The Austin Chronicle

Retirement and the City

By Linda Ball and Forrest Preece, March 27, 2009, Food

Like many longtime Austinites, I've watched the Downtown landscape fill up with high-rise condo towers and new shopping districts with a mixture of curiosity and consternation. Were people really living in all those condos, and now that there's no place left for those of us who don't live there to park, will there be enough actual foot traffic Downtown to support all the new (and established) restaurants and stores in the neighborhood? For the last few years, my mantra had been "I don't know a living soul who's bought one of those condos." Then my friends Linda Ball and Forrest Preece bought one, and I had to change my tune. I'd got to know them years ago, when native Austinite Preece ran the volunteer publicity committee for the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival. I know they're film and music buffs, tireless supporters of the local arts scene (he's on the board of Ballet Aus­tin), generous philanthropists (especially to Project Transitions), and true aficionados of fine food and wine. I figured if ­anybody could give curious Chronicle readers some sense of what the new Down­town loft-dweller's life is really like, it would be Ball and Preece, so I asked them to keep a diary of their activities for a week and share it with us. Here's what they had to say. – Virginia B. Wood

After we both retired, we started thinking about how to downsize our lives, reduce our carbon footprint, and generally make things easier on ourselves. Through some mutual friends, we got to know the developer of the 360 Condos being built at Third and Nueces. The more we talked about it, the better moving there sounded. We have both subscribed to The New Yorker since college and always dreamed of living a Manhattan lifestyle. Since we can't imagine actually living anywhere but Austin, living in a Downtown high-rise sounded like the best of both worlds.

Last summer, we sold the house on Shoal Creek Boulevard, where we'd lived for 31 of the 32 years we've been married, and made the move. We couldn't be happier. Here's a sample of what our new life looks like. The newspapers plop outside our door before 6:30am every day. On any given day, we go downstairs to the mail room. We leave off dry cleaning at the concierge desk, and they deliver it back to us. The workout center is across the hall from our unit, and there's a trash chute about 12 paces from our door. Recycling containers are on the parking level. Anytime we want fresh air, we step out onto our balcony or go down to the pool deck, one floor below us.

We can walk out the side door on the street level of our building and go to Royal Blue Grocery for essential groceries and prepared foods from its new commissary kitchen and several local artisan food companies. If we want breakfast, light lunch, or coffee, we can duck into the Blu Cafe. The snug little mulberry wine bar is great for a nightcap. We're looking forward to the arrival of David Garrido's new restaurant later in the spring.

Forrest has been active in Ballet Austin since the early Nineties, and the headquarters are across the street, so he spends some time there. We can walk to more bars and restaurants than we can count and never worry about a designated driver. We try to see how many days we can go without having to start a car (we went three days one week) – and we've walked to the Erwin Center, to parties in West Austin, to the Long Center, and down South Congress, South Lamar, and South First.

The Austin Film Festival last October and South by Southwest Film and Music last week? Yeah – we walked to it all. And as for how many people we've met in the building – we're writing this after returning from the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards, where we were driven by two friends from floor 15. Among our fellow residents on floor 10, we've met a financial analyst for an architectural firm; a University of Texas student; an interior decorator; a Dell employee; an investment banker; an AMD employee and his wife, who teaches kindergarten; an orthodontist; and several more. The fact is, whenever we're out strolling through the neighborhood, we invariably see someone from the building, and we've been known to make spontaneous plans when we run into friends in the elevator. Here are some highlights from a recent week.

Tuesday, Feb. 24

We were invited to a party for the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Vine (a fun bunch of folks in the local chapter of a national outfit) at a beautiful home on Niles Road. The weather was fine, so we decided to walk. The valet and a waiter from Jeffrey's were out front of the famed eatery as we went by and gave us a shout as we headed north to brave crossing busy Enfield Road. After some nice tastes of wine and hors d'oeuvres at the party, we walked back to Jeffrey's and got seats at the bar. We sampled new chef Deegan McClung's oyster preparation and some sliders, plus a nightcap. We called a cab and were whisked back to the 360 by a Bulgarian cab driver having a tres personal conversation on his headset phone. It felt very New York. Except for the Niles Road part, which was very West Austin.

Wednesday, Feb. 25

We walked to the Headliners Club for a fun concert called Piano Four Hands, sort of a pro-am game of musical chairs for pianists and Headliners members, who joined world-class pianist Anton Nel and some other UT professionals. They switched around from page- turner to second seat to first, doing Brahms' Hungarian Dances. Dinner was a buffet of Hungarian food. Great fun. Strolled home.

Thursday, Feb. 26

We walked a few blocks to Antone's, where our friend Dean Lofton had put us on a guest list for the Austin Music Vol. 8 CD release party. Jeff Lofton (Dean's husband) and his quartet were playing first. They took the stage after Kat Edmonson's group did a few tunes. We eschewed the free barbecue and strolled over to the Belmont, where Jeff's group was setting up for its regular gig. We joined friends for salads, some tuna, and Cuban sliders. To top off the evening, we went to the private opening of Malverde. Very hip young people (and us) climbed the stairs to the festivities in this chic, Mexico City-inspired bar above La Condesa. Nothing against the place – it's likely to be very successful – but we definitely felt like chaperones here.

Friday, Feb. 27

This afternoon we walked to the Four Seasons to run an errand and then stopped off at Halcyon for iced coffees while we read The Austin Chronicle. We were amazed at how many Apple laptops there were and that everyone in line but us paid with credit cards. The girls next to us were having the tabletop s'mores, while some guys at the bar were kicking off Friday with Lone Stars.

We decided to go to Restaurant Jezebel for dinner and were joined by a friend who lives one flight up. We walked up the avenue and settled in for a leisurely meal. Genial chef/owner Parind Vora came over to welcome us. A nice Pinot was selected, and dinner followed. The plan had been to have a nightcap somewhere else, but this substantial meal pretty much finished the evening for us.

Saturday, Feb. 28

We went out briefly for a stroll around the Austin Farmers' Market on this windy morning. The cold wind sent us back inside the building (only a block away, after all) pretty quickly, but we stopped at Royal Blue Grocery first. We stayed inside making our own food and watching the wind blow. At a bit before 7pm, we slipped over to the Whole Foods Culinary Center for the release party for the latest issue of L Style G Style. Then it was up to the Para­mount for Lily Tomlin. We wanted to see the Miles Davis tribute at Elephant Room but changed our minds when we saw a line of 20 people already on the waiting list standing on the sidewalk. Marched briskly down to Taste Select Wines in the cold wind and were greeted by chef Bill McGrory. The place was hopping with wine-savvy patrons, but it was soon time for the old folks to head home.

Sunday, March 1

We stayed in until the afternoon, reading the papers, watching Sunday morning shows, doing chores, Forrest writing. Finally decided we had to walk. The day was glorious. We went to Zilker Park, where there were probably tens of thousands of people and dogs and kites. All the casual restaurants along Barton Springs Road were packed with people who'd worked up thirsty appetites flying kites. We were so glad we weren't driving a car – traffic was stacked up back over the bridge. We walked back over the lake to the condo, grabbed a book and The New York Times Magazine and went to Taste. The outside seating area makes for good people-watching. We weren't the only ones to figure this out, and the tables were soon full, with a nearby foursome getting a bottle of bubbly. After we finished up at Taste, we stopped at Royal Blue Grocery for some things for dinner, went upstairs, and settled in for the night.

Monday, March 2

We walked to our CPA's offices on SoCo and then back up Congress to Jo's on Second. Said hi to Mayor Will Wynn, who was hustling out with his morning snacks, suited up for work. We'd last seen him yesterday running the trail. Jo's on Second is a favorite with local politicians; we saw council candidate Chris Riley meeting with Mobile Loaves & Fishes' founder Alan Graham. Lots of people with laptops here, just as at Halcyon. But at Jo's, there doesn't seem to be the Mac requirement.

Late that afternoon, Forrest headed out to a meeting. Linda talked to her friend about going to Taste. "Weren't you just in there?" her friend asked. "Yes," L.B. replied, "but it's happy hour, ladies night, Restaurant Week, and Liz Morphis and Trevor LaBonte are performing." Later, Forrest joined them for a salad and the last of the music.

Friday, March 6

Forrest did errands on foot today. We decided it would be fun to see Houston Nim­itz's Brittney Griner dunk at the UIL Girls Basketball State Championships. We fortified ourselves for the long walk with a meal at La Condesa, a new trendy Interior Mexican place a couple of blocks away. Then we walked off some of that meal on our way to the Erwin Center. We saw Nimitz play, and Griner indeed dunked with ease and style. We strolled back Downtown and returned to La Condesa for a nightcap. Seated on the balcony that juts out over Guadalupe, the glass panel provided us a great view of the passing parade of people, many headed for Malverde above. The hour was 11:30pm, though: bedtime for these urbanites.

Saturday, March 7

Perfect day for a museum crawl. We walked through the Farmers' Market crammed with people and reached Congress just in time to see the last of the Texas Independence Day parade pass by. We hit the Austin Museum of Art for the Clifford Ross photography exhibit and the Lordy Rodriguez "States of America" exhibit. When we stopped by the Texas Chili Parlor, it was crowded with people going to or coming from the open house at UT, the UIL basketball tournament, and the parade.

After lunch, we headed on to the Blanton to catch the "Birth of the Cool" exhibit. We checked out the (new) gift shop across the way and then wandered back home through the Capitol grounds. Weary from the long walk, we rested up before meeting friends at the Athenian Bar & Grill for dinner. We arrived there at 6:30pm to find they had staked out a four-top on the patio. The wind was down, and it couldn't have been more pleasant. The bottle of red from Crete they were enjoying was so quaffable, we ended up getting another to pair with the very tasty meal. We split the reasonable tab and walked (the husband driving his wheelchair) back to our friends' building.

Retirement is tough. Living Downtown makes it all better.

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