Looking for love has always come with obstacles, and they've only been magnified by COVID-19. Nevertheless, many Austinites continue to navigate these uncharted waters. We'll be sharing their stories every week right here.
"There weren't many things to distract us"
When Mariana Gonzalez got out of a relationship at the beginning of April, she thought to herself, "I'm probably not going to meet anybody all pandemic. Who knows how long it's gonna last?"
She was wrong.
Bored and mildly heartsick, Gonzalez got on Tinder a few weeks later. It didn't take long for her to hit it off with Bri Cheairs. After a successful, hours-long FaceTime date, they met in person on May 15, with the understanding that they were both looking to keep things casual and find somebody to spend time with during the pandemic.
"It was kind of weird because we kind of jumped into that part of a relationship—even though we weren't in a relationship—where you're just comfortable being around the house with each other, because it was really the only option," Gonzalez says.
Gonzalez and Cheairs kept seeing each other throughout the next month. They had an unintentional "first date" in mid-June when they walked to Planet K at 37th and Guadalupe, picked up a pizza from the neighboring Domino's and ate it at a desolate Central Park.
Despite their noblest intentions, they were both catching feelings for each other.
"I think obviously with the pandemic going on, there was less possibility for me to go on half-assed dates," Gonzalez says. "There weren't many things to distract us or pull us away from each other."
On July 11, Gonzalez and Cheairs made their relationship official. In reality, they just put a label to the activities they had already been enjoying together for nearly two months, like watching vintage horror movies at the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In Theatre and hiking isolated trails around Austin. (They attempted one ill-fated trip to a packed Barton Creek, which Gonzalez describes as a "lawless place.")
"It's been going great so far, and we both are kind of still navigating this world and this landscape," says Gonzalez, who credits the pandemic for accelerating her and Cheairs' emotional connection. "I don't know if I would have ended up in a relationship like this outside of what's going on in society."
They're both looking forward to visiting museums and aquariums when life returns to relative normalcy, and hopefully taking advantage of the flights Gonzalez booked to Cancún for early 2021. Gonzalez is also excited to introduce Cheairs to her friends, though the prospect of going out in a post-social distancing age raises one minor concern for both of them.
"When we first started dating, [Cheairs] said something like, 'How are you supposed to date somebody if you don't even know if they can dance yet?'" Gonzalez jokes. "We're gonna be like six months into this relationship, realizing the other person can't dance."
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Republic Square Park has turned into a Ford-themed fiesta for its Built to Connect pop-up experience, complete with test drives, off-roading and an inside look at the Tesla-rivaling electric vehicles that the motor vehicle company is planning to integrate over the next decade.
The outdoor driving event is free, open to the public and will stay in the park from now until Oct. 24, offering rides on Bronco Mountain, a 0-40 mph zip in the 2022 all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning and a chance to win an original Ford Bronco.
The event kicked off with a panel of speakers, including Austin Director of Transportation Rob Spillar, Ford General Manager Darren Palmer and engineering specialists discussing Ford's goals to make it so that 50% of the vehicles on the road are electric by 2030.
As an eco-conscious city, Spillar said that around 4,000 vehicles, or 22% of the Texas electric vehicle market, as well as over 15,000 plugins lie in Austin, meaning driving electric just got accessible.
"Austin, as you know, is a fast-growing modern city that is committed to protecting the long term health and viability of our communities and strategies that reduce greenhouse gases, mitigate the effects of climate change and improve the drone quality of life here in Central Texas for all of our residents," Spillar said.
And Ford's electric vehicles are putting up some steep competition for newly-Austin-based company Tesla. The new electric Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lighting offer amenities that used to be exclusive to Musk's brand, such as the BlueCruise self-driving network. The cars also boast a 300-mile range on a single charge, assisted reverse technology and access to the biggest charging network outside of the home.
Plus, Ford's got affordability on its side. The F-150 Lightning starts at $39,974 and the Mustang Mach-E starts at $42,895, while the cheapest Tesla model, the Model 3, starts at $41,990 and averages 262 miles on a single charge.
Speaking of price, the numbers on the electric vehicles may look like a little more than you'd like to pay for your transport, but Palmer promises it will pay off. In addition to a $7,500 tax credit you can earn for your sustainability, you'll never have to buy a pricey tank of gas again.
"Personally, I have not found one customer ever, who would go back to gas so that says something," Palmer said. "I realized, at $51,000, that car outruns every childhood hero car I ever had."
Texas buyers: take note. The Ford Lightning can power your house for three to 10 days, just in case the statewide power grid fails. You can take it glamping with you, so you don't have to leave the comfort of modern life behind, and in a pinch, Palmer said he's even seen a wedding party powered by the truck.
Ford is investing $30 billion into the U.S. market to meet demand by 2025 and the new electric truck already has over 150,000 reservations.
"I think they're going to take off much faster than you expect—they're going to be extremely, extremely popular next year," Palmer said. "With the incentives that are available today, this is starting to become more mainstream and viable for more and more families. We couldn't have done that before, we didn't have the technology, or the technology at that price."
The event is ongoing through next weekend from 12-9 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.- 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
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The Austin Police Department is searching for a man who is believed to be behind a series of robberies that is "sexual in nature and is escalating."
Three robbery cases that took place in North Austin within a 30-day period are being investigated by police, who report the victims all had similar descriptions for suspects in the case. The suspect is described as a 20-25-year-old Spanish-speaking Hispanic man, approximately 5'3, thin build, recently shaved with black hair. Police say he is known to typically wear athletic clothing and used a knife on each of the victims.
Here's a breakdown of the cases:
1. At 7:56 a.m. on Sept. 22 at the 1600 block of Rutland Drive, a woman was walking alone and returning from her child's school when a suspect walking by inappropriately touched her. The suspect then grabbed her by the arm, threatened her with a knife and demanded "her property."
2. At 8:10 a.m. on Oct. 11 at 1700 block of Colony Creek Drive, a woman was walking to her child's school when a man approached her with a knife and then demanded her personal items. The suspect then said he would return the items in return for sex.
3. At 11:03 a.m. on Oct. 13 at the 9300 block of Northgate Boulevard, a woman was with her child in the laundry room of an apartment complex when a man walked in performing a sexual act. The suspect demanded personal items from the victim, threatening to hurt the victim and take her child.
Police cautioned the public to walk without earbuds, stay alert and report suspicious activity to the police.
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