The sun is shining. It is one of the first warm days since spring officially began. On Cicero Avenue near Madison Street Veronica Bell is dressed in a light green gown and a pointed crown, both of faux wool, its apexes folding downward as she jumps up and down and paces the sidewalk and street.
“Get your taxes done today!”
“If you file right now, right here, you get 50 percent off!”
“Liberty Taxes is the way to go!”
This is a small portion of Bell’s promotional arsenal. She is the face of the 9 S. Cicero Ave. branch of Liberty Tax Services. Known in the trade as a “flagger” she is at the corner five days a week. She dons a Statue of Liberty costume and distributes fliers in an attempt to accumulate business for the store.
Bell shuffles to and fro waving and dancing, concluding each and every encounter with passersby, loiterers, waiting bus riders and the drivers and passengers of halted cars by saying: “Have a Blessed Day!” Some are taken aback by her zealousness, although many appear to find her enthusiasm infectious.
“I love greeting and meeting people,” Bell told the Austin Weekly. “It just feels good to bring a smile to their faces when they’re not having a good day.”
“She’s very spunky,” said Latoya Tate, a tax preparer at Liberty. “She’ll be out there if it’s snowing or raining. She’ll get the job done.”
Bell said her friend Shakira referred her to Liberty Taxes about two months ago because Bell “knows how to deal with the public.”
Although she is content as the face of Liberty Tax Services, Bell conceded that it’s just a “job” and she is happy to be working during the recession and after what she called “years of struggle.”
Inside Liberty’s offices she decided to elaborate on her past, albeit with some skepticism at first. That apprehension gave way to an insistence that her story be published, if for no other reason than to “let people know there is hope.”
Bell, 42, is a recovered addict. She says she has been addicted to crack cocaine, on and off, for the better part of 20 years. Throughout that time Bell was ostracized by friends, her children were either taken from her or refused communication, until she eventually hit rock bottom.
“It was all make-believe,” Bell said of her outlook on life as an addict.
“Now this is me,” she said. “I’m happy naturally…I love myself today.”
Certain things are difficult for her to remember, but she does recall reaching a point at which she dedicated herself to change. She claimed that she managed to do so through prayer and subsequently has been clean for eight months.
“Now I have strong willpower,” Bell said. She pointed to the corner of Madison Street and Cicero, once she was outside again. “They sell it (crack cocaine) up and down here, but it doesn’t bother me. I pray for them.”
“She’s come a long way,” said Tate.
This is not the first time Bell has waged war on her former addiction – a previous attempt lasted two years but was ultimately futile – but she swears it will be the last. She wants to mend her relationship with her children: Lolita, Erica, Beonca, Shamica and Gregory, and spend as much time as possible with her granddaughter Mia. Her children range in age from 13 to 26 and are scattered throughout the country in places like “Pittsburgh” and “Texas.”
“Someday I hope we can all get together for a bar-b-que,” said Bell, smiling.