Saturday, March 18, 2000

The Twilight of Austin

Preface: I'm typing these words in late August of 2009. Nine years ago I went to Austin Texas for the South By Southwest conference. I thought when there I'd meet all the people I'd seen online and be accepted. I was wrong. I was shunned. I was treated like a leper. Almost a decade later the people I looked up to back then still don't give me the time of day. Nor I them. I felt depressed and betrayed when in reality it was my own damned fault. I am who I am and I'm an acquired taste that many rightfully choose not to acquire. I couldn't fault them their choice. I have absolutely nothing substantial to offer as friendship. Frankly the few in my life who still consider me friend, I don't understand why they do. I make a terrible friend.

I'm not surprised now to have gone there empty-handed. However, at the time I didn't want the entire trip to be in vain. So after one particularly unsuccessful night of sleep, I left my hotel room and wandered about the foreign yet familiar capital Texas city. I made my way to the top of a parking garage, and from there discovered I had a most unique perspective on a city that has its own magic and vibrancy about it. I sat there with pad and paper and at first I was writing boring emo crap about how lame the whole SXSW experience had been for me and how sorry I was feeling for myself, but I didn't save any of that. The above summary doesn't capture the naive short-sightedness and insipid arrogance. As I wrote what was going on in my head at the time, I was overwhelmed by the vision of a city waking up before me. That's what I hope to keep for posterity in the words below.

I should also point out that the woman mentioned below who I had left behind in Dallas to visit Austin for SXSW was to leave me a few months after I penned this. At the time I was very much in love with the idea of being in love with her, but as with all my past relationships with women, she soon tired of my idiosyncrasies and found someone who pissed her off far less often. I wish her well.

- Zach Garland
Dallas Texas, USA 5:53am
Wednesday, August 26th, 2009


[Excerpt taken from Zach's Notes during SXSW2000] PART ONE

Austin Texas, USA ~5:45am
Monday, March 11th, 2000

Y'know it would be pretty funny if I accidently fell from this height right now? Then people would find my spiral notebook and what I'd written up until this moment, and provided they could make out my bad handwriting, they'd probably think I was depressed and decided to jump from the tenth floor roof of the Austin Conference Center's parking garage. If that happens, trust me. I'm not suicidal. Quite the opposite.

I just came for the view.

Austin really is spectacular. Especially at night, or the wee hours of the morning like now. Granted, this concrete block of parking garage I'm standing on, while impressive in stature to behold, it's just a large concrete block with holes in it and ramps for people to park. I can see steam emanating from a building between me and The Radisson. In the dark light it looks surreal and almost gothic. More steam from a building at least twenty stories high, with a pyramid on top.

God, which way is east? All around me all I can see to the horizon are city lights and a skyline jutting diagonal from me, with the capitol building peeking out from behind other buildings, like it was a bald pointy headed child wanting to be in the picture.

I can hear the city just now waking up all around me. There is this gigantic blocky pyramid structure before me, with neon blue horizontal outlines.. fashioned together into the form of an upright 'V' pointing upwards into the twilight.

Twilight. I'm standing in the twilight of Austin, and at this moment it feels like time is standing still. Somewhere between being asleep and being awake. Somewhere between the waking and the dreaming. Somewhere between night and day. A state of catharsis. A state of indecisiveness and uncertainty. A state of simultaneous yearning and fulfillment. Austin is all of these things at this moment of time, and it feels like it will always be this way. I am standing in the Twilight of Austin.

I can see the convention center from here. Looking down to the street gives an impressive sense of vertigo, I'm purposefully staying away from the far edge. Wouldn't want there to be any accidents. Who would type this thing in? If only my girlfriend had been able to join me on this trip to Austin. I wish there was someone here now to appreciate the sheer beauty and mystery of this brisk March morning with me, but I guess sometimes it's okay to be alone. In the middle of a city filled with 800,000 people, some still sleeping, some just waking up as I write these words, in a city this large, I stand alone. The sky is about to perform for me and me alone.

Way off in the distance, there are red lights blinking from radio towers like lightning bugs hovering in position, waiting for something to happen. I have no idea where the sun is going to come from. I'm all turned around and never have been good with direction. the city is lit up so bright it gives a vaguely dim hue of color all around the horizon, like the sun could come from anywhere.

The light on the horizon is getting a little brighter somewhere between the Sheraton and he Marriot. There are some who would prefer to experience the sunrise from a mountaintop or overlooking the Atlantic ocean. Me? I've always been a city kid at heart, Well, suburb kid at least.

I still can't tell for sure from where the sun will come. This mystery is actually suspenseful. This event happens every day. At home in Dallas I often take it for granted. I am usually driving down the Tollway. I rarely pay it any attention. Here in Austin, this one morning, it's magic just waiting to happen. It's strange how a slight change of geography can affect a person's attitude.

I can see a lone star twinkling as a rainbow of color glows to the left and right of the Sheraton. Or is that Venus? Is that Venus?! It's beautiful. And now I have my bearings. The sun should show up just a bit to the left of her. But by the time Apollo shows, Venus will be gone.

Above me blueblack, as the eyes look down from the heavens towards the east. The blue black turns cobalt, and then thousands of different shades of turquoise and aquamarine before phasing into a vague gaudy yellow, below that a band of orange and red dance with each other depending on where you look. Then just above, the city lights flicker and glow about the vanishing point of the horizon, magenta and violet merge into a color I have never seen. A color I didn't even know existed before now. And emerging from that swirl of color.. It's almost.. dark silver? wow.

The sky is slowly lightening up. I can see the paper just a little bit easier. Venus is taking flight just a little higher in the sky each time I look away from the pen. As if she only moves when I'm not looking at her. Like a phoenix she soars from the magnificent turmoil of color beneath her.

And it's so cool and brisk this morning with a gentle slight breeze tickling about my shoulders. I can make out clouds now. Very slight whisps of smokey grey high above me in the increasingly brighter greyblue morning sky. Occasional whisps of industrial steam and manmade smoke obscure miniscule portions of the landscape. Like little baby clouds wanting to be like the Big Boys higher in the air. From here they look about the same size.

Venus is twinkling now. Fading. As if she might say goodbye soon, the tinkerbell dying, waiting for applause and laughter to bring her back. And still the sky slowly glows brighter, replacing the tiny precious Venus with the majesty and brilliance of a much grander celestial body only just now slowly pulling its head out from under the bed covers. That silver glow inside the magenta and violet is more striking now. It must be the haze of the city, like an eerie dome covering its length.

Words fail me. My words pale compared to this. It's just good to be alive.

I glance over the edge again at the convention center down below. The clock above the front doors reads "6:19am."

I can see the highway from here, as if I were observing a major artery through a medical instrument, the cars and trucks like individual blood cells, hurrying along to the left and the right of me. I can hear thousands of birds way off in the distance. It sounds like the multitudes of conversations I could not make out as I 'mingled' the halls of the convention center yesterday. Just birds flying from tree to tree..

The silver grey haze moves out from the horizon rapidly and lightly touching the rooftops and treetops, as if a slight flurry of snow fell sideways across my view of the landscape.

Below me the occasional car drives by, slowly becoming more common. A cleaning truck blinks its yellow light at me as if waving good morning.

Where but moments ago I could barely make out shadows, now all of Austin's history and splendor presents itself to me. Austin shakes off sleep, stretches, yawns, and sets itself off to start another routine day.

As if nothing special is happening.


The silver haze has trickled into occasional light wisps of fog. Perhaps that's what it was the entire time. Fog and steam and smoke. The exhalations of breath for a city pumping with life even as it slumbers.

I know it pumps with life when it sleeps. I know it sleeps. I know this city wakes up. It breathes. It lives. Like any living organism. Its steel and concrete is like our flesh and bone. Its electricity and water like our own bodies' natural internal combustion engine. And the very people of Austin and the tools they use to move about and accomplish their daily routine, they are this city's nervous system. When a baby laughs, this city laughs with her. Happily. When an old one dies, this city mourns his passing. And it dies too a little. Yet it is forever reborn just as the Venus Phoenix rises from the crimson cauldron.

I have vicariously observed Austin, like walking into my room back home to wake up my lover so she can make it to college class, but before I do, I set myself down beside her and look at her closed eyes and hear her breathing and smell her near, and then I kiddingly and quietly nudge her awake.

And then I watch her fumble slowly to life like a lotus blossom. So now too have I seen Austin's lotus. Here I stand ten stories into the air. It's time to nudge Austin awake.

Austin's a beautful town when it wakes up. My Carey is prettier, but if I ever break down and get married and have a child, I think I might name him Austin.

Good morning Four Seasons. So glad you could join us. And the Raddison. Sheraton, nice to meet you. Yes, Capitol Building I can still see you back there behind all those guys who forgot their nametags this morning. Are you all here for the conference? No. Well. Neither am I, now. But I'm still here. And glad to be here. Perhaps no one else knows I'm alive, but I do. I guess that's really what's important. It's my life after all. It's my responsibility to live it to its fullest. No one else will do that for me.

Somewhere behind the twilight band of melting cold light slowly fading away above the horizon, the sun still evades from my view. As if it's afraid to come out. Perhaps the Sheraton is blocking my view. Out of the way, you stupid hotel! I'm trying to meet and greet the sun. It's the ONE celebrity here today I definitely don't want to miss!

So many structures here. Buildings from different times of the last hundred and fifty years or so. Some only a few years old. Some several decades. most somewhere in between. Different architects leaving their vision as their mark. Different dreams, some realized and others cast aside. Some appear unfinished. Some look done in. I feel light headed and dizzy up here realizing that like the sunrise and sunset, Austin itself is forever changing and growing. It's a little different every morning. A little different every night. My home town is like that too, and I never contemplated that before now. The entire universe is that way.

Several yards away to the right of the Sheraton on the horizon a patch of red glows brighter than all around it. The silhoettes of two birds flutter across the red, disturbing my view for a fleeting second. They exchange pleasantries as they meet in the air, above the boiling mass of swirling crimson, orange and as the yellow bubbles into the blue. A couple pigeons alight a few feet away from me, nodding their heads, saying good morning to one another.

It's actually getting colder up here as the sun prepares to make its debut. I'm noticably shivering now. the breeze has kicked up just a notch. The city is alive now I can hear it come in full force.

And here comes the sun.

A small circle of red slowly emerging from the silver haze. She's beautiful.

Again words pale. You missed it. The sun is so delicious I wish I could reach out and touch her. But I know I am forced to keep my distance and appreciate her from afar. Even if I could touch her, I would not feel her beauty. Only her heat and pain.

But from this safe distance, eight and a half light minutes away, she is magnificent. I can see why millenia ago she was worshipped and believed to be the god of the earth. And why some still believe that in their own way.

I looked at the sun off and on until I knew it wasn't safe to look any longer, for even to gaze too long into her would harm my eyes. I smoked one last cigarette, collected my things, and headed downstairs. For today, I'm not just a spectator, a tourist, or an outsider. Today, I'm a part of Austin.

- Zach Garland
Austin Texas, USA 6:50am
Monday, March 11th, 2000

originally input into previous incarnation of my online journal on
3/18/2000 05:17:32 AM

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