Our story to this point
So, I had to admit it, things were looking a little grim. I had a Crip in my car and no idea how to get rid of him.
Right before we pulled out of the parking lot, Eijah cleaned out my wallet — all $20 worth. He was not impressed by my lack of funds. As a babbler, I felt compelled to explain I wasn’t getting paid during training, and he looked at me like I was crazy.
“You workin’ for free? That’s fuckin’ wack, man.”
He wasn’t getting any argument from me. It was fucking wack.
In traffic, I had my eyes peeled for a cop because normally they were everywhere in Tempe, but of course, not a one in sight. I don’t know what I would have done anyway, swerved in front of him?
It’s party time
Maybe it was because we were in Tempe and right by ASU and it was still light out, but I wasn’t completely freaking out at this point. Oh don’t get me wrong — I was highly concerned, but I’d been in some uncomfortable spots before, like when I had to give some drunk Nazi skinheads a ride to Sunnyslope. Things always tended to work out okay, so I wasn’t freaking out — yet.
Until that is, Eijah busted out a crack pipe, loaded a rock, and fired it up. I was gobsmacked. We were in rush hour traffic and this guy was taking monster hits off a crack pipe — in my fucking car! He was either the dumbest carjacker ever, or he had gigantic, watermelon-sized nuts and just didn’t give a fuck. Suddenly, getting pulled over by a cop and having to explain why there was a thick cloud of chemical smoke billowing out of my car like a Cheech and Chong movie no longer seemed like an attractive option.
Abruptly, Eijah held the pipe out and told me to take a hit. Seeing as I was in the middle of navigating rush hour traffic, his surprising request seemed a tad impractical and I declined.
“I want you to hit this pipe,” he said more forcefully.
Now, I had no intentions of hitting that pipe. The crack epidemic had been going full steam for several years and the news anchors kept telling America if you took a hit, you were instantly addicted and on the road to becoming a wild-eyed psychotic willing to commit any depraved act to feed the demon. No thanks. I’d done coke a few times and liked partying as much as the next ASU student, but I was too poor for an addiction. No way I was going to end up penniless on the streets sucking dicks for my next fix. Plus, America West was firmly onboard with the War on Drugs. They’d already tested me, but Eijah didn’t know that, so I claimed I was about to be tested.
Eijah’s eyes were kind of glassy at this point, and he looked at me with a new level of suspicion.
“How I know you ain’t a cop?”
I respectfully pointed out that if I was a cop, I probably would have arrested him after the first couple of felonies, which he conceded was a valid point.
Entering unknown territory
On the border of Tempe, my unwelcome passenger had me pull into a Valley National Bank and told me to get money out of the ATM. Nervously, I told him I didn’t have a bank card — which I didn’t. He checked my wallet to verify I was telling the truth and then we hit the road again.
As we drove along he served as my gangland tour guide. Pointing out a road, he said some Bloods hung out in that neighborhood.
“We cap their asses,” he added with what I’m assuming was professional pride.
I made a mental note not to go down that street ever again.
As we moved from Tempe and deeper into the sketchy environment of South Phoenix, I was now officially starting to freak out. This was not an area where average white people went into voluntarily.
At this point, as he was looking out the passenger window, I moved my hand down to my secret weapon. See, several years ago, I’d slipped the car’s lug wrench down the side of the driver’s seat for just such an emergency. But the damned thing had worked it’s way so far down I could barely get a finger on it and it wasn’t budging, which in hindsight was probably for the best — that’s all I needed was to pull it out and then get my ass whupped with it.
We rolled up to a run-down house in a blighted neighborhood, and Eijah told me to lay on the horn. At its summons, a head popped out the front door and then a whole posse of hard-looking young black men — who I assumed to be “the rest of the Crips” — came strolling out and over to my car, bullshitting with Eijah, and looking at me with mild curiosity.
My impending freakout, bubbling along quietly, was now on a high boil. My main goal, other than not ending up in that house, was to not start blubbing. I watched the news all the time, and the shit I was in rarely ended well.
Out of the frying pan…
Finally, and much to my relief, Eijah exchanged some elaborate gangsta handshakes with his homies and instructed me to drive a couple streets over and pull up in front of a church. There he told me the rest of the plan. Apparently, he had a big drug deal going down and was taking my car and booting me out. I begged him to not take my car, and he told me it was happening and there wasn’t shit I could do about it.
“And them niggas back there think ya Five-O, but I told em ya cool. So get ya narrow ass outta the car and stand by that church. Ain’t no one fuck wit ya there.”
He explained I was to wait next to the Baptist church for twenty minutes. And under no circumstances was I to call the cops.
So I trudged up to the church, and he climbed into the driver’s seat. At that moment, a big, rough-running Cadillac Eldorado with nice rims, packed with some of the hard dudes from the house, rolled up behind my Pontiac T1000. They were mad dogging me, so I adopted my old high school beta male survival technique of looking away and pretending to be invisible. Call me a pussy, but my goal was to not get shot or thrown in the trunk of the Caddy for a one-way ride to the desert.
Finally, Eijah pulled the T1000 away from the curb and the Cripsmobile chugged after it, out of sight.
I’d like to say that I was immensely relieved — and I was — but that relief was short-lived due to the fact I had a whole new problem on my hands. Here I was, a scared white kid in a shirt and tie, standing in the middle of impoverished gang territory, and the sun was starting to dip as a monsoon storm moved in.
Since I didn’t want to take the chance of the Crips seeing me walking down the street before the twenty minutes was up, I stood there obediently for awhile. A family of Baptists got out of a car and went into the church. I don’t know what Baptists do at church on a Tuesday, but they glanced at me like I was an alien. I smiled and nodded, like hanging out by a church in a black neighborhood is something I do every day. Nobody said anything including me. I was too embarrassed. I went back to standing.
After a while, I noticed something had caught fire down the street. It looked like an abandoned house was aflame or it could have been something in the backyard, but the fire department showed up quickly. I considered seeking their help, but they were kind of busy, and again, I felt like an idiot and didn’t need a bunch of manly men confirming it for me.
Eventually, after what I guesstimated to be twenty minutes, I started walking and finally came to a convenience store. From the payphone, I made a collect call to a friend of mine who worked at America West and she rushed out to rescue me.
Getting the law on the case
Back in Tempe, I called the Phoenix police to report my stolen car.
The next day, I called my parents and told them my car had been stolen. I left out a few details — actually most of them. As far as they were concerned, a sketchy guy stole my keys when I was at Todd’s and boosted my car. Trust me, they were already skeptical of my ability to successfully navigate the adult world and suspected I had foolish tendencies. They didn’t need any more ammunition. No way I was hearing about this for the next thirty years.
Two days after my ordeal, I showed up to the main police station in downtown Phoenix where a middle-aged detective interviewed me. He politely listened and then fixed his icy-blue Clint Eastwood eyes on mine.
“Okay, let me ask you: Did this have to do with drugs?”
“Absolutely!” I replied. “He was on his way to make a big score.”
“Got any names or addresses?”
It took me a few seconds to realize that he thought I was some white kid who got burned trying to score drugs in the hood. Luckily, my earnest naiveté soon convinced the detective that he was dealing with a legitimate dumbass.
“Do we need to warn anyone there are Crips and Bloods in town?”
“Don’t worry, we know.”
We chatted about the gangs in Phoenix, and I showed him Eijah’s chain. He’d forgotten to retrieve it, and I had taken along as evidence.
The detective weighed the thick coil of braided links in his hand.
“No wonder he left it with you. It’s fake. Real gold would be heavy. That’s costume jewelry. It’s worthless,” he said, handing the chain back to me.
It was a couple of days after the incident before I was able to get over to Todd’s and tell him about my misadventure. He was relieved to see me alive.
“Dude, I was wondering what happened when you never came back.”
Apparently not wondering enough to actually check up on me. I could have been locked in a car trunk the whole time thinking Well, at least Todd knows to send help.
“Sorry, man, I couldn’t find your phone number.”
Fucking Todd. Seriously, I really needed to get more dependable friends.
Karen, this cute black girl I had a crush on, was excited to talk to me about my ordeal. She was studying journalism and wanted to be a reporter so this was right up her alley. She asked me what Eijah was wearing, and when I told her, she smacked me on the arm.
“That was a Crip!”
I replied, yes, I knew that.
“Why were you giving a Crip a ride?”
“Well,” I said. “I didn’t know he was a Crip at the time. Plus I didn’t want to be a racist.”
She got a pained look on her face, the one that women often get while talking to me.
“Someone needs to smack some sense into you. If it looks like a thug and talks like a thug, sometimes it might be a thug. And it’s not racist to not give a Crip a ride.”
I couldn’t fault her logic. Sadly, her logic also found my lack of good judgment and beta maleness unattractive and she started dating a Marine shortly after.
My friend Anna Garcia’s brother Rudy ended up giving me a stout wooden dowel from the construction site he worked on “Just in case shit ever gets loco again.” Luckily, I’ve only needed it to prop up the hatch on my car when the lift supports went out.
More trouble with Crips
Shortly after my ordeal, two suspects reputed to be members of the Crips robbed a gas station in Tempe. This gave me a moment of pause. The Crips had my car’s registration that had my parents’ address on it. What if they drove out to Mesa to rob their house? I have to admit, I was a little concerned. But not concerned enough to admit I’d lied to my parents about my car. Call me an asshole, especially since I was living in obscure safety in Tempe, but it was a calculated risk because:
- My parents lived about 25 miles across the city, and Google Maps didn’t exist yet, so the Crips would have had to invest in a paper map or stop and ask frequent directions.
- There were not a lot of black folk in the East Valley back then and probably zero Crips, so Eijah and his crew would have attracted unwanted attention in lily-white Mormon Mesa.
- Driving my stolen T1000 into Mesa would be risky. I guess they could have taken the Eldorado, but it hadn’t sounded like a ride you’d want to depend on as your cross-town getaway car.
All-in-all, I figured it would be way too much effort with the possibility of too little reward. Eijah already knew my impoverished state.
The return of the T1000
A week later, a police dispatcher called and woke me up at 2:30 a.m. to tell me they’d just found my car. Seh told me if I could get down to 32nd Street and Weir in half an hour they wouldn’t tow it. I didn’t bother waking up Becky and her boyfriend for a ride, but hopped in my rental car and drove out there. The cops had given me the major cross streets, and from there I had to wing it.
Cruising the neighborhood, I couldn’t find my car at first. I was amazed at how many people were on the streets at 3 a.m. I guess being a crackhead really frees up your schedule. There were also a lot of cop cars in the vicinity. Finally, I flagged down an officer and he directed me where to go.
There, in a dirt lot, sat the poor T1000 with a patrol car parked behind it. My car had obviously left the road and been abandoned in a hurry as a door was still open. Parking my rental, I walked over and talked to the fattest cop I’d ever met. Calling his gut a beer belly didn’t do it justice. He told me when the plates came back stolen, he’d put his lights on but the suspects bailed out.
“I was unable to apprehend them,” he said with a straight face. No shit. The only way this guy was catching anybody was with several well-placed pistol rounds in the back.
Following the cop, I drove my rental car to a better neighborhood and parked it at a Circle K. The cop gave me a ride back to the T1000.
My car resembled a mobile crack den. The gangsters had left piles of fast food wrappers and other flotsam and jetsam piled everywhere. And the smell! The stomach-churning foulness that threatened to overpower me was indescribable. What the fuck had gone on in there? I had no idea what was causing it, but I wanted to retch and had to drive with my head out of the window. The unidentified stench molecules were clinging to my skin, which was crawling like it had decided “Fuck this” and wanted out of the car. Parking the T1000 at the Circle K, I went home in the rental car to take a scalding hot shower and get some sleep. In the morning, Becky’s boyfriend gave me a ride to collect my car before I had to go to training.
In the light of day, it was easy to see how Eijah and his crew had fucked my car up. It was covered in dust and the windshield was cracked. A dark, unidentified substance was smeared on the side of the car. The roof looked like an elephant had climbed on it and one door was badly dented. Two hubcaps were missing and the Crips had replaced a couple of my tires with ones they’d boosted from other vehicles. They’d also stolen all my personal effects, mostly cheap sentimental things.
The insurance adjuster State Farm sent out to inspect the damage took one look — and smell — and declared my car totaled.
A lesson learned
In the end, I got lucky. Yeah, I was dumb and maybe I could have called bullshit on Eijah and avoided the whole mess, but who knows how that would have played out? I had gone to junior high with a badass named Martín García — he was way tougher than me with lightning fast hands, a dude you did not mess with, and someone had recently shot and killed him. As it was, I always wondered what became of Eijah. He screwed me over for sure, but it could have been so much worse. For years, I kept Eijah’s fake gold chain as a reminder but eventually lost it when moving apartments.
A week after the carjacking, I passed my training exam and became a full-fledged reservations agent. My love interest and I continued our sporadic, dysfunctional, one-sided romance and you know what? During all my time at the airline, we never once took a goddamned trip together.
*Update April 27, 2019. My sister recently started following my blog, and nearly 30 years after this event, she finally heard the Crips story (she didn’t actually read the posts but saw it referenced in my The Unwanted Passenger post, so I had to tell her all about it.