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Intolerance in a Tolerant City  (Austin, Texas)

(Reprint from News: June 27, 2001)

June 26, 2001

 

fter spending four days in Austin getting caught up with my website and visiting with Ace, Joan, Julie, and Lou, I said goodbye and left during a warm and humid morning.  Before leaving, though, I decided to drive into downtown Austin to visit this beautiful city.  I strolled around the downtown area for a half-hour, walking up Congress Avenue to the State Capitol building, and then back down again just before my meter expired.  

 

One reason I like Austin is that, unlike the rest of Texas, it's a pretty tolerant place.  I've traveled through Texas and the South many times (see Previous Roadtrips), much more than that average Texan or southerner has traveled through the Northwest, Midwest or Northeast.  And while I usually have a good time visiting Texas and the South (due in no small part to the widely, but not universally, embraced concept of "Southern hospitality"), I definitely wouldn't move to either place because of the pervasively intolerant attitudes that I've encountered there during my numerous visits.  How the concept of "Southern hospitality" can freely intermingle with the heightened levels of intolerance that are so common in the South is a paradox that I've never figured out. 

 

Through my travels around America, I've noticed that friendliness is more polarized in the South than probably anywhere else in the U.S.  For instance, while almost everyone in Oregon is fairly friendly, you don't meet a lot of people on either end of the "friendship spectrum," being either overly friendly or hostile.  On the other hand, while most people in the South are very warm and friendly (much more so than in Oregon), a small handful are also extremely obnoxious and intolerant (again, much more so than in Oregon).   Nevertheless, as much as I appreciate Southern hospitality, when it comes to religion, politics, or anything else, I've never liked intolerance or people telling me what to think, what to read, and what to believe, which is one reason I enjoy living in the Northwest. 

 

Here's Austin's own Nanci Griffith singing about the stupidity of intolerance.  This is It's a Hard Life Wherever You Go.

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During my previous visits to Austin, I had always thought of the city as an oasis of tolerance, friendliness, and open-mindedness in the sea of parochialism known as Texas.  Before I left, though, my attitude about Austin's tolerance took a big hit.  I stopped at a grocery store to buy some food on my way out of town and sat in my truck for a while with my window rolled down, writing up a list of things to buy.  As I made up my list, an old station wagon pulled into the space facing my truck.  The driver, a guy with a ponytail who was about 40, sat in his car and listened to the radio, which I thought was a bit odd but I continued working on my list.  A few minutes later, he started muttering some pretty nasty things about gays.  I wasn't sure if he was directing these comments towards me or to someone else, but I didn't acknowledge him because he was obviously unbalanced.  

 

I finished my list, went into the store and bought my groceries, then returned to my truck.  That's when I noticed a 2-foot long scratch in my door that someone had intentionally made with a key.  Yep, I'd been "keyed."  I knew who had done it and I immediately looked around for the station wagon, but it was gone.  The only thing I can figure is that this guy saw my very colorful Oregon license plates and mistakenly assumed that I was gay. 

 

I've frequently read about this kind of thing (or worse) happening, but it's different if it happens to you.  This was the first time that my beloved truck had ever been vandalized and I was really, really ticked off.  It's pretty scary to think that there are people with so much inbred fear, arrogance and hatred running around -- although it's not too surprising when you look at the current Administration, which is also from Texas (hmmm, is there a pattern here?)   I waited for a while there in the hot, steamy parking lot, hoping that he'd return.  I finally gave up though and, still fuming, got into my truck and left.  So long, Austin.

 

       

Above left:  Downtown Austin is a mixture of old and new, the South and the West.  It's also home to the University of Texas and has a great music scene.  And, of course, Austin City Limits is taped here (though, disappointingly, on the top floor of a tall building).

Above center:  The Texas State Capitol building, former home of George W. Bush.  He lives somewhere back east now...

Above right:  Downtown Austin.

 

 

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