By Kathy Blackwell | June 22, 2015 | People
Summertime makes us long to escape from the everyday and seek adventure - even if just for a few hours. For these notable locals, the freedom to enjoy Austin and the Hill Country comes in many forms.
When he rides his dark blue Harley-Davidson under the wide Texas sky this summer, Senator Kirk Watson will command the same confidence that he does under the Capitol dome. It’s a beauty of a bike. “I love how free it feels to ride,” says the former Austin mayor. “I’m able to think, and there’s a definite level of excitement: the wind, the sound of the bike, the total concentration. No phones, no texts, no distractions—I relax.”
Watson, who is coming off his fifth legislative session, was craving an outlet five years ago so he bought a starter bike and took lessons. “I’m a guy who made it to his 50s with no hobby, and now I’ve found one,” he says. “After the 2011 Legislative Session, I decided to buy just what I wanted.” And that was the Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic, which combines the vintage look of a “hardtail” frame but with modern comforts like hidden rear shocks.
The affable attorney and politician, one of 11 Democrats in the 31-member Senate, looks for any excuse to get on a bike, and he plans his vacations around riding; for example, he will take a repeat trip in August to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. Watson’s favorite nearby routes include The Willow City Loop and Bastrop County’s state parks—part of his Senate District 14. He enjoys group excursions as well, such as the second Biennial Legislative Motorcycle Ride he organized in May for legislators, lobbyists, and state employees who rode together to Llano for a barbecue lunch at Cooper’s.
His solo trips, though, are sacred. “I’ve never found anything better for clearing my head.… All of your senses are engaged,” he says. “I’ve worked through speeches, ‘written’ stuff in my head, and solved a problem or two. It also burns away some frustrations and anger.”
The mint-green 1975 Cadillac Coupe deVille is more than a boat-size, pristine symbol of American summers gone by. It’s a reminder to new owners (and newlyweds) Lindsey and Shaun Jordan, both Texas natives, to slow down and enjoy the moments that matter. They certainly could use the downtime: Shaun, who helped earn national swim championships for UT and won gold medals at two Olympics, is the director of business development for Abraham Trading Co. Lindsey, a former Top 10 finalist for Miss Texas USA, leads sales and business development for Austin-based startup loopandtie.com, an innovative and carefully curated gifting service.
“Old cars capture moments in time that we sometimes forget,” says Shaun, who has owned classic Cadillacs since he was 22. He bought his latest pride and joy on his birthday in February during an intense online auction; the ’75 models were the last of the oversized Caddys. The car, which sat untouched in a garage on an Idaho farm, still has the original cream interior, fuel injection, and air bag. Especially appealing to Shaun was the eight-track player, which, to his dismay was the only thing that didn’t work, so he quickly hunted down one of the few places left in the country that rebuilds eight-tracks (Barry’s 8 Track Repair Center in Portland, Texas). His Liberace, Willie Nelson, and classic rock tapes—all acquired from Antone’s Record Shop in Austin (2928 Guadalupe St. 101, 512- 322-0660)—now play any time he’s behind the wheel.
Says Lindsey: “We love spending time with our friends, and the Caddy is the perfect double-date car. The backseat is like riding around in your living room, and Liberace on the eight-track sets the mood.” Their frequent double-date companions are fellow East Side dwellers Loren Kirkpatrick, a commercial broker with Texas Realty Partners, and Sarah Beck, a self-employed fifth-generation Texan. The four of them love sneaking away for a few hours to nearby Driftwood or Wimberley for swimming and barbecue. They’ll take the Cadillac to Beck’s family ranch in Eldorado for weekends, and because the air-conditioning works like a dream, a pilgrimage to Marfa is on their summer agenda.
Although the car is 40 years old, Shaun isn’t nervous about taking it on long, empty stretches of Texas highways. “It’s just tough to find a good parking spot,” he admits. “The Caddy is six inches longer than a 2015 Suburban!” In addition to their double dates, Shaun and Lindsey, who met two years ago at a South by Southwest party (he wrote his number on a Post-it note and asked her to a taping of Austin City Limits), are looking forward to summer drives with Shaun’s son, Jackson, although the car wasn’t an immediate hit with the 7-year-old. “He was underwhelmed by the ‘surprise’ at first because surprises are supposed to be Legos,” recalls Shaun. “Once he was in the car for his first ride, he said: ‘Daddy, this is cool!’”
At least twice a week, financial manager Tony Smith grabs his wooden stand-up paddleboard, which he made himself, and heads for the water, sometimes taking his dog, Maddy, a honey-brown Vizla, with him. Because it’s so close to his Barton Hills home, he often chooses Lady Bird Lake—as do dozens of other people on a given day. But when he wants alone time, he needs to drive only 15 minutes east and head for Secret Beach inside Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park. There, the river opens up into a quiet, calm expanse of water and sky. “You feel like you’re in the middle of the Amazon,” he says. “I went on Sunday afternoon and saw two guys kayak-fishing, and that was it. You don’t see houses; you don’t see anything. It’s really remote, yet it’s so cool because you’re so close to town. You can hit the reset button really easily there.”
The Houston native’s love of the outdoors brought him to Austin, where he would come with his friends every weekend during college to go rock climbing and swimming in the Pedernales. After studying business and finance at Trinity University in San Antonio, Smith moved here 10 years ago to work as a stockbroker. A book on making canoes inspired Smith to give it a go, using a cheap table saw and lumber from Home Depot. “Lo and behold the thing floated, and it looked pretty damn cool,” he says. He still has that wooden canoe, which he and his wife, Andrea, use for excursions to Lady Bird Lake as well as bigger trips along the Guadalupe and Llano Rivers.
One handcrafted canoe was enough, so Smith turned to making stand-up paddleboards. He laughs about his first effort, which weighed 95 pounds—three times too much; it took five tries to get it right. Soon friends and fellow paddleboarders were asking for boards of their own, and Jarvis Boards (4701 E. Fifth St., 512-593-1787) was born. About a year and a half ago, he had enough custom requests to move his equipment out of his garage and into a coworking space at Delta Millworks on the East Side. “Since then it’s been a laser- focus progression of trying to build it and grow it into a business,” he says. Between Jarvis, his full-time job, and raising a toddler, Smith struggles to find time to get out on the water, but he makes it happen—preferably with 7-year-old Maddy at his side. The high-energy dog calms herself down on the board with Smith, as does he.
“You can feel your blood pressure lowering,” Smith says. “There’s something really peaceful about just getting out there. You count the number of turtles you paddle by, or you can zone out by just watching the sunset.”
photography by daniel davis