Several years ago an instructor at Huston-Tillotson asked me to come talk to her class.
The truth is, she wanted me to give them money but I went to give them inspiration, which is much more valuable than money.
That is something that my dad taught me as we listened to the stories Paul Harvey would spin over the car radio on the way to school every morning when I was a child. Often the heater took FOREVER
to warm up and still, I remember it fondly because of the love and wisdom my dad shared with me as I rode with him.
I also learned a lot of things about being in business from watching my dad work at Huston-Tillotson
for over 50 years and operate his side businesses too, inclusive of a radio repair shop and being a rental property impresario.
Trust me, it couldn't have been very easy for him because this was back in the day when
Black people weren't even allowed to drink from certain water fountains or to sit wherever they wanted in public places or
even let their children play in public parks.
I was there and I remember everything.
I grew up in the late fifties thru early seventies and I haven't forgotten the bad or the good.
I learned from it while keeping those memories filed away for perhaps only posterity... I hope.
My first job was helping my track star brother throw newspapers. I hated it and instead
decided that I would make money cutting grass around the neighborhood. I soon learned that PRICE was not as important
as whatever I would do extra, like pulling weeds or trimming bushes. Soon I found a way to get other kids to work for
me so that we all made money and had repeat business. Unfortunately cutting grass was not only seasonal but the money wasn't
really enough to buy any big-ticket items with, so I quit and let a friend take it from there, who paid me a residual
of twenty five cents for every yard they did that next year (a yard paid $3). It was an excellent exit strategy considering
I would've given it away anyway.
With the help of my brother James, I started selling programs at UT Football games.
I did pretty well because I always found the fortitude, rain or dry to sell them all. At that time I also
started working my first full-time job at the Varsity Theatre on the Drag as an Usher. I made all of eighty five cents
an hour and was happy. It was 1965 and I was 12.
I got a lot of satisfaction from that job and I met a lot of people who I hold in high esteem
today because of those times and all the things that I witnessed about them during that time. 1965 thru 1969 was
a terrible anti-war period that helped to define and shape the America that we are living in today.
It was a foundation for today's truth (and lies) of our government and still, I am smiling because adversity and strife define
I met a hippie named Ralph McElroy who turned out to be one of the most prodigious geniuses of Austin.
You never heard of him have you. He's no doubt a stealthy billionaire many times over living in NW Austin, quietly doing
what he does best: Making Money all over the world.
I met Ralph by accident. His best friend was a wire-rimmed glassed professor-looking engineer
named Charles Garrett who lived a few doors up from me. Charles had a new red MGB-GT with black leather seats and being
the fact that I am a car nut, I naturally gravitated to the car. I met Ralph at Charles' house and thought to myself,
"This White man looks familiar. Where have I seen him before and why is he a friend of Charles'?"
I figured out where I'd seen him the next day when emptying the trash at the theatre but I still
don't really know the whole truth about why he was meeting at Charles' house with those other UT hippies. Ralph worked
at the Les Ami restaurant behind the theatre on 24th street.
Actually he owned it and as I later learned, Ralph already owned the property on the whole block. Talk about insight!
Ralph McElroy was the 3rd entrepreneur that I knew, my dad being the 1st and my brother being
Just think about it: When it comes to making money the
scale of success shouldn't matter as much as the effort and the fact that you dared to try to win. If you fail you
keep trying until you succeed. It's worked for me.
I don't know Ralph's story. I don't know where he started or how many times he failed
before he started getting it right. I know he's getting it right now. This I KNOW. More power to him.
I wanted to make my own money at first because I wanted to buy better clothes than what my mom
was dressing me in so I worked hard and started shopping at Jack Morton’s & Reynolds Penland downtown and Horace
& Jorace's on the Drag. They had the finest duds.
Fast forward past my years of driving cab, working in law enforcement in Dallas and Austin to
the early 1990's where finding out I had Diabetes actually made life better for the mobility impaired.
Don't you know that's how it usually works? WE
have to have it hit close to home to care about everyone else. That's how it goes. Nancy Reagan never cared about
curing any disease until her loved one got it. The same is true for me.
When I was first diagnosed with Diabetes I was completely blind.
It was as if someone turned off the light switch on me... Suddenly. It was terrible. I couldn't go where
I wanted to go, be where I wanted to be or do what I wanted to do without someone else's approval because without help, I
was STUCK and miserable. Once Dr. Steven Fehrencamp got my insulin level under control, my eye sight
returned and I started thinking, "I bet this is exactly how people in wheelchairs feel." That's when I started
buying wheelchair accessible vans and caring about the mobility deprived.
Sure there's Capital Metro but what if you don't subscribe to the service
or worse yet, what if you want to go somewhere that's after Cap Metro's hours? You already know the answer is the same
as how I felt when I was blind and stuck at the whim of whomever I depended. THAT's why I created Austin Cab's ParaTransit
Services and that's WHY the City of Austin has so many wheelchair accesible taxicabs between all the cab companies on
the streets today. My diabetes started it all.
This unfortunately is a failure though because operating wheelchair
accessible vehicles is a money-losing proposition. There are no grants, no stipends and no foundations that help
supplement the over costs. There's just ginormous expenses and deficit and any accountant will tell you it's a bad way
to be in business if you cannot turn a profit.
But I look at it another way because this an instance when losing
money is a good thing. We are helping to give hope and improve the quality of life to people that were basically prisoners.
That's how I felt.
What we're doing promotes freedom and everyone knows that the erasure
of barriers means people can enjoy their freedom and grow. It's worth it then.