Continued from Chapter 7.
“There are no accidents. We choose our life actions, and doing so, we choose the consequences too. If we choose not to die, we do not put ourselves in danger.” Tío Emilio
By Richard JuarezThe Tower Bar, East San Diego Landmark /
AA-OOOOOO-GA … AA-OOOOOO-GA.
“Dang, I told him not to honk that horn!” Tony whispered. “My parents are gonna know that it’s Pablito’s dad’s car.” Tony peeked into the house and turned back to me.
“Good! My dad’s asleep on the couch and my mom’s on the phone.”
He opened the door quietly and stuck in his head. “Mom,” he whispered across the living room to his mother who was seated at the dining room table. “I’ll be back in a little while. Vincent an’ me are going out for a bit.” He didn’t want to wake his father and his whispering didn’t interrupt her telephone conversation. She was engrossed in her call and could hardly hear him. She looked up briefly, then just waved goodbye. I was surprised his mother was letting him go out. He had been grounded like me, but I guess they loosened up a little. My parents thought I was spending the evening with Tony at his house. I was just hoping Gracie and Alice didn’t talk to each other and figure out we were both gone.
We walked to the corner where Pablito was waiting and got into the car. He was sixteen, a year older than me and Tony, and already had his driver’s license. But after the trouble he’d been in, Pablito was only supposed to be driving to take his mother to and from work or the store.
“Hey, dumb ass,” Tony said to Pablito in a tone of exasperation. “What good does it do to have you wait down here so my parents don’t see you, if you go and blast that horn when everyone in the neighborhood knows it belongs to your dad’s car?”
“Hey, bro’,” he responded smiling, “it’s such a cool horn, ya gotta blow it.”
Tony just shook his head. “Pablito, sometimes I just don’t know about you. If my dad hadn’t been asleep, he would have known it was you. He would have made me stay home and given me a lecture about being out here with you. I wonder what you think sometimes, or if you even think at all!”
“Well, you’re here, ain’t chu? Your dad’s asleep and you guys are here. What’chu bitching about? Let’s go get Arturo.”
When we drove up to Arturo’s, he was standing outside with Eddie.
“Where you guys headed?” Eddie asked.
“Over to East San Diego,” Pablito called back. “There’s a party I heard about, at the home of some girl, a cousin of this broad I know from school.”
“Hey, man …” I said hesitantly, “it sounds like trouble. That’s way outside our area.” I’d been having a bad feeling about this ever since Pablito and Arturo invited us. I kept thinking about what Tío Mike had said.
“It’s a free country, bro’,” said Arturo as he climbed into the front seat after pulling Tony out. “We can go anywhere we want.”
“Yeah, you can go,” added Tony, as he got into the back seat with me. “Doesn’t mean you’re going to live through it. But you can go.”
“Don’t be so chicken, you guys,” said Pablito. “It’s just a party, not a gang fight. These folks aren’t gonna wanna mess up their own party by starting something with us.” He and Arturo were up for it because of the exciting challenge of crashing a party in another gang’s territory.
“Don’t screw this up for us, you sissies. You can’t just sit around here ‘cause you’re afraid to go out of the neighborhood. We don’t expect any trouble, but we need you to go along with us. It’s better if there are more of us.”
“If you don’t expect any trouble, why do you need a show of force?” I asked.
“Hey, if you’re too scared, just get out of the car,” said Arturo glaring at me.
I put my hand on the door handle. I wanted so bad to just pull on it and open the door.
“Let’s not sit here all night talking about it,” said Tony. “Let’s just go.”
East San Diego was an area that had increasingly become home to many Mexican, Black, and Asian gangs. That’s why Tony and I were reluctant to go along. But we couldn’t just sit at home because some guys didn’t want us in their neighborhood. When we arrived we found there was no parking anywhere near the party. We ended up having to park almost three blocks away.
“I don’t know about leaving the car out here so far from the party,” said Pablito.
“What are you worried about,” asked Arturo. “Look, it fits right in with all the other old cars parked out here. At least here it won’t get messed up by people hanging around the party.”
It was a long walk, with no moon, and few street lights. So it was dark, very dark, in another gang’s turf. Not what I would have chosen to do for my Friday night entertainment.
“Keep your eyes open for trouble,” cautioned Arturo as we hurried along.
“Hey man, they are open, and I can’t see a thing,” whispered Pablito.
“Well, the good thing is that they can’t see you either,” said Tony, “so just keep walking and act like you belong here.”
Luckily, we didn’t come upon many people while walking toward the party. We saw a few families out on their front porch, with kids playing near the front porch lights. We passed by an elderly Mexican couple walking with a small bag of groceries. The man greeted us in Spanish. A few cars passed by, but none of them slowed down to check us out, so we felt okay.
When we finally got within a few houses of the place, we knew we’d found trouble. The home had a gate, and there were these big, older guys serving as security, keeping out the party crashers. They were checking names on a list.
“Mr. Pablo Sanchez,” Tony called to Pablito sarcastically, “I’m gonna assume all of our names are on that list, right?”
“Oh, man!” said Pablito. “I didn’t hear nothing about no list.”
“Well, no use going up there and getting our asses kicked out,” said Arturo. “We don’t want to make it obvious that we don’t belong here. Let’s cross the street and keep walking, then circle around the block and get back to the car.”
We started back, walking on the next street over from the party. Nearing the end of the block, we saw a group of about eight guys walk onto the sidewalk from a front yard three houses up from us. We could see there were more guys on the front porch.
“Cross over,” Arturo said quietly but with a sense of alarm. We crossed the street and picked up our pace. They started moving quickly down the sidewalk on their side of the street.
“Oh, man!” said Pablito. “We can’t go to the car. Even if we get there before these guys, they’ll break the windows and slash the tires before we can get it started and get out of here.”
“We gotta split up,” Arturo said with real fear in his voice. “Four of us are too easy to see if we try to run and hide together.” As we came to the corner, he yelled out, “We’ll see you guys back at home,” and he and Pablito took off, running down the side street.
I was shocked! They just took off and left us alone with these guys coming after us! I was too afraid to move. Where were we going to run to? Where were we?
Tony grabbed my jacket and pulled me with him as he started walking quickly across the intersection. Four of the guys took off after Pablito and Arturo. The remaining four hesitated, then quickly crossed over to our side of the street and started into the intersection right behind us.
Just then, a car came from the direction of the running guys and came screeching to a halt at the corner, its headlights on bright, illuminating the remaining four guys. They jumped back for a moment, staring into the headlights, then backed up few more steps.
It all happened so fast that Tony and I were stunned. We just stood there watching. Then a voice called out, “Vincent. Get in!”
It was Tío Emilio’s voice! It was him in the car! We ran to the car and both of us jumped in through the driver’s side back door. At the same time, the four guys in the headlights turned and took off after their friends chasing Pablito and Arturo.
“My God, I thought we were goners,” said Tony, panting through his fright.
“Me too,” I said, shaking uncontrollably, “I thought those guys… were gonna shoot us or stab us.” I sat there sprawled out on the seat, leaning on Tony. “I really thought I was gonna die.”
Sitting there in the back seat, I realized it was Tata’s car. Tío Emilio turned around with a very serious look on his face, maybe an angry look, not saying anything. Finally, his face broke into a hint of a smile.
“I assume you boys need a lift? I would have given your friends a lift too, but they seem to have taken off.” He paused, and then added, “They also seem to have attracted all the trouble.”
“Tío, I didn’t know you were down from L.A.”
“I got here late this afternoon.”
“What a coincidence he came along when he did,” said Tony, looking at me with bugged out eyes and sweat trickling down his face. “He saved our lives!”
“Tío, this is my friend Tony.”
“I don’t know how you came along at just the right time,” said Tony, “but man, I’m glad you did. And am I ever glad to be getting out of this neighborhood!”
“Young man,” said Tío Emilio, “in my world, there is no such thing as a coincidence. It was no coincidence that I showed up. Someday, soon, I will tell you more about that.” He paused briefly and then came at us just like our parents would have. “You could have been killed or very badly injured,” he scolded sternly. “Look at you both, sweating because you are scared to death, just thinking about what could have happened to you. You both had better go home and decide, is this is the way you want to live your life, or end it?”
I was so glad he came by and saved us. But man, I thought, there it was again, another family member giving me a lecture. I didn’t want to listen to him. I was too freaked out. I sat there, still shaking, thinking about what just happened. We had almost gotten jumped, beat up, stabbed, or even worse. No wonder I was shaking.
Tío Emilio got onto Faimount Avenue and drove south out of East San Diego and toward home. He didn’t say anything else all the way home. As I sat there in the back seat, I finally stopped shaking. I wanted to escape into sleep, but my heart was still pumping too fast. It was like my whole body was on alert.
We were back in our own neighborhood in just a few minutes. Tío Emilio pulled up in front of Nana and Tata’s house and we all got out of the car. He paused in front of the gate.
“Like I said, you boys need to think about what happened to you tonight. You are making choices about your life. You need to ask yourself if you are making the right choices.”
“But I didn’t choose for those guys to come after us,” Tony protested. “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, señor, but I wouldn’t choose to get beat up or killed.”
“Yes, you are right. You did not choose for those fellows to come after you, I agree. But you must recognize the decisions you did make to put yourselves in harm’s way. After all, you did not choose to go to a movie, a ball game or a supervised dance.”
“I see what you mean,” I answered. “We chose to crash a party in another gang’s territory.”
Tío Emilio turned toward me. “Vincent, I am leaving for Los Angeles in the morning, so perhaps we can talk next time I come back here, probably in a few weeks.”
“Sure, okay, Tío.”
“See you tomorrow maybe,” Tony said to me quietly as he started toward the corner.
“Yeah,” I responded, softly as well, moving in the other direction. “Maybe tomorrow.”
I stopped and turned back to Tío Emilio. I had to ask.
“Tío,” I called out. “If you got here this afternoon, why are you already going back to L.A. in the morning?”
“Because I just finished what I came here for.”
With that he turned and walked up the rest of the steps and into Nana and Tata’s house. I wanted to yell, “Wait, don’t go in yet!” I wanted to know what he meant. Did he mean that he came here just to save us? How could he know? I was confused and angry and still upset about what had happened. But he was right. I was in no shape to talk about it. Right then, I just needed to go home, and like he and Tío Mike said, I needed to think about the decisions I’d made, and all the trouble and danger I’d gotten myself into. Was that how I wanted to live? Or die?
Copyright © 2013 Richard Juarez
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