Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Trip to Austin, Texas. Pt. 2

The Semiotic Codes. From Congress Street, just a few blocks below the state capital of Texas, it's easy to spot the government drones, mandarins, and pols out in the streets. While the general populace are dressed casually, befitting the heat and humidity, the folk who make their living doing or influencing state business walk about in full regalia: dark blue suits, unwrinkled cotton shirts, and conservative ties (men); straight skirts and heels for the women.

In contrast with the slightly dishevelled look of the average Joe downtown, the Capital people have smooth hair. Very smooth. I have not seen so many taper cuts in a long time. This town must burn through a lot of hairspray.

The street people here are very forward about asking for money. They have an easy way of striking up a conversation with anyone who makes eye contact or hesitates in their space long enough to give them an opening. Their gambits have that overly-familiar quality of carnies who sense loose bills in the hip pockets of the inexperienced: You and I are just buddies, their vocal patterns say, we're in on the same joke.

These men understand that if someone is going to hand over some spare change they are going to do it in the next five seconds or not at all. So by various rhetorical means -- pleas, humor, warmth -- they attempt to force bonding quickly beyond the scope of what is normal in a relationship like this. And by "a relationship like this" I mean one that isn't going to happen, anyway.

Bend's panhandlers seem to come in two flavors: Aqualung, or Punk Kid experimenting with life on the road. Neither group seems to have the casual directness and slightly sleazy quality of Austin's street people. Here, they are all skinny and seem to possess a lot of energy.

Lots of tourist groups on the streets around the capital building. The leader can be recognized by her clipboard. Some find the capitals of states interesting. I don't. I've never had an urge to see D.C., for example. I'm assured it's something worth doing, but I am not intrigued. That's just the way I am, I guess.

1 comment:

  1. "Some find the capitals of states interesting. I don't. I've never had an urge to see D.C., for example."

    In the olden days there was an assumption that big cities were sinks of decadence and corruption and small towns and rural areas were pure and wholesome. (Many Americans still think that way.) Therefore it was deemed prudent to locate state capitals out in the boonies rather than in the state's principal metropolis, on the theory that the lawmakers would be more virtuous as a result. (What a crock.) Thus New York's capital is Albany rather than NYC, California's capital is Sacramento rather than SF or LA, Oregon's capital is Salem rather than Portland, etc.

    Which means that state capitals tend to be pretty dull places.

    Washington DC is indeed worth a visit, however.


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