So Austin, TX… This post has been a bit delayed now that I am situated in the Nashville, TN area, but I feel it incredibly important to recount what happened in that city.
It is quite a city.
While it was hard to find homeless in Phoenix, one would have to be blind to not see all of the poverty in the streets of Austin. There were panhandlers on every corner, men holding signs in the middle of huge crowds, and groups of homeless crowded around various shelters throughout the city. And the crowds were eclectic. The homeless had creative signs, some reading simply and honestly “Need beer and grass.” The people we met on the streets were very diverse. Again, God pointed us in the right direction by having people tell us what not to do. A woman we got to talking to in a salon pointedly told us, “You guys have fun in the city. Just don’t give any money to the bums!” It reminded me of the signs in Monterey, CA, along the beach that read “Don’t feed the squirrels.” Viktor and I just laughed as we walked out, because that was not our intention. Nope, we were going to just go make friends with those bums.
One particular group that Viktor and I ended up talking to consisted of two women and a man. They were sitting off on a side street, away from the main crowds, enjoying a conversation about the weather and whatnot. When we walked up… well I’ll confess, we must have “Californian” written on our foreheads, because those Texans could sniff us out as foreigners from a mile away. The woman sitting closest to us called out to me, “Hey, what’re the two of you up to?”
When it was obvious that she knew we weren’t from the area, I explained that we were on a road trip from California and just checking out the city. That seemed to satisfy her aggressive curiosity and so she started explaining to me parts of the city that we should visit and such. She occasionally interjected, with a shake of her head and a drag at her cigarette, “Dunno why you’d f-in come here.” Her name was Theresa, and she was there with her friends Malinda and Christopher.
The best way I can describe Malinda’s personality would be to say she was a southern belle. Her appearance was a slightly different issue, however. For being on the streets, she had managed to maintain a decent appearance with a cute blouse and jeans, but her smile displayed rotting teeth and her flip flops were a size too small and falling apart. When she introduced herself to me, however, she delicately took my hand, and with a cordial nod, gave me a very friendly smile. Christopher, sitting next to her, was in cargo shorts and had decided to ditch his shirt because of the horrid heat. He shook my hand energetically and gave me a friendly grin.
We talked for a few minutes with them, after offering them some waters from our bag. (Again, these water bottles were quite a blessing on this trip and proved as amazing conversation starters). Viktor began talking to Christopher about something, so I struck up a conversation with the two women. I remembered that I had some of the care packages from Bridgeway Christian Church in my bag still, so I asked the girls if they needed toothbrushes or toothpaste. I told them I’d been given them as donations for the trip and Theresa gave me a surly “Sure.” I handed her some toothpaste and a toothbrush. Christopher saw what I was doing and so I offered him some toothpaste and a toothbrush, as well, and ended up handing him the whole bag. Malinda, however, turned down everything I offered her.
Finally, I pulled out two pairs of flip flops from my bag, also donated by Bridgeway. I have to say, it made my day when I saw Theresa and Malinda’s eyes light up. I handed them the shoes, which thank God they were the right size. They started giggling and were deciding who would get the pair with plaid crosshatching on the souls and who would get the pair decorated in colorful peace signs.
Malinda and Theresa became engrossed in talking about shoes and I took some cues from Malinda that it was time for us to move on. We began to say our goodbyes, God-bless-yous, have-a-good-days, and they all expressed their gratitude for us stopping to talk with them. Christopher jumped up and gave both Viktor and I huge hugs, which I really appreciated.
I have been told I’m one of those people who is very approachable. I often have strangers in public places strike up random conversations with me, or I’ll initiate friendly small talk with people near me. So it’s not unusual for me to have random conversations with complete strangers, but I’ll tell you that all of the deepest or most friendly or most honest interactions I’ve had have been with those people that I’ve seen most other people just walk past and ignore. The homeless and the poor are so blunt and open and honest most of the time, it really is a breath of fresh air. All of the civilities we dance around with the people in line at Starbucks get tiresome. Sitting on a stained sidewalk under the ridiculously hot sun, sweating until makeup and deodorant are worthless, puts conversations on a completely different level.
Anyways, following Malinda’s cues, we then said goodbye and began walking along the river, stepping over a man passed out halfway in the water. We met a pair of men smoking joints and dipping their feet in the river a few yards down, and they pointed us in the direction of a church that was supposedly serving dinner at the time. I’m sure now that it was God’s will that we never found that church. We walked all over and drove all over with no luck, but when we were about to give up the search, I spotted a man behind a tree on the side of the road. All I saw as we passed was his ragged gray hair and shirtless back bent over his foot, pouring hydrogen peroxide on it.
“Viktor! Let’s go help him!” We parked quickly (and illegally, actually — thank goodness we weren’t towed) and grabbed some of the supplies from the first aid kits donated by Viktor’s friends. Armed with bandaids and neosporin, we walked up to the man.
We stopped in front of him and he looked up, surprised as if he expected us to just keep walking. I skipped introductions, figuring he was in pain, and tried to ask him if he could use some neosporin and bandaids. At first, he looked at me blankly, then in Spanish, began explaining that he hurt his foot. I’m not sure he had understood me at first, but Viktor and I backed up and introduced ourselves (en español) and asked his name.
“Me llamo Alfredo. I appreciate. Dañé mi dedo del pie. Uhh. My toe.” He kept pointing to his toe, which was bubbling and white because of the hydrogen peroxide he had just poured on it. It looked like it had been smashed or like the toe nail had been ripped off. I could not tell and didn’t want to stare.
I offered him the neosporin, hoping he understood. He nodded his head vigorously, taking the neosporin and bandaids and repeatedly telling us, “I appreciate!” Viktor and I offered him what Spanish we could come up with at the moment, then took our leave of him. As he set to work on his foot and we jumped back in my car, I told Viktor, “Well, there’s a reason we ended up here instead of the church!”
We had a lot of these divine interactions in Austin and all along the trip. We ended up in the right place at the right time all too often. God had us where He wanted us for every step of the way. Not only that, but He had the people we were supposed to meet in the right places at the right times. Looking back at that day, there are so many big events that would have never occurred if it wasn’t for small details like a wrong turn in the city, a man on the street telling us of a good church to check out, or my impulsive, “Let’s take a left at this street, for the heck of it.” God definitely took care of us and the people we met in Phoenix and Austin.
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