Lady Bird Johnson could never remember the date of her first date with the future president of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson. She guessed it was sometime at the very end of August or beginning September. So right around now would be the 88th anniversary of that first date.
Last Sunday, I visited The Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin. It’s an old four-story painted brick-and-stone building. Compared to the high-rises that now saturate downtown, it stands out. Back in 1934, Lady Bird and LBJ had their first date in the hotel’s cafe. The two had just met the day before after being introduced by a mutual friend. They immediately hit it off and LBJ asked Lady Bird to breakfast the next morning, but Lady Bird wasn’t sure she wanted to go out with him. She liked him, but he wasn’t like anyone she’d dated before.
The next morning rolled around and Lady Bird still hadn’t made up her mind. But then, as she walked in front of the hotel, she saw Lyndon through the glass of the cafe windows. He was inside waiting for her. He looked up, they locked eyes and he began waving. Feeling like it was too late to turn back, she decided to go in to meet him.
Later that day, just hours after they met for the very first time, Lyndon proposed to Lady Bird.
When I was standing in front of The Driskill Hotel, looking through the same windows that Lady Bird looked through 88 years ago, I thought about what must have been going through her mind. I could see my own reflection in the glass windows. Lady Bird was my age when she first met LBJ. And at 21, there’s still so much you don’t know about yourself. Lady Bird had just graduated from UT’s school of journalism and she didn’t yet know what she wanted to do with her life. She always thought she’d get married, just not yet.
When she saw LBJ through the windows of The Driskill, she could have kept walking. Maybe it would have been easier, simpler. But instead she stopped. She decided to go inside and see what happened next.
Now, inside The Driskill Hotel, there’s a signed photograph of Lady Bird displayed. The Driskill Hotel is another part of her journey, another part of the story that I’ve been piecing together while working on The Drag’s “Lady Bird” podcast.
To hear how Lady Bird responded to the proposal — and how the rest of their relationship unfolded through the next few decades — you’ll have to stay tuned for the “Lady Bird” podcast coming out next year. Over the course of several episodes, I will tell you Lady Bird’s story, from her home in a small town in East Texas, to her college years as a journalism student at UT and eventually to the White House in Washington, D.C.