Texas Monthly on the daily

It’s not uncommon here to open the blinds to a rain-streaked window. Most mornings are grey, but by mid-afternoon the day heats up to hot, soupy humidity. I kind of love it.

I take the bus to Congress Avenue. (For more on bus people, see this previous post.) I get off, walk to the formidable marble-fronted skyscraper that houses Texas Monthly, and take the elevator to the 17th floor. It’s usually filled with commuters who get on and off at various floors — the ones who ride from 1 to 2 are the worst. I am usually the youngest. I am sometimes the most casually dressed.

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Our view from the Texas Monthly offices on the 17th floor.

Floor 17 is a breath of cool air and a long, white corridor with a giant red “TM” at one end. I walk through the maze of an office (it takes up the entire floor) to my cubicle space. I am always early.

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The Texas Monthly logo that greets me every morning when I arrive and every afternoon when I leave. Nothing says ‘bold’ like red and white.

Post-commute hair repair is a daily routine because Texas is moist. The coffee is free, so I take some. Annie arrives, and our workday begins.

Texas Monthly is an amazing place to work. Today, there was half an apple pie in the kitchen up for grabs. World Cup games are always on in there, and there’s an oatmeal assembly area. Posters and printed pictures line cubicle walls — no office was ever less boring. Then there are the people. Yesterday, Francesca Mari bought me a chai tea latte to thank me for transcribing some of her interviews (read: doing my job). For the rest of the day, I walked on air. Every time John Spong walks past our editorial intern workspace, he greets us with a, “‘Sup, children?” Today his button-up was pink and polka-dotted and had teeny white buttons.

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Most of the hallways are lined with covers of old issues of Texas Monthly. They date back to when the magazine started; it’s interesting to see how times have changed.

Every week brings a new task. For the first few weeks I transcribed interviews for Pat Sharpe, renowned food editor and restaurant critic who’s also Texas Monthly staple. The week after that I worked on a conversation that Francesca had with a woman who spoke only Spanish — I knew that minor would come in handy.

I’ve attended a monthly editorial meeting in the intimidating glass-walled conference room, delivered batches of cookies to the communal kitchen, and had the opportunity to speak to Nate Blakeslee about “An Isolated Incident,” a long form story he wrote about an SMU student’s drug overdose. Tomorrow, Brian Sweany is giving us a tour of the Texas Capitol building. Next week we’ll discuss John’s story, “The Good Book and the Bad Book.” We can ask him anything we like.

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The walls surrounding the central kitchen are covered in quote decals from old TM stories. The quote in the middle is one of my favorites.

In short, I love it here. I am surrounded by people who love what they do, and who are some of the best in the business at it. My fellow editorial interns are some of the most driven and talented people I’ve met — they push me to excel. I’m reading and absorbing more than I ever have, and learning plenty along the way.

And yes, I’m still working toward that byline.

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Texas Monthly on the daily

#FreeWriteFriday – On the bus

Every day I take the bus to work. Public transportation is a godsend, and an interesting context in which to gauge human interaction. Little things happen all the time — a crossed gaze here, a side-eye there. They stick with you. (Title inspired by this Vox Magazine story in which several of my friends participated.) 

9:10 p.m.

When he boards the bus, I am already seated. He walks with a limp and his eyes are ever-so-slightly out of focus. The front of his orange striped polo is dusty. So is the back. He peers through rectangular glasses and under the brim of a close-fitting baseball cap. I’m not sure, but I hypothesize that the backpack he totes holds all his worldly possessions.

I’m sitting at the front of the bus in one of the three seats that face each other opposite the aisle. He is diagonally to my left in a front-facing seat. When I look up from my book, I find him staring at me. Our eyes meet. I look down again, but not before I see him nudge the man next to him. He whispers something. I look up again and find he is pointing at me.

Eyes locked on mine, he makes a circle in the air with his index finger — a motion that traces the circumference of my face from five feet away. Then he winks and gives a thumbs-up. He thumbs-up’ed my face, I think, shocked and a little pleased. Whatever traces then gene pool has left there, he approves of them.

I smile back at him, blush, look down again.

***

Now I’m in the front-facing seat and he’s in a sideways one. The little boy, that is. And he isn’t in the seat precisely. He’s squatting in his mother’s lap facing her and fiddling with the beads on her necklace. She’s talking to him, stroking his hair (done up in tiny braids) and doing her best to keep him entertained. Her own hair is in a slick knot on the top of her head. She looks tired.

I watch the two of them together, my eyes drifting in and out of focus. It’s early. Then, all at once, he’s looking back at me. Huge, calf-brown eyes stare into mine, scrutinizing me in the honest, open way of which only children are capable.

After a few seconds he remembers himself — remembers that, in our world run by social norms he is only beginning to learn, it is rude to stare.

He looks abashed and buries his little head deep in his mother’s sternum. For the rest of the ride I only see little braids.

***

While we were stopped on Congress and 11th, the ladybug flies in. It darts around the cabin for a bit and comes to rest on our windowpane. The man next to me jerks so sharply away from it that I’m afraid he’ll land in my lap.

I have the aisle seat; his seat is closest to the offending window. The insect appears to terrify him, although I’m not sure why.

“They don’t bite,” I tell him. He looks at me mistrustfully. “No, really,” I say, “watch.”

I reach up and deftly sweep the bug from the window into my open palm. The man shivers. “Be careful,” he says in heavily-accented English.

“It’s okay,” I say, “they’re completely harmless. They’re a type of beetle I think. I know they’re insects. They come in all colors: orange, red, yellow with black spots…”

He looks at me uncomprehendingly. Then his eyes fix on the cocoon I’ve made with my hands so the bug can’t escape. I’m planning to let it out when the doors opened at the next stop. From his attitude I am an insanely brave medieval knight taking on a full-fledged dragon without a sword.

The bus comes to a halt. I step lightly down the set of stairs separating the front of the bus from the back, hold my cupped hands out the open door and blow the ladybug into the air. When I return to my seat the man is slumped against the now-safe window, beads of sweat evident at his temple. He’s been watching me the entire time.

I feel positively heroic.

9:39 p.m.

#FreeWriteFriday – On the bus

Austin alone

There is nothing quite like moving to a new city to make you realize your own insignificance.

I had been here for two days. No one knew me in Austin; perhaps no one cared to. It was both lonely and liberating.

For two days anonymity was the name of the game as I settled into my home for the summer. I puzzled out the bus routes from 29th and Guadalupe (my temporary home) to 8th and Congress — the Texas Monthly offices to which I report every day. I’d unpacked and grocery shopped and used the treadmill in the basement gym. Three steps, I thought, on the road to thoroughly establishing myself.

But an equal amount of time was spent in my apartment pondering lost connections. I couldn’t call or text friends to make plans like I could in Columbia. All of the “Hey, wanna go to Ragtag?” or “Let’s go to Andy’s!” were (are) relics of a past life. The people I love are spread far and wide across the country. Splayed on my bed listening to the “Pride and Prejudice” audio book (coincidentally, a story based on social interactions and, as Austen puts it, “connections,”), I was forced to wonder: If no one knew I was there, did I matter?

I found myself opening windows to let the city in. I needed to hear the bustle below, to feel connected to something. For all my professed hatred of the human race, I thought, I am pathetically dependent on it for fulfillment and happiness.

The only option was to forge my way into significance. To meet people, do things, make myself memorable in some way somewhere. Whether that be in my internship, on the weekends or at a local coffee shop (I’m camped out at Spider House Cafe with Annie Melton, a fellow intern, this afternoon to work on making an impression), being recognized and remembered would be a comfort.

Now, two days later, a few here know my name. I spent the weekend with Stefani and Ina, high school friends whom I’ve missed steadily for three years. Harrison and Eric summoned me to Kirby Lane for chips and queso late last night, and Annie reels off places I need to go and things I need to experience. I like her taste — things are looking up.

I’ve landed on solid ground, but the shakiness of a few days ago is too recent for comfort. Solo time can be a breath of fresh air. More than anything, it tests of how comfortable you are alone with yourself. But, in the end, people make a new city home.

Perhaps it exacerbated my state of mind, but in those first few days I tore through “Sputnik Sweetheart” by Haruki Murakami. At one point its main character, who remains nameless, ponders loneliness:

“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?”

No, I don’t think it was. I think the earth was put here to nourish human connection.

Austin alone