I’m usually happy with and downright proud of my city, as most regular readers are no doubt well aware. But right now I’m hopping mad and ashamed, because of this article detailing the bigotry-based reaction to what I thought of mostly as an annual tradition: Texas Relays. It’s an enormous track and field event, and it draws athletes from around Texas and much of the country, as well as friends and families who come out to support them. On Friday night, athletes, friends, and family descend on downtown Austin to party. In this way, it’s no different than any other huge event that draws a group of people to wander around 6th St. to soak it in, drink, and carouse. It’s not just SXSW—it’s Halloween, Mardi Gras, Republic of Texas Rally, Pride Festival, post-any home game that ends in victory, you name it. Descending on downtown for a shit ton of parties is the Austin tradition.
But for Texas Relays, many, probably most of the people coming downtown are black, and that apparently changes the situation.
Emo’s Austin, a live music venue in downtown’s Sixth Street district, will be closed, as will Flamingo Cantina, a premier Austin club for reggae music. It’s the first time Sixth Street businesses have ceased operations during the Relays. Highland Mall also will close early Saturday.
Some businesses cite a lack of revenue that night, including Emo’s.
Bill Corsello, general manager of Emo’s, cited financial reasons.
“We’ve tried stuff during the Relays, and year after year we lose money,” Corsello said. “We get about 20 percent of our normal crowd. People just want to be on the street. They don’t want to go into our club.”
I’m skeptical that they really tried. Many clubs downtown make a killing during Texas Relays, and it has little to do with their prior reputation (which out-of-towners neither know nor care about), and has everything to do with the kind of entertainment they offer. If Emo’s collaborated with some of the people putting together one of the more than 30 parties, I bet they could do well, too. They’d probably have to book different musical acts than they usually do, but so what? All the clubs downtown expand their definition of what kind of entertainment they’ll provide during SXSW, and you’ll see, say, punk bands in usually chi-chi clubs that would never otherwise book a punk band.
But not everyone is hiding behind the low revenue excuse.
“It’s counterproductive for us to even be open because of the craziness downtown,” said Angela Gillen, owner of Flamingo Cantina. “It’s kind of dangerous, and the staff doesn’t want to work.”
I’m impressed that this sort of thinking comes from someone who owns a reggae bar, which leaves me with the unavoidable impression that Gillen thinks black people are fine if they’re performing, but not if they’re your audience. I don’t even have more to add to this, except that she’s wrong about Texas Relays being dangerous.
Police have said the event does not draw any more crime than other large events here…..
Austin police, who are ramping up for the weekend as they do during other big events, have said the number of tickets issued during Texas Relays in past years is similar to other weekend events, including South by Southwest and Mardi Gras. Police also have said that they typically do not see a rise in use-of-force incidents by police.
I’ve been downtown many times during Texas Relays, and the only difference I’ve noticed from other big events that draw big crowds is that there’s a lot more vehicle traffic. I suspect that’s because there’s a lot of people from out of town who all drove in, because they don’t live that far away, and so they all take their cars downtown, and then they drive around looking for parking, because they aren’t too familiar with downtown Austin. Rowdiness, crowds, underage kids goofing off in the street because they can’t get into clubs, drunken shenanigans, cruising to get laid—if you suddenly start to be alarmed by this just because it’s Texas Relay weekend, then it’s time to check yourself, because you’re racist.
And then there’s the mall.
Highland Mall near North Interstate 35 is a frequent destination for Texas Relays attendees. It will close at 2 p.m. Saturday “because the safety and security of our shoppers and retailers is our top priority,” General Manager Jeff Gionnette said in an e-mail to the Austin American-Statesman.
Gionnette said officials decided to close because security officers the mall has used in the past “were not available.” He did not elaborate. Gionnette did not cite specific security concerns or respond to a follow-up e-mail.
Sometimes I just don’t understand people. I’m sure that if Highland Mall didn’t have routine injections of high school and college kids who are looking for someplace to hang out when they’re in from out of town for extracurricular events, the mall would just fail, because most local people don’t go there very often, and probably less so now that it’s a recession. (Or maybe they do, but it seems the parking lot is always empty, even around Christmas, and last time I was in there on some sort of cell phone excursion, you could hear a penny drop.) This sort of thing disproves conservatives who routinely claim that profit concerns outstrip prejudice in a capitalist society, to say the least.