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Awkward Times At The Honky-Tonk
Learning to Texas Two Step
In the dimly lit bar, I squinted looking at every strangers’ face, hoping someone would recognize me because I was starting to realize I didn’t recognize anyone.
I wasn’t ready to admit that I had made a mistake.
I did a loop around the bar, trying to walk with confidence like I was supposed to be there and had friends. As the minutes ticked by though, it was clear I was alone.
Not literally alone.
Couples of all ages were two stepping around me as old country songs floated through the room from the live band on the small stage.
The Broken Spoke, a place someone had once told me was the oldest honky tonk in Austin, was popping.
Cold beer bottle in my hand, I moved my way to the edge of the dance floor, committed to being a wallflower, unsure of what to do next.
A month earlier, I had moved to Austin for a new job and a new life. A friendly woman in my office had put an invite on everyone’s calendars to go dancing at the Broken Spoke on a Wednesday night.
Seeing as I had no friends in the city and no friends at my workplace, I knew this was an opportunity to put myself out there and start to get to know my coworkers.
The only people I really knew at my job were the handful of guys on my team, and as we walked out into the rain to the parking lot, I asked them if they were planning to go to the honky tonk later that night.
One hard no, two uncommitted shrugs.
Back at my apartment, my body was tense with nervousness as I changed out of my work clothes and debated back and forth whether or not I should go.
Immortalizing that feeling between grocery lists and book recommendations, I recorded my thoughts in Apple Notes.
The bar was one of the few that happened to be walking distance from my apartment, so I rationalized that I had to go.
I jogged through the rain to the line in front of the bar, recognizing no one at the door but realizing that I’d have to pay cover before I could get a peek inside.
For a split second, I considered ditching, but I had $10 in my wallet and took a gamble to get inside.
The neon blue signs for beer companies helped light up the room. The walls were covered top to bottom with country music memorabilia and signed photos from celebrity guests. A giant red and white Texas flag was painted on the ceiling.
Elderly couples, hand in hand, glided quickly across the dance floor, moving together in a way that was unfamiliar to me. I’d never seen Texas two step live.
On the sides of the bar there were booths filled with a handful of people my age. I tried to walk around casually and see if I spotted one of my coworkers.
As I looked at their faces, I realized that I didn’t remember the faces of the thirty or forty men I had met in the last month. The most recognizable person would have been the high energy blonde woman who had created the event, but she was nowhere to be seen.
Once I walked around the bar, I didn’t know what to do, so I stood on the outskirts of the dance floor, nursing my beer while trying to blend in with the wood paneling.
I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt so awkward.
When the song ended, an older man likely the oldest in the room by the way he was slowly shuffling across the dance floor, approached me and asked me if I wanted to dance.
Feeling how relieved I was to have anything to do, I abandoned my beer without question and put my hands in his.
While I didn’t know anything about two step or the kind of dancing they did in Texas, it turned out that I didn’t really need to. This man’s style was simply slowly shuffling across the dance floor as the other couples danced around us.
Still, I never felt so grateful to have a dance partner.
As the last chords of the song faded, he said goodbye to me and went to find his next partner.
Another man in a cowboy hat, who was not quite as old as the former, approached me and asked me to dance.
When I kept missing the steps, he gave me kind but stern directions on how to move my feet and demonstrated how I was to mix stepping and shuffling.
Not sure I even understand it now, but I was so focused on trying to get it right that I stopped keeping time and I forgot about my coworkers.
After that song finished, I felt the familiar flush of excitement that comes from moving my body to the music, learning something new and meeting some kind strangers. I decided to leave on a high note and skipped back home.
The next morning, I checked my work email and saw the event had been canceled because of the rain. Eventually, I would befriend my coworkers and get to join them for happy hours across the city.
Even though things didn’t go as planned, I’m happy I went to the Broken Spoke that night.
The place is iconic in Austin, and while I would’ve assumed I’d have a chance eventually, four months later covid would shut down the world and I’d move out of the city before anything reopened.
When it comes to meeting new people and making friends, often I forget that it takes time to build relationships.
Not every event is a hit.
Sometimes, I end up lurking by a wall, hoping no one sees me standing alone in the shadows.
But more often, people are kind and are willing to invite you to dance, even if you can’t figure out how to two step.
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