Several weeks ago, I stopped by Thundercloud Subs on South Congress to grab dinner before a show. Having just dropped my nanny charge and her mother off at the downtown Metro-rail, I had time to kill before I had to be at the theater. T-cloud was close by, not too expensive and I love tuna sandwiches, and I'd brought my computer so I could work on some things while I ate and killed time. The tricky part about this particular Thunder, however, is the parking. One must parallel park on the street (no problem), then walk up the stairs and down the sidewalk to get to the restaurant. Unlike most fast food joints, you can't just park and go inside. So when I saw the man with the shopping cart approaching on the sidewalk at the top of the stairs, I knew I was stuck.
Since the stickers on my car say "Cool People Care," and unfortunately I care what people think of me, I didn't want this hobo to think I was a snob or a hypocrite if he read my bumper. Plus, like I said, I had time to kill. So when he asked me if I had fifty cents, I said no, but offered to buy him dinner.
"Do you want something to eat? I'm on my way to Thundercloud now, I can get you a sandwich."
"I just want coffee."
I'm surprised I discerned that as the man mumbled and was difficult to understand. "Okay then, I'll get you a coffee."
"Do you speak Spanish? Habla Espagnol?"
"Um... no sir."
"My name's Pablo."
"Okay, I'm Ann. I'll grab you a coffee."
Thundercloud Subs doesn't sell coffee. But the guy behind the counter who handed me my food in a plastic box (and no, I did not tip him) said there was a coffee shop down the street. So I paid for my tuna (on top of a salad instead of on wheat bread, I decided) and left. Once outside, I explained to the man I would have to walk down the street to get the coffee.
He asked me for 50 cents.
"No, you may not have fifty cents from me, but I will buy you a coffee. Wait here."
So I walked further down the sidewalk to the coffee bar with dark heavy curtains lining the windows and video games inside. I approached the bar with my salad in a box and my wallet and asked for a coffee.
"Latte or an extra shot of expresso."
"Save room for sugar or cream?"
"I don't know. No."
They must have thought I was crazy. And because no one had to clean up after me and I took the coffee to go, I handed over the two dollars for the coffee (good Lord!), didn't tip, and left.
"I thought you'd forgotten about me."
I hadn't, I assured him, and set the coffee down next to him on the table. He was still sitting outside the sub shop. He tried to give me a clock out of his shopping cart and then tried to offer me a pocketknife, both of which I declined. Then he asked me where I was from and lo and behold, his ex-wife had been from Missouri. And did I know where Kearney was? And had I heard about the Jesse James festival? He's a hero there, you know.
He's not. He robbed banks. And legend has it the first person he killed was a kid skipping classes from my Alma Mater, William Jewell. He did manage to clean up his act and lived, reformed, in my home town, St. Joseph, Missouri (45 minutes from Kearney) until one of his "friends," shot him in his home for the reward money. We've dug his decaying body up three times to verify stuff about him (God knows what!). I know Jesse James, he was not a hero.
"Hmm... no, I'm not familiar with that festival."
"Do you speak Spanish?"
"What's your name?"
"I'm Pablo... Where are you from?"
It went on like that and at some point in there, he began shaking my hand profusely. Of course, all I could think about was that I had to eat my dinner soon and to not panic about the germs. Two people entered Thundercloud Subs and smiled as they passed by me and the hobo holding my hand. I finally freed myself.
"Do you have 50 cents?"
"No, but look here, see, I bought you a coffee," and gestured to the untouched beverage still sitting on the table.
"Oh!" He seemed startled as though he'd forgotten about it and reached his hand out for it but instead just pushed it off the table and onto the sidewalk below. And onto my favorite pair of shoes. "I'm always doing that," he mumbled.
"Okay, well, I've got to go," and I escaped back inside Thundercloud Subs to wash both my hands and my shoe. "Did you see that?" I said to the employees and the couple. "He spilled that coffee all over!" I was incredulous and retreated to the bathroom. When I emerged, one of the employees was outside telling the man he needed to move along.
I too headed back outside. "I'll see you later, okay? Nice to meet you."
"What's your name?"
"Yes, I know... Goodbye!"
Fast forward several weeks and I had another interesting encounter, quite unlike this one, but interesting nonetheless.
It was Memorial Day weekend and my friends, my dog (she has her own life jacket) and I had been canoeing on Lady Bird Lake. Bailey has his own canoe and while this was a fun excursion complete with birthday candles and a Jesus night light (don't ask), the downside to Bailey owning his own canoe was that we had to get that canoe from the lake back to his house. And of course he doesn't use a car.
But he is an engineer and he has built a wheel and cart contraption that fits inside the canoe when we're... well, canoeing... and that once unloaded and put together, will serve as a sort of cart for the canoe. And after lugging it out of the water, raising it onto the wheels, avoiding the poison ivy, and running it (oh. my. god.) up a huge hill, Bailey, Catherine, my dog and I were on our way home.
"Oh look, there's the woman I ran into this morning on the way down to the lake," Bailey remarked. And as soon as she saw us, she recognized us too... or rather, Bailey and the canoe.
"Ooh you're back. Hold on now, just wait there. Oh and look, you've brought your dog! Let me run inside and get my camera, my sons are going to want to see this."
She returned, took our picture, learned our names, explained about her surfer sons. The woman appeared to be around my mother's age, and was probably retired or maybe only working part-time. The house behind her was old, not newly remodeled like much of its Zilker neighbors, and the yard was unkept. She asked Bailey if he'd ever surfed and inquired about his occupation. Bailey sort of only works when he wants to. He basically gets paid to make stuff... dog toys, high heel shoe holders, canoe carts, whatever.
"And what do you do?" the woman asked turning to Catherine and me.
"I'm an English teacher in Dallas," my friend responded.
"I'm an actor here in Austin," I said.
"Really?!" she exclaimed. "Well my father was a theater professor at UT. You've got to come inside and see this."
Sure enough, after parking the canoe, Bailey, Catherine, I, and yep, my dog, followed the woman into her dead parents' house. Inside, she pointed out boxes of files and written works by her father and his brother, piles of books and some still shelved. She'd already taken most of her father's book to the UT library, but much still remained.
"Those are his books on sexuality," she pointed to several creatively titled books on the top shelf. "He and my mother were very experimental for a while. Theater people, you know. They like to experience and understand every feeling people have. I've been reading my father's diaries and he was very explicit about his encounters."
It was an amazing house. One whole wall was pictures her dad had cut out of magazines, photos, yearbooks, whatever, of colleagues he worked with, friends he had, etc. And the books! Cat and I were in heaven. "I want to live here and help her sort all this," I whispered to Cat.
"I just want to sit and read," she replied.
"This is a book my father wrote," and the woman handed it to me. Hodge. "My dad was Francis Hodge." Sure enough, when I returned home to St Joseph last week, I checked my own father's theater library and found Dr. Hodge's book. Holy cow. What were we doing in that house?
The woman, who had introduced herself by that point, took our names and emails and Bailey's business card (who carries their business card in their swimsuit?) and said she was in town working on the house from California. She'd be returning there soon, "but the next time I'm in Austin, we should all grab a beer. Or maybe I can catch one of your shows!"
"I hope so!" I replied and we returned to lugging the giant canoe back to Bailey's house.
It's not every day that you encounter a man who's partied 45 minutes from your hometown, celebrating the life of your home state's most infamous criminal. Neither is it every day that you are invited into a stranger's home who's father authored a book that sits on your own father's library shelf. It makes this overpopulated world of almost 7 billion people (and still growing more and more by the minute) seem just a little bit smaller. And it makes this violent, war-ridden, fear-driven, hate-fueled world seem just a little more friendly.
And to that I'll raise a spilled cup of $2 coffee.
Or maybe a canoe.