Staring Down the Barrel

Back in the early 90’s, I was attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.  In the back half of my time in the Steel City, I lived in an apartment building about three blocks north of where the Pirates’ PNC Park is located in an area known as the North Side.  My walk from the school was three blocks to the Allegheny River, across the 6th Street Bridge (In which I made the local Bud Light ad showing a truck driving across the bridge), past what is now the stadium, through the mall that was there and to the end of the square.

Most of the time, it was an uneventful walk.  Boats on the river, a car rolled in one day due to a faulty brake, sometimes there were movies being shot there (most notably Hoffa and Striking Distance in my time there).  But mostly, it was just a walk through Downtown and the North End with it’s collage of buildings, stadiums, waterfront and parks all in this 20 minute journey.

This day, however, was different.  I was on my afternoon walk back to my apartment, it was a cooler day, but pleasant.  As I was waiting for the light, a silver Cadillac pulled up beside me.  I usually don’t take notice of cars, but as I heard the motor of the window and I looked over to see the tinted window down just enough to allow the passenger to stick the barrel of his pistol out the window.

Needless to say, I froze.  They didn’t say anything and neither did I.  I don’t remember being able to see anything else in the car, just what looked to be the promise of my demise staring back at me.  I figured any sudden movements would cause the trigger to be squeezed and there isn’t anyplace to hide on a city street corner.

My Girlfriend’s Ex enjoyed causing trouble for me at this time.  Despite the fact that she and I started dating long after they broke up, I was the bane to his existence.  He had a few rather large African American fellows looking for me because, apparently, I called them “worthless N—–s”.  Fact was, I never met those fellows, nor do I toss that word around.  He set out to have me assaulted since the first day I spent with her.  It had been escalating, was this another one of his tactics?  It certainly wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities.  Or maybe, he had nothing to do with this.

Was this just supposed to scare me (it worked) or was the intent to kill?  Yet another in the string of drive-by shootings that were occurring in Pittsburgh.

Was I just a random pedestrian for some punks to pull a prank on.

Was it personal?

Was it random?

Was it racial?

All of these things melted down to one question for me at the time.  “Am I about to die?”

I will never know the true intent of that moment.  After what seemed to be an hour, the light changed to green.  The Cadillac missed this event and, fortunately for me, there was one of Pittsburgh’s Finest three cars back kind enough to set off their “get your attention” siren (whoop whoop) to get the traffic moving again.  The barrel retracted, the Cadillac took off, the cop continued on with traffic.  Life moved on for everyone else except me.  I should have waited for my light again to cross.  I was much more willing to play Frogger than give that car a chance to come around the block.

I never spoke of that moment to anybody.  Not knowing who was behind that tinted glass, I was afraid that the wrong person would hear me talking about it and the “game” would have escalated.

To this day, whenever I listen to the news and hear about a shooting, I back on that street corner staring down the barrel of that gun again and share what the victims were feeling just before the trigger was pulled.

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