I left my office late that damp, foggy San Francisco night. I drove my car onto Junipero Serra, a main street, and then pulled over. I needed to wipe the windows for safe visibility. As I worked my way round the back of the car, wheels screeched around the corner behind me. I crouched down low behind my car and my body tensed. Ready.
When I saw the joy riders speed past me, their music blaring, I leaped back into my car, pulled out and followed them. They would stop at the traffic lights a half-mile away and I could ram my car into theirs. I would teach them a lesson they would never forget. I imagined the crunching sound from the impact of the two cars and the terror they would feel, similar to the terror that I had just felt.
I pulled up behind them, images of my wife and children instantly grounding me. I breathed heavily and scrambled for some familiar radio station as I followed them to the Daly City exit where I would turn off.
When I had served in the army, I drove plain-clothed deep into enemy territory. My role was to protect someone who received information. There were four guards: one entered with the person, the other three stood outside guarding the car and the entrance.
We were undercover, but wore our army boots and carried our distinct semi-automatic rifles. In short, we were sitting ducks for a sniper, or a drive by. When any car approached, either too slow or too fast, we would take defensive postures. When a car’s wheels screeched to accelerate as it approached, we hit the ground, in one well-practiced movement.
My hands remained clenched tightly around my Saab’s steering wheel for the whole 45-minute trip home to the East Bay. When I stepped through the door to our apartment in Berkeley, it was time for dinner, homework, stories from the schoolyard.
I had made it home today … only just.
But there are friends who were not so fortunate. They never made it home. They never got the opportunity to open the door to a loving, if somewhat crazy, family. It’s the difference between choosing to hit the gas or the brake.
As simple as that.
Alon Shalev’s next novel, Unwanted Heroes will be published later this year.
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).