I called up Elizabeth. “What are you doing Monday?” She has learned by now to be leery of any conversation with me that begins like that. But before the day was out, she had arranged to take the day off and we had hotel reservations in Austin. We packed our best duds and headed off to the funeral.
I love traveling with my daughter--except for the few miles she was chewing fruit flavored gum. I had always had a rule when she was little: no fruit flavored gum in my car when I was driving. But this time she was driving and it was her car. And I was really glad she did the driving because it rained the entire trip to Austin. Our part of East Texas has been in a serious drought that I’ve promised God that I would never again in my life complain about rain. But it was a frog strangler, the highest level of rain you can get, far above the levels of “gully washer” or the wimpy “cats and dogs” kind of rain.
I emailed a few friends I have who are understanding when I’m weird and enthusiastic when they are able and invited them to join me in my adventure. A couple of our oldest and dearest friends, Charlie and Ann Tubbs wanted to come along. I haven’t seen them since they retired to the hill country near Austin to get in touch with their respective inner hippie. I can report to all who know them that they have indeed found their inner hippie plus their outer hippie as well. Charlie told me walking into the funeral that this was the first time he had worn shoes in quite a while.
I didn’t want to miss getting a good seat so we made sure we were in line before they opened the doors at 10:30. This put us waiting outside the Frank Erwin Center for a good hour but that may have been the best part of the whole experience—waiting in line. The assortment of individuals in that line was just the kind of people I think I’ll get to meet in heaven. Most of them, were proud Democratic party leaders and assorted spear carriers. Everyone struck up a conversation with someone they had never met. The guy by us was a very dignified and classy looking black man, the kind of man you picture when you hear the word “Texan”. He was wearing a dark charcoal suit that fit him perfectly but the polished cowboy boots, tie with Texas motif and sparkling beige Stetson told anyone he was the real deal. I pegged him for either a Texas Ranger, sheriff or precinct chairman. Randy insisted he was just an ordinary citizen, one of many admirers there today just because he thought a lot of Ann Richards. The lady behind us in line had a button that read “Ann Richards” with “Hillary 2008” below the picture of Ann. She was one of the first female pilots and had been one of the many female appointees Ann made, this one to the Aviation Board. The radio station in Austin was interviewing people and it looked like we were all just ordinary folks who loved Ann. We got into a fairly philosophical discussion on why the world is going to hell in a hand basket with the Republicans in power and I have to admit I agreed with everyone.
When we got inside I could tell the biggies would be entering by another door. The floor seated about 500. They had silver chairs where ours in the peanut gallery had brown chairs. And the silver chairs had better cushions.We managed to get seats right by the center aisle where all the silver-seated people would walk through. I wondered if some of them came on a bus, maybe straight from the capitol, because a couple of times there was just a huge crowd of them all at once. There was a trio of Mexican American ladies behind us that kept a running commentary of celebrities like Lily Tomlin and Howard Dean as they walked in. I read in the paper later that Kinky Friedman was there but I didn’t see him. He must not have been wearing his hat. Without the black hat, Kinky isn’t very kinky-looking.The PA system was playing Willie Nelson songs. I worried when I looked at my program and didn’t see Willie’s name. I heard later he got busted for pot in Louisiana. Golly, couldn’t they give the guy a break? Everybody knows Willie smokes weed. But everybody also loves his music and knows he wouldn’t hurt a fly and, besides, he finally paid all those back taxes. So, couldn’t there be some sort of exemption for Willie?
About 11:30 the music changed to a live brass ensemble. Then at noon a huge black choir came in and then all the speakers. There was a huge video screen behind the podium so we could see a close-up of whoever was speaking. I’ve always felt sorry about the choir member sitting directly behind the podium because they are on camera all the time. You gotta be really careful not to yawn or scratch if you’re sitting in the camera’s view. But I noticed that the camera was aimed at kind of an angle so the person on the 40 foot screen wasn’t directly behind but to the side of the speaker. Good thing she behaved herself because she may have thought the lady three seats over was the one on camera.I was making notes on the “flash factor.” As the importance of the speakers increased, so did the amount of camera flashes going off. As expected, Hillary won the flash contest. However the most resounding standing ovation that topped even hers was for Ann Richards’ granddaughter, Lily. She gave a very impressive speech for a college student. A man behind us tried to start a chant of “Hillary and Lily in 08” but it never caught on. This was a funeral, for crying out loud, we had to have some degree of decorum.This was my first time to see Hillary Clinton in person, even if she was so far away she was just a tiny speck. I could still see if she picked her nose or scratched her butt—one of those things you don’t get to see on TV. She never did either one…kind of disappointing.
The speakers were great, the music was great, the short video of her life was great. The whole thing was just what I expected except they didn’t have any Aggies with swords and Willie was in the pokey.We had a great lunch with Ann and Charlie. Elizabeth and I had a great trip home with brilliant blue skies.
I have to say the best part of the whole trip was the crowd waiting to go into the building. These are my kind of people. And true to Ann Richards’ legacy, they looked a lot more like the real America than most crowds of people. There was an assortment of colors that I’ll bet matches the population of American better than most gatherings you’ve seen.
I’ve never been the kind of person to get involved in politics but this experience may have changed my attitude slightly. Somebody has got to get involved. I guess the best part of the whole experience, the part I will always remember, was when I was whining about how intimidating it is to be progressive in such a conservative state as Texas. Randy stopped me short and looked me square in the eye. In his gentle but firm voice he said “No. You can’t let people intimidate you.” The world is getting too small for governments with small minds who lack the imagination to invite Willie Nelson to funerals.