“Over on sixth street they call me capt’n,” he tells me with a slow chuckle that pushes through crooked, yellow teeth. Here I was shaking hands with a man whose namesake comes from people on a street that I identified in my early teens as “the coolest place ever,” though it will still be years before I can enjoy a glimpse of the night life that takes over those blocks. Captain was a panhandler. As one of his dark hands shook mine the other held a cup, in which you could hear the quiet jingle of dimes colliding with each other. He rolled down the street in his wheelchair and army green pants and despite the fact that you’re not supposed to talk to strangers, I couldn’t help myself.
Let’s go back for a moment. I’m Sarah from the Spring Branch area in the hill country of Texas above San Antonio. While this was no tiny town, I was still a big fish, in a small pond. President/editor/leader of several groups on campus, fourth in my class, accepted into an Ivy League university, my name and voice reverberated with authority through the halls of my high school. Thus the culture shock of coming to such a melting pot, only instead of melting I stuck to the wall watching everyone else dive in. Austin made me feel a discreet as the “animalecules” visible seen only under a microscope.
Fast forward back to today. I woke up before light, ate a cliff bar, tried to do some laundry (emphasis on the word tried) then headed out for school for what I knew would be a busy day. With four best friends in different cities, I was getting around to the idea of putting myself out there. You know, more than awkward glances, nods, and small talk. Don’t get me started on small talk. Anyways, I’m applying to be a staff member for the Daily Texan. A dream of a publication and tucked in a basement that I dream of belonging to. Today was my tryout date, which entails going out, taking photos, doing an assignment, writing caption, etc.
As I listen to my Latin American biology teacher repeat, “Bacteria have no sexss.” Spraying around the “S” sound as you would water out of a hose. (The class laughed of course. Nothing draws the attention of college kids to mitosis and binary fission like the word sex spewed at you by a short balding man.) I imagined four years time going by. All the times I would pass the Tower. The friends I would hopefully get to make. The classes I would love and hate. The nights I’d stay up late studying. In my mind it all went so fast. I was already trying to catch the time through the gaps between my fingers.
After my second and last class of the day I discovered my bike was stuck, some brake malfunction. I couldn’t move the tires no matter how hard I tried. This was turning to be quite the off day (broken bike, broken washing machine, oh, and did I mention I dropped a glass bottle that shattered in The Daily Texan work center. Smooth. moves.) Despite all this should be negative stuff happening, I managed to push it all aside and focus on my tryouts. Something I’m usually not good at. I went to the Long Center, took photos, chatted up about an event, met this guy who left Seattle and politics to do nonprofit work, and met a 200-year-old violin from Germany. I mean maybe my day wasn’t going perfect, but for once I wasn’t having an anxiety attack. I was smiling like, the whole time, even though I was drenched in sweat, had walked miles in the heat, and well, everything else that happened.
I may not be the first to call it this but Austin truly is a city for everyone. It’s a land of mistfits, or maybe just a place with bunch of different people that try to change the world in different ways. Down South Congress I watched a gay pride banner wave in the sky in view of our prestigious capital building where Rick Perry slams hard firsts and soft politics about gay marriage and women’s rights. I watched a man named Mikey from San Diego play his guitar to raise funds to go back home, while I try and find unique images to turn in for my tryouts. I gave him a dollar, and he hoped that I found whatever I was looking for. I hoped so too. Here is a city for dreamers, and the crestfallen. Of Cowboy boots and shoeless movements. Anyone who belonged anywhere could belong here (that is if you can take the 100+ heat). “Don’t take a photo of me I’m a convict,” said a big man with the name “Don” spelled out on the uniform as he cut another gentleman’s hair. He laughed at my belief. Maybe my observations and wonderings, and shy photo-taking skills give away that I am indeed romantically gullible, but I don’t mind. I’m ready to experience and learn what this city has to teach me.
For my first week in Austin I lamented over my shyness, my major (which I changed), my insignificance, and the concern that I would never find my place in this city. Maybe it was people watching, talking to strangers, and photographing a homeless man that made me realize that I don’t really care about that anymore. I just want to do what makes me happy.
“Capt’n” and I chatted for a few minutes. He shook his cup in my direction and I dug in my pocket for my last dollar bill, never mind the fact that I am a college student and money is already tight. He continued his story. Captain had lost his home in 2005 to hurricane Katrina. After that he came here to live with one of his four daughters. “I stay at her house, but it ain’t mine so I consider myself homeless.” He explains to me. I nod my head and ask if he wants to see the photos I took before we started talking. “That’s pretty good,” he smiles to me long enough for me to count the gaps between his aging teeth. Four. He confides that he’s got enough now to go get himself a beer. I can’t find it in me to blame his honesty. As I turn away he calls after me. “Sarah! It’s Sarah right?” I nod. “Good luck with your school thing!”
After submitting my photos with slightly more confidence, I head towards the bus in order to make the 3-mile voyage back home. My bike would stay locked up for the night until I could retrieve it the next day. I tried to silence the sound of my sunburned skin, aching feet, and worry, turning to the thoughts of all I had seen and heard today.
Diagonal from me sat a mustached woman talking about Bill Clinton, regulation, and a questioning a man about his shoe choice. The bus was quiet except the shuffle of feet and her boisterous voice. “It’s that regulation, and the banks are going - well what I mean to say…” She stumbled through her words, and while at first glance you could think she was a fool, the joke was on you; she had everyone enamored with her talk. Finally, I got off the bus, walked to my apartment, and looked back on my day with the delight of someone who won the lottery. All these people, all these experiences just in reach of my finger-tips, if I’m willing to stretch far enough and have faith that I will unearth the wonderful.
So, this story will continue. The story of my city. The ramblings of the stories found by a college student. Stories with too many details it takes an hour to figure out which ones are worth telling. For me, in this land, everyone is someone with a tale worth telling. This is no New York, or L.A. Austin is a city all it’s own. In it is me, and Mikey, and the mustached woman, and my future friends, and the men at the barber shop, and Captain, and The Daily Texan staff, and countless amazing people. Austin truly is an anomaly tucked away into the Lone Star state.
Welcome back to my blog. Look forward to more. xoxo. sj.
(p.s-pardon any grammatical errors, the changing of different tenses, and over use of passive verbs. I wrote this very late at night.)