Returning home after 1 am this morning...from visiting friends and exchanging late Christmas gifts...nearly home...feeling cocky...explaining to my kids, Clark Griswald style, that it's all about driving..."People don't know how to drive in this shit...if you keep cool and keep moving, momentum will carry you through."
God, sick of listening to me, stops my vehicle cold.
We are stuck.
Right in the middle of the road.
Just a few blocks from our home.
Spin...spin...forward...reverse...forward...reverse...the smell of burning rubber.
The gas gauge is on E...I cannot do this rocking back and forth thing for much longer or I will be stuck in the snow and out of gas as well.
A bunch of black guys start walking towards our van.
Now when people tell a story and they say "black guy" or "Asian lady" I always stop them and say "Is this person's skin tone essential to the telling of your story?"
In this case it is, because it may be self-implicating.
I wonder if I was more afraid due to the fact that these young men were black.
I analyze it against, imagining a group of white guys coming up on my van like that and I think I would have been just as scared considering the time and place.
But I wonder...
As I exited the vehicle I could hear my own words in my head, the words I have said in defense of my neighborhood a thousand times...
"This area isn't so bad. Don't be out on foot late at night and you will be alright. All those people you see on the news are always getting shot at like 2:00 AM. Nothing good is going on around here at 2:00 AM."
I look at my iPhone and think about how it is currency for thieves.
It says it is 1:47 AM an then it ominously powers down.
Taking the safety off my weapon I get out and say "Sup guys." realizing in my British Peacoat, Old Navy sweater and graying bead, that I am completely lacking in street cred.
"We thought we would try to push you out." one of them says.
Slightly relieved, adrenaline still coursing through my veins. I can no longer tell if I am just a father trying to protect his children or some kind of racist who has fooled himself into believing that he was evolved.
"It's been a long day. Just need to get this van unstuck and I'll figure it out tomorrow." I say to myself.
I start to say "Good lookin out", but remembering my Old Navy sweater, I say "Oh thanks guys. I appreciate the help." and we all start to push.
We push hard...we get it rocking back and forth...my sense of guilt increases with each failed attempt...finally one of them says "Man, I'm gonna run home and grab a shovel."
"Where do you live?" I ask.
"Just a few blocks thatta way." he points.
"Nah man. You guys get to where you are going. Thanks so much for your help, but it is freezing out here. I just live a few blocks away. I'm going to walk home...change outta these wet clothes...grab my shovel and come back and dig myself out."
With that, we shook hands, and the kids and I started walking home.
When we got home I told my teenage son to get into some dry clothes and to come help me.
As we got back to the van it was ridiculously cold. The wind was whipping and we were using the shovels to steady ourselves.
I reluctantly handed my son a piece and said "I doubt you will have to use this, but just in case."
I was grateful for all those trips to the shooting range and the firearms safety courses. It was a strange feeling knowing that my little boy was no longer a little boy, but someone who could save my life if worst came to worst.
The thought of my son having to shoot someone disturbed me, but not as much as the thought of someone shooting him.
I wondered if all that target practice and thousands of hours of Call of Duty would translate into him being able to put someone down if we were put in a life or death situation.
Then I told myself to stop thinking such horrible thoughts.
It's 2:00 AM in Emerson Heights...it is -20 with the windchill and we are all business.
We began digging.
The cold biting.
About every 10 minutes we would get in the van and try to rock our way out.
Digging and more digging.
I hadn't seen a car for an hour.
I knew if I left it here my mini-van would be gone in the morning.
Impounded...hundreds of dollars to get it out...missed work...we had to get this done.
Digging...digging...breaking through ice...silent discouragement...no talking...
A set of headlights approach.
As it comes into view my I see it is a 4X4 truck with tinted windows.
It stops directly behind us.
I try to see through the windshield, but I cannot so I keep digging.
The tension in my body mounts as the truck sits there, idling.
I think of Henry Gates.
I think of American Psycho.
I think of No Country for Old Men.
I reach in my pocket to make sure my salvation is still there and for the second time I take the safety off.
The truck backs up and goes around us, driving over the curb, with great ease, in the process.
Frosty air comes from my son's mouth as he says "What a dick! It was harder for him to go around then it would have been for him to help us!"
Then the truck stops and slowly backs up toward us.
It comes to a stop and yet again nothing happens.
I continue to dig and finally...fucking finally...one of the doors open.
I reach in my pocket and wait.
I look at my son.
He has stopped shoveling and has his hand in the pocket of his coat.
"Well ...well...well...what have we here? Front wheel drive, huh?"
A man approaches with a chain, kneels down and hooks it to the trailer hitch on his truck.
"I told you if you need anything to just give me a call." and with that I recognize the voice and when he turnes around I see the smiling face of my friend Tony.
"Oh my god, dude. You saved my ass!!"
"Yeah these things got some power, but front wheel drive. That's the problem. They can't really pull you out once you get stuck." he says affixing the other end of the chain to my vehicle.
"Dude I thought you were gonna kill us. Why did you sit in your truck so long behind us like that?"
"Oh, I was just trying to see if I could push you out, but I was afraid I would bust your tail-lights, the way these line-up." he pauses "Thought I was gonna kill you, huh? No I've been drivin around in this gettin people unstuck all night. This thing will drive through anything."
"Let me know if you need anything else."
And with that, he was off.
Never have I appreciated the warmth of my home so much.
Never have I been so grateful for good friends...and good strangers...who become friends..when situations that require us to stick together arise.
I was grateful for the struggle and the relief when the struggle was over.
I was grateful for shovels and dry clothes.
I am grateful that I was wrong...and that my neighborhood is beautiful...even after dark and sometimes... and that good things do happen around here... at 2:00 am.