Fear and Rolling in West Hartford

28 08 2007

This is one of my favorite anecdotes, reprinted without the permission of the Daily Free Press. I’m bringing it back for reasons dual: 1 – Tonight’s not the night for posting, in that I’m getting life ready for New York. 2 – It’s important to know how to roll out of cars to avoid being robbed or otherwise torn by stabby things. So please forgive the awkward freshman phrasing, and have at it.

From March 15, 2004

“Fear and Rolling in West Hartford”

The term belies reality. “Tuck and roll,” the evasive maneuver of choice for cowboys and Jedi alike, gets the first part right. You do, indeed, tuck. But when you hit asphalt at 35 miles per hour, you don’t roll.

You skip.

You skip like a pebble flung across water. One long leap, then successive bounces of descending size, until your body loses enough momentum and skin to scale your moves down to the roll. The roll is the goal. The skip is the reality.

It was almost exactly one moment after the fifth roll ended, the smell of asphalt all too fresh in my nose, my eyes filled with the sight of two red lights turning left and the right back door hanging off the car like a dog’s ear.

Exactly half a moment after I got off the phone with my friend, the other beat writer, who was left at the Mobil with obviously not stain-defending pants and a dollar in hand.

Where the hell was this in the job description?

I guess it’s important to start off from the beginning. I was the Boston University women’s basketball beat writer for The Daily Free Press. All year long, the other beat writer, Matt Stout, wrote about every turn in the women’s rollercoaster, which led them to the America East Tournament in Hartford, Conn.

So, I cut short my Spring Break in Allentown, Penn. in favor of trips to the University of Hartford’s Chase Family Arena. Stout lives in East Haven, 45 minutes from Hartford, so he offered to shack me up for the weekend.

Saturday, as we didn’t have a car to use, we bought a pair of round-trip train tickets for the scenic New Haven-to-Hartford-and-back swing.

The game’s at 4 p.m. Our train leaves at 1 p.m. So we get there at 2 p.m., after a cab ride to the arena and ride on the gravy train at the Media Hospitality (sandwich and cookie and Coke) room.

We stay late to send the story. Our train leaves to go home at 8 p.m. And we had forgotten to call cabs to get us to the station. Meanwhile, the University of Hartford campus, emptied by Spring Break, is barren.

So, we resort to the last thing. Asking strangers for a ride. At 18, I disregarded my mom’s advice.

We found a suitable ride, which is to say it was the first one that passed. One of those mid-90s Accords, painted that mid-90s burgundy color. Inside, the driver was practically lying down in his seat. I think his head might’ve been on my lap.

But, anyway, these two guys – the driver looked like Snoop Dogg – assure us they know where the train station is, so we hand them over a 20 after they had wondered about our willingness to be “straight up” with them. We were.

Five minutes later, they pull into a Mobil station. It’s 7:47. 13 minutes. Stout’s freaking out. I’m laughing. I am also an idiot.

“Uh, guys, we’re kind of in a hurry,” Stout pleads.

“Yeah,” replied the passenger who was a bit larger than the driver but not altogether large. Or eloquent. But they were crafty.

He gave Stouty a dollar to buy a drink at the Mobil. Stout looked at me. I assured him it was cool. The faster he picks up a bottle of Coke, the faster we can get back to East Haven.

And the faster they pull out of the lot. And the faster that Mock Dogg’s dawg could tell me that I wasn’t “going to no train stop.”

“Give me all your money,” he suggested, in a tone that seemed serious. I did momentarily question the seriousness of the statement, entertaining the idea that my America East press pass would strike fear in the hearts of evildoers. He assured me that he was earnest. I then decided leaving the car would be the best option.

He disagreed. And told silent Snoop to lock the doors and step on it, as “he’s trying to get out.” He understood! He also understood that the $20 I gave him was not all I had in my wallet.

“I know that’s not all you have, man,” he said to me. Turning to the driver, he told him to “take him to [Keeney] park.” Well, having eaten already, I was not for the idea of joining in their late-night picnic. Frankly, I was so against it that I decided to leave their party without saying goodbye.

I flipped the lock and flung open the door. Hitting the pavement and bounding, I think I thought of how cool it was, how Charles Bronson might have done the same thing before running to catch up with the car and throwing it into a river. Then the rolling stopped. Only scrapes and cuts. Success! Wallet and cell phone in pocket. Success! Stout’s bag on the street and my bag in the car. Ah.

A sweet lady picked me up and drove me to get Stout at the Mobil. You should’ve seen his face. Whiter than the neon sign. With the dollar in his hand. Technically, he robbed them. Got my back.

Two hours later, after going to the police station, where I was alerted to the fact that Hartford is the number-one city for murder in Connecticut, we were on a Peter Pan bus home.

Maybe there’s a moral here. Maybe there’s not. But if there is, it’s not ‘don’t get in cars with strangers.’ It’s ‘watch more action movies.’




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