Austin: “The Friendly City”

March 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Austin has proclaimed itself “the Friendly City” since 1925. It is at its friendliest during SXSW, although the recently inaugurated F1 week threatens to out-friendly even the mighty SXSW. How friendly is Austin, you ask?

On my bike ride home from my downtown rathole on Thursday afternoon with SXSW just getting into high gear, I passed by a number of parking lots that normally charge between $5 and $7; that day the universal going price was $20. Consistent with this generosity toward our esteemed guests, hotel and motel rates had risen between 300% and 400%. As I understand, a SXSW Platinum badge goes for $1125, giving you the dubious privilege of hearing your choice of hundreds of shitty bands who have often spent every penny they have to get here, in a vain attempt to grab the brass ring. And they call this the “hospitality” business.

But then Austin has always been hospitable toward its visitors during SXSW week, even 100 years before this March madness existed. Take SXSW week in 1880, deep in the heart of where it all takes place and just blocks away from the present SXSW corporate empire compound:

There is a certain quarter of this blessed city where the fashionable seraglio and low bagnios flourish to an alarming extent. It is known by the familiar appellation of “Mexico” and it is here the well-dressed “fakirs” spread their meshes and cog the dice and calmly take in the unwary. They browse about the neighborhood pretending to be stupidly drunk at unseemly hours, and woe be unto those who are not up to city ways and doings. The fakirs are there for the sole purpose of pulling the wool over the eyes of the young man from the country and many are they that are gobbled up and fleeced of all they have. Not long since, a young man fell into their toils and was soon under the influence of some vile concoction furnished by them and was induced to play an innocent (?) game of euchre, “just to pass the time, you know.”

It was not long before he had some of the most remarkable poker hands, and strange to say, the affable fakir suddenly remembered it would be a good time to change the game to poker and do a little betting to make the thing a little more interesting. He bet, and of course lost, and the fakirs, astonished beyond measure, and with a generosity unparalleled in the history of their ilk, felt sorry for him and offered to buy his horse and pay double his value. The young man was astonished and felt happy at his good luck and ordered drinks for all, and accepted the offer for his horse. The affable fakirs then, regardless of expense, drew a draft on the First National Bank for the amount, and with a sereneit of demeanor truly sublime, handed it to the young man. They then asked him to take a private nip and sit down and try another hand at euchre. Their ways were so exceedingly child-like and bland that he consented, and soon had another marvelous poker hand, and betting was again in order, but alas he had no money — had nothing but the check for his horse.

Just then one of the generous fakirs kindly offered to cash his check and go halves with him. He accepted and lost and the fakirs having all of his money, his horse, and the check had no more use for him, and he being comfortable drunk by this time, was rolled in the gutter to snooze the hours away. The next morning, notwithstanding he was urged to do so, he would make no complaint. Not he. Was he not respectable? And how could he figure in the papers and courts as having been in such a locality and in such company? He submitted to his loss, rather than be placed before the public in such a plight, and thus it is with many — too many who fall into the hands of the fakirs of the first ward. We warn strangers to beware of these gents, for their ways are the ways to ruin, and oftimes to death. The police, when they see a stranger with these fakirs, day or night, should immediately warn him of their character. It is their duty to do so.

Were it their duty — or ability — to do so today, in the friendly city of legalized gobbling and fleecing.

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