Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Homeless Hundreds Trudge Downtown Austin Streets

Homeless people in Mumbai

Question Man debuts in People's Republic of Travis County

I just spent 60 days in the jailhouse
For the crime of having no dough.
Now here I am back out on the street
For the crime of having nowhere to go.

- The Band, "The Shape I'm In", ca. 1968

Austin, 05:00 - Parked in the pre-dawn hours behind the
Vaughn Building at 9th and Brazos, a 10-story home for
lawyers, lobbyists, and other assorted advocates of public
relations and political consulting, one begins to notice the
throngs of young, healthy people with small backpacks and
shoulder bags, dribs and drabs of them thronging up the
alley and over to the corner where they cut north. They are
dressed in shorts and t-shirts, some in flip flops, but most
wearing the ubiquitous running shoes for footwear.

The temperature is already in the low 90's and headed for a
predicted 102 by mid-afternoon, according to the weather

Where are these people going? There are literally hundreds
of them trailing out of the basement of an old,
establishment Protestant church.

The first one or two coming up the alley could be headed for
early morning work shifts in restaurants or construction
sites, but as the crowds swell, then stream across the black
top, one begins to apprehend that the ghostly figures in the
murky pre-dawn atmosphere are part of a daily migration from
the homeless shelter to the breakfast handout on the drag at
Guadalupe Street beside the University of Texas.

They trudge away in the half-light of the parking garages
and street lights, ethereal, unseen and unnoticed by the
bright and shining brave new world of the university, the
cyberspace revolution and the Victorian capitol complex with
its underground offices and spacious grounds.

The homeless. A parade of homeless people rested and
showered and headed out at batallion strength to meet the

At first glance, one is tempted to think that these people
are living through a portion of the long, dark night of the
American soul; on second thought, the idea suddenly pops on
like a light bulb - they are actually part of an unfolding
serial drama of economic boom and bust, feast or famine, in
which the beginning and end are foregone conclusions and
it's the middle and the obligatory climax that is still kind
of up in the air.

These people are in the prime of their lives, the peak
productive years of their full strength and stamina, and
they have nowhere to go and nowhere to live.

What do they do all day?

No doubt, they endure. They endure.

This morning's appointment is with Peggy Venable, state
director of Americans for Prosperity, a national
organization with a million-plus members and a big budget
bent on making a clean sweep of the halls of Congress in
this mid-term November election.

Ms. Venable is a seasoned veteran of "advance" work, that
all-important task of preparing the venue, coordinating the
press and broadcast media, local dignitaries and political
club functionaries, party faithful and spectators as a
candidate sweeps into town on the bus, in the motorcade, on
the way from the private aviation terminal or the hotel and
thence onward to the luncheon, the debate, the television
broadcasting studio or the committee hearing.

She is now very busy with the business of arousing senitment
among the voting public to repeal ObamaCare, toss out the
Democrats and get a conservative upper hand in the Congress.

I'm waiting in the parking lot in the pre-dawn hours because
if I try to get to downtown Austin from the valley of the
Brazos for a 9:30 a.m. appointment leaving at a decent hour,
I'll be stymied by the time I get to Leander on the 183
route or at a dead standstill on I-35 at Round Rock. The
prospect then is to sit in traffic for a couple of hours and
wait it out there. The only alternative is to be there way
before daylight and endure downtown and its roaring physical
plants, generators, humming electrical transformers and
blinking traffic lights and security cameras with the home-
less and the brave.

Ms. Venable arrives at the office filled with bustle and
professional charm, an efficient and professional executive
political operative starting the work day by dealing with
yet another journalist on a quest for a story.

What is this all about, she asks.

It's all about Question Man, a feature to be included in The
Legendary blog in which credible people at the eye of the
storm are invited to ask apostrophic and forensic questions
of candidates and officials about the very real truths and
choices facing us in that most ticklish of hot spots, the
status quo, once defined by a Texas Ranger giving testimony
from the witness stand as "The mess we done got ourselves
into now."

The idea is to allow people with a high degree of credibilty
to speak out on questions that would be meaningless if asked
by The Legendary Jim Parks, police reporter of crime, fire,
disaster and man's infinite capacity to be cruel to other

She mentions in passing that she is part of a majority of
Americans who wish to manage their own money and make their
own decisions about which charity they will support and in
what amount they will donate privately, not by government
fiat and taxation.

Quickly, she has an administrative assistant, a young man
named Chris who is dressed down business casual in starched
chinos and a plaid shirt, help her arrange posters in the
background proclaiming that "November is Coming" and
identifying the office as that of Americans For Prosperity
in the background, changes places with The Legendary and
takes her position facing a clock on the wall over the
interviewer's shoulder.

"How long do want to make it?" she asks.

"We've been trying for a couple of minutes," I answer, but
yesterday a subject held forth for four minutes with no
problem. "Make yourself comfortable. It's not a
candidate's debate."

Watching the readout in the viewfinder of the tiny handheld
Flip Video camera, one sees the counter click out the digits
1:58 when Ms. Venable's question for incumbent
Representative Chet Edwards (D-Dist. 17) ends.

She says, as I bundle up my bag of tricks and head for the
door, "You know, I learned doing advance work that if you
want a picture on the front page above the fold, you have to
create that picture or else the photographer can never snap
it. Isn't that right, Mr. Parks?"

I agreed and we parted friends, promising each other to keep
on working stories together. Next installment: the
conservative view on environmental law tailored to
international treaties promulgated by the United Nations.

She promised to e-mail me a white paper on the subject.

I sincerely wish to write a story all about it.
Traffic flowed free and easy as I headed north on I-35 and the
junction of State Highway 317 at Belton where I could run the
bottoms, bypass Temple and Killeen and follow the grades of the
Santa Fe tracks to cross the Lampasas and two branches of the
Bosque Rivers on my way up past Six Shooter Junction and on
home in the heat of dog days.

I flew swift and low through Moody and McGregor, slowing for
Crawford and tipping my Panama to the Jolly Roger skull and
bones flag on the billboard proclaiming the local football

Home, at last. So grateful to be here.

I hit the shower to wash away the stink of sweating out
downtown Austin, had a cup of java and got to work, say-
ing a quick prayer for endurance and thinking about our
poor, unfortunate Mr. Hemingway's interview of the "Old
Man At The Bridge." He had gone as far as he could go in
the aerial bombardment. He could go no further because
his tired old legs were worn out. Homeless now, he was
worried about his cats, he told Mr. Hemingway, who
replied that cats know how to take care of themselves,
not to worry.

Requiescat in pace.


  1. The theme of your blog is very beautiful and the article is written very well, I will continue to focus on your article.

  2. Thank you for your interest. From what I saw, it's clear that the people of Austin are meeting the challenge by doing their best - cheerfully.

    The Legendary

  3. This is indeed a fantastic resource. Thank you for making this publicly available.