“Everybody get down!”
In that moment I was not only a participant in the action, but I was also the moviegoer, watching my life unfold with trite dialogue. Occasionally we find ourselves in such unusual, dramatic situations which we are simultaneously in and above. I was in the room when my mother died; once I was caught up in a weekend-long self-discovery program that had all the earmarks of a cult. And I lost my appendix to a mugger in Boston late one August night.
Years ago I was witness to a shooting, on New Year’s Eve 2003, in Albany, on my way to meet my partner, Mark, for a First Night celebration.
It was a mild evening. Strolling north along Lark Street, I felt caught up in the spirit of the holiday. A good dinner, visits to various performance venues, and some serious/silly resolutions at midnight: these were our plans.
I looked over my shoulder at the sound of a police siren. Was he pursuing somebody west up Lancaster Street, towards Washington Park? I crossed Chestnut Street, only to have my attention diverted by yet another police car, this one motoring along Lark Street, going in my direction.
The police car and I arrived at State Street and Lark Street, one of Albany’s busiest corners, at almost the same time. The police car stopped, blocking the entrance of State onto Lark, and, sure enough, in a moment, down State Street, heading towards the barricade, came a gold car, pursued by a police car.
Aha! They must be the two cars from the chase I’d just seen…
Well, the driver in the gold car is trapped, I thought. And probably so did everyone else at that intersection, at 4:30 in the afternoon. We stood there watching the gold car pause briefly between the barricade and the cop car behind him. Then it went up between parked cars and onto the sidewalk. Was the man crazy? There was no place for him to go, but he kept jockeying back and forth, trying to get away.
The policemen jumped out of their cars and drew their guns.
“Oh, shit!” I said, now the actor, and now, suddenly, the viewer, too. I saw myself as a bystander to something momentous about to happen and ducked behind a column by the corner liquor store.
Shots sounded, and then I crashed through the door to the store yelling, “Everybody get down!”
Others poured in, and everybody, in crisis mode, swore like sailors, bluing the air.
The shooting abruptly stopped, and the evening was over for a young man. We tentatively moved towards the store’s front window and peered out. I shook my head, saying to a stranger next to me, “What could he have had to run away from that was worth getting shot?”
“That’s not the guy in the car,” the man said. “He got away. This guy was just a bystander.”
While running into the store, I’d missed the evolution of the episode. The gold car had escaped, but a bullet, one of about 11 fired by a couple of officers in an effort to blow out the fleeing car’s tires, had struck a young man on his way to a friend’s house, with New Year’s Eve plans in mind–and there he lay, nailed to the crosswalk.
Cops became medics. Shortly, the Police Commissioner was on the scene, then Mayor Jerry Jennings, looking grim.
The young man died. His name was David Scaringe. A graduate of Clarkson, he’d returned to his home town and was starting out in a career in electrical engineering, surrounded by family and good friends.
Every New Year’s Eve his name comes to mind with sadness. I remain furious about police pursuit of cars: what were they thinking, racing through narrow streets at rush hour on New Year’s Eve? How could they have pulled guns with so many people around? Of course, the entire episode was prompted by the selfish, fleeing man in the car.
But a larger question is how to live awake, alert every day, with the energy and awareness that some dramatic situations put us in. Are there other pathways to an appreciation for the endless moments we think lie before us? Precious, precious—every moment. How to feel each and know its worth? There’s a New Year’s resolution.