Fish

In Waco Texas, my friend and I got picked up by a guy in a hatchback who looked exactly like David Koresh. Couldn’t have been him though because Koresh had died in 93 and this was a couple years later. Sure was weird though. Maybe they were related. We were hitchhiking down to Austin because my friend was attending the University of Texas.

In Austin I asked around to find out what the other homeless people did at night, assuming that the thing to do was sleep in a shelter but most everybody said they camped out in the woods. Seemed the shelters were mainly for the very old or violent. Somebody got stabbed the night before, Fish told me. Fish was a Cherokee hippie guitar player. He kept saying he and I should join forces and roll on up the California coast together, playing music for the people, spreading the news of song.

I don’t know if it’s the same now as it was in the 90s, but back then there were the hippies on one end of the strip, who played music and smoked weed. Then there were the punks who pierced and tattooed each other with a weird homemade contraption. Sometimes, like a foreign delegation, they’d wander down to where the hippies sat, and formally inquire if we had a broken guitar string they could use for their tattoo gun. Then they’d take the coiled string and quietly walk back the three blocks to the church steps and resume whatever it was that they did all day together.  Then, down the way, there were the panhandlers dressed in all their layers of clothes (“10, 11, 12,” one old man counted out loud for me in the course of telling me his all his tricks and stories about his brushes with glory and close shaves with catastrophe).  And drifting back and forth between the hippies and the punks and panhandlers were the runaways. I fell in with the hippies, and every day I’d play guitar and sing the same songs over and over again.  Everybody had a nickname – Fish, Gunslinger, Cockroach.  Fish got his nickname because of a big tattoo of a fish he had on his forearm. Gunslinger had a bad temper and a cowboy hat.  Not sure how Cockroach got his name.  I told everybody that my name was Juice.

Every day there was some small drama, usually involving the police in one way or another. Or some church lady would invite us into the church basement for sandwiches.  Or some college kid would stop to jam out to a song. It broke up the monotony. Anyway, nobody recommended the shelter. So I found a gully right next to the police station, and every night I’d slip down into the gully and lay out my sleeping bag and go to sleep right there. I figured probably there was no place safer than right by the police station.

My friend attended college there, at the University of Texas, and sometimes his roommate, who worked in the cafeteria would bring me food. That was real nice of him.  Eventually I started to feel nostalgic about my church friends in Pennsylvania so I went out to Route 35 and started hitchhiking north.

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