As I walked past The Velveeta Room, I saw the chalk board at the entrance with the words, Stand-up comedy night, showing at 11pm. I asked the old white guy, possibly a biker dude by day, who was cutting tickets standing at the entrance if I could take a quick peek in.
As we decided to go in, he suggested that we could pick up some food before coming in. He took our 20$ and asked us to show the back of our hands. I said, “Oh no, they’re carcinogenic!” as he used a marker to mark us paid. He replied laughing, “Don’t panic, its organic!”
Just a couple of hours ago, my friend had brought me to a parking garage in downtown Austin, with the promise of showing me the most happening place in the city on a Saturday night. After all, I was visiting her for the weekend putting on hold my suburban life and its responsibilities back in Atlanta, Georgia. I don’t know why, but I felt this intense lust for life come shooting right into my core as I got out of the car. We exited the garage and were on the Sixth Street which is a historic commercial and entertainment district lined with buildings of both modern and Victorian brick and stonework architecture.
As we looked for a place to eat, we started walking alongside bridesmaids, bouncers, homeless men, old singles and couples, while matching steps with the folks that were walking in and out onto the streets from opening and closing bar doors. There were fancy dining places with candle light dinners next to places where pizzas were sold at windows. When I gasped at a girl who was riding a rickshaw (oh wait, Pedi cabs) with passengers in it, my friend suggested that it might be an electric powered one.
There were so many brides-to-be that the only justification felt like they wanted to be in it, because this street offered them so much in support and suffrage. If anything, these Cinderellas will lose their slippers because of being too drunk. I saw lonely men killing it on 90’s style arcade games. The darts, shuffleboards and the pinball machines in bars were holding peoples’ attentions. Midnight Cowboy sounded like a place as heehaw as it was could be quintessentially Texan.
The dance bars looked like they had lifelong dance lessons to offer. We walked past Voodoo donuts that sounded as sinister as its name. I stood at street corners and took pictures with my phone. Guys and girls looked easy and were cutting it so loose, they drove me nuts. There was loneliness and longing that I could touch.
Susan Santog says, “Love” can be an extremely painful and destructive limitation. But, here I was, drinking from this unanticipated fountain of love and acceptance from strangers. Love that didn’t seem to fit the standard that we set for ourselves with our family and friends. The theme of this evening followed the general theory of acceptance but unlike the one that’s proclaimed out in the streets when people take on marches and resort to riots to show their solidarity.
As we reached the end of the street, there were barricades and a lot of police presence on foot and on horse backs. Were they here so they could have some fun too? As I looked further into the street to see if we should cross or go back, Homeless people were lined up to receive blankets in a blanket drive. Poor lucky bastards, I thought, only urbanites have such high tolerance for income inequality.
As we turned around, I was sad that we weren’t able to decide on a place to have dinner. Some places were too cheap, some too loud and some just too fancy, we had debated. And, that’s when we walked past The Velveeta Room and decided that us mothers need some comedy and quick dinner (as doorman had suggested) too in our lives.
We spotted a pizza truck and started to walk into that alleyway haphazardly lined with food trucks. We walked past a tattoo parlor making the place seem even more darker and edgier. We stopped at a Halal wraps place and silently mouthed to each other “Mullah” as we spotted the vendor who asked us what we wanted to eat. We ordered two falafel wraps and two samosas. This evening was an occasion when pizza and curly fries just wouldn’t have cut it for us. As we waited for our food, a homeless man searched for food in a garbage bin next to me and smiled at me kindly. We acknowledged our mutual respect for each other’s humanity in that instant.
Inside the club, we sat on a bench that was lined along the length from the entrance to the back of the room. I set my food on a tiny table and excused myself to the restroom, where good looking girls waited their turn for the throne in a cramped musty corridor. Some guy was yelling at his friend, “there’s a transgender bathroom if you want to go” and they were mock fist fighting in the front of the men’s line ahead of me.
The cold dirty concrete floors, the black curtains and the blue background for the stage backdrop were somehow complementing the mood I was in. My friend ordered round after round of Oban, while I drank red wine. We laughed hard mostly because we were giddy that we didn’t have anyone demanding us moms for timely food or attention.
One of the comedians joked, that the only nice response for a question of “Are you gay?” is a polite, “I wish!”. Times like this make me wonder what’s more endearing about white people, their ability to make us laugh at self-deprecating jokes or when they are unable to handle their drinks.
Back in the garage, as we drove out onto the street, I turned on the stereo so high to a Sia’s song that we felt the acoustics in our guts. As we approached 4 police officers at the exit, I rolled down the passenger window to eye challenge them. Even an Indian American mom can punk out on Dirty Sixth, was what they seemed to say as they looked in my direction.
Next time, if you happen to find yourself on the 6th, take my word for it and don’t pick a guide. Just set yourself free.