This type of Shit Happens Every Day

15 Jul

I stumbled home one drunken November night from my boss’ home. Hoodie on my head, sack full of groceries, I braced myself for the quick yet cold jaunt. There were at least 3 different routes I could have taken to get home, but the quickest and most direct was to take a giant L, meaning I would go down 17th to Troost which would lead me directly to my studio apartment on 19th street.

I was a little inebriated but the whiskey couldn’t keep me warm from the chill of the unforgiving Tulsa wind. The chill became even more noticeable when I turned left onto Troost. Had it been not so cold, or had I been less drunk I would have picked up on my spidey senses telling me to take a different street. The wind had picked up a great deal in the time I had left my boss’ place. But I thought it was just a transition thing (I was leaving town for Oregon in little more than a month).

I ignored that feeling and walked down Troost towards my place. I started getting chills, the hairs on the back of my neck were erect and I suddenly felt sober. My senses were on high alert. This street was darker than others in our neighborhood, and there were at least 2 or 3 mangy dogs that belonged to people living on this block–one being a menacing looking German Shepard that was tied to a tree with a metal chain. I was exactly two minutes away from being in front of my Landlord’s lawn when I saw an extremely fit, Native American man holding a medal shovel in the middle of the street. He was shirtless, which worried me (because it was fucking freezing ass cold). He was also barefooted. This worried me even more–perhaps he was hopped up on something.

I tried to play it cool. ” What’s up man? How’s it going?”

“Stop right there.”

I turned around. “I’m sorry.”

“Stop right there. I know you broke into my buddy’s truck and took his radio.”

Oh shit. He was hopped up on something. I had to be very careful how I handled this. “Look man whatever it is I’m sure I help you out.” I was using a tone reserved for deescalating my clients at work. “Now tell me what’s going on?”

“You and your your fucking hoodlum buddies broke into my friend’s truck and stole his radio.”

He pointed to his friend’s apartment complex near Peoria. The tone of his voice and the stone cold look in his eye let me know I was in for some serious trouble if I even moved wrong. I was going to have to be real cool.

“Look man. I’m not sure what you’re talking about but we can call the police and hopefully get this squared away for you.” I pulled out my phone to dial them when the Man whistled. Immediately a truck turned its lights on and started driving up towards us.

“Don’t Move.” He said.

“I’m not going anywhere.” I told him.

The truck picked up speed and pulled up in front of us. The door opened wildly and a long, thin haired, portly hillbilly ran towards me. I took off running back towards 17th street and away from my apartment.
I looked back for a second to see the hillbilly get into the truck, the man with the shovel followed suit on foot. I was fucked. The image conjured up scenes from Coen brothers movies, Barton Fink and No Country For Old Men to be exact.I didn’t have time to even ponder how fast things had taken this weird turn. I was in fight or flight mode–and the odds weren’t in my favor to fight.

I ran. I screamed out as loud as I could to wake the neighbors “Help! Help!” (I know I know you’re supposed to yell “Fire” but everyone thinks that shit is easy until they are put in those situations).
I called the cops and just let the phone ring as I ran. I wouldn’t be able to talk and run. This was a race I could not afford to lose.

The truck pulled up beside me and then into the driveway in an attempt to cut me off. I diverted into the street, and avoided it while also cutting off the Native American in the process. This bought me a little time.

There was a 911 operator on the phone. I yelled to her that someone was chasing me on Troost street and that I needed help ASAP. I then hung up. By this point I was onto 17th again and running towards a more populated area near the bars on Peoria street.

I had probably run about 50 yards when I saw the truck on the main road. The men were yelling at me, something unintelligible. I was praying that they didn’t have a shotgun like on Easy Rider. I somehow had enough juice to kick it into an even higher gear that allowed me to run into the first bar I encountered.

This is where the story nosedives a little. I’ll spare the details of me pleading with the bartender and bouncer to call the police and to not kick me out of the bar (the way I burst into the place they thought I was the one hopped up on something)while the men basically waited for me outside. The story basically ends with me calling my boss to physically come to the bar and verify that I was with him the whole night. Before he arrived, the cops were treating me like a criminal(and why not? Was I not wearing a black hoodie and was sporting a bald haircut?), until he got there, yelling at me to shut up while I pleaded with them just to look into my backpack to see if they saw ANY stereo equipment.

Eventually things got sorted out, kind of. Despite them finding gizzards and dressing for a Thanksgiving dinner instead of stereo equipment, the men chasing me were not buying it. They were convinced that I had stashed my haul in some bushes somewhere and was stupid enough to walk back by the scene of the crime.

“This is a small town. We’ll find you. I’ll be seeing you again.” The man with the shovel said.I looked at the cops in disbelief.

“You fucking hear that? He’s threatening me. There’s nothing you can do?”

The woman cop who told me to shut up shook her head. Later, after taking my statement, her partner, who looked like the archetypal good ole boy joked, “I bet you were channeling your inner Jesse Owens back there to outrun them. Did it feel like 1950’s Alabama?”

My treatment from the Tulsa’s finest was more upsetting than the case of mistaken identity. At first indignant, now I was practically seething.

I didn’t get much sleep that night at my boss’ place. The next few nights were spent at a friend’s up near the Brookside area of Tulsa. It turned out this man lived only two blocks from me, his friend was just visiting that night. I avoided Troost for the next few weeks until I finally left town. I kept a blade on me at all times, I even began to sleep with a golf club within reach of my (then) sleeping bag.

There is very little doubt that had those men gotten a hold of me that I would have been badly hurt or worse. The sad part was this would have been unwarranted, simply a case of mistaken identity. This experience alone was enough for me to hate Tulsa, but knowing the history of the city itself, it didn’t surprise me that something like this happened.

This is also why I’m so personally upset about the Trayvon Martin case. I understand just how easily things can get weird on a simple stroll home from somewhere, inconveniently dressed in a manner that arouses suspicion, merely because of a combination of clothing and skin color. I have been there and I am fortunate enough to be able to recall what it felt like having a truck run up on me and have fools come at me with intent to do harm. I am also well aware of how apathetic the local police can be when a black man is wrongfully accosted (mishandling evidence and not even arresting George Zimmerman until 6 weeks later). I was lucky.I just happened to get away. But that night I discovered what the meaning of terror looks and feels like, and I am quite certain that young Trayvon felt that similar spike in adrenaline the night of his death.

I wasn’t thinking of the Trayvon Martin case at all yesterday and didn’t find out the verdict until this morning. Last night I was playing soccer at the local high school here in Lawrence with a beautiful blend of Mexicans, Peruvians, Nigerians, Trinidadians,Asians and Romanians. The weather was surprisingly mild and the skyline was becoming increasingly beautiful.

I love where I am living now. Sycamore trees line many of the neighborhood blocks, shading pedestrians from the sun at high noon. Any given night can bring a bunny rabbit sighting in someone’s front yard. Fireflies weave in and out of sight as if to punctuate the presence of summer. You might even spot a deer running across the bricked sidewalks and streets. These are all just the additional perks of feeling safe in a progressive community.

It is comforting to know that I live in town where I feel safe taking late night walks anywhere in the city. During one of the water breaks I smiled to myself to think how fortunate I was to be in such a special (dare I say sacred?)place. By leaving behind a 34 k job in a town that was “easy to live in” to work for 8 bucks an hour, I somehow raised the quality of my life by lowering my standard of living.

It is easy for me to be happy and smiling, which probably makes me approachable and “non threatening”. I only pray that if for some reason, late at night; if I’m forced to throw a jacket and hat that covers my scowling-from -the cold-face,that some local doesn’t panic and decide to take the law into their own hands. I hope that I don’t get tackled from behind one dark night by a local homeowner because I was wearing ear buds and I couldn’t hear them yelling at me to stop.

This whole situation is sad and infuriating.

George Zimmerman gets to walk out of court a free man and this innocent 17 year old boy is dead, and his family is hurting, and will continue hurting for a very long time. Nothing may ever be okay again for those who loved Trayvon.
And who is to say Zimmerman feels contrite about this? Maybe he only feels relief? Maybe he feels like he got over and runs back down to Peru for asylum, before he comes across the wrong negro on the street.

I remember the Rodney King incident, and the verdict. I remember the Oscar Grant incident and the verdict. So unfortunately I’m not surprised about the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. Knowing what happened before in the aforementioned cases made this easy to predict (especially with Florida state law making it difficult to try Zimmerman for manslaughter). It doesn’t make this any less disappointing. The state of Florida is fucked up, and this country is just plain fucked.

Justice is only a word.

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