Sunday, January 21, 2007

Resting Place

Saturday was a blur of cold mists, puddles, and soggy shoes. It was a feeble attempt at observing urban life in Austin. Everyone in their right mind was probably curled up at home, comfortable, dry, and warm, or had at least taken refuge somewhere out of the rain. They most definitely were not traipsing around downtown Austin attempting futile missions; they were not on the streets at all. In fact, a favorite resting place, a gazebo on 9th and Guadalupe had been completely abandoned, but who can blame the refugees? Life outside was looking cold and desponded at best. I, too, would have rather been where they were.

Saturday, all in all, proved fruitless.

Sunday, was the first day of sunshine Austin had seen in days; it presented blue skies and early autumn temperatures. One could see the city coming back to life. I visited the gazebo once again. The area was not busy, but it was not derelict either. It was comfortably inhabited. Benches in the area were occupied by readers, talkers, writers, and resters. The gazebo itself sheltered three men, two sitting on the steps, one on the grass facing them. Judging by nearby satchels and plastic sacks, and their rough, worn appearances I guessed them to be homeless. Nonetheless they looked utterly content enjoying the day with good conversation.

At first I felt kind of silly circling the area and taking pictures. It felt like an invasion of their privacy, so I was trying my best to be subtle. I’d even point my camera in the complete opposite direction of my subjects a few times and took useless pictures so I could keep from attracting too much attention. I snapped the necessary shots and began to walk back to my car when I heard one of them ask what I was doing. The call out took me a bit by surprise, primarily because I had only heard Spanish conversation from the three. I turned back to the men and introduced myself. I told them that I was a student at UT and gave them a quick schpeil about the project. They introduced themselves as Frank, Alberto, and Pedro. We exchanged some small talk about the weather and I asked them if they “came here often” instantly realizing what a blatant pick-up line I’d just accidentally delivered. They didn’t seem to notice so I just let it pass. Pedro told me that “on days like today it’s a good place to just let the time pass.” Alberto nodded in agreement; Frank offered a grunt, which I guessed as an affirmative response. After a short delay I told them I should get going. I thanked them for the chat and waved as I walked away.

Sunday was a successful day.

After observation:

It seemed a shame that the majority of the structure was not even being used. The gazebo has at least 100 square feet of open space under its latticework roof that was left empty. Based on the space that was actually in use, it seems that whoever put the gazebo there should have either (a) simply constructed a few sets of stairs for people to perch and abandon the rest of the idea or (b) put a couple of picnic tables or benches under the roof for people to relax; without these the platform is just wasted space. By definition, a gazebo is “a freestanding, roofed, usually open-sided structure providing a shady resting place.” Freestanding? Check. Open-sided? Check. However, this particular gazebo does not provide much shade or many favorable places to rest (proportionally speaking). Nonetheless, the gazebo is essentially used and presumably loved by those users.


Lauren B. said...

While not really discribing the potential feelings of the nappers and park goers, you really captured the feelings most of us felt (save for maybe Andrew) in our attempts to observe. Without any interaction, it does feel like an invation of privacy. Perhaps if we had all approached this as more of a "get to know Austin+Austinites" even if they didn't end up in our story...our approach would have resulted in a more accurate conclusion, and less of a feeling of espionage.

Montry said...

[So far I find this most in your post] but I think it’s interesting that your object of choice had more control over you than it did on your characters. To circle the place several times seems more than most people did (of being stationary or in a general vicinity). Also, for you to take ‘other’ pictures as to evade suspicion is also interesting. While I’m not focusing on the subject of your post, it’s because what I found most interesting is how this assignment has enveloped us into our own studies. It’s almost inevitable. You learn to stop thinking IF it affects you – you accept that it does – and instead learn HOW it affects you.

adanziger said...

your understanding of the gazebo was well thought out. however, an interesting complex is that though this gazebo is not currently maximizing its potential, it overall must do a pretty damn good job. the gazebo can serve as a refuge/"club house" for the homeless on one day and serve as the site for a wedding th next day. these two places signify very different things yet the inhabitants of each are probably quite content.

paul g said...

I liked the description during class about how the three guys were using the stairs as seats. It reminds of the movie that we watched on the previous class day where people were shown using all sorts of places besides actual benches. Maybe it is the height of the seat or laziness on the part of the bum. Good analysis Ash you kick ass, keep it up champ.