Another sign of aging? — 

Austin’s annual South by Southwest (SXSW) gathering started over two decades ago as a music festival and has become one of the world’s largest gatherings of professional musicians, filmmakers, technologists, people “in the business,” and music and film lovers. My wife Ellen and I fit in that last category, and about three years ago we went to one of their large musical events on Auditorium Shores, a city park along the banks of Lady Bird Lake downtown.

SXSW at Auditorium Shores in Austin. (Source: KXT Music Blog, Dispatch from SXSW, March 16, 2012)

SXSW at Auditorium Shores in Austin. (Source: KXT Music Blog, Dispatch from SXSW, March 16, 2012)

In our new era of security checks, we had to pass through a line to be inspected for signs of suspicious behavior, dangerous looks, and bags that could transport weapons. As we stood in line, we observed that we appeared to be the only people there over the age of twenty-five. A closer look revealed few exceptions in the visible crowd of hundreds before us. Ellen passed through after a quick check of her shoulder bag. I thought I had the all-clear when the young security man in his early twenties stopped me, apparently because I looked dangerous, and said in an exaggerated Texas twang:

“Young feller, when you git in there, don’t you stir up too much trouble now. Y’ hear?”

His condescending manner, his wise-ass look into my eyes, and his inference that I was as old as dirt and didn’t belong at such an event rankled me a bit. His tone was similar to what you can hear in a nursing home when a young female nurse teases an elderly man about his girlfriend, as if that’s a bizarre or comical thing. The way I felt as a result of this young smart-aleck’s insensitive remark probably came across to him in a nasty look because I felt like giving him the back of my hand across his jeering face. I wouldn’t have done that, of course, but that was my instant reaction to the situation.

When we joined the throngs, we enjoyed the event greatly. The music was good, the crowd was happy, and the late afternoon sun reflecting off the downtown skyscrapers across the lake made this feel like a special place and time. But during the event I couldn’t shake the feeling I got on entering, the feeling that maybe I didn’t belong there. That I was somehow out of my element. That maybe the young security guy at some level did not respect or appreciate people old enough to be his grandparents.

As I said, that was about three years ago. We have been to dozens of music events since, but I have no interest in going back to a SXSW event on Auditorium Shores. I didn’t realize I was so sensitive about this until I wrote this piece. But that young security guy’s tasteless, insulting remark was like a slap in the face.

I know that young man is older now, and I hope he’s wiser.