© 2000 By travis

                Over $26.00 for a tank of regular?  Highway robbery!  A Black man approached me.  “Can I wash your windows?”  I shake my head in 90-degree Saturday afternoon disgust.  Before pulling away from the tank, I switch on a Rainbow/PUSH Choir rehearsal tape.  Maybe next week I’ll take a break from PUSH and create art, music and do some writing.  Now that PUSH Choir has sung for Rev. Jackson’s graduation from Chicago Theological Seminary, maybe I need to get some of my own work done on Thursdays and Saturdays.  “Fuel Total $26.35.” 

The 1998 Chevy Tahoe parked in front of me sent my imagination rambling with images of Chicagoans, mad about gas prices, siphoning petrol from parked cars, trucks and vans.  Images of outlaw Black and White youth stealing cars at the pump; parking them, taking the gas, then abandoning the stolen cars.  Images of gun-toting Chicago-style gangland violence.  Images of Black men emptying gas tanks into bright red-and-yellow emergency gas containers, stored inside their homes at night.  Images of women and children running, crying and screaming the house is burning down. 

A westbound 87th Street CTA bus loaded and groaned, crossing over the Dan Ryan Expressway.  I thought about the dysfunctional dramas played out on every CTA bus and train I’ve ever taken to work, to play or to PUSH.  One man, however, did not take the bus.

                The young, Black male adjusted his red and white do-rag, his red and white T-shirt, denim jeans and blue back pack and walked casually from the bus stop to the Chevy Tahoe.  He put the gear in Drive and bolted away from the service station, driving northbound along State Street and the Dan Ryan.  Three children, crying for their mother are yelling “Mommy!  Mommy!  Mommy!” from the windows of the Tahoe.  Mother, shocked, terrified and crying, crying, crying runs down the road following behind the Tahoe, which is now delayed in State Street traffic.  Mother can be heard for blocks:  “O, Jesus!  Jesus!  Jesus!  My babies!  Help Me, Jesus, Help Me!  O, My Jesus Christ!  O God! ….”  Not a single motorist stops.  I feel a replay.  I witnessed this drama, in detail, moments before it happened.  I head for the mother even as the image of another dangerous, high-speed chase down the Dan Ryan slashes my view.  A motorist driving a big, white Chevy Suburban blocks my exit.  He sits, stubbornly blocking the service station entrance, scowling at me.  I am yelling:  “Can’t you see she needs help!  Help her or get out of my way!  Let me out!  God Dammit!”  He will not move.  The Tahoe is disappearing into traffic as dozens of drivers gawk from fine cars asking:  “What’s wrong ‘wit huh?”  They treat her like she is mentally ill.  Mother, wearing slippers, is running, yelling and crying down State Street:  “O, Jesus!  Jesus!  Jesus!  My babies!  Help Me Jesus!”

                I drive down the sidewalk, cursing Mr. Chevy Suburban.  My passenger door swings open and Mother jumps in.  The chase is on.  At 84th and State, the Tahoe has disappeared entirely, but Mother spots her children, thrown onto the curb.  I drive up; she jumps out; she bundles all three children, their Big Macs and orange drinks into the cab of my pickup; she piles in and we speed off.  At 83rd, the traffic absolutely will not let us pass.  Mother is screaming at the drivers to move.  Two drivers, blocking us in, casually request the license plate number.  Mother does not know the license plate number.  Another motorist, a witness to the event, recommends calling the Police instead of chasing the driver.  Mother prefers to chase, but surrenders and uses the telephone between 82nd/83rd Streets.  She telephones both the Police and her boyfriend.  Mr. Chevy Suburban cruises up, his freshly-permed, red-dyed hairdo pulled back in a long, curly pony tail.  He offers assistance, but I can only think that he is part of the problem.  I read his T-shirt (“JESUS is my Rock and my Salvation”).  I have nothing to say to him.

                The children:  “36 pounds [girl]; 60 pounds [boy] and between 50-55 pounds [boy]” are unusually quiet, wide-eyed and disciplined.  The oldest boy’s chest is heaving massively; sounds like asthma.  He holds his heart with both hands, and he is having difficulty breathing.  It is a silent trauma these children suffer.  Mother, however, is totally delirious.  She never, stops crying.  She holds the two boys close to her body, enwrapping them in her arms against her belly.  She leaves the baby daughter sitting, unattended inside my truck.  Baby daughter sits, virtually ignored, tightly holding onto a McDonald’s cardboard cup holder.  I rub her tiny hands between my palms.

                Curious motorists, responding to Mother’s constant crying, stop and “Praise God the kids are OK” or “Bless Jesus you got your babies back” or “God is a good God, you can get another purse and cards and keys and car, but the babies are not replaceable” or “Jesus Saves” or “I’ll keep you in my prayers.”  After half an hour of this, I wonder where the hell are the Police.  Where is Boyfriend?  The family lives on 76th Street.  It should not take half an hour to drive to 83rd.

                Two blocks away, I spot a police car.  I wave in the middle of the road until he flashes me.  I return to my pickup and point out the cruiser to Mother and children.  Mother is still crying and mumbling hysterically.  The policeman drives up.  He does not get out of the car.  He yells at us:  “Yeah?”  Surprised at his attitude, I just stare through the air-conditioned passenger window at him.  He yells at [us?]:  “You flag me down?  What you want?”  At that moment what I wanted was a lawyer and the Chief of Police.  Enraged, I say nothing.  I am well aware where I am.  Mother, crying, tells the policeman her story.  The policeman tells her that the call has been assigned.  The policeman speeds away.  We wait 15 minutes more.  More and more “Jesus”/“God” well-wishing people drive by.

                An Illinois Highway Patrol officer arrives.  He makes half a dozen phone calls trying to identify the stolen vehicle.  The records cannot be found.  Mother, with her sons under her wings, walks back to the public telephones and, once again calls Boyfriend, who hasn’t even left home yet.  Two Chicago Police squad cars zoom into position, nearly an hour since the drama unfolded.  Baby daughter, isolated and alone watches everything from my truck.  I pick her up and walk her into the shade, stroking her back and spine and humming “Amazing Grace” without words, while rocking her back and forth in an attempt to provide some sense of stability and self-worth.  Meanwhile, Mother, with sons’ arms wrapped tightly around her waist, yells, loudly, into the receiver, repeating her location, telling Boyfriend that the Highway Patrol cannot locate the license plate number.  Boyfriend gives her the plate number, and Mother slams the receiver down.  Highway Patrolman issues an alert for the plates and takes descriptive data from me and from both boys.  The Highway Patrolman never once left his air-conditioned patrol car.  I am never asked by anyone for my name, address or to be a witness to the event.

                The Chicago Police take investigative data/descriptions.  The oldest son gives a clear, alert description.  “Did [the thief] say anything?”  “Yes:  Get out of the car!”  From the first squad car, a White officer dashes over and tries, unsuccessfully, to calm Mother’s crying.  A Black female and a Black male partner the second Chicago Police car.  Both Black officers show “professional” interest, and quickly return to the cool shade of their squad car.  I pace the sidewalk with baby daughter, who has wrapped her arms around my shoulders and snuggled her head against my neck.  I feel like my mother’s only son.  As we wait for Boyfriend, the White officer leaves.  The Black female officer offers Mother and children a seat in the squad car “out of the heat.”  Mother declines.  We wait.

                Baby daughter points:  “Daddy!”  This is the only word she ever spoke.

McNeil arrives driving a gray, 1986 Chevy station wagon, with a dent in the right, front bumper.  The station wagon is filled with industrial painting supplies, including paint, drop cloths and buckets.  McNeil is accompanied by a young, 18-19 year old, Black youth.  The youth is nearly as dark-complexioned as Mother, but he is far prettier.  (Mother seems much older than her 28 years.)  A luxurious boy, Mother’s boyfriend’s boyfriend appears to be a mixture of African-East Indian or Italian blood.  He steps outside the wagon, folds his arms at his chest, and never speaks or moves from that spot.  He wears white linen, top and bottom, and he smells like a boutique, recently showered.  McNeil is similarly dapper; a young, very attractive man.  We shake hands.  He is my height, with very light skin, deeply sun-tanned.  His curly, red clay colored hair and his beautiful flesh have a scrubbed, reddish glow.  He is dressed in white cotton slax and an oversized red, yellow, green and white floral print Hawaiian shirt with wooden buttons.  Both men wear the same designer sandals.

                McNeil never embraces either his children or their Mother.  He shows no compassion.  He concentrates only on the stolen Tahoe.  (Baby daughter snuggles back into the comfort of my shoulders and neck.  I feel sadness for her.)  Despite the impact upon the children, McNeil rants on and on, berating Mother:  “Wuz the keys in the ignition?  Don’t you know better?  Wuz the engine running?  Wuz the jams kickin?  I’da never left my car open with the kids inside!  You realize he coulda pushed the kids out while the car wuz in motion?  You realize you got over $3,000 worth of sound equipment?  You realize you got thousand dollar mags on that car?  You/You/You …?” 

                McNeil beats down streams of guilt onto Mother.  Mother cries harder than ever.  The boys turn away from McNeil and clutch Mother’s expansive waist.  I hand McNeil his baby daughter.  I sense resistance.  I think that I will cry, so I drive away.  The police sit in their air conditioned squad car, each officer on a phone.  The Highway Patrolman sits in his air conditioned patrol car, on the phone.  McNeil is yelling, pointing his index finger at Mother.  Mother, with the arms of her sons around her waist, is crying.  For the first time, the children also sob miserably.