Mass Observation 1:
September 1st, 1:15 pm. With no stairway in sight approaching the east side of Waller Creek in between 12th and 11th street, Kelsey and I slid down a self-appointed entrance of a steep dirt slope. The creek was still. Approaching the water, we could hear a small stream to our left (south), and the water to our right (north) remained unmoving and silent. Separating the movement stood a stone bridge, connecting a path to the other side of the creek. The other side had an established stairway and a sign set on a plaque against the stone saying “Convention Center,” “Town Lake,” “Historic 6th Street,” and “Waterloo Park,” next to arrows, all pointing out and away from the current area. Two items near the stairway showed recent activity: a cigarette butt lay with its fresh ashes still spread out from the end and fresh dog feces entertained flies.
The water North of the bridge lay still sitting in thick moss, weeds, and unlevel rocks that looked confusingly similar to concrete. All plant life grew unmaintained. They overgrew their designated spot on the hill, onto the paths and into the water. Later down the path, a chain fence confined insecure rocks on the West side of the creek. Doing that also restricted and confined the plant life to the sides. The plant life underneath the fence looked smothered, dark, and entangled, dead and alive. The water that moved, moved because of a drain right next to the bridge. The birds gathered at the bottom, pranced around and drank to refresh themselves. Moving south down the stream, the water went from two inches to about one foot. The water here was clear, rippling, and flowed with a quiet rhythm.
Fishes could be found residing here, but only upon close speculation. Close speculation would mean leaning over the ledge that was about twelve feet from the water’s surface to see anything that could be in the water. I couldn’t put a name to the type of fish that swam in these waters. They were a dark gray and measured in length from two to five inches, and from a quarter inch to inch wide. Small schools of fish would slowly glide around in the shallow depths of the water. The largest fish, the master fish, remained stationary at what looked like could’ve been home base. That home base was an area that caved in an inch lower, in a way that was rocky and nest-like.
The creek floor, when not consumed by overgrown weeds, was a beautiful mossy landscape. Forgotten rocks, man holes or utility holes were overgrown with this moss and created a smooth look covering different shapes of various sizes. Under this landscape, I discovered the first pair of jeans. They lay discombobulated, forgotten, and eaten by layers of moss. Whether they had been there long started to become questionable when twelve feet away, another pair of jeans was discovered hanging neatly from a tree branch. This pair did not seem misplaced. They were wet, but out of the water and folded as though on a hanger. We continued down the path, although it was shadier and less trodden by civilians. It did seem that someone who had several pairs of jeans had occupied this space recently. Because, alas, two more pairs were found, drifting in puddles near the entrance of the tunnel.
Although hesitant, my partner and I ventured on through the seemingly unsafe tunnel. It was hidden from street view and all nooks and crannies were engulfed in aged and overdeveloped cobwebs. Graffiti marked the old architecture. We did not stay long in the dark and stuffy enclosing, but continued on to follow the water of Waller Creek.
Mass Observation 2:
The paths that followed southwards started to become more open for regular passersby and occupants. Leaving the tunnel, my partner and I were led to a more tolerable area of the creek. There wasn’t as much trash or other items in the water. Stone walls rose out around us and enclosed the area. Looking up, we saw that there were venues, such as the restaurant Serrano’s. We took note that the area greatly resembled that of the Riverwalk in San Antonio. A platform was to our right (south) and a dining area with yellow umbrellas to our left (north).
A stone staircase not far along took us right in front of the entrance of Serrano’s. We ventured onto the patio, ensembled with an array of tables and chairs. It then became apparent that the platform that we saw was a stage set up for events that occurred from the restaurant. The creek ran in between the stage and the audience. The stage was relatively small and could be guessed that it served for minor groups of performers. The backdrop was a stone building that met the street on the other side. Three doors covered the stone wall. One door came with a tiny closed balcony, another directly in front of the stage, and the last stood at the top of the stairs that led to the stage from the other side of the creek. The bridge was curved as well as the arch for the doorway. The audience seating consisted of rows of stone benches with floors of rock, soil, and grass. Birds congregated here.
It didn’t take long for a staff member, who didn’t have much to do anyway, come greet us. He wasn’t bothered when we told him we didn’t need anything. He did, however, encourage our research by inviting us inside to look at the picture albums of the events that took place. Walking into the Mexican restaurant, we were greeted and politely directed to the photo album table. Weddings were the main type of event that the restaurant hosted. In fact, only weddings were documented to have happened there. The coffee stained photo albums were plentiful in images of happy, nicely dressed people, situated in the theme decorated interior and patio of the restaurant.
We moved on. We approached the creek’s division into three tunnels, and only one being set with a path, we followed through an area that seemed forbidden. In fact, signs along the inside of the tunnel read, “No trespassing.” The walls were inconsistently painted in random sections, presumably only serving to cover graffiti. Beyond the tunnel there was a tranquil set of divided streams and more paths. The walls around the Waller creek path, which had enclosed and disconnected us from the street level, started to widen and become a more shallow transition to level to the surrounding open area. Lighting was placed here, and the light poles were covered in a history of vines.
We then found ourselves, again, under a bridge. At first glance at the surroundings, it seemed like a gathering place for the homeless. There were bits of concrete and rocks everywhere, with small nooks that stored personal items such as a water bottle and some clothing. A sound of the drain dripping water created a relaxing ambience. A shoe print in wet gravel gave evidence to recent activity. There were various trash items scattered about the ground, such as a styrofoam take out dinner of something that was red. The styrofoam was chipped away and scavenger ants consumed what they could.
The last setting before reaching 9th street was an area that ran through the back of the City of Austin Utility Waller Creek Center, as told to us by an employee on his smoke break. This area was more expanse as well as more maintained. The trees that grew here had deep roots and were apparently claimed by the city with silver numbered tags. The nearby building was tall and fairly modern looking. The employees gathered outside were quietly curious as we passed and the informant lingered closely until we asked what the building was. In the yard, there was a statue produced by John Christensen. The statue was an odd organic shape. Part of its base extended out as though it was meant for seating. We ventured on over a wooden bridge with iron railings to rise up out into the street. Sunlight found us as we ended our observation adventure.