11:30-ishAM: One of the main differences I’ve noticed between people born and raised in the South and those who grew up in one of the Northern/Mid-Atlantic states is the amount of regional pride those in the South tend to have. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone, Â but it just seems like people from the southern states are more likely to consider where they’re from as a part of them instead of just the place they happen/happened to live. (The only northern place where you see anywhere close to that type of thinking is The Consistently Overrated New York City.) It also seems to matriculate in all facets of life. For instance, I’ve yet to meet a person who went to school up north who was as dogmatic about attending Homecoming as many of the southerners I’ve met.
No other stateÂ exemplifiesÂ this mindset the way Texas seems to. As soon as you enter, you’re consistently reminded that this state is like no other state you’ve ever been to. For one, the speed limit jumps to 75mph, which basically means you can safety do 90 without really worrying about getting pulled over. (Seeing the 75 made me google the highest posted speed limit in the U.S. Naturally, this also exists in Texas, as a stretch outside of Austin allows you to go 85mph)
Also, Texas seems to be obsessed with using Texas as an adjective to describe everything. There’s the Texas BBQ. The Texas buffet. The Texas farmer’s market. The Texas-style car dealership. The Texas-style strip club. The exterminator with special spray to kill Texas-sized bugs. And, if this isn’t enough, if you ever forget exactly where you are, theÂ ubiquityÂ of the giant billboards that just say “TEXAS” will remind you.
6:45PM: We finally make it into Austin, passing Dallas, Waco, and approximately 57547843 car accidents on our way there. (Question: Does any small American town have a more randomly important recent history than Waco? Just in the last 20 years theÂ Branch Davidians,Â the worst scandal in college basketball history, and theÂ emergenceÂ of both RG3Â and the most unique female athlete everÂ all took place there.)
We check in our hotel and likely would have slept for the next 12 or so hours if not for the fact that I had to walk 8 blocks downtown to pick up myÂ registrationÂ badge. We also planned on attending a “welcome to Austin” party for all the Black people in town for SXSW that was starting at 7, so I showered up, ran out the door, and planned to meet the Gay Reindeer back at the hotel after I picked up my badge.
8:00PM: Before leaving for Austin,Â My homie Kaneisha—author of Be Your Own Boyfriend, Austin resident, and the person who organized my panel—stressed how important it was to create a clear schedule andÂ itinerary because SXSW is so busy and sprawling that you’d drive yourself crazy without one. Naturally, I ignored her advice. And, after five minutes of walking around downtown, I wished I hadn’t. I’m not a person who gets overwhelmed by much. In fact, “whelmed to slightly underwhelmed” would be the best way to describe how I generally view things. But, the amount of people/events/noises/activities taking place was overwhelming. Not overwhelming in a bad way. The atmosphere practically punks you into having fun. It’s almost as if someone sprayed a 500,000 gallon can of liquid molly on the entire town. Still, I should have listened to Kaneisha.
8:30PM: Knowing that the party ends at 9 and I still needed to walk seven blocks uphill to meet the Gay Reindeer back at the hotel and make our way to the party, I hire one of those bike rickshaw guys to give me a ride.
And, because this three part piece is likely going to be over 3,000 words long, I won’t say too much about the odd mixture of race-related feelings experienced when sitting in the back of a chariot drinking lemonade and enjoying the breeze while a sweating and grunting White man struggles to bike you uphill. I will say, though, that if this is what post-racial America looks like, sign me up!!!
8:50PM: The exchange between the Gay Reindeer and the rickshaw guy after we make it to the party:
GR: “Thanks. How much do we owe you?”
Bike Guy (BG): “Well, my normal rate is $10 per person.”
GR: “It says $5 on the back of your bike”
Bike Guy (BG): “That’s an old sign.”
GR: “Ok. 20 is fine.”
Bike Guy: “Well, since I gave you all a ride all the way from downtown, I was thinking 40.”
GR: “$40? For 15 minutes of work?”
Bike Guy: “Yeah, but I’m really sweating a lot”
GR: “Here’s $25. Thanks again!”
Obviously, the bike guy assumed he could guilt us into giving him $40. The bike guy obviously never met the Gay Reindeer.
9:15PM: With my jeans, t-shirt, and boots, I felt overdressed among the throngs of anxious hipsters near the convention center. But, as I entered the Black party, I immediately felt underdressed. Bougie Black People love to overdress in Texas too, apparently. Some things never change.
While there, I scan the crowd for familiar faces, and end up running into the homie Slim JacksonÂ and the always entertaining Luvvie, who teases me about finally leaving Pittsburgh.Â There’s another woman with them whose face I recognize but I can’t quite make out where I know her from. After hearing her voice it hits me: it’sÂ Franchesca Ramsey, from “Shit White Girls Say…to Black Girls.”Â Fun and shit.
Also, this party was the first example of what would be a recurring theme during the weekend. It took place maybe 10 blocks or so away from downtown, and most of the “Black” events that weekend were isolated in aÂ similarÂ fashion. Even our panels all took place on one floor in the BiT house, three blocks away from the convention center.
Damn you, post racial America! Damn you!
11PM Friday: After leaving the party, the Gay Reindeer and IÂ eventuallyÂ meet up with Kaneisha, Arielle Loren, and a few others at a rooftop bar downtown. While there, Kaneisha attempts to give me some directions about where our panel would be taking place the next morning and when to show up. Naturally, I ignore her (again), which didn’t seem to be a big deal, until…
11:22AM Saturday: I’m on the 18th floor of the Hilton. Our panel is supposed to be taking place here in 8 minutes. But, as I get off the elevator, I don’t see anyone. Confused, I call Kaneisha.
“Hey, where is everybody?”
“Where is everybody?
“We’re all here. Waiting for you”
“I’m on the 18th floor of the Hilton. I don’t see anybody.”
“That’s strange. There should be people greeting you as soon as you get off the elevator.”
“Damon, I think you’re in the wrong hotel.”
“Yeah, I think you’re at the main Hilton. The BiT house is at the Hilton Garden Inn down the street.”
“Well, we’re starting in 8 minutes, so…”
***Part 3 coming tomorrow***
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)Â