You can’t leave the city of Austin without visiting the Texas State Capitol. I knew that, of course, but I still put it off until the end of my trip. When, at last, I took a bus after work to the Capitol—halfway across the city—it was almost 6.00pm.
Daylight Savings Time gave me some more time to capture the magnificent architecture before it was too late. And I spent a good half hour inching my way towards the great lawn and the dome. I walked around the building for a while, noticing its minute carvings and polished exterior. When I approached the double doors and the unassuming door knob that perched on it, I wondered if I was too late. Perhaps they’d closed for the day, I thought. Nothing about the doorway suggested that visitors were welcome.
There was no guard or any guidance to indicate that I wasn’t trespassing.
Perplexed and also curious, I turned the door knob anyway. It didn’t budge. I tried again. It still remained head fast.
Hating myself for not coming earlier, I turned to leave. Just then the door on the other side opened and a couple of people exited. How the hell did they get in?
“Push the door harder,” they told me.
I did, and viola, it opened. And within was a huge conveyor belt and about seven guards. My bag and I went through separate screens and I reached the other side only to feel my jaw drop a few inches.
I faced a large corridor with rooms on either side. I looked around and realised I stood in the centre of the dome and the corridor was one of the four that led away from the centre. Craning up, I noticed four identical floors.
Lining the walls of the centre were portraits of former governors, mayors, and members of the Austin parliament. Walking along one corridor, I saw some rooms lit up from the inside and some sealed shut.
Most of the lit rooms also had a note inviting visitors to open them. Feeling adventurous, I turned the knob on one.
Well, the Capitol was a tourist destination, what else would a closed room have other than some interesting exhibits?
Turns out that the closed rooms had people in them discussing important state affairs.
I’d walked into one such meeting. Yikes. There I was, half-leaning into the room with my hand still on the door knob, taking the three suited state officials inside by complete surprise. They were in mid-conversation and I stumbled to find my apologies. How I wished I’d knocked first.
“Er—did I just walk into something important?”
One of them shook his head smiling. “Oh, no. It’s just the three of us, talking.”
“No problem at all.” All three of them threw a gracious smile at me. I retreated and shut the door.
And I hit myself on the head. These were offices of State representatives. The rooms even had a card on the side saying whose office it is. And I thought I was in a museum and everything would be stationary.
Getting over that initial embarrassment and shock, I went around the rest of the building. Here and there were slabs of posters explaining the various architectural choices of the building. Some even included little stories of how parts of the building was built. Although most of the rooms were offices and more closed doors I didn’t feel like tapping into, there were also a few large rooms with exhibits from ancient Austin.
For a state that’s stereotyped as all sand and desert, I was surprised to learn that Austin’s primary business was once farming and cotton growing. Behind glass boxes preserved with utmost care were tools of the trade, sample grains, and even a letter from a son to his father explaining he’d made good progress with the farm that year. It was like visiting a part of Austin’s history that’s lost amidst heavy accents in cowboy movies.
I realised I’d nurtured a complete false impression of Austin and Texas. And those artefacts opened my mind never to form opinions based on televised screening.
For the next few hours, I walk round and round, stopping at every office to read whose it is and to strut past it, thinking to myself and role-playing,
“Yeah, I am at the Senate Chamber,”
“I’m just outside the Governor’s Room,”
“I’m about to hear the speaker at the House of Representatives,”
“Yes, I had to come to the Supreme Court Courtroom for something and then to the Court of Appeal to rest my case.”
Standing outside the courtrooms, I couldn’t help but feel like being in the scene of Harry Potter’s hearing at the Ministry of Magic.
After a lot of fun-filled mind conversations, it was time to go. Darkness was beginning to fall and as I left with amazement, I also managed to capture the cause of it: the dome at night.
If you find yourself in Austin, don’t miss the Capitol views.