn’t my fault.

My mom, of course, was on the next flight out.  When she arrived, she helped me manage buying a new car and finding a lawyer.  We did both in style, and somehow, I negotiated my three-story walk-up sublet apartment in a splint up to my thigh.  Mom, forced to drive in a completely unfamiliar city in an era before ubiquitous turn by turn navigation, marveled at how I already knew the streets and layout of Austin in such a short period of time.  I still have fond memories of the few days Mom and I spent together in Austin.

Then, approximately a month or so after my accident, still in a walking cast and attending physical therapy, I found out that I could only sublet my apartment until the end of August, not the six months I had been promised and needed.  I needed a new place to live yesterday.  I panicked for a hot minute – and then rose to the occasion.  Fortunately for me, Applied Materials had an internal classified section on their intranet.  I started there.  In the end, I found a wonderful roommate – a single mom who had worked at Applied for nearly a decade at that point – who owned a beautiful home minutes from work.  I am still in touch with Karen today.

I could write almost endlessly about the time I spent with friends, including attending the first Austin City Limits Festival (now an institution), meeting Cheryl, the party we threw for Andy, and so, so much more.  As I’ve said before, leaving Austin on a rainy, icy December morning, my heart shattered.  Not so much with Houston.

So many friends tried to warn me about Houston.  I wouldn’t be happy there.  It started off well enough.  My senior year at Michigan State, I intended to end up in Texas in any way possible.  I made it to second round interviews with Applied Materials.  Ultimately, they only took half of the engineers and supply chain people they interviewed.  It did not help that my manager left before he could even evaluate me.  In the end, I had no one on the inside fighting for me.  I also ended up going through second round interviews at Dell.  Less than a week after graduation, I ended up at FMC Energy Systems in Houston purchasing parts for wellheads.  Frankly, it was a great first job – until it wasn’t.  When I initially interviewed, I interviewed with five people in our department.  By the time I left less than a year later, only two were still there – one on long-term medical leave.  I won’t go on and on about Houston.  There isn’t that much to tell:  Wrong job, wrong city, wrong time, and wrong man.  I think that about sums it up.  We headed back to Michigan exhausted and broken.

I intended to write a post discussing my family’s history in Texas, which will now be part two; instead, it became a post describing my personal history in Texas.  Looking back, I truly became an adult in Texas.  I had some wonderful times, along with my share of disappointments.  As much as I loved Austin, there is a reason none of it worked out.  If Houston hadn’t ended in disaster and I hadn’t ended up back in Michigan, I wouldn’t have known my Grandpa Buttrick nearly as well.  I belong in Michigan, even if a little piece of my heart will always be in Texas.

I didn’t know it at the time, but by running off to Texas, I was participating in a well-established family tradition going back generations.

Stay tuned for part two …

Texas