Once upon a time, I loved writing fiction. Now, not so much. Here is the (mostly) true story of how I came to give up writing fiction.
One Friday, I called a rock & roll buddy, Rotten, to get paid for videotaping his band recently. He told me to meet him backstage a little later that evening at the Ritz Theater on 6th Street where he was running sound for the show that night.
The Ritz, a historic downtown movie house had shut down for awhile before re-opening in the mid-70s as a concert venue. By this time, it had further morphed into a punk palace primarily — just about the last place I’d’ve expected Rotten at, but hey, it’s only rock & roll. As I walked up to the Ritz, everybody else going in looks seriously punked out as they pony up the cover charge and wander inside. I’m about to tell the guy at the door that I’m only there to see the sound man, should be on the list, but he just waves me on in.
Meeting Rotten backstage, I marvelled how the guy didn’t even ask me anything, just waved me in, no questions, no charge. Rotten just laughed and said, “I told him you’d be the only person who looked anything like you do who would even want to come in.”
From there, I rushed over to the Cactus Café to catch up with my old friends, Paul & Cathy, who were there to see Skyline, a touring bluegrass band featuring Tony Trischka. They knew some of the band members personally and had come to town specifically for this show. Arriving late, I saw where they had saved me a chair — right up front. I grabbed a beer at the bar in the back, and made my way to the front to join my friends. A song or two into the set, and I’m resting my feet on the edge of the stage, enjoying the show.
Afterwards, breakfast plans were made, with Mexican breakfast at La Reyna on S. 1st Street just a few blocks from my house the agreed rendezvous point. In the morning, Paul & I wandered over early, arriving there first. We told them we’d be joined by some friends soon. They asked how many and we said we weren’t sure but thought it might be 6 or 8 — maybe more. Skeptically, the waitress pulled 2 tables together in the center of the dining area, saying we could push more tables over if more people showed up.
Soon, musicians and partners started filtering in, friends all, but most only aware of me & Paul in passing. Our group grew slowly, at first. But as others continued to arrive in pairs, the waitresses kept having to add another table to our ever-lengthening row down the middle of the room.
Before we were through there, we’d been joined by a couple of musicians from Skyline, (with their partners), several Austin Lounge Lizards (with their ladies), mandolin player extraodinaire Paul Glasse (with his lady) — nearly 20 people in all. Our lengthy row of pull-together tables ran straight through the entire middle of the dining area with orders going and coming and conversations loud and overlapping. Curiously enough, La Reyna would soon change their dining lay-out, opting for built-in booths over moveable tables. Never again could 20+ musicians & friends take over the center of the place like that.
After that lovely and leisurely brunch, I wanted to head over to the Austin History Center. Just that morning, I had seen a listing in the paper for a poetry reading there that included Joanie Whitebird, my sister-in-law, on the bill. This was a surprise, as I’d heard nothing about her coming up for that, but felt I ought to show up for her reading. When I got there, I quickly realized that I was the only person under 70 in the room. I took a seat at the back, desperately trying not to be noticed — impossible, given nearly everyone in the room had been keying in on the Youngster ever since my arrival. They started the program and announced Joanie is a no-show but by now, I feel conspicuous enough I wait until after the first poem to bolt the room.
I headed for the car and started driving home. Just as I was about to cross the South 1st Bridge, I noticed a silver Mercedes pulled over by a police car with flashing lights. As I pulled past, I saw Jerry Jeff Walker getting a ticket.
And it was right then that I realized my imagination could never catch up with reality, and I gave up writing fiction.