“With friends like this, who needs enemies?” Henry Youngman
By Richard Juarez
I didn’t want to get in. Tony and I were already halfway home. We didn’t need a ride. Not with them. It seemed like every time I was around these guys, something bad would happen. I didn’t need more trouble, and I certainly didn’t want to hear more yelling from my mother about hanging out with these guys again.
“Get in, cabrón!” yelled Eddie, “I ain’t gonna sit here all day waiting for you to decide.”
Arturo motioned urgently toward the back seat. “Come on, Vincent. Get in!” He was sitting in the front next to his brother. “Eddie doesn’t have much time. He’s gotta get out to PB.”
Eddie should have been a senior but he dropped out in the tenth grade, the same grade the rest of us were in now, and was working the late shift at a taco shop out in Pacific Beach. I didn’t see him much now that he had a car. But I knew he liked to drive by school once in a while to check out his old friends and see some of the girls he never sees anymore.
I wanted to just keep walking with Tony. We’d known each other since before either of us could remember. Tony’s sister, Alice, and my sister, Gracie, had been friends since kindergarten, and they used to drag us along when they played together. So we had just always been friends. Tony and I usually walked home after school. Once in a while we took the bus, but we didn’t live that far from school, so most of the time we just saved the money, unless we had a big load of books, or Tony had to get to work early at Amador’s market.
I wanted to keep going. Even though it was mid-February, the temperature was in the high 60s, so it was a comfortable walk. We were walking along 16th Street through the eastern edge of downtown, with its boarded up storefronts, old warehouses that badly needed paint, some buildings with small apartments, and a few old houses. A lot of homeless hung out in the area between 15th and 17th Streets. That’s why most of the kids at San Diego High from Barrio Logan preferred to walk home along 12th Street, the other main corridor that went directly south past Imperial Avenue and into the barrio. That’s where we should have been. Then these guys wouldn’t have seen us.
“Ah, come on,” Tony said as he climbed into the back seat, “We’ll get home faster.”
Not that much faster, I thought to myself, knowing the car. The faded grey 1970 Chevy Nova was as old as me, and ran about as bad as it looked. But then again, it ran.
“Hey, man,” said Eddie, raising his voice again as I continued to hesitate, “You want a ride or not?” He tightly gripped the leather steering wheel cover with his left hand, while he impatiently tapped on it with his right, waiting for my answer. It looked like he had added some more tattoos on his hands from what I remembered seeing.
“The sissy’s mama don’t want him hanging with his homies!” Pablito yelled, and laughed from the other side of the back seat. Arturo and Eddie laughed with him.
They all knew my mother didn’t want me hanging around with them. I hated it when they started making fun of me because of it, especially Pablito, who only did it when the others were around to back him up, because he knew I’d kick his ass—again. I couldn’t let him get away with it.
“Move your butt over,” I yelled as I came around and opened the door on his side. “You get to be the sissy and sit in the middle.” He didn’t move, so I just plowed into him, like a football player smacking into a blocking sled. Although Pablito was almost a year older, he was about four inches shorter than me and even skinnier, so sliding him over on the grey vinyl seat wasn’t hard. Trouble was I knocked him into Tony, who wasn’t very happy about it. Tony was just a little shorter than me at about five-eight, but not as thin. He immediately pushed Pablito back. But after a little shoving and elbowing back and forth, we settled down to enjoy the ride, checking out the view as Eddie cruised south down 16th Street toward Barrio Logan. I tried hard not to think about what my mother would do if she found out.
Arturo and Pablito preferred walking through this area after school, where they could check out their potential customers. Eddie seemed to do his business elsewhere, with higher-end customers, but he let Arturo and Pablito handle the small stuff. They would occasionally sell a few joints to these poor guys on the street who were looking for a little high. I don’t think they sold much, because they never had much money. But I didn’t know for sure. I really didn’t want to know. They knew Tony and I didn’t want to be involved in that, so they usually didn’t sell stuff when we were with them. Before Eddie started working he was always asking if I wanted any weed to sell to these guys on the street or at school. Although it sounded like it might be an easy way of getting a little cash to spend, I couldn’t deal with the thought of getting caught at school, or my parents finding a stash at home. Then I’d really be in for it!
“Hey!” I yelled in panic when Eddie turned and headed east on Imperial. “We’re just a few blocks from home. Where are you going?”
“We’re taking the scenic route,” said Eddie, laughing with Arturo.
It wasn’t really that far out of our way to head east a few blocks to 25th Street, then south under the I-5 freeway bridge and into the heart of Barrio Logan, right next to Chicano Park. Eddie used to spend all day hanging out in the park with his dropout friends. That was before he got his job. But you could never tell what these guys were up to. I sort of calmed down, knowing that Eddie didn’t have much time. He didn’t have a great job, but it was a job. I thought he wouldn’t want to blow it by being late. I mean, what kind of trouble could he get us into in just a few minutes?
As I stared out the side window I noticed that a number of buildings along Imperial, both residences and businesses, had gotten new paint jobs. While they were older buildings, they looked in much better shape than back along 16th Street. This strip along Imperial Avenue used to be mostly Black-owned businesses, and the residents nearby were predominantly Black. But as Black families moved out, and more Mexicans moved into the adjacent Sherman Heights and Logan Heights neighborhoods, more signs in Spanish had been showing up.
“There it is! Just like yesterday!” yelled Arturo. I turned to see what he was yelling about, just as the car came to a sudden stop. So sudden, I almost hit the back of Eddie’s seat with my face. Immediately Eddie, Arturo and Pablito were yelling and laughing. Eddie had stopped just before 25th Street, next to a Coca Cola delivery truck that was double-parked. Arturo leaned way out the window, reaching for a case of cokes on the truck. Tony and I looked at each other, and started laughing along with them. I couldn’t believe they were doing this. They said they saw the truck making deliveries the day before, and came back to see if it would be there again. Just our luck, or bad luck, it was.
Everyone was laughing and having a great time as Arturo pulled the sodas into the car and slid back down in his seat. Eddie sped off and turned at the corner. There was a horn honking, but no one seemed to be paying attention. As we turned the corner at 25th Street, I saw the post office truck sitting at the light, the driver shaking his fist at us, flailing away on his horn. The guy saw the whole thing. I turned around to see what he was going to do, and by then the light had changed. He sped through the intersection and caught up with us before we had gone one block.
“Oh, hell,” cried Tony. “That’s Mr. Romero, our mailman. We are screwed!”
Copyright © 2013 Richard Juarez
This publication is protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. All rights are reserved, including resale rights. Any reproduction, transmission, distribution, or use of this material without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited.
The author, publisher, and distributor of this material assume no responsibility for the use or misuse of the information contained herein, or for any injury or loss sustained as a result of using this information. The use or misuse of any methods, instructions or ideas contained in the material is the sole responsibility of the reader.
You can subscribe to Tío Emilio and the Ancestors and get an email whenever a new chapter in this novel is posted.