Sunday, March 27, 2011

On a Train Bound for Somewhere

On a train between two cities, I knew that I had gone wrong. I was headed east when I should be going west. — Jeff Talmadge


Singer-songwriter Jeff Talmadge dug through his repertory of songs last week while performing at Opal Divine’s on West Sixth Street in Austin to come up with a train tune. He was marking the one-year anniversary of Capital Metro launching its rail service from Leander to downtown Austin. I had e-mailed him of my plans to ride the rail for the first time, for a story and column, plus see him perform live — also for the first time.

I’ve been a fan of Jeff’s music for several years after being introduced to it by his wife. She was my boss in a former life. Jeff gave up practicing law in Austin in 2003 to pursue a musical career. His seventh studio recording, “Kind of Everything,” was just released. Check it out at He’s a fine writer, and the latest CD has some strong support from veteran session musicians.


SXSW, the massive music, film and high-tech conference recently concluded in Austin, attracts tens of thousands of folks to downtown. Riding the train in from Leander meant a one-hour trip with seven stops between there and downtown, where the line ends next to the Austin Convention Center. That is where much of SXSW was taking place. Literally dozens of other venues were within easy walking distance, which explains why the train I boarded in Leander at 8:30 a.m. had standing-room only by the time it stopped near the moribund Highland Mall.

The train was big-city subway crammed by the time we got downtown. A one-time round trip ticket costs just $5.50 — far less than paying to park, if one can find a spot. I doubt I could have driven there and found a parking space in an hour, even if I avoided rush hour. Not to mention the gasoline it takes to get there.

Cap Metro in March as an experiment extended hours into Friday night and also added a couple of Saturdays. It seems to me that the service is going to have to run permanently during those times to attract a significant ridership. As someone who loves both trains and not having to drive into the city, I’m rooting for the system’s success and expansion.

The trip into town was stress-free and on time. For the first few stops, it felt like taking a leisurely drive through the country with someone else at the wheel. My oldest daughter, Kasey, joined me at Lakeline, the first stop south of Leander. Passengers spent their time fiddling with cell phones, texting or Googling. A few actually read books. We showed up exactly as scheduled and began trekking toward Opal Divine’s, about 10 blocks away.


I spied Jeff and introduced myself. He was the second act performing on the front porch of this bar/restaurant. Jeff walked around for a time with guitar strapped to his shoulder, warming up. He graciously introduced us to other musicians playing that day, including Patterson Barrett and Ray Bonneville. Look them up. They’re legends, consummate musicians, writers and singers who rarely crack commercial radio’s limited playlist. Patterson accompanied Jeff on his brief set, one friend helping out another — neither likely making much more than tip money for the effort.

I read earlier that 2,000 or so bands were in town for SXSW. Kasey and I wandered around until early evening sampling the offerings. At one club with an outside garden, we listened to Brite Future, a dynamite band from Seattle, formerly known as Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head. Seriously. I can’t make this stuff up. The lead singer pointed at me and said, “You in the sunglasses over there, what’s up?” I had no clever rejoinder, just gave a thumbs-up. Kasey asked, “Daddy, was he talking to you?” Yep, the aging hipster in the back badly in need of a haircut, wearing the beret. That would be me.

We reluctantly headed back north. The train’s last departure from downtown on a weeknight is 6:34, but we caught the next-to-last one at 5:30 to be safe. The train started out full and stayed that way again until about halfway north. By the time it stopped in Leander, about a dozen passengers remained. I dozed a bit during the 15 minutes after my daughter got off and the last stop.

Sure beats driving. Just saying.


It’s not the wrong train that you’re on. It’s just another way to go. It’s not the wrong train that you’re on. You’ve found another way back home. — Jeff Talmadge

Originally published in The Hill Country News, March 24, 2011

1 comment:

  1. I didn't realize Brite Future used to be Natalie Portman's Shaved Head. Great band, terrible name. I'm glad they changed it. Also glad they gave props to my dad!