(You can read part 7 here)
Dedicated with great respect and admiration to SOFREP sister Ms. Kristi B.
Peachy Atlanta had a long foot movement in store for me this eve. I groaned as I checked my map repeatedly, hoping some correction would shorten the distance between A and B. No such luck; this adventure wanted me to stroll, and by God, I was going to stroll.
The night was dropping in. The day had been a madhouse of rushing from point to point and just barely making it in time, a real cliffhanger of a day. The intent was evident: the Unit was steadfast in its intent to test the static pressure of the blood vessels in my brain. I could just picture the grading algorithm:
Alive and well: Pass
I managed to get back to my motel hovel nearly an hour after checkout. Upon arrival, I saw my door was yet again open. This time, I found motel staff collecting up all my effects to store them, I guess. The point is the room had to be turned over for the next guests.
I stood in the doorway, making just enough noise to cause the staff to look up and notice me. They flushed and poised to dart out the door. I blocked them just enough to force them to excuse themselves. Satisfied, I stepped aside and snorted in disgust. Well, at least I didn’t have to pack; that was done for me. I hoisted my pack over my shoulder and marched off.
The task for the night was to find the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King memorial and report back with what was inscribed on the memorial. Again, today I would sit on my fat Google ass and just look it up. In the day, I had to hoof it there in absence of a horseless carriage.
It was apparent that my move to the memorial was intentionally steered for the late-night hours. It was just as apparent that a fellow like me was going to stand out like a Masai warrior in Shanghai and possibly, just possibly, not be welcome in the hoods surrounding the memorial. Keep ‘em out of their comfort zones; keep ‘em on the scare. I got it.
Well, one thing I did fancy was that if I was going to be put in this sort of situation, there would have to be some kind of Mike Force (rescue) to keep an eye on me. Certainly, they would be in a car of sorts. But block after block, I watched my six. I knew what it was like to be followed by a car, and this was not at all what it looked like.
I resigned to the notion that my safety net was just out there, and I didn’t need to bother myself with finding it. I resorted to looking at my map as little as possible to try to hold off as long as I could from tipping my hand that I was not from around there… but that hand was pretty much spilled over many blocks ago.
I made it pretty well eventless to the memorial and maneuvered around to see the inscription. When I saw it, I facepalmed with a shark ‘slap’ and slowly rubbed my hand down until it fell off my chin.
“Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.”
I could practically see his kind face and hear Dr. King‘s strong voice as I read the words that I have known well for years. I paused there briefly in tribute to a great American. Looking at the dates of his birth and death, I calculated that he was just 39 when he died. I was 39 myself that year. I considered how much the man had accomplished in his short life, and I wondered if I had been a good enough man myself in my 39 years on Earth.
I turned my azimuth not to dart back the way I came but to continue through the hood to my next objective. I had made a good run of it so far and felt like I could end this unscathed.
But the night and the hood would have none of that, mais non, cher.
“Hey yo… yo… yo, yo, yo, you there, man!”
After the several tormenting seconds it took to resolve not to answer with Robert DiNiro’s lines from the movie Taxi Driver.
The night watchman approached me. He was clearly intoxicated, otherwise cordial enough.
“Hey, brother!” I greeted.
It turned out he wanted to relieve me of the burden of five dollars or so to ‘buy his baby some diapers’—sure thing, pops. The thought of my next objective gave me an idea.
Him: “So let me hang on to five dollars… what’s your name?”
Him: “Yeah, John… let me hang on to five dollars to get my baby some baby diapers.”
Me: “Tell you what, you take me to the convenience store on the corner of Peach and Peach, and I’ll cut you a ten spot.”
That perked up Mr. Grateful nicely, and we had ourselves a deal. He bounced and staggered next to me happily running his mouth the whole time. This would work well if it kept just like this the rest of the way to the store.
But the night just wasn’t down with that.
“Yeah, James, as long as you are with me, you know, you don’t have to worry about nobody in this hood because this is my hood. Like, you see those (n-word deleted) over there?” Pointing to a group of three gentlemen of incidental leisure along the opposite curb.
“You don’t even need to worry about those (n-word deleted), cuz you walking with me.” And he proceeded to holler at them: “Hey, hey you (n-word deleted), yeah you… don’t even think you gonna mess with Jim here, cuz he’s with me!!” Oh, holy crap… that did surely NOT need to happen.
“Please, brother-man, don’t yell out to anybody like that. There just isn’t any call for that, none at all!” And my guide was totally fine with that, thinking about that $10.00. But hooray… now the three accosted had taken to following us. Maybe those three guys were my Mike Force, I senselessly kidded myself.
Once close enough to it, my sidekick pointed out the store. I slapped a ten spot on him. He was ecstatic and thanked me over and over, each time calling me any name but my own. I took to speed marching and waving ‘bye-bye’ to him, more worried about the three toads that had tailed us.
“Thanks for the money!” He cried out as he held it up and waved it. God, those three stooges are going to rid him of that ten in about five seconds. I hated it for him, but he did it to himself. He performed a service for me, and I paid him for it. How he *spent* the money was none of my business.
In the store, my instructions were to purchase a hot dog and bring it over the freeway to a park as my far recognition signal. But all I saw was an empty carousel slowly rotating under a heat lamp.
“We’re all out for this evening, sorry,” apologized the clerk. Wow, I had totally not seen that coming. What now? In the parking lot, I fished a bag out of the trash and pretended I had a hot dog. Now, I headed across the freeway, bag in hand. The overpass was impossibly dark, but soon, I saw a looming figure coming at me.
He was a big man with a long coat on. He had a huge staff in one hand that I guessed he used to beat up dudes trying to smuggle hotdogs over the freeway. He was shouting obscenities at the top of his lungs and smashed glass bottles violently at my feet that I guess he must have been pulling from pockets in his long coat; there were so many of them.
“They took my money, all my money!!” he bellowed as he smashed bottle after bottle at my feet. I imagined this was the part in the movie where I was supposed to start dancing, and I was actually fine with that… just what jig goes with smashing bottles?
“Who?? Who took your money, man?!?!” I yelled back at him.
“Let’s go and kick their asses and get it back!!” I urged him.
He froze and gawked at me like he was taken aback by my answer. Then he raised the staff high overhead and lunged down at me with a “Goddamnit!” I side-stepped hard and bolted around him, hot dog and all. WTF was up with this f*(king hotdog, I wondered. Who the hell asks for that?
At the meeting spot at a park just over the freeway, it all became clear to me: the mystery hot dog. It was Fat Mac’s doing. Yes, Fat Mac was assigned to this mix in the capacity of a lane controller. Fat Mac came up on an assault team, but his weight ran away from him, so he was moved into a more support role. Sure, what if there are 20 guys going through this training? Well, that meant Fat Mac was going to eat 20 hot dogs. I should report that ass.
He was sitting in a car with his arm hanging out the window and keys dangling down—recognition signal. I opened the passenger door and got in per my instructions:
“What’s the first thing you know, Fat Mac?”
“That is not the assigned bona fide,” he coldly retorted.
“What’s the first thing you know?” I compromised.
“Give me the hot dog,” he bade with an outstretched arm, itself plump as a Ball Park Frank.
“They didn’t have any; they were all out for the evening. Sorry.”
Mac just stared at me with his mouth open like he refused to believe they were out.
“They were out, Mac; I’m telling you they were out. Why would I lie about that? Stop being such a baby, Christ!”
Mac gave me a map and Maglite and had me plot an illogical course right back to where I had come from.
“You’re free to go; give me back my flashlight,” Fat Mac said, not actually looking at me. He was pouting.
“Oh, here’s your flashlight back, you big baby!” And I bypassed his outstretched arm and tossed the Maglite in his lap.
I convinced myself that Fat Mac would actually go back to that store and check to make sure I was telling the truth. I wouldn’t put it past him anyway.
Thumbing my nose at the route Mac had me plot, I swung back to the store to ask the clerk what route made the most sense. There was a patrol car parked in front, with an officer topping off his Java for the eve. When the clerk finished explaining, the cop, seeing my pack on my back, asked me how I was traveling the 15 or so blocks I had in front of me.
“I’m on foot, Officer; that’s just the way it has to be for me this eve,” and I left the store. Less than a block down the road, the same patrol car pulled alongside, and the officer instructed in a cross voice:
“Get in; you won’t make it a quarter of the way without some kind of disaster.” I talked myself out of the “Starsky and Hutch” slide I wanted to do across the hood of his cruiser and happily climbed aboard like a dog just happy to be getting out for a drive. Seems I did have a measure of a Mike Force out there with me… after all. What’s more, I was altogether positive that as sure as the sun would rise the next morning, that Fat Mac would still be pouting over his lost hot dog.
By God and with honor,