This started with running.
I run for pleasure and for exercise. Sometimes it’s an excuse to get outside. A couple of years ago, while training for a long race, I began running longer distances into parts of Austin through which I had previously only driven. Somewhere along the way, I began to notice names and dates stamped into the concrete of sidewalks and curbs. My work is near downtown, so I am often running or walking in central Austin, in some of the older parts of town. In the “original city” area, you can find, stamped into concrete, names and dates which cannot be found anywhere else. I began collecting them until I had a list of more than ten. Surprised at how many there were, and needing a way to organize what I found, I did what anyone would do: I made a spreadsheet.
The more I looked, the more lines my spreadsheet required. And then, weeks passed with no new discoveries. Out of the corner of my eye, I’d see some letters on a curb, which upon closer examination would turn out to be random black marks from rubber tires. Over and over I determined that no new curb marks remained, after which I would have a spate of new finds.
It didn’t take long to develop preferences. Some of the marks are obviously more common, easier to find. I tend to appreciate the older ones more, since they are rarer, having been replaced by new curbs and sidewalks over many decades. At first I underappreciated the ubiquitous “Maufrais” brand, until I found that it is so well-represented in Austin because the family name belonged to generations of business owners. A city of Austin directory for 1897-1898 indicated that Alexis Maufrais had a cement works (and a grocery) at 817 W. 12th (current location of Dynamic Reprographics.) The original Maufrais & Co. (William Maufrais and W. R. Grimes) were contemporaries with all three Brueggemanns. So now I look for the older, rarer types of Maufrais marks, distinguished by the shape of the letters as well as by their locations and wearing.
Who knows when (if?) this will end?