Friday, June 24, 2011

My first shot

Something triggered (pun becomes apparent) this recollection:

In the summer of 1978, I worked at a small, 1000-watt AM radio station in northwestern PA. College internship, low pay, lodged alone in a vacant dorm room at the University of Pittsburgh campus. Worked most nights, rebroadcasting KDKA's signal for Pittsburgh Pirates games. Which could barely be heard, 20 miles away.

On a rare night off, I met a friend for dinner in Bradford's best restaurant. I'm actually wearing a jacket and tie. After I dropped her off, I roamed around town in my little Mazda, looking for something. Or someone. I was restless.

Coming up one street, I spied an overly blond young woman, dressed in glitter and gold for a night out. (It's 1978, remember.) She's crying by the roadside. So I stop to ask if she needs help.

"My boyfriend and I had a fight," she says. "Can I get a ride home, please?"

Off we go. She's giving turn-by-turn directions to a part of town I don't know well. I notice a pair of bright fog lights in my rear-view mirror, and I think: "It's not a foggy night. Why is he using those lights?"

We reach a neighborhood where the residential streets climb up the hills. I glance in the rearview; Mr. Fog Lights is gone. But I think to ask: "Does your boyfriend own a pickup truck?"

"Yep," she says. "A big one. Goes off-road."

"Fog lamps?"

"Oh, yeah."

She points out her apartment house, I swing the car around, so she can get out on the right. I glance at the rearview again; no sign of the truck. She looks at me, dabbing away the last of her tears.

"Do you believe in Jesus?"

I shook my head. "'Fraid not."

She sighed. "Well, thank you so much. I know god loves you."

And she scurries away into her apartment. It's so quiet I can hear the bolt snick into place as she locks the door.

I shift into first, and suddenly see a trail of sparks flash by my driver's door, down the street. At first I think: "Bottle rocket?"

It happens again, but this time, I hear the pop.

Mr. Fog Lights is discharging a gun. In my direction.

God had better love me right now. The little Mazda leapt into the street, with me deliberately swerving to avoid additional small-arms fire. I scan for the truck's lights, desperately trying to find the street that will lead me back to where I think the Bradford police station sits. For some reason, I decide to try to lose the trucker first, threading my way through the night streets in search of a police-protected doughnut shop.

By the time I reached police headquarters, there was no sign of Mr. Fog Lights in my mirror, or anywhere nearby.

Somewhere out there, a disgruntled and perhaps inebriated boyfriend with his steroid-powered truck was searching for my little Mazda. The cops didn't believe me. And since I didn't actually see the truck or its driver, they had very little in the way of motivation to go out searching for the carbureted gunman.

Jesus, in fact, may have loved me that night. But there's only room for one good Samaritan in the Bible.

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