|Posted on September 26, 2010 at 5:10 PM|
Wake up this morning at the ungodly hour of 6:15 AM (honestly, I never really sleep well when I’m out of town; after 15 years I am conditioned to having Dana’s soft body next to me, ready for her sleeping hand to rise of its own self-aware accord and bat away any attempted gropes throughout the night, and sleeping alone in a strange hotel bed, in a strange hotel city with a strange, urgent assignment hanging over my head for the next morning doesn’t add up to a peaceful night’s rest) and finish packing and jump in the elevator and get ready to return home. I thought it was poignantly ironic that the song playing in the elevator for my final ride this morning was Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” OK, Atlanta, you got me. You weren’t as bad this year as I thought you were. Semi, begrudging, respect.
Now, I know that this blog and my writing style are prone to bouts of hyperbole and maybe *slight* exaggeration of certain elements for the sake of dramatic awesomeness, but I wanted to preface this story by saying that the following is totally true. Not made up. Not interpolated. Not enhanced for effect. Recalled as clearly as I can remember. As Jeremy G would say...”Just the facts, ma’am.”
OK. So, I’m flying home today – WAY more on that later – and I’ve decided to take the Marta – Atlanta’s equivalent to the subway or BART or what-have-you to the airport – and the Marta station is like 600 yards or so from my hotel. I mean I can SEE it from my hotel. So, I leave the hotel and it is before 7 and it is dark and the streets are empty. And, oh yes, I am still in the ATL.
So there is this large black man standing outside in a tight, white muscle shirt talking to a porter or something. And as soon as I clear the hotel doors, he sees me, disengages from the porter and falls in next to me step-for-step. (Chris! Where are you? SEAL Team needed stat!) So we walk for a bit and he starts talking to me. (Insert comments of “JOHN! SHUT THE HELL UP!” At any point or multiple points in the following, yes it really went down this way, dialogue.)
“How you doing, young man?”
“I’m great, thanks. How are you?”
“I’m fine. For a 59 year old man who is forced to live on the streets.”
“Oh. Well, you look great. I mean you’re arms are huge. I should be so lucky to be in such great shape.”
“You look like you in good shape, young man.”
“Well, not like you. Your arms are giant.” (Yes. I said it. I should sack punch myself.)
“You want to know how I got in such good shape, young man?”
“Uh, yeah. Sure.” (Internal dialog is saying, “No! You don’t want to know! Not at all!)
“I just got out of prison. On Thursday. After serving 10 years.”
OK. Here alarm bells are starting to go off. Like we’ve escalated from alert level beigey-tan to alert neon-frickin’-radioactive-crimson. I know this is NOT good. No, sir. Not good.
“Oh. Uh. Wow. Well, you know, it’s never too late to start over and have a second chance.”
“You want to know why I was in prison for 10 years?”
In truth, I did not. I wanted to tuck my Rolex watch as far as it would go up the sleeve of my $1500 cashmere Polo blazer and run my skinny little white ass back to the hotel. But that seemed to be off the table right now. And, damn! The Marta was just….right….there!
“I killed a man.” (Damn. There it is. Now it’s out there.) “Right here,” he points to the ground, like it might have been right where I was standing, “in Atlanta.”
We walked on for a few more yards, companionably like you would see any preppy, totally citified white guy and ex-felon at pre-7 AM.
“Man raped my daughter. She was 15. So I shot a mother-f---er.. And did 10 years time for murder.”
A little more walking where, honestly, I might have lost track of time and space for a bit. I wasn’t feeling super chatty.
“ I see you got a wedding ring on. You probably got yourself a wife and daughter. Mother f---er do a thing that like to your little girl, you tell me you wouldn’t do the same thing.”
I then agreed that, abso-f---ing-lutely (And,I swear to God, I just teared up typing this. You f--- around with Lauryn, I will f---ing kill you. Period. And I will sing through those 10 years celebrating it!) if someone did that to Lauryn, I would do the same thing.
So we walk on for a short bit where he explains that he is so giant and ripped because over 10 years in prison he had nothing to do but wait, serve the time, and work off the anger in the yard. Then he says, “Be careful, young man. You look like life’s been good to you. Everything you have, everything you own, it could all be lost in an instant.”
And despite the previous tone of the conversation, at this moment, I started being *seriously* worried that THIS might literally be that instant. It is pre-7 AM on the dark streets of Atlanta. And I am totally alone dragging two suitcases and a backpack to an empty subway station and he has just told me that he has been out of prison for four days for actually killing someone and he doesn’t seem super rehabilitated and I’m wondering if this is his way of getting by until his next parole hearing.
So we reach the Marta entrance and he says, “You’ve heard an old man’s story. You seem like a nice young man. I’m hoping that you’ll have it in your heart to help an old brother out.”
So I pulled out my wallet and gave him some money. And I said, “Take care, man,” and I walked down the steps to Marta and I didn’t look back.
And now, 10 hours later, sitting in a cushy airport lounge 1000+ miles away, in a nice leather chair, sipping a club soda with lime and looking out at the peaceful, white planes, it is nothing now but an amusing and engaging story. But I wonder… Did I misjudge the situation? Was this just a guy looking to talk and get a couple of bucks? Or could it have really gone down a totally different way with a way less happy ending all around…?