At Providence's Gate
Home | Providence Gate Chat | Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Chapter Five | Chapter Six | Chapter Seven | Chapter Eight | Chapter Nine | Chapter Ten | Chapter Eleven | Chapter Twelve | Chapter Thirteen | Chapter Fourteen | Chapter Fifteen | Chapter Sixteen | Chapter Seventeen | Chapter Eighteen | Chapter Nineteen | Chapter Twenty | Chapter Twenty One | Chapter Twenty Two | Chapter Twenty Three | Chapter Twenty Four | Chapter Twenty Five
Chapter Two

      I am told time usually seems to pass faster on return trips.  I was in no great rush to return to Texas.  It seemed like the right place to go after a year of living in the real world, but what was I going back to?  I walked out of the only job I ever had almost a year earlier and was too embarrassed or ashamed, maybe a bit of both, to go back to the university and try to get it back.  I had not even received my final paycheck after my abrupt departure from the hallowed halls of academia.

     I knew no one in my childhood home of Alice.  My parents were long dead and any friends who knew them, itinerant farm workers, were probably either dead or had moved along.  Yet I was drawn to that small town just outside Corpus Christi, as shad or salmon are compelled to return to the place of their birth to spawn. They were seeking to propagate, I was looking for a refuge. 

Still I worried, was I being drawn to my home as  the birds who return to South Padre Island year after year or was I traveling headlong to my final downfall, much like a moth attracted by the blue bug zapper hanging from someones patio cover?

     The questions swirled around in my head and the closer my beat-up Caravan took me to the Lone Star State, the more confusing the answers became.  Arriving in Texas after crossing into the panhandle did nothing to clear my vision of the future.  A light snow that had been accompanying me since Colorado was quickly turning into a full blown blizzard.  As hazardous as the weather was it comforted me, afforded me more time to devise a plan.

     Before I went crazy and ran off to Las Vegas, I was a very organized person.  I had calendars, charts, graphs, lists and index cards that clearly and succinctly plotted and planned out every action I needed to perform in order to bring a project to completion.  Now, while the alcohol-induced haze I forced upon my body and spirit in Nevada began to fade, I vowed to buy a notebook and pen so I could once again put some discipline in my erratic life.

     I arrived in Amarillo just as the Texas Department of Transportation closed the interstate in both directions.  I was among hundreds of vehicles stranded in the small panhandle city until the storm subsided and the roads were declared safe for travel.  I stopped at the nearest truckstop and inquired about the location of the local Walmart.  Fortunately it was less than two miles away.

     Walmart, true to its television advertising, is indeed a friendly place to visit and the minute I stepped into the brightly lit superstore I received a wonderful Texas greeting from a chubby little cherub of a senior citizen wearing a blue smock.

     The store was fairly empty and I easily found the provisions I sought along with a notebook and ballpoint pen with which to plan my future.  The manager of the store announced on the public address system that it would close in 15 minutes as I approached the checkout counter.  The storm had temporarily suspended the retail giants 24 hour day.

     Reaching my snow covered Caravan, I decided to remain in the parking lot.  My funds were too low to pay for lodging and the roads too bad to seek out the Salvation Army shelter.  Within half an hour, mine was the only vehicle in the huge parking lot.

     The relentless snow kept falling and the wind, howling like a banshee, steadily whipped it against my battered Caravan until I could no longer see the headlights and flashers of the giant snowplows fighting to keep the highways open.  I knew they were still on the job because I could hear their blades striking the pavement.

     I had acquired a very expensive down-filled sleeping bag from the Goodwill Store in Las Vegas. Old Johns backpack was now mine. I also had a propane lantern with a full tank attached, a relic of my one non-academic diversion during my days as a professor - fishing.  It was this light source that allowed me to write in my notebook as I waited out the incessant storm.  The Caravan was also equipped with a plug-in two cup coffee maker and I was sitting in the back of the vehicle drinking a hot cup of instant coffee when the sound of a car engine disturbed my thought.

     It was to my right, the side of the mini-van that was covered in snowdrift.  The little engine revved up again after having stopped a moment and I saw a Jeep come along side.  Its driver signaled me to open a window so I jumped into the front passenger seat and did just that as the Jeep driver pulled up close alongside.

     You cant sleep out here, youll freeze to death or die from carbon monoxide poisoning if you run your engine too much, he warned. I told my rescuer I couldnt spare the fuel to run the engine for warmth and besides, I had an Artic sleeping bag that was more than adequate to keep me warm.

     He then told me I could get a free room in the Motel Six just 300 yards from where my Caravan sat and he kindly followed me to the motel, finding it necessary to push me twice with his jeep.  I arrived at the Motel 6 where I learned all the area motels took in stranded travelers during big storms. 

     This was the Taj Mahal in comparison with where I had just spent almost 12 months.  I relished every moment in that room, realizing this motel bed may be the last one I sleep in for some time to come.

     The storm ended some time during the early morning hours and by three oclock that afternoon the interstate was declared passable and I continued on my journey home to Alice.  As I reached the outskirts of Fort Worth, the Caravans transmission began to slip in the lower gears.  As most of the remainder of the trip would be on superhighways, I opted to continue on.  Actually, I had no choice, with just enough money for a bit of food and gas, I would have been stranded for some time had I stopped for repairs.

     I made it to San Antonio but the old mini-van that I had purchased used some five years earlier decided this was the end of the rad.  I left Interstate 35 in the Alamo City, driving the balking vehicle to an underpass where I parked in what I hoped was a non-conspicuous place.

     My faithful mini-van that had taken me to Las Vegas and most of the way back without so much as a sputter, would require much more money than I could immediately muster if it was to make the trip to Alice.  I quickly decided to live in it and find some day labor jobs until I had saved enough to get it moving again.

     The old Caravan served me well as shelter for nearly two months.  Then one day, upon returning from foraging for aluminum cans I approached my home and noticed an orange paper attached to the drivers side window. It told me if I didnt move my car within 24 hours it was subject to being towed away by the city.

     The Caravan may as well been attached to the ground as far as I was concerned.  There was no way I could move it. I packed my bare essentials in Old Johns backpack, rolled up my sleeping bag and scouted around for a suitable place to hide my belongings. Once that task was accomplished, I went back to the mini-van to see if there were any other treasures I may have overlooked.  There were none.

     If a man must be homeless, San Antonio is one of the best cities in the country to be in.  There is absolutely no reason to go hungry The Bexar County Fellowship feeds as many street people as show up for lunch at their downtown sup kitchen.  The San Antonio Clergyman Alliance (SACA) operates a homeless shelter for families and singles, the Salvation Army, River City Mens Mission and some other smaller resources provide food, clothing and shelter.

     Within days of losing my immobile home, I was an expert on where a fellow in San Antonio can get temporary shelter, food, showers, clothes, and other necessities of life.

     The Sallie (Salvation Army)on Nolan Street, will allow homeless men 3 consecutive days of room and board.  The mens mission allows you 7 days and they need not be consecutive.  The SACA Shelter was very liberal if they had any beds left when you arrived.

     I never stayed at the SACA Shelter.  The few times I contemplated it and stood in line to be processed, the crazies scared me.  I would rather sleep next to the dumpster where my car had been confiscated under Interstate 35 than in a shelter with scary mentally ill homeless people.

     During the infrequent bouts of really cold weather, I would go to the Sallie and use the three nights they authorized every 30 days.  It was a very strict place to live, very militaristic, lots of rules and regulations.  When you arrived around 3 pm to wait for your name to be called you had better be completely sober.  The attendant processing transients tested the alcohol level of everyone spending the night.

     The River City Mens Mission while also strict allowed a person seven nights in 30 days and they need not be taken consecutively.  This was my rainy night haven.  You were required to sign in at 5 pm and take a shower immediately afterward.  Chapel was held at precisely 7 pm and attendance was mandatory.  It was followed by a filling meal, usually a hearty soup with bread.  Bedtime was at 8:30 pm and wake-up at 5 am.  They offered a cup of hot coffee then everyone had to leave until 5 pm when the ritual started all over again.

     Finding shelter was not difficult and finding a good meal was even easier. Typically I would go to the Bexar County Fellowships soup kitchen located on the corner of Broadway and 10th Street for my first meal of the day at 11 am.  The Sallie provided an excellent supper at 5:30 pm.  On Saturdays a group from a local church set up a soup kitchen under a downtown overpass and served wonderfully filling meals.  Several churches in and near downtown provided meals on Sunday morning.

     One in particular, the Park Street Methodist Church had a very well attended ministry for street people on Sunday mornings.  Opening the doors to their basement at 8:30 am, the pastor provided music, prayer and a short talk that was too interesting and fun to be called a sermon.  Once a month some church people who owned an optometry business arranged for homeless men, women and children to be examined for and receive eye glasses.

     For nearly three years my life consisted of eating at one of these establishments set up for the homeless and sleeping, more often than not, next to a dumpster under Interstate 35.  During the day I would look for aluminum cans, panhandle at a busy intersection, or, when I was really desperate, line up a day labor job to earn about forty dollars.

     When the police first impounded the Caravan, I had hoped to put together enough money to get it back.  I even went to the impound yard to check on the cost.  It would cost me fifty-five dollars to have it released, then, before  Id be allowed to drive it, I would have to get it inspected and registered.  The money needed just seemed so overwhelming to me.

     Besides, San Antonio had a great bus system and for fifteen dollars a month I could take unlimited rides on any VIA bus I wanted.  So I became complacent, uninterested in retrieving my mini-van.  The longer I went without it, realizing the impound fee kept climbing month after month, I simply wrote it off my record, erased it from my memory bank. 

     Although I was continuing to drink quite heavily, my old thirst for knowledge from my previous life was returning.  Most mornings I would wake up, go to a nearby church where the janitor would give me a hot cup of coffee, then walk to the library to quench my growing thirst.

     Public libraries, especially those in cities the size of San Antonio, are truly havens for street people.  They provide valuable information and nearly limitless entertainment.  There are computers to check and send email on, newspapers from all over the world and very clean rest rooms.  Best of all, if you stay awake and dont smell too bad, they wont kick you out.


I see you looking at me strangely. Ah, you are wondering how a highly educated erudite person could allow himself to be dragged down into the gutter day after day.  Well Margo, Ill tell you in one word Responsibility.

Street people have no need to be responsible.

     After 45 years living an extremely predictable life, I wanted something different.  Its not difficult to explain, I wanted friends, not colleagues.  I wanted life to be spontaneous, not boring.  And street people became my friends.  The everyday man became my friends.  Manny and Louie were the first of many good friends I acquired during my bout of homelessness.

     And let me tell you something else, Margo. Except for the crazies, and there are many of them on the streets, I was accepted without question.  Race wasnt an issue, education didnt matter. We were all equals, regardless of skin color, country of birth, former stations in life.

     The one thing we all had in common was we were homeless.  One guy walking the streets of San Antonio was a surgeon in his prior life.  I knew many former educators and a lawyer, no two lawyers.

     I lived that life on the streets of the Alamo City for nearly three years.  I was invisible to those who lived the straight life, you know, those who worked 9 to 5, had two cars and two-and-one-half children.  I lived in my own, psychologically and spiritually comfortable world.

     Im getting to what caused my life to change.  It happened suddenly, almost cataclysmically.  I was laying next to my dumpster around midnight one night and a 20-year-old sociopaths course intersected mine and changed my life in an instant.  But before I tell you about him, you need to know a little background.