In August 2013 (a decade after being bombed), I spent time traveling the state of Texas. It was the end of my first year teaching in my own classroom and I had decided to say goodbye to the small campus and my colleagues because I had to get closer to my son who was living in San Antonio. I hadn’t seen my son since the previous December when he visited for Christmas and we hadn’t talked since March when we discussed Spring Break over the phone. I had figured it was time to leave Amarillo, to leave home, and build a new life closer to him. Before getting to San Antonio, I ended up in Fort Worth, Houston, and Austin to visit friends and their families and, after almost a month on the road and to Amarillo and back, figured it was time to make my way to mine.
I ended up in San Marcos instead of San Antonio. What happened there was an incredibly deep dive into my reality. I have the Facebook Note I wrote archived to prove it. Words, but no images.
“Joseph,” you interrupt, “isn’t this post about Sixth Street? That famous stretch of bars in Austin, Texas”
Yes. It is! But, be patient! This is a longer read than normal.
As I found myself holed up in San Marcos, less than an hour away from my son, I began thinking about my past, present, and future. The time on the road had been something of a spiritual trek. In the note, “Not Quite a Star Trek,” I debated whether money or freedom, security or autonomy, was more important or if one was necessary for the other. In 2015, I chose to skip the doctoral program in philosophy I had been accepted into. Why? Money. Although studying philosophy is, by far, the most rewarding mental task I can tackle, getting back to a steady job was more important.
Fortunately, I’ve yet to extinguish all of my monetary flames, so I am capable of doing some things. For instance, I can sleep in this hotel room tonight, because I paid, and I ate earlier, because I paid, and I can leave San Marcos tomorrow, because I can pay for gas when I need it. How close I am to an unfortunate traveler, however, is debatable. I still have great friends and awesome family who are willing, and often able, to help me out. But, mistakenly, I thought that was the problem and, perhaps, it is.
See, I am a product of a comfortable, rather unchallenged, life. I have never starved. I have never been homeless. List everything you can think of that sucks and, undoubtedly, I haven’t been in that situation. I owe it to my parents, my career choices, and other such things that I can affirm that. But, there’s something missing. There’s something that just isn’t right. I am so unhappy, so unsatisfied, and so unprepared for confinement in some stupid monotony.
I don’t want to live in the same place.
I don’t want to teach the same subject.
I don’t want to learn the same shit.
I don’t want to have the same friends.
I don’t want to do the same things.
I don’t want to be tethered to the same poles.
Too dramatic? I never made it to San Antonio. I never made it to my son. I would relinquish my rights the next year while in graduate school in San Marcos studying philosophy which is never the same shit.
Yes. When I arrived in Austin in early August, I had met friends at a pub. As we sat on the patio, I looked at the new buildings being constructed all around us, high rises in every direction, and thought about how easy it would be for a sniper to get us. Change comes at a cost. This was, of course, miles away from the University of Texas campus where, in 1966, a shooter had killed and injured dozens of people from the elevated heights of a famous tower, a monument to a proud people.
Alcohol, humidity, and money ended up getting the best of me that summer day in Austin, but the night ended with me on Sixth Street. Sixth Street, if you’ve never been, is an area in Austin with dozens of bars, live music, and interesting people. When the slogan “Keep Austin Weird” is recited, Sixth Street is the place to witness the weirdness. Blocks away, you can be on UT’s campus. In the other direction, you can watch bats emerge by the millions. But Sixth Street, for me, was a different type of spiritual trek.
Being in a dense, urban area reminded me of living in Korea and visiting Seoul and other dense, urban areas there. I remembered the thrill of being able to walk into their clubs and then leave. In Amarillo, we had to go to one place on teen night and that was it. Being eighteen in Korea, surrounded by strangers, and getting to barhop, felt almost too good to be true2. It was in this spirit that I attacked Sixth Street with zeal.
I began documenting my stops on a napkin, writing down the name of the establishment, and tallying my drinks. I knew I’d need to ration it. Eventually, the napkin became illegible and the tally was less cautionary than challenging. Two beers per place? I laughed in the face of that danger and kept moving. Until I ran out of money and had to go home.
Sixth Street, for me, was about getting as drunk as possible. Why? Liquid courage, perhaps? The forgetting? It wasn’t lost on me that I hadn’t made it to San Antonio. I didn’t forget about my son less than an hour away. I enjoyed my stop and remembered waving to the Texas Lottery Commission guys through a window as I passed fondly, but I went back to Amarillo, said goodbye to friends one more time, then tried–once more–to make it to San Antonio.
During my week in San Marcos at the end of August, exploring their library and reading logic books (the first time I was exposed to the sandwich syllogism1), I noticed a different life being possible. That’s when I wrote “Not Quite a Star Trek” and came to this conclusion:
The point, I guess, is that I’d like to be a trucker. It simply cannot be worse than what I am and may, I believe, prepare me for what I am to become. Being homeless in San Marcos won’t. Being dead in San Antonio won’t. Being drunk in Amarillo won’t.
A week later, I was back in Amarillo, sitting in a guard shack, listening to podcasts about philosophy, reading economics textbooks, and asking advising at Texas State University if they’d let me study philosophy there.
If you feel disoriented, lost, and a little out of sorts with all I’ve just discussed, you’re ready for Sixth Street and Austin. In the middle of Texas, there’s a little town that won’t stop growing and below all of the skyscrapers, nestled between various government agencies, are places people can get together and work through their lives, enjoy the company, and imbibe.
It’s funny to me looking back. I tried taking my parents to Sixth Street, but we settled on the place I had first drank in Austin. They weren’t ready for Sixth Street and I don’t blame them.
- A ham sandwich is better than nothing.
Nothing is better than eternal happiness.
Therefore, a ham sandwich is better than eternal happiness.
- It was. Nineteen years ago today, I received an email from a girlfriend telling me two of my friends had been shot and killed. I looked up the story online and saw this photo. It changed my experience in Korea and has altered my life.
Posted in: Thirdsty Thursday