Former Democratic congressman and presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke posts journals of his life, his thoughts, and his travels; only some of those make it to the web. We’ve imagined one that got lost along the way. Welcome to the Beto Diaries.
It was a blistery late-January morning, on the day I changed my mind. The wind whipped across the Chihuahuan Desert, the tail end of a nor’easter so blue it felt like the polar opposite of the events in Texas last November. My nose and ears were chilled, but my heart was warm.
And my mind was blissfully empty. We had entered the glimmering new era that was Joe Biden’s America. I didn’t have to worry about the damage Donald Trump could do to our nation on any given day. I didn’t have to think about how I, Beto O’Rourke, was born to stop him. For once, I didn’t have to make a plan to save America, land that I love. I didn’t have to lay out next steps. I could just be here. In El Paso. In the moment. In the cold.
And in this moment, I asked myself what I wanted. When I answered “chilaquiles,” I started heading for the taqueria down the road. I didn’t rush. I felt at ease, and my only internal debate was over salsas verde o roja; my greatest concern was whether or not to buy more GameStop shares.
But when I got there everything changed. For it was there that I met Miss Ramona. She was tiny, but her effect upon my life would be enormous. She stood no taller than five feet, her shoulders sloped under the pressure of twenty-first-century living, but her spirit rose higher than North Franklin Peak. “Mr. Beto,” she said, with all the tenderness of a high school English teacher in the roughest part of town, “have you ever thought about running for governor?”
I was stunned. I stopped dead in my tracks. I didn’t know what to say. I had previously been aware of the concept of both the governor’s office and the election that determined who would occupy it, but I had never, not one time, had a thought about me making a run for it. “Come to think of it, Ramona, I haven’t thought about that,” I told her, staring deep into her cataracts so she would know how much I cared. “But I am now.”
I don’t even remember what kind of salsa I ordered. Many of the details from that morning are now lost in the haze of my new thought experiment. My brain felt like a popcorn machine, with my idea kernels bursting into the letters B, E, T, O, F, O, R, G, O, V, E, R, N, O, and R. Pop. Pop. Pop pop. POP. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t stop picturing “Beto for Governor” signs in the yards of Austin’s most affluent neighborhoods. I’d probably have to buy a new truck. I put a lotta miles on that last one, and those 254 counties weren’t going to visit themselves.
I had started that morning comfortable in the knowledge that the fate of our nation now rested upon Joe Biden’s shoulders, not my own. But there were other citizens who needed me. The people of Texas. There is at least one Miss Ramona in every taqueria, every barbecue joint, every Buc-ee’s in every corner of this big, beautiful state. And they want to know what I’m thinking. If they were all willing to pay a penny for my thoughts, imagine what they might give to a campaign. Small donations are the backbone of democracy.
As I walked home from the taqueria, I wondered what every person I passed was thinking. I saw a teen waiting at a bus stop. He was looking down at his feet. Maybe he was just thinking about getting new shoes, but if there was even a chance that he was lost in worry about the eventual burden of paying off student loans, then he needed my help. “Hey bro,” I said as I neared. “Mind if I ask what you’re thinkin’ about?” It took a bit of prodding, but eventually the young man—Cody was his name—said he was thinking about the bus and wondering why it was late.
I had started my day with no plan. Not just no plan, but no plan to plan. And now I was thinking about the possibility of making plans. The wind was still blowing, but I didn’t feel cold at all.