So we moved from Buda to Austin proper in preparation for the OpenStack Summit (read tech conference). Our first afternoon, we went to the recommended Chuy’s, a tex-mex restaurant with a little Elvis mixed in. We were seated in the hubcap room. Ironically, at some point in our Austin sojourn, we lost a hubcap, so I’m wondering…..
As an additional courtesy to their customers, Chuy’s provides grace written on their silverware covers, and to prove they are inclusive, there are protestant, catholic and jewish versions of thanking God for the meal you were about to consume. Just in case you forgot that you are not in California anymore…
Our AirBnB in Austin was an in-law apartment in a house with a huge, terraced yard, two delightful labs and a turtle that made random appearances. The rain held off for us, but the heat is beginning to rise.
We stayed in Austin for the Open Stack Summit — a tech conference that I am writing about for TheNewStack.io. Several of TheNewStack (TNS) freelance writers were there, as well as my editor, Joab, and the owners of TNS, Alex and Judy Williams. It was great to see Joab again (he and the BF have been friends for years) and to meet the other people involved in this new venture of mine (meaning freelance tech journalism). The conference was exciting — over 7,500 people attended, and there was sooooo much to chose from, it was rather overwhelming. Luckily, the editor was on-site to guide me as to what would be of interest to TNS readers. I also spent some time with the Women of OpenStack, a group committed to supporting women in technology. After spending 25 years in this misogynist industry, it is exciting to see some movement in the effort for inclusion in meaningful ways. I also like that I get to use my own photos to head up some of my articles (like this one on Inclusion Done Right).
Austin is much less diverse than I expected, being the capitol of Texas. “Oh, girl,” said my friend Rhae, “of course they want to keep blacks out of the capitol.” She spun me a tale of a diphtheria epidemic in the late 1800s started by the Comanches in an attempt to kill off and/or discourage the whites in Austin (evidently, antelope innards carry diphtheria and the Indians ‘salted’ the wells with antelope innards which caused the disease to run rampant through the town. If any person came down with the disease, their entire family, including servants, had to relocate south of the Colorado river (not THAT Colorado river — the one that runs through the Grand Canyon — but their own Colorado river) until everyone was disease-free for three years. So quite a community built up south of the river. Laws were passed so after quarantine was lifted for individual families, the wealthy folks could move back across the river to their former homes, but their servants were no longer welcome to live North of the river. They had to live south of the river and commute to work. These areas south of the river are now some of the hippest in Austin, and mostly white, but the division of wealth is pretty clear.
Lots of neon signs in Austin, and I’m sorry I didn’t take more pictures of them, but I was driving most of the time. I took this one off the internet because it became sort of a touchstone for us driving around town. Even though we never ate there, it sort of means Austin to me.
And now for some cultural ramblings. The BF and I went to the Texas History museum which was very informative in a braggadocios sort of way. I’ve never been to a museum (and I’ve been to a LOT of museums) that employed so many adjectives. The “brave” and “courageous” soldiers of Texas fought Santa Anna — there’s a movie that tells the story about how Santa Anna was whipping their butts (I paraphrase), chasing the rag-tag group of wanna-be Texans across the country. He split his troops, and became complacent, so the Texan commander did what all successful, out-manned commanders do. He did something completely unexpected. Battles were fought in the morning, after the troops were rested. But this guy (name forgotten, sorry) attacked late in the afternoon after Santa Anna’s troops had made camp for the evening and hanging out, waiting for dinner. it was a route. That particular “brilliant” decision led to Santa Anna’s surrender and the establishment of the Republic of Texas, which lasted less than 4 years because they couldn’t pay for themselves. The US stepped in and bailed them out by offering them statehood, which Sam Houston snapped up in a second (he’d been lobbying for statehood for 2 years at that point because it was obvious the ‘Republic of Texas’ was completely bankrupt and had no way to generate enough funds to sustain itself. Yet, 25 or so years later, they “de-governered” Sam Houston because he wanted to remain loyal to the US in the Civil War and everyone else wanted to fight for slavery. And we all know how THAT turned out.
I ramble through this because Texas is now talking about seceding and becoming the Republic of Texas again. Which is so ridiculous to me as a historian. But after going through their history museum and reading about the “glorious” battles, etc., I can kind of see where they get this attitude — it’s ingrained from the time they are children. My friend Rhae said she was 12 before she realized “damn Yankee” was actually 2 words. The treatment of blacks in this state is appalling, but accepted (I read this morning about yet another young black woman officially arrested on a minor charge, kept in custody for a week then “found” dead. The Civil War is alive here.
So they want to regain their “former glory” and become their own country again because they are so proud to be Texan. I realized that everyone here thinks of themselves as a Texan first, and then (possibly) American. The friends we stayed with in Santa Fe worked at the ski resort and he said that people from Texas never said what city they were from, just that they were from Texas. Other people named the town (Denver, New York, Salt Lake City), but Texans were from Texas no matter what city they hailed from. It’s interesting to me, and I’m glad I got to see this personally because it explains the secession movement a little bit. It’s still crazy from a practical, financial and legal perspective, but if this is the way Texas history is taught, I can kind of see where it comes from.
This is why travel is good.
There’s something else about being in Austin that I had a hard time putting my finger on while we were there. At first, I was delighted and fascinated by all the trees. Rhae (my font of Texas information) told me that there is a law that you can’t cut down a tree with a trunk over 6″, so all construction has to incorporate trees. There are trees EVERYWHERE and in the older neighborhoods, people’s homes are more — not isolated, but private because of the trees covering their properties. Where I grew up in Denver, trees are rare (it is a desert climate) and in the Bay Area there some are trees, but not many in SF. Also, the trees covering Austin hide buildings and homes and even the shopping mall I had to go to.
This is a picture of Buda from the highway. As I stayed in Texas, I realized the trees hiding buildings are kind of a metaphor for the state’s attitude. It’s all green and pretty from a distance, but underneath is business and living and people and all sorts of unknowns. Rhae said that people are really nice to you at first, but it’s only because they are sizing you up to see if you fit and they will or will not accept you. Then there was the story of a prominent politician (who ran for president this year) who had his followers stand outside an event where Rhae and her husband were to perform the opening ceremony for a weekend Pagan celebration. The politician vowed to intercept them and HANG them before he would let them perform the blessing. (A blessing — y’all. For peace and harmony and goodwill during the festival. A BLESSING.). Luckily, one of the pagans making the trip to San Antonio was a cop (off-duty, of course), and he made some phone calls to the local police, and by the time they arrived, their van had a police escort to the back of the building giving them safe entrance to the venue while the demonstrators were being removed (not arrested, just removed) from the front steps. Thus securing for another day our constitutional right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression. HANGED. WTF?
The folks seem friendly, and trees are pretty, but they cover up some pretty serious business.
Next stop: Houston
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