Wednesday night you lost two of your children, and for that, I weep with you.
At a time when your shoes are shined, your hair is done and you have prepped yourself to host the biggest event of the year, welcoming strangers from around the world into your home for a celebration of art and life, you have tragically experienced something no city ever should—a moment, a choice, a single, frustratingly preventative action so devastating it has changed 25 lives forever. Two are dead in your streets and 23 lay critically injured in your hospital beds. Blood has stained your party dress, and for that, I weep with you.
Two years ago you took me in the same way you take in many other strays, both animal and human, from across the globe. You opened your arms to me, accepted me for who I was and called me your own even though I wasn’t. You were strong and sure for me when I couldn’t be. You saved me in many ways I cannot accurately convey, providing me with jobs, food, music, film, fun, and friends that I now call family. So in your most heart-wrenching moment, I will weep with you.
You have been changed. As have I. I hope you know this tragedy will not fade without purpose like so many depressing news stories. I will not allow it. I vow from this point forward to always make the right choice to protect you and others like me, who you have so lovingly taken under your wing, to the best of my abilities. I will never again drive drunk, tipsy, high, loose or dizzy in your streets. I will no longer think to myself, “It’s OK, just this once. I can make it alright,” after four vodka sodas with lime. Because let’s admit, we have all done so once or twice, after having attended one of your outrageous, unforgettable Friday nights that you host so well. The magnetism of your neon in the dark of the night, the alluring embrace of the music that swirls in and out of the bars and clubs you call your own. You make it so easy to have a great time. The liquor is always plenty, the staff always friendly, the company always welcoming. And the vibe? Well, there’s nothing quite like it. I am sorry to say that we have abused you and your irrefutable charm by recklessly and shamefully allowing it to be socially acceptable for us and our friends to drive under the influence. For that, and on behalf of each and every one of your children who have sat behind the wheel of a vehicle or hopped in the passenger seat of one driven by their intoxicated friend when they shouldn’t have, I sincerely apologize, because you deserve better.
As you recover from your loss and we rebuild the confidence we once had in our safety to walk your streets and ride our bikes or mopeds, I will consistently use this year’s SXSW disaster as a reminder that my life, and the life of my fellow Austinites, is more precious than my pride. I will remember that there is always another choice, a better choice, a safer choice than to drive myself home after I’ve had too much. If I can’t find a reliable source of public transportation I will make a point to contact your government the next morning and demand more readily available and affordable methods of traveling you. I will call my family, text my friends, hail a cab, support local pedicab services, take a bus, stay the night, or message one of my 533 Facebook friends to have someone come get me. When I drunkenly begin to rationalize that it’s too much of a hassle for an acquaintance to pick me up and I start to turn the key, I will take a second to remember that I myself would not hesitate to be there for someone in need. I will pause for those on Red River in the early morning of March 13, 2014, and know that if Rashad Owens had made a different choice, perhaps two wonderful people would still be alive and 23 would not be critically injured. I will plan ahead, to ensure a safe way home and find pleasure in that after a few drinks, my usual late-night Whataburger really does taste best from the passenger seat. I will look back at this day, where scrolling through my news feed felt more like implementing a cyber-roll call to make sure my friends who frequent your downtown were safe, better yet- alive. I will remember that I love myself, and I love you—my city—too much to do anything otherwise.
We can do better for you, Austin. The world’s spotlight is on you during this week, and I cringe and cry over how differently this all should have gone for you and those lovely, innocent 25 people. While I know I am not the driver that killed two people and marred 23 for life, and am aware that many factors contributed to this devastating event, I must concede that there have been a few occasions where I know that I made the wrong choice. When I lie to myself and think that I have never before driven too drunk, so I am not to blame, I promise I will look to you and the scathing reality of these losses and acknowledge that I have, in fact, at times made that wrong choice. We all have. To my friends who read this, “Don’t drink and drive” cannot anymore be considered a life lesson our parents taught us but we don’t really follow because a couple margaritas is not a big deal. This here, this is a big deal. This is real, this is serious and this is hitting, quite literally, home. We need to stand up for those afflicted, their friends and their families. We need to stand up for you, Austin, and say no. Not here. Not in our city.