Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Inside Job at Swensons

Its surprising just how calm I was while a gun was being held, a silver one, sideways—gangsta style—in my face at 2 in the morning. That August night in the late 90's, there was a hollow mist hovering over West Akron and the Honda CRX that my fellow Swensons employee, lets call him Greg, and I sat in smelled like stale grease and fetid cheese. After a night of running around serving burgers and shakes to unappreciative cars of menacing young men there was a palpable sense of freedom. We were done for the night. No more Galley Boys to be returned half eaten, no more ten cent tips.

We were laughing as we pulled up to the bank and I opened the car door. Some customer had asked us what was bigger, a half pounder or a quarter pounder. I asked him if he would rather have a quarter or fifty cents. The plan was to speed through, drop off the nightly take for the restaurant at National City Bank’s night deposit and then try to make last call at Annabelle’s in Highland Square.

Summer nights in Akron have a cruel tendency to extract the most uncaring elements that a person has deep in themselves and expose them to the world. Perhaps the pent up depression of the long winters are at fault. Regardless, there is an unfettered beast that shows itself in the eyes and mouths of young people during the summer in that part of the world. I once fell off of a highway overpass on Route 8 in Cuyahoga Falls after drinking too much only to be laughed at by a passing car full of kids with dangling earrings and hats on backwards. Obviously I lived but I never forgot the leering faces suddenly becoming animated, twisted into high pitched laughs and devilish in their schadenfreude.

Such was this night.

When the other car pulled up I was just about to swing the door completely open but paused in confusion. There was never anybody else in the NCB parking lot when we made the Saturday night drop. I thought somebody was playing a joke on us, like Matt Bailey. Standing up erect and fully out of the car, it became apparent that I did not recognize the muted gray, late eighties Cutlass Supreme that was partially blocking the front of the CRX. A tinted window obscured my vision into the drivers side. Things speeded up like a Spike Jonze video—slow then hyper fast—and a short fat black man in a ski mask was in quickly front of me with a silver pistol aimed between my eyes.

Then everything slowed down again and I was in a zen moment, not unlike in basketball, when angles and spatial relationships are clear and relevant. I knew exactly how far the gunman was from me and how far it was to the bank exit . . . How there were no stars in the Midwestern sky and no way out. I was trapped behind half court, about 80 feet from the basket.

“Give me the bag mutherfucker!” The gunman’s voice was a low and guttural and I believed that he didn’t want me to recognize it.

For a split second, I didn’t know what bag he was talking about and just opened my eyes as wide as they would stretch and semi-shrugged my shoulders. This did not amuse him.

“Bitch I will knock you the fuck down if you don’t re-ack. Give me the mutherfuckin’ bag!”

I recall being relieved that he did not say he would shoot me and this paved the way for my sudden understanding that he wanted the restaurant’s take. About $2500 that night.

“Yeah sure, no problem. Its not my money,” I expectorated sharply. “Its in the car.”

At this point Greg tossed the bag out of the car and it landed with a metallic ping next to me on the pavement. This seemed to unnerve the gunman as he shifted his weight back and forth nervously and looked down at it.

The car window of the Cutlass rolled down enough for the driver to yell. “C’mon nigga, les go. Break these white boys off!!”

With the gun still in my face and the bag on the ground the gunman motioned me back into the car. I hated being called white boy and this pissed me off. Not only was a gun in my face but I was getting the white boy treatment. Once I had sat back down he kicked the car door close and cautiously picked up the deposit bag.

“Reach over and get the keys out. Move mutherfucker!”

At the time, I was the proud owner of a 1974 Dodge Dart where the keys to the ignition just simply came out. They just pulled straight out. I didn’t know that with 90’s Hondas one had to twist and push the ignition key to remove it. I pushed and pulled to no avail. This did not make the man with the silver gun happy and he moved closer. I prepared to be at the best pistol whipped.

“You, driver, Get the fuckin’ keys.”

Greg swiftly removed the keys and handed them to me, I guess to hand to our assailant.

“Throw em in the bushes over there, put your fuckin’ heads between your legs and count to 1000 and this will be over. You feel me?”

I did what he said but watched exactly where the keys landed in the shrubs that were next to the drive through teller window.

He got back into the car and as they drove towards us to drive away out the exit behind us, onto West Market Street, with passenger side windows sliding next to each other, I looked up and saw the gun still pointed at me. That was the only time I really became nervous. He saw me look up. There was a hate in his eyes, the hate that James Baldwin describes so well in his novels. But, as we would later find out that this was an inside job and the gunman was one of the grill guys at Swenson's, he didn't shoot.

We found the keys quickly. Very quickly. Driving back to Swensons the truth filtered into the car and all of the pent up panic put a cold sweat on my back. We were just held up. That could have been it.

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