Say It Loud and Proud

By Anna Mitchael

W-A-C-O and Waco was its name-o

I’m in New York City for a couple days, and I can confidently report the word on the street here still has absolutely nothing to do with Mosheim, Texas. In fact, when people ask the standard, “So, where are you from?” question, my answer has received zero nods of recognition. I had hoped my family’s 1st Annual Howl at the Moon Competition would put Mosheim on the map. But apparently, the Instagram pictures did little except make Grandma’s heart swell with pride.

I’ve gotten five blank stares, one, “Oh yeah, I know someone in Texas. Maybe you know her — I think she lives in Houston?” And then one guy who very aggressively said, “Hmph,” as soon as the word Texas was out of my mouth. Although I could tell he was the sort of guy who loved to visit Marfa and Austin because he didn’t really consider those cities part of Texas.

I considered telling him that the rest of us were nice folks, too, and that most of us never even take the guns out of our glove compartments. But I turned the other cheek, a mature decision made easier because my cheeks were facing a lovely plate of sushi that would be difficult to catch in Central Texas.

To the people who seemed interested, I elaborated on my description of Mosheim with, “We’re west of Waco.” And finally, that seemed to garner some positive interest.

It was only a year ago when I was taking a cab in New Orleans that this “west of Waco” phrase spurred a cab driver to tell me all his memories of watching the Branch Davidian siege unfold. How his mother wouldn’t leave the TV set, so he stayed there, too. And every last conspiracy theory he had researched in the years since. The only time he quieted down was when he asked what it was like to see the site in person and I had to tell him I had never driven by. His disappointment was profound. And so was mine, but for a totally different reason.

We all want to live in a place that gets positive recognition, and it seems like, for Waco, the moment might finally have arrived. My very informal, nonscientific observational research here in New York gives me reason to believe Waco’s resident Fixer Uppers could finally unseat the Branch Davidians as What People Know About Waco. (Oh, and all the way from my hotel room I can see you Baylor fans sulking. Of course lots of people also care about Baylor sports — don’t get your green and gold drawers tied in knots.)

But now there is a decent population of people out there who will respond to “west of Waco” with mention of Chip and Jo-Jo. Because apparently there is also a decent population of people who believe it’s totally acceptable to talk about reality TV stars on a first-name basis, as though they are guests who popped over for coffee and pie.

And so, as a neighbor and friend I say to you: Seize this day, Waco. In the years I have lived near your city limits I have listened with curiosity, and quite honestly, sometimes concern, as various residents were all too happy to bag on Waco. I, as much as anyone, enjoy a good self-confidence crisis now and again. Sometimes it’s just what you need to get the spoon out of the Nutella jar and get on the treadmill. But it seemed to me the feeling about Waco leaned more to, “Well, at least we’re still in Texas,” instead of, “One of the best places in Texas!” That’s more than a blip on the radar of self-confidence. That’s full-on, “I’m throwing away my skinny jeans and investing in elastic waistbands” self-doubt. Stop the insanity!

Across the Lone Star State are examples of cities that simply decided they aren’t going to let stereotypes bring them down. Reinvention abounds. People in Dallas think Waco is inferior? Newsflash: People in Dallas think everyone is inferior.

Our friends to the south in Austin have managed to maintain a glowing public image even though visitors (myself included) have been known to spend more than 50 percent of their visits watching the weirdness of Austin from inside a traffic jam. Nevertheless, have you ever heard anyone from Austin express anything other than total self-satisfaction about their zip code? They truly believe all that exhaust (along with other waste) doesn’t stink. Even if they’re wrong, they’re totally right to believe in their city with such charming, organic kale-fueled gusto.

Waco has its own unique list of positives. For starters, Waco is not Dallas. And for second, there is no mind-numbing traffic. Right now is an entrée, an opening, a chance to keep the list going and then speak loudly about it with anyone who will listen. And especially to those who think they have Waco all figured out.

This challenge reminds me of the quest to reach the front row of a concert. The first option is you show up early and are there from the start. Incidentally, this option is now unavailable to me — I have a rule against paying babysitters so I can stand in an empty auditorium and stare at quiet speakers.

The second option is that you can arrive with the rest of the general admission masses. Then you stand in the back, watching carefully, waiting for the right moment. As soon as you see someone making their way to the front, you jump behind them and walk in their wake, elbows out to keep the space that has been claimed. And a big smile that says of course you’re on a first-name basis with the people in front of you.

It’s time to seize the opening. If you don’t, rest then assured that I will. Then wouldn’t you be in a fix — having to spend the rest of your life explaining to people that you’re from Waco, the town that sits about 40 miles east of Mosheim.