Last night, as I parallel parked my car on West 6th Street, between Hut’s Hamburgers and Whole Foods, a tall, older man dressed in black waved his arms at me, implying that I should back my car up.
“A $40 ticket they’ll give you for not being in the lines,” I could hear muffled through my window.
I made sure my car was in the lines and watched as the tall, older man dressed in black cheerfully spoke to the stream of people who walked by.
“Ain’t that a nice sweater you have!” he said to one man who eyed him suspiciously.
I exited my car and walked to the parking meter that stood between the man and I.
I too was suspicious of his jovial nature, and as we made small talk while I tried to purchase a parking sticker for my car with a credit card, I wondered when we’d get to the point he’d ask me for change.
Admitting this makes me cringe, but like most major cities, parking in downtown settings often comes with its share of panhandlers. When I was little, I couldn’t understand people who ignored individuals on the street. We are all people; don’t we all deserve the same level of respect? It wasn’t until I was older that I realized this matter is more gray than black and white. Even to this day I still try to engage with anyone who engages with me, but the cynical adult is also quicker to make the conversation brief.
“Don’t use your credit card for the parking sticker. All you need is a quarter. Here.”
The man pushed a quarter into my hand.
“Thank you,” I said.
I dug up two other quarters from my purse and put them in the machine.
We continued talking- he mentioned he was homeless- and I asked him if he needed a couple of bucks.
“Nah, I wouldn’t feel right asking you,” he said.
“Well, you were kind enough to give me a quarter.”
“I couldn’t ask you for money.”
“Do you need anything?”
“Well, I am kind of hungry. Something warm would be great,” he said to me.
I told him that I was walking to Whole Foods and that I was happy to pick him up some food. He protested. “The food is too expensive there! It’s $7.99 for the hot bar!” We settled on a burrito and I promised I would return in ten minutes.
“What’s your name? I asked.
“Truck,” he said as he extend his strong, aged hand.
I ran into Whole Foods to get my supplies and grabbed a chicken burrito from the hot bar. As I walked back to Truck, I babied the burrito in my sweater to keep it warm from the bitter air that had swooped in earlier in the day.
Truck was where I last saw him. Standing tall, saying hi to anyone who passed by.
“Truck! I kept it warm for you!” I shouted.
I unrolled the burrito from my sweater and he gave me a big bear hug.
We stood there chatting for awhile. He told me that though he is homeless, he makes sure to always look nice. And he did look sharp. He was wearing black slacks, a gray sweater with a black wind jacket, a black hat, and he was carrying a weekend bag with his necessities. He told me that for $7 you can shower and sleep at the Salvation Army, but he didn’t have that kind of money tonight. I asked him if he can stay at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, and he explained that it works on a lottery system. We discussed various places where a man without a home can sleep in Austin- some free, some for a low fee. He told me that he’s lived in and out of Austin since 1979 and that tonight he didn’t know which way to go. He didn’t know if he should sleep in the creek down below, or go find something north, away from the chill of Town Lake. He told me that he wasn’t sure what he was going to do tonight, but he had food now, and he was happy.
He grabbed me again and held me for a few seconds longer. As we parted ways, he asked me my name again.
“I’m Lauren. Truck, maybe I’ll see you around sometime.”
I wanted desperately to prevent him from sleeping on the street, but I didn’t know what to say or do. I didn’t know this man, but in the ten minutes our lives crossed, he helped me park, gave me a quarter and asked me about my day.
So, if you meet a tall, older man named Truck on the streets of Austin, please say hello, and ask him how his day is going.
Recently, I began volunteering for dinner service at ARCH, the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. If you’d like to learn more about how you can volunteer too, let me know!