I have too much of the former, and not enough of the latter, when it comes to the way I feel about this city.
So I just got home from Shangri-La. I was there with a handful of friends for Second Sunday Sock Hop. At about a quarter after midnight, my friend Dana and I decided to call it a night. We walked out of the bar, strode onto the sidewalk, and headed to my car. It was parked a short two blocks away.
About thirty feet from the bar, a dude on the side of the road says something to us. He was middle-aged, had straight grayish hair, just slightly overweight, and was wearing jeans and a black, sporty jacket. Pardon all the detail, but you'll see why in a second.
"Girls, can you tell me something?"
"What's that?" I said. I didn't think twice to just ignore him.
"Can you tell me if I'm right or wrong?"
Dana didn't say anything to him, but feeling effervescent and happy after the night we just had, I wheeled back around giggling and said, "Are you right or wrong!" I laughed as the words came out of my mouth.
He said something a little quietly. Dana immediately said:
"Ok, that's gross. Tolly, don't talk to him."
"What'd you say?" I asked, still giggling like a complete and total idiot.
"I said," (warning - this is about to get graphic and mildly disturbing), "can I lick your pussies."
I stopped laughing. I gripped Dana and we walked arm and arm, walking quickly down the street in the opposite direction.
"I SAID," he yelled, much more loudly after us, "can I LICK your PUSSIES. And THEN, I'm gonna F*K you in the MOUTHS!"
Dana goes, "should we run?"
We kept on walking quickly, him shouting after us. I won't grace you with any more of his lovely speech, each "offer" was increasingly disgusting, and he continued to yell at us long after we had turned a corner, out of sight.
I kept looking behind over my shoulder to see if he was following us. He wasn't. Just growling angrily, waiting there for girls walking out of the club, girls to shock and intimidate.
As soon as we got to my car, I locked all the doors and, as Dana watched behind us out the windows, I texted my girlfriends inside Shangri La to warn them.
We drove home. Everything was ok. I'm here in bed typing next to R., safe and sound.
But as I told R. this story, all freaked out, he made a very sharp point:
"Tolly, there's the kind of love that blinds you to things, and the kind of love that works through things. You can't love this city blindly."
And he's right, of course. But that's incredibly hard to accept.
I do love this city a little blindly, and tend to have a false sense of security wherever I go. When people talk about the "shady" east side, I'm the first one to pipe up and defend it. When it's late at night downtown, I frequently walk back to my car alone. What's the danger? I always think. Austin is not a violent place. I like to smile at strangers. They're just people, I think, looking for some every day, kind, human interaction.
But there are gross people here in Austin, Texas. My beloved city. And I really, really hate admitting that.
Do you want to know the most messed up part? It's the fact that this guy didn't engage us - at first - in a super macho, dominant, rahh-I'm-a-MAN type of way. We were having a completely normal exchange, and then in a millisecond, he turned into this nasty monster. He didn't look homeless, just like a slightly older guy waiting on his buddy to pick him up or something.
(And, even with homeless people, I should point out, the ones hanging out by the ARC downtown or sitting along Guadalupe near UT, I OFTEN say "hello!" when they greet me. Again, I think: why not? Their life probably sucks, and I bet it feels great to have a fellow human being actually acknowledge your existence.)
R. said, "the problem is Tolly, you give people the time of day when you shouldn't."
It's true, I don't like to be cautious and guarded. Not my personality. I'd rather assume that all strangers here are lonely at worst, redeeming individuals at best who are simply down on their luck. This is willfully naive and I know it. I'm incredibly pissed at that guy, but I am also grateful to him for making visible my own lack of street smarts.
I love you Austin, but I'm going to try to be a little more nuanced in my love. Thank you, creepy stranger, for forcing my love to mature a little bit.
A tough lesson. Could have been a lot tougher.