Based in Williamson County, Texas, WHY ARE Y'ALL HERE? is a travelog by Spencer Darr. His posts explore Texas counties through photos, maps, music, videos, writing, and--most importantly--interviews with local residents about why we are where we are. Y'all enjoy!

Two Tickets to the Gun Show in Burleson County

Two Tickets to the Gun Show in Burleson County

TRAVIS COUNTY

It was 1:03 on a Friday, as my fellow contractor cube-rats and I at Apple's Austin campus counted down the hours 'till the weekend when I received the following text:
"Wanna go to gun show in mornin aftwr mex. Breakfast?"

I already planned on visiting my mother out in Somerville (pop. 1376) that weekend, and far be it from me to pass up an opportunity for, um, cultural immersion.

I left work and stopped by my storage unit a few minutes away off MoPac to pick up some things before I make the hour and a half trek east. If you've never had a storage unit, I highly encourage you to do so for the, um, experience. I punched in the six digit code to open the automatic gate that looks in about as good a shape as my 20 year old pick up, complete with both the rust and the performance: predictably slow, and reliable. Shit, I forgot the asterisk after the six numbers, no wonder it was taking so damn long. Now we have to wait for the green "Try Again" button to flash. All good, I pull around the corner down the stretch of identical, orange doored garage size units, each with their own lumpy slope leading up to the unit before it drops off and then goes up again.

 Seriously, they will. This is some not-false advertising right here.

Seriously, they will. This is some not-false advertising right here.

I pulled to a stop over the little grease spots the distance of a vehicle from the glass door with black duct tape over the holes where the lock used to be. There are no other vehicles here, but that doesn't necessarily mean we're alone: I'll explain more about that in a minute #words. I walk in, hit the elevator button to the 2nd floor, and the doors slide open. The hot stuffiness of trapped air and almost pleasant but mostly weird smell of mothballs hits you when you walk into the freight sized elevator, which comes in very handy for one-man mattress moving, btw.

 The nifty cart inside the freight elevator I use for moving...heavy things and what not. I suppose I should mention I am living out of the back of my truck and a storage unit.

The nifty cart inside the freight elevator I use for moving...heavy things and what not. I suppose I should mention I am living out of the back of my truck and a storage unit.

The second floor feels cooler, which is somewhat counter intuitive given that heat rises, but since this is a "climate-controlled" unit, I guess there are less leaks and no doors to the outside up there. It's also pretty dark, until you start walking. The motion activated lights above flickered on ahead illuminating the numbered uniformity of the halls filled with round padlocked orange door after round-padlocked orange door is oddly comforting in the same way being surrounded by people you don't know is oddly comforting if you think people you know are plotting against you. The padlocks are all round because they are more difficult to break off with bolt cutters. Good to know, I thought, whenever the guy who rented me the unit told me that fun fact right after I asked why the hell he was trying to upsell me a 20 dollar type of lock and right before he mentioned the not fun fact of several of the units getting broken into with bolt-cutters a while back, back in the classic rectangular Masters lock days of the Public Storage facility off of MoPac. A more discerning storage unit shopper might have thanks-but-no-thanksed the guy at that point, but security wasn't at the top of my storage unit shopping list.

 Inside the storage unit pre-most-of-the-other-shit-that-will-fill-it.

Inside the storage unit pre-most-of-the-other-shit-that-will-fill-it.

I finally reached the 5 x 10 unit numbered 176--the 5 foot side faces you such that the door is the same size as a closet door, in case you were wondering. I stood still and listened--no sounds other than the climate-controlling air conditioner, followed by the key groves clicking the lock pins into place, followed by the lock clacking open, followed by the slide latch clanking the flimsy metal door loose. The open door reveals the 50 cubic feet of space containing a typically atypical assortment of belongings:

  • goodwill laundry basket a foot away from a spare tire to the Ford Ranger;
  • shower curtain rod acting as a clothing rack with 30 items of plastic hanger hung clothes
  • a faded olive drab green bath towel draped over the solid wood 3x3 table top taken (with permission) from the outside smoking porch at Epoch Coffee on North Loop where I last had coffee with my recently exed wife
  • a red metal rechargeable lantern sitting on the top desk shelf next to two wooden bookends holding a single yellow book with dark red letters.
 Chelsey's books keeping good company at Bookpeople in Austin, TX.

Chelsey's books keeping good company at Bookpeople in Austin, TX.

Circadian by Chelsey Clammer--I've been (re)reading the essays in it whenever I stop by the storage unit. There's a note on the dedication page I've also been rereading.

Pre-divorce, the book was dedicated to me. During the divorce, the dedication was revoked. A month post-divorce, the book was rededicated to me--at least "this" particular copy of the book was dedicated to me. We're (strike through, her and I) not speaking to one another right now--unless the essay of her's titled "Human Heartbeat Detected" about what it was like dealing with a schizophrenic partner that was just published on The Rumpus counts as communication--not that this has anything to do directly with going to a gun show with my mother.

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I close the book and pull a red-neck Mr. Rogers, changing out of my fashionably shabby Rockport dress shoes I wear to work into my brand-not-worth-mentioning black work boots I wear whenever I leave the city. Why aren't they cowboy boots, you ask? Because unless I'm dealing with horse shit or stirrups, I ain't wearin' no cowboy boots--I prefer footwear with tread on the soles and my fashion choices tend to prioritize utility before appearance and/or identity. If I was staying in Austin for the weekend, I would don my standard issue urban hipster classic casual all black low-top Chuck Taylors. Seriously, I think the USPS must be giving out coupons for them in the change of address move-in junk mailer packets for Austin zip codes because I dare you to go anywhere in public in Austin and not see people wearing them or wearing knock offs of them. Austin's weirdness has become more and more standard issue, as has bitching about the disappearance of Austin's weirdness--this concludes my standard issue digression. (just looked up from writing this at Epoch on North Loop and, sure-a-fuckinough, guy at the next table is wearing grey hi-top Chucks, which is fine, I love them, I've worn some version of them off and on for over half my life. Ya know, maybe that sums up the disappearance of Austin's weirdness: the people who keep moving here because of the weirdness keep expecting someone else besides themselves to be truly weird. It's like "Hey, I already staked out my brand of weirdness in the [insert prior decade here] and all these other people are just copying it, so that's why it's not weird anymore. Okay, time to get the fuck outta Austin for a while).

 Grabbed the spare tire, too. Since I'm currently sleeping in the back, I tend to keep the tire out of my bed. Note to self: fix tire cage underneath vehicle.

Grabbed the spare tire, too. Since I'm currently sleeping in the back, I tend to keep the tire out of my bed. Note to self: fix tire cage underneath vehicle.

I grab an extra shirt off the shower rod rack, the "home." one with the shape of Texas on it.

 After this point, a non-sequitur, out of left field political rant occurs. It just happened, in slow motion, like a car accident you know is inevitable, yet you're powerless to stop it. Probably best to just skip to the Burleson County section.

After this point, a non-sequitur, out of left field political rant occurs. It just happened, in slow motion, like a car accident you know is inevitable, yet you're powerless to stop it. Probably best to just skip to the Burleson County section.

I've taken to not wearing the home shirt in Austin to avoid the snide comments of disgruntled 7-11 button/mop pushers who moved here for the first time last week (that only happened once, and I could have been paranoid, and working at 7-11 is a noble profession, don't get me wrong, especially if I need smokes on Christmas Day...Hey, A.J., if you're out there, the A.J. who worked at the 7-11 in Denver off Colorado Blvd. within walking distance of Brittania Heights apartment complex in 2013, you remember the guy who gave you a Carhartt beanie for Christmas while you were working? It's me, Spencer. Hey man, thanks for not being a disrespectful fucking asshole and making fun of my clothes. I hope things are kickass for you in Jersey, if you're still there.). Unfortunately, any kind of pride in state or country has been associated with the political right, which is unfortunate since constantly bitching about and running down the place where you lived and grew up gets old fast. The left really needs to find a unifying something to have some pride in other than their inflated sense of self-righteousness based in divisive identity politics and one's exalted standing on the podium at the oppression olympics. Oh, and if the left could acknowledge that quite a few white people still exist in groups a little more dynamic than privileged, ignorant, white trash, honky red-neck oppressor, that might help us win enough elections to take back the:  House, Senate, Judiciary, Executive Branch, and damn near every state legislature in the entire country. I know logic and rationale aren't always politically correct, but maybe if what you've been doin' in electoral politics for almost 30 years ain't workin' out too well, you should make some substantive adjustments, i.e. not keeping the Democratic party leadership a bunch of moderate-right leaning corporate lobbiest ass-suckers masquerading as progressive social justice warriors during election years. If Hillary really wants ANOTHER political office, give her the Mayor of Chicago: if Obama could make Sec. of State happen for her, I'm sure that should be a cake walk. Just keep her out of the presidential election--seriously--the 90s are over, just like the Clintons' political careers are over. More seriously, the #1 reason our current red MAGA hat wearing Tweeter-in-Chief managed to squeak it out is because enough lefties believed the Hillary-is-a-shoe-in narrative propagated by pollsters-in-echo-chambers and they figured enough lefty someone else's would spare them the degradation of actually voting for her--and spare me "The Russians" rigged the election red herring, the Dem's sucked and they lost--c'mon, you don't get to blame Puff the Magic Dragon flying in front of your car as the reason for your drunk-driving accident. Most seriously, in order to win, we all have to get up off our collective ass, and if the people running aren't worth getting up off your ass for, then their ass shouldn't make it past the primaries. Oh, and kill the DNC party Superdelegate corruption because cronies and suck-ups of politicians from last century aren't the best people to exclusively decide who gets to run in this century. P.S. I stopped being a Dem the day Sen. Sanders lost the primary, but sometimes I still like to pretend. Prior to that, I was a little politically active during the 2016 Dem primary--just a little bit.

Ahem, now about that gun show!

BURLESON COUNTY

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I headed east on 290 and took TX Highway 21 to FM 60 to Park Road 57 (insert other roads) and lost cell reception about half way through until I reached my destination on the edge of Somerville Lake State Park. My mother's subdivision is the last turn off before you reach the park entrance. The best description of the place I can give is: a red-neck, white trash intentional retirement community. You'll see nicely landscaped houses just a few plots away from dilapidated single-wide trailers manufactured sometime last century surrounded by overgrown grass and garbage. Some of the lots belong to people who passed away years ago and didn't think to pass down the property. My mother and her friend have taken to scooping up the unclaimed property through "adverse possession": basically, if you pay taxes on it and build on it and use it as your own, after 10 years, it becomes yours regardless of who owned it previously. Pick up trucks pass golf carts on the mostly paved roads and everybody waves to everybody else--for the most part.

 Main tiny house, pre wooden deck.

Main tiny house, pre wooden deck.

I pull up to one of the nicer looking lots surrounded by t-post fence and chain link gates with inconspicuous black security cameras perched nearby. I park outside the fence next to the recently tilled dirt around the water line. In the daylight, you can see an RV at this point that my mother has lived in for the past 5 years until she just recently moved into a tiny house she designed built out of a medium sized storage building.

 Frog statues, frog banner, fish pond, lillypads for frogs.

Frog statues, frog banner, fish pond, lillypads for frogs.

Lawn ornaments in the form of vinyl frogs, plastic flamingos, and an assortment of signs with sight gags are dotted through out the shade from oak and cedar trees. Dotted through the lake lined property are sites designated as sitting spots as evidenced by two chairs that look like they haven't been sat in much. Walking to the back of the property, I find my mother on the porch, preparing a metal table for spray painting. To be honest, this is a bit of a mash up of several visits out to my Mom's place in Somerville this year since we started talking again in February of this year. I could go into why, but it would delay the main attraction of this blog post, which is going to a gun show with one's mother.

 My Mom with one of her many signs. This one is hanging on the building where she keeps the washing machine.

My Mom with one of her many signs. This one is hanging on the building where she keeps the washing machine.

We arrive Saturday morning at the Burleson County Fairgrounds and find one of the last remaining parking spots among a small gravel sea of trucks. In the lobby of one of the main buildings, a man at a folding table with a metal money box greets us.

"Can I help ya?"

Turns out he and my mother have met before, and chit chat, who knows who, if the couple who taught my mother's state required concealed handgun carry class are still teaching the class. They are not teaching the class together anymore on account of them getting a divorce. Oh really? I offer to pay, Mom pays as she often does. I begin to feel slightly nervous as we walk in in preperation for both the novelty of someone like me going to a gun show and for my mother about to be one of the only women in the room of over 100 people.

As you walk in, there are folding tables lining the outer walls, as well as tables in the middle, all of which are covered with labeled firearms of all persuasions. A confederate flag takes its place on the wall over the entrance next to an american flag.

I'd be a liar if I said this was my first time or that this environment was somehow foreign to me. Like an expatriate who has spent over 20 years abroad and is just coming back to his own now-foreign feeling but familiar home, it wasn't long before words like, Stocks, butts, pump action, bolt action, carbine, Beretta, Remington, Colt, Smith and Wesson, .22, .410, thirty ought six, hollow points, barrels, scopes, and sight started coming back to me. I heard behind me at the booth with the Nazi paraphernalia a mother warn her elementary school age boy, "Don't touch anything." I was that kid's age the first time I went to one of these and heard similar warnings, "Look, but don't touch. You break it, you buy it. Unless you can afford to walk outta here with it, don't touch it."

"Pick it up. Go on, pick it up!"

Mom's having a good time, and while I initially hesitate, I finally pick up the AR-15 with one hand, set it back down on the table.

"Alright, now pick up the other one."

I pick up the other AR-15, which is slightly lighter than the other one.

"Feel how much lighter that one is?"

"Oh, yeah. So, why exactly do you want one of these?"

"For home defense. And to get one while they're still legal."

She already has a handgun and a rifle at this point.

 That's ma Mom. Served in the USAF in the 70s working on flight crews for RF-4 Phantoms.

That's ma Mom. Served in the USAF in the 70s working on flight crews for RF-4 Phantoms.

And a license to carry. At this point, I wonder off on my own among the sea of mostly men looking at guns, men buying guns, men selling guns, kids running around while men buy, sell, and look at guns. After being there only 15 minutes, it all started to feel pretty normal, like any other Saturday morning event such as a farmers market or craft fair. Except instead of squash, books on crafting, and candy jars shaped like chickens you have semi-automatics, books on wilderness survival, and paper targets shaped like human beings.

I find my Mom and she's chatting with one of the guys she hired as a contractor to build her tiny home. We shake hands as he continues to feign friendliness while slowly making his way out of the conversation. Once he went out of earshot, she gave me the low down.

"Yeah, he worked for me for a little while until he didn't show up when he said was gonna show up. I don't have time for that shit."

"You ready?"

"Sure. I didn't really want to come, but this is all that was goin' on around here this weekend."

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We left and headed back to her place and on the way out in the parking lot, I saw more kids running around, eating food from the concession inside. As we left, I couldn't shake the "did that really just happen?" feeling combined with how normal, everyday it felt. Just an ordinary Saturday morning in Burleson County, Texas.

This is the End--of the Year 2017

This is the End--of the Year 2017

A Journey for Another Time, Perhaps

A Journey for Another Time, Perhaps