Walking back from an amazing Acid Mothers Temple show at the Emos Lounge, we experienced an aspect of Austin, Texas, to which we've not previously been privy--the homeless.
Sure, we've met and seen the appreciation for Austin-original oddballs (no pun intended) like Leslie (the queen of Austin), but Tuesday night was a very different series of encounters.
We planned to take a taxi back to the motel, if one passed us--all that passed us were full, so we kept on walking (it was only a 30-minute walk back to our room, so this wasn't bad at all and the weather was beautiful and cool). A few blocks from Emos--once we got to Congress--a skeletal female walking a bicycle scrept out from the shadows of a tree on the corner. She shocked me and initially--it being Austin--I thought she was a pedi-cab driver. The bike was a standard bike, though, and she was a mostly toothless drug-addicted (crack or meth) and/or HIV-infected mess.
"Don't be afraid," she sort of stuttered as she hesitantly approached us. Having just left an other-worldy show, we were both still a bit intoxicated and slow. She gave us a story about needing $3.75 more for a meal or some such shit. I was holding our $$ and I knew my girlfriend would have given her a few bucks, so I pulled out a $10 and handed it to her. The usual "God bless" bullshit was bestowed upon us.
We walked away, crossing the street, and could hear her bicycle creaking into the night. Our guard was up now. We'd previously seen homeless people sleeping in the doorways of shops in downtown late at night, but things were now a bit more dicey.
One block further down Congress, we saw something with a tail skitter away, past some newspaper boxes. My girlfriend turned to me and asked if I saw that too, or if she was seeing strange entities. I confirmed the sighting and we approached the street corner. We walked around the corner swiftly in order to spot the elusive critter again and were shocked and pleased to see a medium-sized raccoon standing, hunchbacked as they tend to be, on a brick ledge near a building and bushes. He graced us with a few moments of viewing and then sneaked off into the foliage. "Cool," we thought.
Then we heard a voice from across the street, "don't run away." This was coming from another person of the street, presumably without a home. He was on our path, so we crossed the street toward him. As we got onto the curb where he was waiting for us, he said a line similar to that of the bicycle woman, "don't be afraid," but he continued with "I'm just a harmless nigger."
The bald-headed black man was wearing very thick, large-lensed glasses and began calmly berating us for "running away" from him.
"We weren't running away," my girlfriend stated, "we were looking at a..." then she stopped talking and he jumped in with some line about how we certainly were trying to evade him even though he's a "harmless nigger."
I immediately knew why my girlfriend had stopped mid-sentence and I said what she almost said, chuckling slightly but being very serious, feeling a need to explain our behavior to him, "we weren't running away, we were looking at a raccoon over there."
Once he realized I was being truthful and we weren't some scared white people trying to run away from a homeless black man, he uttered a line about the creatures, "yeah, they come out at night."
My girlfriend's statement had been cut short by an inner conflict, the racism she was surrounded by growing up in the south clashed with her internal politically correct liberal and she felt uncomfortable saying the word "raccoon" in the presence of this black man, due to the ever-similar African-American slur, "coon." I, however, took some sort of sick pride in stating our experience, coon and all, to this man. It was the truth and he had no place to demand that we were being racist/classist crackers.
He then went about his pitch for some money. I'd already given $10 to a beggar that night and I wasn't going to continue the philanthropic spree. We explained that the reason we were walking was because we just gave the last of our cash to a woman on a bike. He accepted that explanation--perhaps with the knowledge that he was familiar with the woman on the bike--and thanked us. My girlfriend offered him a cigarette and he took it even though he was already smoking a cheap convenience store cigar.
He followed with some line about Jesus blessing us (seriously, I'd give out more $$ to beggars if they said nothing about God/Jesus/religion and just thanked me on a human level--if God is so great, after all, they wouldn't be on the street hustling for cash).
As soon as we turned around to continue on our walk, I saw a floating turquoise t-shirt on a park at the Congress St. bridge and Town Lake, facing us. Presumably there was a very dark black person inside of the clothing--the vague outline of a very thin person was visible--and we stayed on the sidewalk, under the street lights and kept on moving, cautiously, with bat-like hearing capabilities surveying the land, closer to our domicile as a man walked shortly behind us on the other side of the bridge. We enhanced our pace but were not frightened as cars sped over the bridge.
Near the Texas School for the Deaf, the sidewalk on our side had a lot of foliage hanging over it and on a previous trip to Austin, we'd walked by that spot at night and thought about the people that surely inhabited the woods there, half expecting someone to jump out at us. This time, we were more cautious and walked diagonally across the street so as to avoid the overgrown sidewalks on both sides of the street.
Safely back at our room, we sat on the porch, I smoking a lovely Butera Royal Reserve cigar, my girlfriend with American Spirits, as we sipped Zaya rum straight and with Coca-Cola, respectively. There was very little activity on the street--a vast contrast to most of our trips to Austin which tended to occur on or near the weekends and not on a Tuesday night.
A man ran down some stairs to Congress, from the motel, and on his way back my curious girlfriend asked if he was ok. "Yes," he said, and she offered him some rum. Ugh--even though it was interesting to have someone join us on a quiet porch at 2 a.m. for some rum. I poured him a small glass, he sat down and immediately recognized that he was a cocaine freak. Minutes after his arrival a man walked by us (keep in mind we were in a spot that people do not commonly walk by unless they've staying in one of the few rooms on that level--and we'd met all those people, he was not one of them) in a greenish windbreaker, saying "hello" and quickly checking us all out. He walked on, not entering any of the rooms. He was assuredly either the security guard or a cop. His windbreaker was of the variety that could be easily reversed to reveal a "DEA," "SWAT" or "POLICE" label.
The stranger sipped the rum and rambled on and on, saying something about "blow" and then discounting his own statement and rambling on to some other topic. He was definitely flying high on coke. This was the kind of person and the kind of company that we do not appreciate--cokeheads are tiresome, sad, stupid and, in general, not amusing to be around (unless, of course, you're also doing coke). The contents of his ramblings we don't remember too well, he asked questions about the secret of finding "someone special" and said something about "herb" followed by egotistical sentences about how important he was. And his nose gushed blood at one time...it was uninteresting and he rambled a bit about how it's ok and that he hardly ever does coke. Sure. Like I said, other details were lost to us the following morning thanks to our almost emptying of a full bottle of nice Guatemalan rum.
A short while later (he said it was 5 minutes and then revised that by saying "probably about 30 minutes", although in reality it was closer to an hour) he ran off. We saw him few minutes later running back down to the street so we retreated to our room so as not to have to endure another coke-addled, endless chat. Perhaps rightfully so, we think he was surely being watched by some type of law enforcement.
10mg. diazepam each and we sleep soundly into the late morning.