Culture and All Its Prefixes
Unpredictability is a good thing about my job, a good thing. Without it, well, I'd know what I'll be doing from one day to the next. That would suck.
This last week, I am a - well, for google's sake, we'll call it a visitor advisor. I'm greeting people who are new to Austin, or to Texas, and telling them what they should do or see while they are here. And because I'm nice, my suggestions are pleasant ones; even (I must rather shamefacedly add) things I personally have not done. Go on a free guided tour of the Capitol building. Visit the Harry Ransom Center, where they have a Gutenburg Bible on display, and the very first photograph ever taken. There are also interesting rotating exhibits of cultural artifacts. Currently they have an exhibit called "Making Movies" which really looks quite interesting. And the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum - well, for heaven's sake, you need to go there! I only lived on the UT campus for three years and never did, and to this day never have. I hope to soon.
And yet, it's odd, when we have a little free time to ourselves, to do what we like, we end up loafing around a certain someone's home and Netflixing the Will Farrell remake of "Land of the Lost." That can't be right.
I spent Monday afternoon covering at the Cap, and it was exhausting. First of all, the actual Capitol employees across the way were difficult to begin with. Then the visitors were plentiful and demanding; the last one of the day actually pretty much ordered me to call her a cab. I think she was from somewhere that taxis roam the streets for the hailing, and was tired and frustrated, so it's hard to be upset with her, though I was tired and frustrated (and sick) as well. But how much trouble is it really to pick up the phone and call a cab company? I did it. I hope she got her cab. I went home without worrying about it further.
More tiresome was a group of 15-20 middle-aged-ish people from a conference, who were on an "information scavenger hunt," and who wanted me - an Austinite, as far as they could tell, after all - to cough up on demand a reasonable quantity of interesting, little-known, and pithy facts about my hometown. Try being asked this on the spot as an open-ended question and coming up with a meaningful answer. On the whole, I think I did pretty well, telling people that our beloved William Sydney Porter wrote many of his best works while incarcerated, suggesting a drive-by tour of the original location of Whole Foods Market in what is now a small Cheapo Discs store on North Lamar, and mentioning that you can see Michael Dell's house (unless he's moved, which is entirely possible as I really haven't been paying attention) from Mount Bonnell.
Tuesday was a much better day, in that it snowed all day, and therefore not a single Texan arrived at the visitor center. People from Missouri, Indiana, Wisconsin, and of course; Canadians - mais oui! - came in, but the Texans tend to stay home, once the white stuff hits the sky. We probably didn't have but 30 visitor parties all day. So instead, I whiled away the afternoon reading a book lent to us by an employee of the Capitol Visitor Center across the way: "The Hot Zone," by Richard Preston, which I dug 300 pages into yesterday, and which, for future reference, I recommend against reading while you have a nasty cold.
This book deals with a non-fictional, or perhaps semi-fictional (I'm only 300 pages in, so I don't know for sure yet) outbreak of the Ebola Zaire virus in metropolitan Washington, D.C., specifically Reston, Virginia, where I largely grew up. The location is less gripping than the description of the symptoms, and it's pretty rationally horrifying to think of a virus of this type being turned loose in the "civilized" world - as if it were any less horrible stashed out of (our) sight in the Third World.
I have to go back to the Cap tomorrow after lunch, and if it's not quiet enough for me to finish the book there, I'll bring it home. I'm not watching "Land of the Lost" again, at any rate.
Go see the Ransom Center, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, and the Elisabeth Ney Museum. Never seen any of 'em, to my shame. I am on my way.