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Hundreds of heads keep turning excitedly toward the door. At the packed Flying Saucer, longnecks and beer glasses thump on tabletops. Chairs skid on the floor. Is he finally here? Has he made it in?
Nope. On the big screen TV, the Astros have just gotten on base again against the Pirates. The 'Stros faithful at the bar are screaming for the team, hoisting their beer glasses in the air and whooping for every base hit.
Every time the fans cheer, it's another false alarm for the more than 300 people who have been waiting for Kinky Friedman -- raconteur and gubernatorial candidate -- to show up at the Saucer with his pal Jesse Ventura for a weekday meet n' greet. As the supporters bump elbows with the baseball fans and happy hour crowd, it's not hard to tell them apart -- these people aren't in baseball jerseys or office casual garb. They're wearing hot pink "Vote for Kinky" T-shirts or caps bearing the "K THE GOVERNOR" logo. Some look like young boho types; others look as if they've been plucked out of Kemah or Conroe (there's a few NASCAR-style mullets in the mix). They range from teen to twilight, longhaired to no-haired.
There's hardly space to breathe -- let alone drink -- here, and being in the atmosphere of this tight, sweaty bar is like hanging out backstage at a rock concert, not a campaign stop. "I've got two shirts and a box of cigars for him to sign," says one guy. "I'm gonna ask him to sign my boot," says another, brandishing a brown roper. Friedman may be running for governor, but tonight he's a rock star, and his frenzied fans want a piece of him.
Maybe that's because Friedman, despite being called everything from a "joke" candidate to a racist (see "Kinky Stances" in HouStoned, the Houston Press blog, September 6), appeals to Houstonians of every walk. Indeed, this meet n' greet seems to be a microcosm of Friedman's support base. There are old liberals who look like conservatives, and young Republicans who look like card-carrying Dems, such as Dustin, who sports a close-cropped hairdo, sideburns and a hipster's stance. His Royal Crown Revue concert tee hangs off his wiry frame, as do his baggy jeans. "He's the only reason I registered to vote," says the UH student and part-time waiter. "I like him, man. He's not a bullshitter -- he is what he is, and you gotta respect that." Friedman's been criticized (especially by Texas governor Rick Perry) for being all hat and no cattle. Yet Dustin is able to fire off specific examples of Friedman's stances that he supports.
"He said he went around to other states and saw Texans in the casinos, and he figured if it's all Texans, why should the money go to those places? Why not bring it here? And he wants to help the schools, he's on to biodiesel fuels, healthcare for kids." Dustin's also not buying that Friedman, under fire for comments he made at a recent press conference about Katrina "crackheads and thugs" staying in Houston, is a racist. "A lot of what he says is true. We're thinking it, and he's saying it."
It's that kind of brutal truth and honesty that has made Trey, a bespectacled fortysomething who looks like he'd sell insurance or teach college history, a "fan for years." From the looks of it, this guy would be the prototypical moderate/conservative. Hardly. "What am I? Ha -- I'm a Southern Buddhist Socialist," he says. "And I want someone who's been through what I've been through -- someone who's done drugs, been divorced, someone who understands me. You gotta love a guy who says he remembers doing drugs with Led Zeppelin," says Trey of Friedman, who supports decriminalizing marijuana.
Tall, goateed and decked out in black jacket, jeans and big black cowboy hat, Doc Pepper looks like Kinky's doppelganger, or maybe the kind of decoy that Saddam Hussein would use to throw off would-be assassins. People do double-takes as he walks by. A research engineer at NASA, Doc Pepper remembers going to Friedman's shows at Rockefeller's in the early '80s. "I have his albums, and I have to laugh when they say he's a racist," says the lean look-alike. "I'd be called a racist if I named some of his song titles, but they're all in fun." The Doc, 49, says he's a thinking voter, and doesn't support Friedman blindly. "Look, I can't support everything he says point by point, but when you look at the big picture," says the man, who claims no political affiliation whatsoever, "you say, 'That's someone I want to support.'"
It's hardly surprising that this is a veritable Kinky lovefest. But there are a few people here who are on the fence. Slender and blond, Meagan looks every bit the informed college voter in her powder-blue shirt that says "Stop Sexual Assault," and clutching her white iBook. The 22-year-old, who "hates P.C." and describes herself as a libertarian, outs herself as a Carole Keeton "Grandma" Strayhorn supporter, and says she's here because "it seems like his campaign is kind of a joke." But still, she admits that she could be swayed by Friedman. "Young kids are sick of Republicans and Democrats," she says sternly, "and they want someone who won't lie to them."