Two drunken men in their late twenties stumble down the steps of a brick house into the street. They ask what the hell I am doing walking the streets of Hyde Park at three AM.
“You looking for a place to rob?” the taller one pushes.
I could shoot back the same line but I am prepared and tell them I’m walking off a hangover. I can tell the tall one is looking for a fight, but the other laughs and pushes him ahead and they are soon down a different street.
I walk all the way from my apartment on Avenue F to beyond the university into a rich neighborhood north of campus where I see lovely Victorian homes I’d never been by in fifteen years of Austin. I walk amazed at the distance one can cover on foot. It’s a cool night in May and the moon is bright and almost full in the sky. Its light makes me nervous.
I am searching for the perfect place to commit a crime but I continue running into more drunks, probably students. We laugh and point at each other.
I want a street with next to no traffic, a street without too many streetlights, a street with darkened porch lights. Some houses have lights on inside as if some insomniac is watching television.
Houses on corners are eliminated for my crime because corners are visible from too many directions. This is Texas and there’s always the possibility you can get shot.
My breaking of the law will be minor, but that does not make it easy. I am very tense and thus cautious. I wish to pull off a sticker from a car license plate and glue the sticker on my license plate. My wife and I want to leave town and go live where things are cheaper. We won’t be able to pay next month’s rent because I lost my security job at Highland Mall. I need an up-to-date license plate or some cop will stop my Oldsmobile and ask to see my insurance card. They could fine me, impound the car, and even lock me up.
I am too poor to buy car insurance, and you need car insurance to get a sticker, plus when you get it you need to pay a tax based on the value of your car. My old 1978 Oldsmobile isn’t worth much here in 1990, but still the tax is a significant amount to me.
After walking for two hours I finally find the perfect quiet street not far from my apartment. It’s a dark street. There’s no traffic, no streetlights, no porch lights and no inside lights on. I spot at the curb a Volkswagen dented and old. Its sticker is curled at the edges and could be a tad loose. I must pull steady and hard, but be careful to get it off without a tear.
The person who owns the car lives inside a small house up from the curb built probably in the 1940s. I imagine she’s poor like me, no doubt a student. She is a she I assume, since there’s a small pink toy kitten dangling from her rear view mirror.
In about ten minutes I’ve worked the sticker off. I step into a darker spot by a tree and put the sticker in my wallet.
The student won’t notice the sticker gone on her license plate until a cop pulls her over. I feel bad about my crime but elated too. This has been an adventure. Will the police believe her when she tells them someone took her sticker?
My wife Katie and I can now get out of this expensive city. We can find a way to climb out of our monetary shithole.
I walk the short distance home, unlock the door quietly and slip inside. Soon I am back in the warm bed with Katie and back asleep.
When I wake in the morning, Katie is raised up on her elbow and looking at me. “Where were you?” She asks.
“I couldn’t sleep. I read in the front room for a while and then went for a walk to tire myself more.”
“Worried about your job loss?”
“Yeah, and our money situation.”
“Well there’s one good thing. You don’t have to get up at six and rush off to the mall. We can spend time together in the morning.”
“Yeah. Would you like some warming up? I can get your engine going.”
“That’s what I was hoping for.”