A Long Way from Home
On the side of the freeway. State highway seventy-two. Well south of I-80. South Omaha. Near the stockyards.
I’m on my way home.
Am I calling my dingy little dungeon of a room in midtown home now? I guess… now I’ve gone and made this crazy journey to pay the rent. I guess that kind of commitment makes it as much a home as I can say about anyplace at this point in my (ever-becoming-less-naive) nineteen-year-old life.
Of course I need to do more than pay the rent. I’m hungry. My supplies ran out a while ago and I’m not about to ask Allen for any more favors. It was enough that he took me to that Burger King where he works and got me fed that one time.
That time I reminded “Crazy Allen” of how much bigger I am than him.
I was so hungry… when Allen stopped to get in a fight with some stupid wrestler dude from his girlfriend’s old school, I had to step in and stop it so we could just go and eat. I just wanted to get going and get that Burger King food in me. I think I scared them both.
I’m hungry like that now.
But there’s no way I was going to stop and get something to eat in the neighborhood where they cashed my check. I had to get outta there. That place was real scary. I was so scared I don’t even want to think about it now. So I don’t. I am so not wanting to think about it, that I can’t even remember what happened. I’m not sure I will ever remember.
It’s crazy that I did this, but I’m not even aware of that yet. All I can think of is that I finally have my money and I’ve got to get back to midtown. I also can’t remember who told me about that place “in the Mexican neighborhood near the river, near Brown Park… ” He’d said, “It’s a place where anyone can cash a company paycheck like that. ID or no ID.”
At least I had the where-with-all to get the hell outta there the moment I had the cash. I can’t even remember how much I have. That check was for well over four hundred bucks but I was probably lucky to get whatever it is I got. I’m sure they charged me at least a hundred. Someone could easily have just decided to kill me for the rest of that money, the money that’s now burning up my coat pocket.
But that money is the only thing that is even warm now.
It’s getting dark and it’s cold. The wind is blowing my coat so I have to hold it down with my hands as I walk. I’m not actively thumbing it. I just thought the freeway would be the safest and most direct route back. No way I’d want to carry all this cash though those neighborhoods I went through on my way here.
But I don’t remember any of that now. The route I walked, what happened… nothing. All I know for sure is… I’m hungry and cold, and I need to keep walking. All I can remember is that last footstep from before the one I’m putting down, now. Step after step. It’s such a long way. Shit! A car is stopping for me.
Shit! I don’t want to talk to anyone. Not here. Not on the side of the freeway in the middle of the night with no cars passing by, at all. I don’t even know how late it is, but it does look to be very late. Shit!
There’s no one around and this car is stopping and I’m going to have to deal with whoever it is and I’m cold and tired and hungry and scared.
“Where you going son?”
My fear disappears immediately as I approach the car window and the man’s welcoming smile. Now, I’m just cold and hungry.
“Midtown sir. A few blocks north of thirtieth and Cuming.”
“Dang! What’s a nice-looking white boy like you gone and moved into a neighborhood like that for?”
“I dunno.” I sigh, “It’s where I live now I guess.”
“And what the f… ahem, ok so what are you doing in THIS neighborhood?”
I say nothing, shift my weight back and forth, and shiver. Shuffling my feet. I’m not about to tell him why I’m there so if he don’t like it, he can just leave me to walking. I’m cold and hungry but I can still walk.
“Well get in, I’ll get you home but I got a few things to say to you on the way. I hope you’re willing to hear em.”
I go round and get in the car. As I do, there’s one split second in which I hesitate. There’s a gun on the seat next to the man. Again, I’m getting into the car of a stranger and he’s got a gun. This time however, the man sees my look and puts the gun away. He gives me another look that somehow puts me at ease again.
“Easy son, I’m a cop. I just got off duty and I’m going home. You got nothing to worry about.”
The man then shows me the badge, also on the seat next to him, by where the gun had just been.
With no traffic on the freeway at this hour, it does not take long before we’re near my neighborhood. But from a direction I have never seen before. I’m a bit disoriented when I finally turn my attention from our conversation to where we are.
“Where are we?”
“This is why I’m surprised you live in this area Brian.”
My new friend and I had had a nice (albeit short) conversation and I am now completely at ease with him. I trust him. He’s a fairly young police officer, perhaps in his mid thirties. A black man (I can’t remember his name now) from this practically all black neighborhood, who works in a practically all white suburb somewhere south of where he’d picked me up.
“Well, I know that where you live a few blocks from here, it’s on the white side so it’s not really unusual or bad that you to live there. But right here… get down a bit by the way.” He gestures for me to duck as we round a corner. I do as I’m told. “Right here, and this is why I took you this way. You need to see this.”
My friend gestures for me to get up a bit more so I can see. As I do and look around, I see a scene that’s hard to believe. I have no frame of reference.
What I see is dozens, scores of black men and woman, on the corner, in the street… They’re laughing and talking and smoking. Looking mean and looking sexy. Dressed like I never seen anyone dress before. Going in and out of what look like very busy nightclubs on each corner of the intersection. It’s like something out of a movie I have yet to see.
“Hookers and Pimps” Says my friend. “Hookers and Pimps… and they’d eat a nice young white boy from Minnesota like you for breakfast.”
And then my new friend, my guide in this strange place I’m seeing for the first and only time… the experienced black cop who grew up in this neighborhood. He pulls over after we’re well passed the crowd of “Hookers and Pimps” and looks me straight in the face. I see the seriousness in his eyes and show him that I’m paying close attention.
“Don’t I EVER see the likes of you round here at night, you hear me son?”
“Yes sir. I hear you.”
And I do, hear him. I am still a good boy after all. I’m just a long LONG way from home. My real home. It’ll be a while before I get back there, and I’m about to go even farther away.
I’d been told I was going to Topeka.