"Tis impossible to be sure of anything but Death and Taxes."
-- Christopher Bullock
Walks with my wife most evenings are always full of details if you look for them -- deer scurrying away as we round a corner even though we are in a city neighborhood, lazy armadillos silently crossing the street in front of us like they own the place, the moon shining down on the trees creating wonderful shadows, and then one, night last week, the prospect of death itself.
Our ritual is always the same. After a late dinner, we walk around the neighborhood, usually with our two little dogs in tow, for exactly one hour. It's good for the digestion. It's good for the heart. It's good for the soul. Usually, these walks are quiet affairs; our neighborhood has few cars out that late in the evening, and certainly, everyone has long gone inside to watch television, their computers, or just go to bed early. We've never had any excitement at night. For years, nothing. Until last Friday night.
We were at about the halfway mark when we saw some sort of party was letting out in the otherwise darkened neighborhood. Streams of young kids, I would say 16- and 17-year-olds, were leaving what I assumed was some sort of graduation party. All were in good spirits. All were dressed up in their finest. All who came near us spoke sweetly to our dogs or just said hello. All of them were also black. For the sake of clarity, our neighborhood is mixed. You'll find Hispanics, you'll find Indians, you'll find African-Americans, but mostly you will find majority of white people.
After greeting and passing several streams of young people slowly walking back to their cars, our route had us take a right turn down another neighborhood street -- which was also lined on both sides with parked cars, presumably from the party, allowing only a single narrow lane for cars to travel on the road. We had only walked about 60 yards down that narrow lane when we heard it: The rumble of a large car motor. Then we saw it from two blocks away: A large pickup truck racing toward us at maybe 60 to 70 miles per hour. "Surely he'll slow down!" my wife commented with alarm in her voice. But he didn't. As the truck entered our block, its bouncing headlights aimed at us, its speed seemed to only increase. Instinctively we both jumped between two of the parked cars.
The truck roared by, so fast I could not see who or what was driving it. I stepped back out into the street looking at the taillights now. It narrowly missed two couples before suddenly coming to a stop at the intersection where we had turned just 2 minutes before. A voice in the darkness yelled, "Run!" Kids started screaming and pouring past us in mass panic. I thought gunshots were imminent. I thought of the terrorist attacks using trucks in Europe. I thought we were in danger.
The truck disappeared as quickly as it had came and with it our fear. A neighbor in whose yard we had found temporary refuge behind a tree came out to find what was going on. We explained about the happy and peaceful party, but she had other ideas. "I bet there were drugs!" she exclaimed. Her husband soon joined us. He was furious. "I pay my taxes!" he repeated several times to no one in particular. Another neighbor appeared. "I called the police," he announced as both men then shook their heads in unison.
"This is a good neighborhood," his wife said. "I bet this new couple had the party. She's Dutch, and her husband is black." When we repeated that the party participants seemed nice, we saw no signs of drunkenness, and that the driver could have been anyone, it seemed to fall on deaf ears. They were anxious. They were scared. The truck became the beast, the kids its emissaries.
We walked our route the next night as always. The night is back to the quiet solitude we are accustomed to. Are we concerned to resume our walks after that incident? Absolutely not. I pay my taxes, too.
NAN Our Town on 06/27/2019