We have been out of Austin for a week. The first day, we were in Arkansas, the second, Tennessee, and since then, Virginia.
And people have been looking at us. Both of us had noticed, but neither of us had really thought a whole lot of it. I'd noticed being peered at a gas station in Tennessee, but figured it was the dogs, and again on my first morning here, getting coffee. When we went out to dinner the second night we were here, we were the only people there who weren't wearing polo shirts and khakis. Then, on Thursday, we went grocery shopping. Mark was wearing one of my best ever thrift scores--a red t-shirt with a picture of Chairman Mao acting as a DJ that says "The Chairman Spins." When we got to the checkout, the woman ringing us up kept looking at us strangely, especially Mark. And then, she and Mark had the following conversation:
Cashier: "Is that that guy from Korea?"
Mark: "Um, no, it's Chairman Mao."
Cashier: "Yeah, that Korean guy!"
Mark: "No, he was Chinese."
Cashier: "Oh. But he's a ruler, right?"
Mark: "Yeah, he was a dictator."
Cashier: "So why do you have him on your shirt?"
Mark: "Well, it says 'The Chairman Spins,' and Mao was a propagandist. It's...a pun?"
Cashier (looking confused): "But you have a dictator on your shirt. And it looks like that Korean guy. Is he a cross-dresser?"
Mark: "Um...I don't know. Maybe."
Then she gave us both a strange up-and-down, and we left.
And in the car, we realized it. Since leaving Austin, we'd not seen one person with unnatural colors in his/her hair. No facial piercings. Not a single tattoo. Mark and I, who, in the grant scheme of the cities in which we've lived are pretty tame, have become the freaks. We're young urban professionals, or something approximating it, but Mark has a tiny stud in his nose and two little hoops in his ears, and wears the occasional funny t-shirt. I've got a couple of visible tattoos and purple-streaked hair. And here, apparently, that's enough.
It's an odd feeling. I'd almost say I've missed it. After so many years at Reed, and then in Portland and Austin, where there were so many hipsters that I never looked anything but stodgy, it's kind of nice to feel a little bit on the edge again.
As I was writing this, a commercial for a local VW dealership came on, advertising their "Summer of Love." The commercial featured a hippie: long hair, tie-dye shirt, guitar. A fake hippie. Because here, where would you find a real one?