Nine years ago, I drifted into Austin from Kentucky. In my head I thought it would be a two-year gig working as a designer in Texas. That had been my track record since leaving college. Two years, maybe three, in a spot before getting bored and looking for the next adventure. By that point, I’d lived in places I never dreamed of living — a historical home in a smallish Florida Gulf Coast town and a town home in the middle of Kentucky’s horse country.
I never really felt the urge of putting down roots. Instead, I loved meeting people, exploring a new location and seeing what was out there. An opportunity to live in the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World” that likes to keep it weird cropped up. I would be a fool to not try that as my next adventure.
So I sold my car, packed my stuff and moved to Austin, a blue dot in the middle of a red state.
Every move I had made involved moving to a new location far removed from any safety nets of social networks, familiar confines and Austin would be no different.
Right away, I was met with open arms. While my apartment wasn’t ready for move in (it was Labor Day weekend and a series of miscommunications meant I was homeless for three days), the design director for the Paragraph Factory had me come out and spend the weekend on his boat. The extent of my “friendship” with him at that point was a really great dinner at Z’Tejas for my interview. A weekend on the lake turned into a big brother-little brother (with me being the little brother) friendship. He introduced me to a ton of people that weekend (and then a ton more on several happy hour excursions). I remember fondly that at one point during the weekend him telling me that he wasn’t sure he should have exposed me to all those people, what with him being my indirect boss and all.
I’m glad he did.
By doing that, unbeknownst to either of us at the time, he planted the seed — a stranger taking someone in and exposing said stranger to a slice of his life. Still I assumed Austin would be a two, maybe three, year experiment.
After that weekend, I met my surrogate family: the AME for Design who would become like a mom to me at the different times, the hip sister (in all sense of the word) who would be my partner in crime until she married and had two wonderful daughter, the guy I would date for a short time before we both realized we were better off as friends and a host of other characters who would continue the proper fertilization and watering of that Labor Day seed.
A year later, I turned 30. That same guy who took me out on his boat went to dinner with me. We eventually ended up at a patio bar where, by way past closing time, we had gone from two people to dozens of people stopping by to drink, to laugh and to celebrate my birthday. I remember at the time looking around and thinking how fortunate I was. All these people came out to celebrate and have a good time, and it just so happened to be my birthday.
I had no idea.
A few months later, I met B. Eventually he would uproot his life and move in with me. We’ve had great days and not-so-great days, but he and I will celebrate eight years together in November and I can’t imagine having a life without him dead center in it.
At some point I met Bear and Bexar, who outside B would be closest friends, more like brothers. Bear, with his ability to find the good in just about anyone and his huge posse of friends, shared the Kansas State/growing up in Kansas connection. Bexar, a no-bullshit sorta guy who I’ve gone through hell and back with, would become very much my little brother.
Then there was the entire dysfunctional family: the Bears. I’m sure I met most of them through Bear, but I met a bunch more through B. Whether it was night out dancing and being a bunch of fools, a campout in the middle of nowhere or a Sunday breakfast, this rotating cast of friends are always up for fun and friendship. Hell, there’s even video proof now (thanks Jose!) of me being a white boy who dances, well, like a white boy.
Then there’s the women in my life, each one fabulous and oh-so-different. Whether it’s J’s quiet intellect (or raucous laughter), C’s ability to make me laugh (or be there in a time of need), N’s ability to make me want to act a fool, the way A and I seem to be going through similar growing pains at the Paragraph Factory (and lord, can she cook!), the LesBruins who are like my feisty little sisters always ready to make the Bears (and me) laugh, T who taught me so much in first few years (and I regret how difficult it has been to see her on something even close to a regular basis) and the list goes on (almost as much as that sentence did).
There’s the extended family that I picked up through B — his awesome mom, his amazing sister and his amazing dad who have added me into their family without flinching. A brother-in-law who always manages to get me into some sort of trouble when we hang out. The huge extended family that always offers a smile, a hug and a sense of belonging.
In nine years, I keep collecting new people into my life like some sort of strange friendship hoarder. My Halloween party that evolved into our New Year’s Eve party is great example of that. So many people pack our house from all walks of life. They mingle and mix like some strange jambalaya.
And yeah, back up. Re-read the beginning of that paragraph. Nine years. Somehow, that seed planted on a boat took root. Three homes in nine years, but I’ve stayed here in Austin. Longest I’ve stayed put since I moved out for college.
And the crazy thing was surprise dinner last night for my 38th birthday. B arranged this collection of people completely on the sly to show up in one spot to have dinner with me. I don’t get overwhelmed very often, but there I was all shocked, surprised and verklempt. It was a crazy version of This Is Your Life as each guest arrived. Folks who never had met one another, knew enough about each other to talk and laugh and enjoy an evening. While I’ve often joked that if one were to look at the mix in my Facebook feed and see how so many worlds collide, it’s another thing entirely to see a cross-section of those people in one physical space.
I took in the moment. I saw how friends old and new were laughing and talking. I saw a ton of sincere smiling. I saw each person’s connection to me and the threads forming connecting them to one another in realtime. I saw each person’s life and how much it had changed in the time I’ve known them. I noticed who I wished had been there, but understood why they weren’t.
In nine years, through so many good times and some real doozies of bad stuff, I had built up a family without meaning to. And like all families, it extends on a great deal. I come from a small family, but somehow I have managed to amass a Kennedy-sized family here in Austin.
B started the day with a gift for me. It was Daredevil wearing his original costume. For those who know me, they know I’m a comic geek. For those who know me best, they know I connect with Daredevil. B is no comic geek, yet he knew the costume. He knows Daredevil a little too well for his liking, I’m sure.
But what he doesn’t know, is that he gave me an even more awesome gift. He reminded me how honored I am to have such a group of friends and family.
So yeah, I’m now 38 and knocking on the door to 40. When I was younger, I had no concept of that. Hell, at 38 I still have no concept of 40. But every year brings me another layer of family, so I look forward to 40. I definitely look forward to the adventures yet to happen.
Thanks to everyone who sent a message (just look at that Facebook feed and see how crazy it is with folks from high school, Kansas, Florida, Kentucky and where y’all have ended up in life). Thanks to all of you who not only showed up, but kept a secret from this grizzled old journalist.
And thank you, B, for making it a weekend I’ll remember for a long, long time.
It’s not that I hadn’t been back since then, especially given that the bar is the only bear bar in Austin and the only bar that’s not all about twinks and college kids. I’d been back several times. Each time, it was because of some outing with friends.
Last weekend, the Iron Bear was a host bar for Last Splash, the unofficial end of summer. The bar was packed with a wild assortment of bears, otters and other woodland creatures from Austin, Dallas and elsewhere (even some folks from Canada). The music was better. Gone were the live bands I encountered in the first review. Instead, a DJ was spinning a mix of dance music that all bled into one another. Sadly, the space is still not conducive to actual dancing, but that didn’t seem to mind the people wedged into the space as they talked, laughed and had a good time.
Unfortunately, the bar’s split level still has but one narrow staircase connecting the levels. This creates a logjam of people going between the floors (as with a bearish population, it tends to only allow one patron’s width). That lower floor is still where the bathrooms and chill space are, which means it is a heavy traffic area. By the way, those bathrooms are probably the cleanest bathrooms I’ve ever seen in a bar, even during peak time, which is pretty amazing.
How about the service? It’s gotten a lot better. Gerrald, usually the first bartender you see when you walk in, does a good job of slinging drinks and laying on the charm. He’s a friendly sort even as the bar is packed. Even more pleasant is that he remembers what I’m drinking at any given point and I am one to mix it up.
The bigger issue I’ve been encountering after several visits comes from the barbacks. Having worked in several bars, I understand how important and under-appreciated barbacks are. They are the folks who make the bartenders’ night the easiest. They maintain the restrooms. They keep the bar clean of empty glasses and bottles.
At the Iron Bear, they do all that very well. However, they serve up a lot of negative energy and attitude as well. I wish I could chalk it up to a busy night, but even on slower nights, one barback in particular was rude. A good barback makes your night enjoyable or blends into the background. He shouldn’t stand out in a negative way.
Overall, the Iron Bear appears to be doing well. It maintains a nice mix of regulars with an influx of new faces. The bartenders do a good job of keep the feel of the bar friendly. Is it an amazing must-go space? No. However, it is a solid bar to enjoy a night out. It’s a workhorse bar that might actually have an extended life in a downtown scene that seems to change as frequently as the semesters at UT. That’s never a bad thing.
This morning as I scanned my feeds as I do every morning, interspersed among the normal social media buzz was a post from a friend of mine asking for her “Colorado peeps” to check in and asking if they were OK. It was a nebulous post, but as the Facebook friend is a former journalist I wondered what she was referring to.
Seconds later, the eerie headline about multiple shootings during a midnight screening of the new Batman film caught my attention. Reading from multiple sources — The Denver Post, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times — the vague outline of what transpired started to develop.
And then I made the mistake of checking back into the social media streams. Even worse, I read the commenting below some of these articles.
In this era of social media and live commentary, I’m continually amazed at two things.
The first is how quickly people come together to help one another, either by parsing information or setting up solutions to immediate needs.
The second is how quickly people use the platforms to espouse rumors and to set up their arguments for their points of view. In this instance, it appears to be starting with the inevitable gun control debate. I’m sure by midday, the plot of the new Batman film — one that involves a terrorist leading the 99 percent against the 1 percent — will be used as a jumping off point for potential motive.
I can’t help but feel that there should be a cooling off period for folks — both media reporters and social media users — during periods of major news events. Allow the facts to be reported. Hold the fact-gathering as paramount over being the first to report the information.
In several of the media reports, I saw the ugly use of cross-reporting, which is what I call reporting that uses other media as primary sources of information. Journalists have been burned by this before. A great reminder of this was shown on the recent episode of “The Newsroom” in which I was reminded that NPR originally erroneously reported the death of Gabrielle Giffords. Other media sourced NPR in their reports of the death. At one point in the fictional “Newsroom” someone uses the greatest line about only a coroner can declare a death, not another news show.
Another recent example was how badly the major cable networks got the Supreme Court’s health-care ruling wrong.
This desire to be first is quite palpable. It reminds me of the old days of message boards and commenting when someone would jump into the thread to scream “FIRST!” and usually nothing more than that.
I’d rather be accurate.
So as the story of the shooting at the movie theater in Colorado unfolds, verify your facts. Be patient. The facts will come out. It takes time for an investigation to unfold. Even eyewitnesses should be taken at a distance because we live in an era when there people who will say anything to make a few moments of TV time. I saw it firsthand a year after the Oklahoma City bombing.
And remember there are victims here. They deserve the truth to be reported accurately and fairly.
The blog’s been fallow for a little while. The every day dramas that keep us from doing the things we set out to do when we aren’t working or living have kept me busier than usual.
Last night, North Carolina voters decided to approve measure that would make same-sex marriage verboten by that state’s constitution. For the weeks leading up to the vote, I’d seen arguments on both sides of the issue. Friends of mine took to Facebook to help support people in North Carolina fight for equality. My job typically keeps me quiet on these type of issues, and I tend to keep my politics out of the way.
But last night, as I read comments in my social media feeds after North Carolina voters approved the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, I became angry, depressed and unsure what to make of the day’s events.
It continued as my partner and I got into bed last night, a nagging feeling that this might be the big setback to us being treated as equals. In the past few years, there had been so many moves to treat LGBT individuals and couples the same as our straight friends and relatives. This vote, far away from my home in Texas, bothered me more than I expected. My brain wouldn’t shut down.
Sure, there’s the thousands of “freedoms” that marriage grants couples that gay couples cannot enjoy without a lawyer or a ton of extra paperwork.
But it kept coming back to the idea that someone out there hated my love for my partner so much that a constitutional ban on that love needed to be enacted. That someone’s hatred for me would prevent me from seeing my partner in a hospital at his time of need. That someone’s hatred for me would cause no end of suffering in our lives in ways that that person had no concept of.
I thought about friends of mine whose spouses serve in the military openly now, but still can’t be given the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts when it comes to benefits if they are killed in the line of duty.
I thought about friends of mine who have adopted children who have had to go through all sorts of hoops to start a family despite laws the make it difficult or prohibit them from doing so.
This morning that vote still bothered me. For me, it’s not about marriage, it’s about being treated with the same respect as straight couples.
Sure, I’ve been fortunate. My partner’s family has welcomed me wholeheartedly. I work for a company that is progressive enough to extend us domestic partner benefits. My friends are supportive of us, to the point that one of my dear friends explained to her kids that using “gay” as a negative isn’t cool and used my partner and I as an example of how gay people are.
But the thing is, my relationship with my partner, now heading toward its eighth year, is not seen as the same as my married friends. At any point, a hospital in my state can keep me from seeing my partner. Depending on where we travel in the country, our relationship is considered illegal and punishable.
When I woke up this morning, I cuddled closer to my sleeping partner. I’d honestly do anything for him. We’ve settled into our routines as all couples do. We found our boundaries. We laugh. We squabble. We cook dinner. We travel on vacation.
There’s nothing that makes us any different than our married friends.
Except our relationship is unwelcome in a lot of places just because we are both men.