Culture

Austin Journal

Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin. (Triciadaniel/Dreamstime)

I’m taking a direct flight from Denver to Austin. To a travel agent, I expressed surprise, or at least pleasure, at the fact of a direct flight. He chuckled. “Jay,” he said, “there’s a direct flight from London to Austin.”

Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in America. In fact, I believe that half of the ten fastest-growing cities in America are in Texas. What does that tell us? That Texas is desirable in any number of ways.

‐In Austin, my taxi driver is not Ethiopian but Eritrean. We talk a little about East Africa. I bring up Mengistu, the former dictator of Ethiopia, known as “the Stalin of Africa.” The driver says that the current dictators of the region — in Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Sudan — are just as murderous as Mengistu. Only quieter.

Which is quite an assertion — and sadly not dismissable.

The driver has four children, all of them born in this country, all of them proud Americans, apparently. One son insisted on going to Ground Zero, to wonder and mourn.

Once, this same son rebuked his mother and her friends as they were watching a soccer game: Kenya versus the U.S. They were rooting for Kenya. “Why are you doing this?” he asked. “Because we are African,” they said. He answered, “You’re in America. You should root for America. And if Africa is so great — what are you doing here?”

He also said, “I respect my heritage. I have African roots. But I know who I am: I’m an American.”

One last word about the driver. “I’m not like other Eritreans,” he tells me, “in that I relate well to Ethiopians. I say, ‘Let the fighting be in the past. And by all means, let’s not bring the fighting to our new country, America.’”

My kind of American.

‐I lived here in Austin, briefly, in the year 2000. The lake was called Town Lake. Now it’s Lady Bird, I see: Lady Bird Lake.

Frankly, I could never see how it was a lake. Looked like a river, to me. Someone explained that it had to do with damming. I’m sure that’s right.

‐People are coming here in droves, especially from California. Will they California-ize this part of Texas? Or will they be Texasized? Some of both will occur, I imagine.

‐“Austin is Texas for people who don’t like Texas.” I have heard that slogan for much of my life. I always say, “Then Austin must not be for me, because I like Texas, a lot.” And I like Austin too.

‐Bear with me for a second: Old-time Londoners say, “London is no longer a British city. It’s an international city. There’s nothing British about it.” I can understand why they say that. But when I, a foreigner, visit, I think it’s very much a British city.

I imagine that there are Texans who don’t consider Austin Texan. But to me, an outsider, Austin is very Texan indeed. Which I love.

‐For a long time, the two big cities in Ohio were Cleveland and Cincinnati. But at some point, Columbus, the capital, snuck up on them. Will something like that happen in Texas?

‐Really, a city of Austin’s size, and future, should have professional sports teams. I understand the University of Texas fights this tooth and nail. They want to be the only game in town (literally). But you can’t deny the public their pro teams forever . . .

‐Battles of brisket are common in this state. In Austin, a place called La Barbecue has its partisans. I walk over there at dusk. The place is on East Cesar Chavez Street. I’m thinking, “Should I be going to Cesar Chavez Street, either East or West, anywhere in America, at this hour?” But I troop on.

La Barbecue is hard to find, because it’s not really a restaurant but a trailer, beyond a chain-link fence. And the brisket is — mind-blowing. Holy smokes.

I didn’t call or anything before coming. And it turns out that this is the first day, ever, that La Barbecue is open for dinner. Heretofore it has been a lunch place, only (as I understand it). So, this is my lucky day. Or night.

‐The next morning, I visit the Texas Public Policy Foundation, one of those points of light: a conservative organization. Highly valuable. They are within sight of the capitol, and their quarters are beautiful: spacious and beautiful, as befits Texas.

‐I speak a bit about my latest book, and then have a discussion, onstage, with John Davidson — not the entertainer of my youth but a TPPF whiz, who proves a wonderful interviewer and commenter.

The Q&A with the audience is very good too. Thoughtful questions from thoughtful people. I notice something in Texas: that people talk about God, openly and unblushingly. How refreshing.

‐While we’re signing some books, a man tells me something that’s absolutely heartwarming. First, some background:

In my remarks, I emphasized the rule of law — the rarity of it. I also said that people tend to want the result they favor, the process be damned. If we like the result, we may praise the process. But if we don’t like the result . . .

I further quoted Dinesh D’Souza, who says that, in a contest between a politician talking “freedom” and a politician talking “fairness,” or “justice,” the people will go for “fairness” or “justice” nearly every time.

Okay, the book signing: A man says to me, “I’m a retired prosecutor. And I always say, ‘The process is justice. The rule of law is justice.’”

So, so true — and too mature a view for most people, I think.

‐Pretty damn hot here. A lady tells me, “The hottest month is September. Worst month of the year. I always try to go away in September.” I say to her, “Do you mean to tell me that September is hotter than July or August?” She wrinkles her nose. “Not really,” she says, “it’s just that you’re sick of the heat by September. You think it ought to be over with. So you resent it all the more.”

Makes perfect sense.

‐At a TV studio, I’m interviewed by a lovely woman named Amanda. She doesn’t know who I am or what my book is. Before the cameras roll, she asks me a few questions and jots down a few notes. Then she conducts the interview flawlessly.

That’s a pro. That’s a TV journalist. Cool and competent on the fly.

‐You know what Austin has, downtown? Benches. And garbage cans. Should that be remarkable? Well, it is. You ever try to sit down in some cities? Or throw something away?

Teneo is a network of young conservatives, doing what they can to advance conservative principles. The existence of this network is entirely reassuring.

I meet with some members at lunch — specifically, at La Condesa. Among them is Teneo’s founder, Evan Baehr, who is a tech entrepreneur and all-around world-beater. He lives and works here in Austin. I expected him to be somewhat older, sage-like. He may be sage-like, but he’s youthful and cool like Ferris Bueller.

(George Will, as I remember, hailed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as the greatest movie — as distinct from “film” — of all time.)

La Condesa has corn on the cob, sprinkled and spiced with some kind of Mexican voodoo. Outrageous. And I’ll see you later. Thanks for joining me.

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