A few days before my interview at the Austin newspaper, I made an appointment with a barber to have my dreadlocks cut off. I really wanted the job, and I didn’t want my hair to stand in the way. Dreadlocks weren't mainstream in the late 90s, at least not in Des Moines, Iowa — not even with Black people.
I hadn’t been to Austin, Texas before, so I didn’t know about the city’s laid-back atmosphere. I didn’t know about the "Keep Austin Weird" slogan, or that Austin was known as the Live Music Capital of the World, a place where dreadlocks were considered tame in comparison to purple spikes and the gothic vampire look.
I didn’t keep my appointment with the barber, though. I loved my dreadlocks and knew I'd be angry with myself for cutting them, especially if I didn’t get the job.
After my plane landed in Austin, I took a cab to my hotel. As I stood in the shower, I began to scold myself. Are you stupid or what? You should have cut the things off. Maybe I didn't want the job. Perhaps I was too scared to move away from Des Moines, the only place I'd ever lived. Did I intentionally sabotage my interview? I dried myself off, slipped into a suit and tie, and pulled my dreadlocks back neatly into a ponytail. Then I crossed my fingers and went down to the lobby, where I was to meet the newspaper’s graphics editor.
Nervous about the interview, I stepped outside to get some fresh air — which, in retrospect, was ridiculous considering it was about 110 degrees out there. I paced the sidewalk, taking in Austin’s beautiful downtown skyline. The picturesque view put me at ease. Within a few minutes, a small black racecar with a dingy paint job pulled up and parked near me. It’s engine rumbled loud like a modified Harley Davidson motorcycle.
An African American man, about my same age but a full head taller, opened the door of the car and stepped out. “I’m the graphics editor for the newspaper,” he said, shaking my hand. His dreadlocks — almost twice as long as mine — bounced wildly around his shoulders as we shook hands.
I had a great interview. And, yes, in between talking graphics and journalism and Austin oddities, we talked dreadlocks. I got the job.