“Welcome to the Gaylord Texan!”
Yes, that’s where we checked in. The Gaylord Texan. A hotel biodome in Grapevine, a half hour from Dallas. By biodome, I mean an entirely enclosed four-and-a-half acre atrium containing 1,500 rooms, 1,800 workers, eight restaurants and bars, a hidden vineyard, and an imagining of the grand canyon including a covered wagon. Winding streams. Wooden bridges. Also a windmill.
I’m sure it’s been mocked before. The guests, too, I’m sure they’ve been mocked. The men with their khakis and golf shirts have been mocked. Their bushy mustaches reminiscent of Austrian trolley conductors have been mocked. The Nero-cut hair. The serious conversations they have with each other. It was the perfect place to imagine a zombie outbreak. Instead, there were a lot of conventions, which also surely have already been mocked. For example, The Large Animal Pharmaceuticals Sales Conference. I saw a sign on an easel with the headline, “The Pork Business is Heating Up!” But even better was the copy below it: “Visit Team Pork at the Cowboy Ballroom.” But there’s also the other Texas: the romantic Texas of horses, crimson skies, and the phrase, “the Texas night” or “the Texas road.” No one ever speaks wistfully of a New Jersey night or a New Jersey road.
It was a week in Grapevine for meetings with the telecommunications IT people. We were redesigning their company’s website, so five of us headed there to collaborate on some ideas. The day before we left I threw a tantrum at the office when the production assistant failed to book me an aisle seat.
“Bring me the head of Mark Sallas!” I bellowed. “Why, that little cocksucker. That incompetent zygote.”
“This is exactly what I was talking about earlier,” said my producer, Dan, a born-again Christian with the big heart of a kid, after he took me into one of the conference rooms. This is it, I thought. I’m finally getting the talking to that I deserve. No more prima donna.
“But you don’t understand,” I whined. “If I don’t get an aisle seat I won’t sleep and if I don’t sleep, I’ll be dead at our first meeting. Plus, I need easy access to the bathrooms. You know, my gas problems. You know, because of the surgery.” There is nothing I don’t talk about at work, by the way.
“Oh, here we go,” said Dan.
But for all my screaming and acting out, I couldn’t get an aisle seat. Except at the airport, where a kindly counter rep suddenly found one after I agreed to pay an extra thirty dollars.
So for five days we collaborated with the clients: we whiteboarded, we argued, we presented, we listened to presentations, we dismantled each others ideas, we groaned whenever the account director said something. Then we drank together, ate together, drank some more together, ogled the Texans together, bought Texas‑y trinkets together: bolos, rhinestone belts.
There’s nothing worse than forced sociability. I can pull it off for a few hours and sometimes with great success. But to do it from 9am until 11pm every day for a week was too much to ask. Admittedly it was all salved with plenty of fancy drinking and eating, but still. After a couple of days I began to sink. There’s just so many crawdads you can eat with a smile. Also, my colleagues are absurdly optimistic, cup half full people, while I am a committed cup half empty type. Being bright, happy people they wanted to bring me along to their happy places. But I was having none of it. After seeing miles upon miles of strip malls, I wondered where Texans actually lived, I mean other than the tract housing we came upon, each one a duplicate of its precursor and successor. So Dan drove us for thirty minutes to a Dallas exurb where there were indeed houses that looked built before 1996.
“Now that’s a nice house,” said Dan, indicating the one ahead of us.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “It’s all garage.”
“Oh, you’re crazy. It’s a beautiful house.”
“It’s just garage doors.”
Karen piped in. “It is a bit bland.”
“Oh, not you, too?”
“See, this is what I mean,” I said. “This is the problem with you cup half full people. Everything is beautiful, everything rocks. That house is great, this house is great. You don’t discern between anything. It’s all good. Where’s your taste? On the other hand, when you’re a cup half empty guy and you like something, maybe it means more.”
Karen nodded. “You actually might be on to something there.”
“I’ve taught you well, grasshopper. Come to the cup half empty side.”
“I don’t believe this,” said Dan. “It’s a wonderful house.”
I laughed. But it was laced with envy. Who wouldn’t want to be cup half full? Cup half full people die with family around their bed. Cup half empty people die alone.
“I don’t want to sound racist,” said Karen, “but–”
“Too late. Is this going to be a Jew thing, you drunken Scottish whore?”
“No no, listen. This is why I think Jews make really good website designers. Because you’re cup half empty people. Because all you do is complain. You nitpick over every little thing.”
“That’s ridiculous. And did I hear a silent you people in there?”
“It’s true. Who are the best designers back home? They’re all Jewish. Why? Because you don’t like anything. Everything’s got something wrong with it. Everything needs fixing.”
“Ha ha ha,” cried Dan, “she’s right. Karen’s right!”
“Maybe,” I said. “Maybe it is true. Oy, all the buttons on this page, they’re the same size! Which one should I click? Why am I on this confusing site?”
We laughed, Dan suggested we find a Whataburger, and then we drove some more, driving deep into the Texas night.