Southwest by South

More
Last night I skipped the chance to get into a TV On The Radio show, opting instead for Home Slice and the company of one of the assembled Texas Horde. We met earlier at a party at a local hotel, thrown by my old friend David Carr, irrepressible as always. Some people reinvent themselves when they come to New York. But this cat is exactly as I remember him--brash, alive, kind, fanatical, and in love with the crowd. He was always big-time. But I met him when I was a dumb 20-year old kid, and I had no idea where that sort of act went. New York, as an idea, was foreign to me. I thought Randallstown was elite.

It was a cool set. Lots of fellow effete liberals and otherwise biased Muslim media. I know people have this picture of coastal media elites trading cocktails, gossip and sex, weekly. When I first came to New York, I sure did. But the fact is that most of these parties are all about nerds who've created their own brand of beauty and cool. And it was cool. And it was beautiful. 

So there I was, scarfing down Coke Zeroes--because we all know Coke Zero is healthier than water--and loudly laughing talking shit as I'm apt to do, when I was introduced to this woman who's an architect down here. Her response was heartening--a huge hug and an "I love you." It  was not a "I want to drag you into a pay-by-the hour motel" sort of I love you. Those are nice, but this was more of a "I really respect what you do" I love you. Which is nice too. 

So we talked, and we had people in common. And we had the fact of marriage (or partnership in my case) in common. And we had kids in common. And that was cool. Parenthood is a club, and at a party like that one, it's uncommon, though not impossible, to run into a fellow member. Our calling card is some variation of--"My husband\wife is home with the kids." There's something about that phrase that's deeply soothing. It's just good to know that there's someone else here, amid the drinks and chatter, with half of their brain engaged elsewhere.

She asked if I'd had the chance to sample Austin's great food. I mentioned that all I'd had was Wendy's--because we all know that Wendy's is healthier. She was appalled. And offered the great strip of South Congress, which presently was alive with lights. And amid all the hipsterism there was this great yellow sign. It simply said "GUNS." And that was cool too.

We stayed a little longer, then went for pizza. TV On The Radio wasn't going on until 11:30, and I really wanted to see them.. But on the walk from my hotel to the party, I crossed a gorgeous river, with all of these gorgeous people, in their gorgeous running gear, bounding along it. And I thought it'd be truly gorgeous, if I got up the next morning, and bounded with them, and in such fashion, were made gorgeous too. 

My friend schooled me on the best running path. And we talked about architecture, Austin, and the horror and beauty of the South. (Everything is a problem.) In large measure, I'm missing out on the whole festival. I did a panel on distraction and the internet. I went to a party where Diplodocus was spinning (I decline to abbreviate, because "Diplodocus" is too awesome of a word. I insist on taking every opportunity to employ it.) But there's a gang-bang element here, one you tend to find at all festivals, but one I generally dislike all the same. So I revel in the small moments, margherita pizza and red wine. A chance to greet a fellow Commie.

I was up at six and was bounding down Red River by eight, and then down Congress, until I was on that trail. Beautiful boats. Beautiful water. No bats. And I was, I assure you, quite gorgeous. 

I ran up the trail and came back around until I was on Congress--less bounding by now, more pounding--then up and over a few hills, until the great capitol, of the great republic of Texas, loomed in the foreground. It is sprawling and rather brown. Against the colors of the day, it seems almost a photograph worn sepia by time. And it was right there, in that final mile, Phoenix's "Litszomania" humming though my Iphone, that I remembered that I was in my ancestral home, the Old Country, the South. 

Let me save you the history lecture and simply say that you can't understand Texas, without understanding slavery. (See the early chapters McPherson's Battle Cry Of Freedom or David Blight's early Civil War lectures if you're curious.) In large measure, the state owes its very existence to the desire of Southern planters to expand slavery West. Indeed, in its creation, there may not be a more Confederate state, by which I mean one whose origins embody the aim erecting a white supremacist empire, built on pilfered labor.

It's always nice to be reminded of such things in the middle of recreation, to be reminded of your true work in the world, of the work of your present life. Here is the thing: Whether lost in Jane Austen, or missing my favorite band, I can never escape. And I can never forget. The right to be gorgeous, for my ilk, is newly acquired. I seek to know how. I must know how.

Jump to comments

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

From This Author