I grew up a Dallas Cowboys fan, and one of the biggest adjustments to rooting for my now-beloved Saints is to learn to keep hope alive for a team that lacks a tradition of winning.
I've been there beforeafter the glory years of the late 1970s, the Danny White era ensued in Dallas. (Danny was both the quarterback and the punter, if you can believe that.) Those were tough years, particularly back in the day when the games wouldn't even sell out, and you couldn't watch them on TV because they were blacked out. Those were rough days.
But all-in-all, the Cowboys have had a tradition of winning, and their fans have an expectation thatat least in most yearsthere's a good chance the 'Boys will go all the way.
With Saints fans, I hear all too often that they're the "Ain'ts" or "them damn Saints." Long-time fans know to expect the Saints to blow up at all the wrong times, even with new blood like Sean Peyton and Drew Brees making the calls.
(I admit I've joined the chorus on occasion when Peyton has elected to run a trick play on fourth down when all he needed was to hand the ball to Deuce and let him carry a few linebackers for two yards. Argh!)
Why bring this up? Because I was sitting in an open-air bar last week in Austinwatching a bunch of Cowboy fans watching their Cowboys lose to Baltimorewhen it occurred to me that the Cowboy fan swagger is a metaphor for the opportunity that makes Austin sparkle; and that could do the same for Jackson.
We need to build a winning tradition.
Last week was the first time I've been in Austin in 20 years; I'm pleased to say that, thanks in part to snowstorms in Las Vegas and other airline shenanigans, Donna and I were given an extra day to stop and smell the salsa in Austin. Stranded without a car, we spent a full day Christmas shopping in "SoCoԗSouth Congressand taking in the funky, "weird" vibe that makes Austin famous. It was nothing but sore feet and good times: consignment and thrift stores, kitschy motels, antiques, uniques, taco bars, dive bars and one extremely motivated young ice cream entrepreneur.
From the experience, I sensed two things that a revitalized Jackson can take away from the way Austin conducts itself. One is that Austin does cool things on purposethe Austin Motel, where we stayed, is really a fairly run-of-the-mill motel (albeit with flea-market furniture, crazy murals and a highly decorous exterior), but it's been kept alive by nostalgia, an appreciation for unique experiences and some good marketing. The entire neighborhood seemed purposefully patronized by locals, and in reading about some of the restaurants and bars, a few had set out to relocate to the area because of the buzz it generates. (It that sense, it wasn't unlike Jackson's Fondren neighborhood.)
The second thing is that Austin believes it can pull it off. The neighborhood brochures, the well-kept sidewalks, the "Keep Austin Bizarre" billboards (for an upcoming art "bizarre" that's planned, playing off the "Keep Austin Weird" campaign) all point to a widely held theory among Austin's local business community and citizenry: They know they can make things happen. And they've done a great job, through what looks to be good city management and strong merchant associations, such as the Austin Independent Business Alliance, which coined "Keep Austin Weird" way back in 2002.
I came back from Austin more refreshed and revitalized than I expected, in part because it offered such a clear window into what Jackson will be when we put our minds to it. Already, there are many folks on that bus here in Jackson (or trolley, as it were), but there's so much further we can go.
As citizens, we need to get out and patronize local businesses. I'm never going to stop harping on that. Just because Christmas has passed doesn't mean you shouldn't keep shopping local. Buy your groceries at McDade's and Rainbow. Buy your clothesand soaps and cosmetics and grooming supplies and giftsin boutiques and local salons. Take one three-hour Wal-Mart trip and turn it into a four-hour excursion to Fondren, Highland Village, Banner Hall, Metrocenter or Westland Plaza. Eat lunch while you're out there.
Get out and enjoy the nightlife. Find a local band you like and see them more than once. Buy the T-shirt. Get out for an open-mic night. Go to at least one extra event per monthan opening, a museum exhibit, a play or a show.
As local businesses, we need to dance with the ones who brung us. That means doing business with other local businesses, aligning with other business owners and remembering that when we work together, all our businesses will thrive. Jackson needs to think in terms of "districts" that attract locals and tourists, and we need to remember that it's OK to work with othersit'll always help in the long run.
Oh, and as Jacksonians, we need to dump the cynicism and realize that being "the next Austinԗor something even betteris completely attainable for the capital of Mississippi. Austin has doubled in population since 1980, in part because it's embraced the notion that it's a lifestyle destination for young "creative class" professionals that happens to offer world-class educational opportunities to support the knowledge-worker needs of 21st century businesses.
Jackson's already headed down that road. We need to (1) elect officials who get it and then get out of the way, (2) be willing to keep things "weird" ourselves and (3) believe we can win. If we do, we'll build that winning tradition yet.
Meanwhile, if they can stay healthy, I think the Saints look pretty good for 2009 ... don't you?
Ah! I love the weirdness of Austin. Next time I go I want to stay at the Austin Motel. I totally think Jackson can be just as weird (and already is in a lot of ways). To 2009!!
How come I am just now finding this article?!? Great article, and I agree with you 100%. Jackson has many qualities that Austin has, yet they are muffled in a sense, and we as Jacksonians need to project LOUDLY that we are a destination and have a great local crowd. It's time to quit holding cubicle jobs up on a pedestal (more like a footstool) and to hoist local, quirky business owners up onto our shoulders (or catch them as they stage dive)!
On a side note, has everyone seen the new Jackson shirts that Chane has printed up? They are awesome! I saw them in an ad in the JFP, and you can pick them up at Sneaky Beans, Lemuria, MS Museum of Art, and Wired Cafe.