Public Notice: Handshakes on the Concourse
Edging back toward a sense of normalcy: Austin FC’s Q2 Stadium set to open at full capacity
In the spirit of our "Getting Back Out There" issue, I'm reverting to soccer columnist for a week, just to revel in the prospect of full-capacity crowds at Austin FC's gorgeous new Q2 Stadium. At a press conference Monday morning (May 24), local officials including Mayor Steve Adler, Travis County Judge Andy Brown, Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott, and ATXFC President Andy Loughnane delivered the news fans had been hoping for: The stadium will be able to safely open at full capacity on opening night, Saturday, June 19, and "near full capacity" for the U.S. women's national team game three nights earlier against Nigeria.
The mood was celebratory, and rightly so. The stadium news is great of course – one of the team's last big hurdles was that no one knew for sure if Q2 was going to get to have a full game-day experience, and now we do – but it seemed like more than that as well: a watershed moment, really, when life itself seemed to be largely back to normal. Everyone wore masks, of course (except at the podium), and masks will be required at the games as well. And all the speakers thanked the Austin public at large for continuing to get vaccinated in the kind of numbers that make this sort of event possible. But given that, the vibe seemed to be that we're just about out of the woods – if we can yell and scream in a semi-enclosed building with 20,000-plus strangers, we can probably go back to music venues, theatres, stores, whatever, pretty soon thereafter.
It was strange standing there and feeling a sense of normalcy for the first time in over a year. I felt kind of like the door to my dungeon cell had just been opened, and I wasn't quite sure I was really free. I looked around at the concourses and imagined: These are going to be full of people, elbow to elbow, in less than a month. I went up to people, and shook hands! Well, the first person who extended their hand, I was a little taken aback and probably hesitated a moment too long (sorry), but then it seemed normal, familiar even. I ran into a number of people I knew, and shook hands with most, though I think we all still felt a little self-conscious about it – one time I joked something like, "I guess this is a thing again"; another time, the other person did. It was good to be back.
And the stadium itself! I really do think they got this right: user-friendly, roomy and airy, tasteful and suitably informal, with lots of local brands on display and lots of mingling spaces (now that we can mingle again) – this feels like a comfortable space to hang out for 17 evenings or so over the next few months.