It had been a long stretch of hard times as I rode my horse into Houston, Texas. The week prior I had gone 5 days without food, and was looking haggard and gaunt. My horse had plenty to eat as it was early springtime and the grass was growing thick and sweet. The region east of the city was known as the national home of the Ku Klux Klan, and although I was not black, the locals considered any outsider suspect. The fast had been broken two days before by a bowl of squirrel gumbo – at least that is what I was told it was. At that point it really did not matter. I had never gone hungry before, so it was a sobering experience.
Entering the city, the newspaper coverage from the prior day was starting to show results, as vehicle after vehicle stopped and offered anywhere from a few dollars to 20. I was beginning to get hungry again when a man drove up in an expensive luxury vehicle and through his window asked me to join him for breakfast. He pointed to a nearby breakfast grill restaurant, and I rode my horse there and went in for some much needed hot food. He ordered the $1.99 special for me and himself, then spent the next 30 minutes drilling me with all sorts of questions regarding my journey.
I knew it was going to take most of the day to cross the city, so I was eager to get back on the road, but continued to entertain the wealthy gentleman in hopes that a generous donation was going to be given. After he ran out of questions I told him that I had to get moving in order to be out of the city by nightfall. He handed me his business card and said ‘write to me a few times a month so I can keep up with your travels’. Across the back of my horse pack was painted in large letters ‘Donations Appreciated’, and in the morning newspaper it was clearly stated that I had gone through tough times in prior weeks and was funded by donations. The man took up 30 minutes of my time and energy and I had a business card and a $1.99 breakfast to show for it. He drove off in his luxury car and I returned to my worn saddle.
The quickest route out of the city was through the barrio…or poor section of town. In a city of this size (5th largest in the U.S.) I was more than slightly nervous riding such an attention grabbing mode of transportation through the roughest part of town, but any other route would have me riding after dark, so I leaned forward and told my horse, ‘let’s hope we have luck on our side’. The further we went, the more ramshackle the buildings were. There was graffiti everywhere and trash in every corner. The few people I saw looked like they did not go out in the sun very often. Many looked to me and my horse as a leftover of whatever drunken or drugged binge they had been on the night before.
We were in the heart of the worst part of the city when up ahead I saw a girl look around the corner of a rundown-motel-turned-single-room-apartments, and let out a big scream. Within seconds a small crowd came around the corner and I knew they were gathering for me. As I approached a woman stepped forward and said, ‘aren’t you that dude I saw in the paper this morning?’ I told her I was, not sure where it was all going to end up, when she said, ‘well, I’ll be damned! Come on in and let us get you some food, and your horse some water and food!’ I did not have much of a choice as she grabbed the lead rope and led my mare into the dirt courtyard of the establishment.
There was one sorry looking tree in the center of the courtyard that looked right at home in the sorry looking apartment complex. I tied my horse to it. Each ‘motel’ room was now living quarters to some of the roughest looking characters you would ever hope to avoid. Some doors opened briefly so the occupant could see what all the fuss was about, and upon seeing a horse being led in, the doors either abruptly shut back up or the bloodshot eyed inhabitants leaned on the open door sill. The girl and her friends went room to room and returned with carrots and apples and a pail of water. My horse was equally pleased with the break as she was with the fresh produce and water.
The woman that led me in opened her doorway to get two chairs to add to the two outdoor ones that were set up around a wooden electrical-spool-converted-to-dining-table. None of the chairs matched, and looked like they were found at the dump, but my rump was pleased for a break, too. It was 11 a.m. The woman brought out a hotplate burner and started to fry me up one of the best big breakfast meals I have ever had in my life. The $1.99 meal the rich guy had bought me earlier had already been digested. The woman read to everyone gathered the story from the newspaper the day before.
As I ate, one by one the people came up and set down offerings of canned food or spare change, with a small mound of donations growing in the center of the ‘table’. No one asked me any questions, but allowed me and the horse to eat in peace. I was really dumbstruck by this as I had answered a million questions up to that point by curious people all over the United States where I had ridden. But these folks respected what I was doing, and lived quiet private lives in the shadows of the big shiny city I was leaving behind me. I began to tell them some of my best stories from the road, feeling guilty that people with so little were willing to share with me.
It was one of my fondest memories from the road. I so enjoyed talking and laughing with those humble people. I looked in their faces and knew that I should take all of the donations with me, even if they were not useful to me, just so they would feel that they helped me along my way. Once I was back in the saddle and saying goodbye to everyone, the woman who dragged me in ran out to the street with a piece of folded paper. On it was her address, and in it was $40 in food stamps – all the food money she had left for the month. She ran back to her room crying, a mixture of joy at having met someone ‘famous’ from the newspaper, and sad that I had to get back on the road to make it out of the city by nightfall.
I went to hand the food stamps to the daughter and she gave me a stern look. ‘Don’t you dare not take those, you would break her heart. She wants to help you’. I wanted to argue, but I couldn’t. It was her mother’s way of escaping the hovel she was living in – if only for a brief moment. Her daughter waved and said, ‘don’t worry D.C., everyone here will take care of her and make sure she has food’. I have never forgotten the smallest detail of that hour I spent with those folks. I could not tell you the rich man’s name or what brand of car he drove. I never wrote to him. I wrote to Suzanne until a letter was returned ‘moved, address unknown’.
I don’t know how many experiences from the journey that I took that are still with me to any detail. Maybe several dozen I guess. It seems like another lifetime ago. That 60 minutes of this lifetime has stuck with me, and left a mark on me. So many life lessons were imprinted in 60 minutes. So much prejudice and social hierarchy were washed away in 60 minutes. You simply do not get too many of those great experiences in a lifetime. I have kept myself open for them my whole life, and been blessed so many times for it.