Austin, Texas (a small excerpt from “No Shoes”)

The night was balmy and thick and I had a hankering for whisky. My penchant for Wild Irish Rose was fading by the day. I longed to sit on a leather stool on 6th Street and wanted more than anything to taste the sweet whiskey at Maggie Mae’s. The old saloon was iconic and I had heard enough stories about the place and wanted to see it with my own eyes.I pondered my plan while my fellow comrades busily counted handfuls of change and one dollar bills. They stood together like wretched hunchbacks under the humming street lamp, one with her hands held together as if she was praying and the other picking the coins from her sweaty palms. The neon glow glittered across the pennies and nickels as they were carefully sprinkled into an old canvas water canteen. The sky was burnt violet, a cloudless eternity of stars and the faint glow of a nearby city.

My palms were sweaty as I reached for car door. “Let’s ship on out now.” I croaked as I ducked my head and climbed into the back seat. The old vinyl was always hot no matter what time of day. Empty Taco Bell bags littered the floor mats. The overflowing ashtray smelled of stale days long past. I spent a lot of time back there gazing out the rear window as cities and landscapes passed by in a flurry of colors and shapes. My various stages of inebriation often led to long naps where I would drift in and out of blurry dreams and wake to meet my only true friend, the black night. Much like the hounds I was use to riding in, I grew a great affection for the back seat.

“Who’s driving this beast tonight?” Cyndie asked, fumbling with her backpack. The car belonged to Maribel and she didn’t want anyone else behind the wheel unless she was too intoxicated to drive. Then she would let Cyndie drive or sometimes a stranger. I was only seventeen and had no experience driving cars, hence my penchant for the back seat.

“I’ll drive but I don’t want to get stuck downtown. Last night was crazy,” replied Maribel as she opened the driver’s door.

“Why not bring one of the guys with us? They can all drive.” I said lazily, my arm hanging out the window. I caught a glimpse of myself in the rear view mirror and turned away.

“Them all are probably sick of us by now. We have been staying with them for almost a week. I think we should be fixing to leave soon.” Cyndie added. She always seemed to look alarmed even in the midst of a mundane conversation. She changed her shirt and climbed into the car.

“They offered to let us stay with them as long as we need to. I get the feeling they don’t hang out with too many chicks. Besides, they like our company. Who wouldn’t?” My comment raised a few eyebrows and drew laughter.

“I think we she should thank them when we get back tonight and be on our way tomorrow.” Maribel replied ever so pragmatically.

The car started with a rumble as we pulled out of the gas station parking lot. We drove slowly past dozens of sand colored ranch homes. Manicured lawns and garbage cans gave way to busy intersections and heavy traffic. I gazed off into the distance and saw the neon buildings and knew we were getting closer to downtown. Our first night rolling into town had been in the early hours of morning as the city was still in her quiet sleep. Maribel had grown perplexed as she made a turn only to find us caught in a maze of one-way streets. She was more confident in her driving tonight. Although we were weary from sitting in the sun all day, there was a sense of excitement in the air. The night was my friend and belonged to us.

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