Driving through Austin this weekend made me remember all the times I hauled students to the University of Texas for the U.I.L. state tournament.
I drove past a hotel where we stayed one year for the state cross-examination debate tournament. That was the year that during dinner at Papasita’s, one of the guys ate a whole jalapeno in honor of another guy’s birthday. His face turned purple and I’m pretty sure he threw up the rest of the night.
It was also the year that one of the freshmen got food poisoning and he, too, was throwing up all night. His mother came to get him early the next morning.
But more importantly, I witnessed something on that particular trip that wasn’t supposed to happen any more. After all, it was the ‘90s.
We had just finished the first day of competition and were coming back to the hotel after dinner. Talking with students as we were walking into the hotel lobby, I learned that some of the guys had locked themselves out of their room. I watched as one of the guys from that room walked politely up to the front desk to explain what had happened and ask for another key.
I watched the person at the desk refuse to give him another key.
I watched the student calmly walk back to tell the other guys what had happened. Then one of the other students went to the desk and told the clerk the same thing.
I watched the desk clerk give the second student a key.
If I hadn’t watched this, maybe I would’ve thought, well, surely there had to be another reason that the desk clerk refused to give the first student a key.
The first student still had his suit and tie on from the tournament – he looked like he’d just stepped out of Brooks Brothers. The second student was equally polite, but he had already been to his room and changed into sweatpants and a T-shirt. He wasn’t even wearing shoes.
And the first student was African-American.
After my students had gone up to their rooms, I walked over to the desk clerk. I don’t remember what I said. I just remember being so mad I was shaking.
And we didn’t stay in that hotel again.