During the Spring of 2012, a close friend of mine got me and another good friend of ours, who we will refer to from here on out as Rizzo, a job laboring for a company that installed solar panels to commercial buildings.
The particular project we were hired for was an incredibly large warehouse and it would take a crew of ten guys or so the entire spring and summer to complete. I guess we should have taken it as a sign of things to come when Rizzo and I were pulled over by the New Jersey State Police for making an illegal U-Turn on our way to our first day of work, five minutes before our shift started, two minutes away from the job. Thankfully we explained the situation to the officer and were let off with a warning.
We fit in pretty well at the company, showed up on time and worked hard. Eventually, it was brought to our attention that more workers were needed and we were asked if we knew anyone looking for work. The result was me bringing in two of my cousins and a few other good friends who were eventually hired. The result of that, be it good bad or indifferent, was ten guys who knew each other way too well, many of whom spent most of the workday high in one form or another, having more fun then you’re probably supposed to at work.
This went on for most of the Spring and some of the Summer until an emergency meeting was called, by the owner of the company himself who most of us had only heard stories about and never actually met.
This meeting resulted in a dozen of us, born and raised on — and some of us practically in — the hard streets of Philadelphia, gathered in a small dark room waiting for the owner to show up. Many of us had rough upbringings. All of us had seen our fair share of fights but were trying to be productive and upstanding citizens by showing up to work every day and doing our best.
We had no idea what the meeting was about but were about to find out ever so abruptly. The owner barged in the side door of the room we stood waiting for him, in a comically absurd fashion. He unnecessarily slammed the door behind him and began yelling, without even introducing himself.
He informed us a roll of copper wiring which cost a couple of thousand dollars easily, went missing the night prior. He immediately cleared me and my two cousins of any possible wrongdoing and to this day I can’t figure out why.
My best guesses are, we were the whitest looking, or were the only names he knew. Aside from that, he pointed fingers at practically everyone else standing there, including our foreman. He physically pointed his finger at a few.
This man was at least 65 years old, wearing a suit that cost more than most of us would make that month and stood no taller than five and a half feet tall. This didn’t stop him from physically threatening practically all of us and going into a long and what I assume to be a fictional diatribe about how he once knocked out “Hurricane” Carter growing up. You know, fifty years before that.
He had no evidence or anything close to the sort, as to who might’ve taken the spool of copper wire. This didn’t stop him from firing five of us who were standing there and I imagine it’s no coincidence four of the five — were the four darkest skinned among us. The fifth? Well, he just laughed at the man’s ridiculous Hurricane Carter story and lost his job as a result.
One of my friends he fired that afternoon was engaged and his fiancee was four months pregnant. To make matters worse, to my knowledge, none of us stole that copper wiring. We never did get to the bottom of it or figured out who did. I wouldn’t say we were so much shaken up as we were appalled to discover the character of the man we worked so hard for. We also just felt terrible for our five friends that lost their jobs to an unjust cause — especially the one with a baby on the way.
So after a rather particularly miserable day at work, my cousin who we will call Cousin Scheme and I hopped in his car and hit NJ- State Route 1 to make our way home to Philly.
Cousin Scheme pulled on to route 1 and noted how he needed gas. There was a gas station maybe 100 yards away and no sooner than we spotted it and made our way towards it, a black suburban pulling out of a nearby business cut us off in an incredibly dangerous and ignorant fashion. My cousin swerved at the last second, barely missing the vehicle. This infuriated him as well as distracted him and we ended up missing our turn into the gas station, which only made my cousin angrier.
Now it’s probably important to note that both my cousin and I had seen our fair share of trouble growing up in Philly over the years and the way we were raised instills in you a desire to never shy away from a fight, at least when you’re young and dumb anyway.
After being cut off my cousin pulled up alongside the perpetrating suburban and an ugly traffic dispute ensued. Inside the suburban was a male and female, maybe 35 years of age.
The first verbal assault was launched by my cousin when he asked them, and I quote
“Where’d you get your fucking license asshole, Walmart?”
This upset both the driver and passenger, which was my cousin’s intention. As fate would have it, we ended up stopped directly behind them at a red light. Insults and ugly epithets came flying from both cars and before we knew it the female emerged from the Suburban and made her way towards the driver’s side door of our vehicle, with a Slurpee in hand — which will soon become a significant arc in the story.
My cousin got out of the car and I honestly feared for the worst. I thought there was a chance his temper may make him forget it was a female he was dealing with and there were at least 35 other cars nearby watching. The female swung and smacked my cousin across his head two or three quick times and my cousin took a step back, probably primarily out of shock.
This entire time, I’m screaming at him to get back in the car, as multiple onlookers noted how they had already called the police. Cousin Scheme got back in the car, realizing his only other option was to assault a female in broad daylight with a full interstate of witnesses watching. Before he could pull off, the female leaned towards his window to finish whatever insulting sentence she intended on delivering and it was at this time my cousin spit directly in her face.
She launched her entire Slurpee directly into his open window, creating a blue frosted explosion throughout our car. It was everywhere. During all of this, I’m just wondering how this all spun out of control so quickly.
Meanwhile, the male passenger got out of the car and made a beeline towards the hatch of the suburban and popped it. I didn’t know what he was reaching for out of the hatch, however, my cousin decided we would not give him the chance and immediately floored the gas. Mind you, we were only maybe 5 feet behind his SUV, to begin with.
Our car propelled towards theirs, with the passenger of the suburban now stuck between the two vehicles with his hatch open, facing us with an expression of pure fear and disbelief. It appeared as though my cousin was going to launch our car directly into theirs and probably kill the guy that would be jammed between the two vehicles as a result.
At the last second, by the grace of God, cousin scheme slammed on the brakes, no more than a foot short of crushing the passenger of the suburban’s legs. It was at this point that the first logical statement or realization was made by either party involved when my cousin looked the passenger whose life he apparently just spared — along with our freedom — directly in the eye and stated “See I could have taken your legs out the game my friend, it ain’t that fucking serious get back in your car.”
So much had just happened in the very short two-minute span. All parties involved just kind of looked on in shock. I looked cousin scheme dead in the face and told him to pull off before we didn’t have the chance.
He did exactly that. Unfortunately, as he did, he had the bright idea of getting the last laugh and hurling a glass bottle that was next to him at the Suburban as we pulled off. Much to both of our dismay, his window was not all the way open and he instead shattered both his window and the bottle he attempted to throw, adding an explosion of shards of broken glass to the layer of blue frost that was still all over both of us and the car.
How could this ride home possibly get any worse, right?
Well, the universe had an answer to that question only a short ten or fifteen miles down the road. With all the excitement, we had completely forgotten he needed gas.
His car began jerking and randomly stalling, as one tends to do when it’s completely out of fucking gasoline. We slowly approached the very close nearby Street Road exit to the interstate and came to a complete dead stop just as we approached the off-ramp. We were out of gas and the car had died.
We kind of just stared at each other in disbelief for a moment. We weren’t more than a fifteen-minute drive away from work and yet it felt like we had been through a lifetime of hardships in that same span. He noted how there was a gas station about a ten-minute walk away and we would have to walk there and hope they’d sell us however much gasoline we’d be able to carry back.
During the walk, I began taking inventory of everything that just happened and the entire day as a whole. How was this my life?
Hurricane carter, random firings, blatant racism, and broken glass. All in a day’s work.
My cousin was, at least at that time, the kind of person you tended to blame when things went wrong when he was around. Mainly because he usually was the reason things went wrong when he was around. The same could have been applied to me at the time as well though, so we’re even.
However, I couldn’t help but note how much of this was not something I blamed him for.
The suburban that cut us off was incredibly wrong and even after they cut us off it was very much them who initiated the traffic dispute, not only with the way they cut us off but the way they approached the situation at hand after. A simple “my bad” might have avoided all of it.
We made our way to the gas station and the attendant made it clear she would not legally be able to sell us gas in the container we brought with us to fill. We stated our desperate case and pleaded with her to either do so or let us borrow a gas can. She was kind enough to let us “borrow” a gas can knowing we had no intention of coming back out of our way to return it, even though my cousin promised we would. He earned his nickname scheme, it wasn’t just given to him at random.
As I stated, his car died directly on the off-ramp of the interstate. This gave my cousin the inclination to put his hazard lights on during our walk to get gas. It was as thoughtful and considerate of an idea as it was a dumb one. We returned to the car, gallon of gas in hand to find the battery of the car completely dead. It should be noted that all of this took place on one of the hottest days in July that summer had to offer, after working on a roof all day.
We eventually flagged down a good samaritan who was nice enough to give us a jump and then finally made our way home.
There aren’t happy or magical endings to many of my stories, mainly because they all happened and that’s not how real life works.
There are no doubt lessons to be learned from most of them though. Some of them are just stories I tell because if they hadn’t happened to me personally, I probably wouldn’t believe them. Which to me makes it a story worth telling — which is kind of the category this one falls into.
We never did find out who stole that copper either.