A Driver You Can Trust in Flatlands

by

12/31/2006

Flatbush Ave and Ave T, Brooklyn, N& 11234

Neighborhood: Brooklyn, Flatbush

My parents and I live in a dangerous neighborhood. It started getting dicey in 1989 when my father got mugged. One night, a man put a gun to his head. My dad foolishly used a dangerous shortcut. It was an error he would not make twice.

If my mother didn’t realize it before, she now knew she couldn’t walk around here in the dark. She would have to take car service when she stayed out late.

Going into a strange car with a strange driver doesn’t seem like a safe thing to do, but until recently, she and I didn’t give it much thought. We basically felt safe, since we only used trusted car services.

A few years ago, after doing some shopping, my mother and I went into a car owned by a service we had used many times before. The car was especially dark. The driver did not look at us. We were not too friendly to him either. As any New Yorker will tell you, that’s the way it often goes in taxis. Both parties know the relationship is going to be brief, so they don’t get too invested. But maybe we would have been better off if we’d been a little friendlier, because a few blocks into our journey, the guy lunged at my mother like he was possessed.

Half of my brain shut down while the other half was slowly processing what was happening. This man had a look in his eyes I had not seen outside of a horror film. He was clearly out for blood.

I can remember feeling intense terror. I can remember feeling an increase in adrenaline. And I can remember thinking I’ve got to get the hell out of here, and I’ve got to get help.

So I ran to the nearby convenience store. My plan was to tell the man behind the counter what was happening and have him call the police so they could save my mother. I don’t remember if I actually did that or not. I may have just screamed in a corner while people were calmly buying Doritos and lottery tickets. I know I looked outside the store nervously, wondering what was happening to my mother, wondering if I should go back and try to fight him. But before I could make a decision, she came running out. Somehow, she had escaped. She was bloodied around the lips. He had punched her—this defenseless middle-aged woman, my beloved mother—for no good reason.

Someone called the police. The driver left before they got there. Worse, he had my bag, which had my keys, which he would probably use to open our door to murder us all in the middle of the night. In my confusion, I had stupidly left them lying under the back seat.

But the police were able to retrieve them when he went to the station to report what he considered to be merely a disagreement. My mother and I scratched our heads over that one until she realized what he was probably thinking: Right before he went crazy, she had asked me for some money. He must not have realized that she was talking to me. He thought she was trying to rob him.

We didn’t sue the car service company. And we didn’t press charges, though the police wanted us to. We were frightened; we didn’t need this guy to have it in for us.

My mother was fine, except for a swollen lip which stayed swollen for what felt like an eternity. She said she was annoyed because it looked odd and made it hard to put on lipstick. I think she was even more upset at what it reminded her of.

These days, after having almost lost her husband twice (there was another mugging attempt in which he was put into a chokehold) and having been a victim of a violent crime herself, my mother is more than ready to move out of this area. It has gotten so bad that the police are now considering setting up a kiosk at a particularly rough corner. My mother had a glimmer of hope a few years back, when she heard about a vacant apartment in a nice neighborhood. But it fell through when they requested a deposit that would have wiped out my father’s savings. Even so, I don’t think my mother forgives him for passing on the place.

My father, despite all that has happened, doesn’t think we have it so bad. He says there are other areas which are far worse. My mother says he moved a lot as a kid and doesn’t want to move again. I say he is in denial.

My mother, now in her early 60s, half-jokes that the only way she’ll get out of here is in a box. I’m planning my own escape sometime next year, when I’ll be moving to Philadelphia. Despite what I hear about the crime rate there, I have seen parts that are much safer than where I live now.

My mother is not happy about my impending move. She says I shouldn’t be moving so far away, the first time I move from her. I think secretly she’d like to join me. Sometimes, I wish I could take her.

Because financial difficulties force them to live here, my mother and father have had to develop certain techniques to survive. My father crosses the street when he sees men who resemble the ones who have mugged him. My mother avoids car service drivers who look like the one who attacked her. If my parents lived in a small town, I’m sure they wouldn’t be doing these things. I’m sure they’d happily greet the people they live near and do business with. I believe it is human nature to be open, and we only become guarded if we are hurt. Personally speaking, I try to rely on common sense to get by. If I have a bad feeling about somebody, regardless of what he or she looks like, I walk away. It’s a rule that has served me pretty well.

But my parents were physically harmed by criminals and I was not. They want to keep safe. In that respect, they are not so dissimilar from that car service driver.

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