Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Fight or flight -- the real thing

It was the week of Christmas, 2003, and we were in Kansas City visiting my parents for the holiday. Samantha had just turned 1yo, and in essence it was her first real Christmas. She was an infant the previous year and we didn't really celebrate that one -- just crashed at home with Jamie recovering from a life-threatening surgery. A story for another time.

This year Samantha and Jamie were healthy and we were enjoying a week in KC with my family. It was cold, as KC should be that time of year. Felt like Christmas! My dad took most of the week off work to be with us (Samantha was the first grandchild, and those can be kind of a big deal).

One day my dad needed to make a quick stop in to his office, so we decided to tag along and let him showoff Samantha. Good decision -- his employees had a blast meeting her, and I always love visiting people's workplaces. It gives me more empathy and vision for how people spend their day. I hadn't been to dad's office in a while so it was good to update my vision.

As we left the office, dad needed to stop by the specialty meat store to pickup our brisket and chicken that had been cooking for more than a day. He parked the car, got out and went inside the store. I was in the passenger's front seat, and Jamie and Samantha were in the back seat together, with Samantha in her car seat behind the driver, and Jamie in the middle.

I was looking back and talking to them when Jamie's eyes opened wide and she said, "Michael, he's got a gun!" I turned to see a hooded figure creeping around the corner of the convenience store, right next to the meat store. Approximately 30 feet in front of us, and we were the only car around. He looked to be around 5'8", skinny. He was wearing dark blue jeans and a grey hooded sweatshirt, with the hood up and closed tight around his face. Sure enough, there was a gun in his right hand. He was crouched around the side of the building and was slowly working his way around to the front door of the convenience store. Then he ducked low, opened the door and ran inside.

My dad had been walking back to the car and was on his cellphone, and he had just reached the driver's side door. I jumped out of my door and hurriedly looked over the top of the car and said, "Dad, hang up and call 911! That store is being robbed at gunpoint right now!"

To his credit he only took about one second to register my unexpected statement. Then we both heard a loud noise and turned our heads to the front of the car. The robber had just run out of the building, waving his gun and shouting. He was running right at us. I couldn't understand what he was yelling about. Something was going to go down in the next five seconds.

I glanced at my dad, ready to follow his lead. If he jumped into the car, I would too. His vehicle is massive and has 500 horsepower, and it's one of the handful of models that KC police have been instructed not to pursue in a high-speed chase. It's a good car for getting away fast. But did we have enough time for that?

If he stayed put or made a move at the robber, I would too. We could close the gap pretty quickly and at least one of us had a good chance to get our hands on him. With our size advantage, adrenaline and a basic understanding of human anatomy, I felt confident we could put him out of commission fairly easily.

Get in the car or go on the offensive. This all went through my head in one to two seconds. Strangely I felt perfectly composed, almost like I was outside of the situation. No fear, but no jumpy excitement either. Just an intense readiness, ready to unleash at the slightest body language from my dad. It was decison time.

Then the robber's words finally came clear and pentrated my brain..."It's not real!" What does that mean? Then I heard, "It's a toy gun! It's not real! It's a joke!"

Good grief. It was a teenager playing a prank on his buddy who worked the cash register at the convenience store. I guess he didn't think about witnesses who might not understand the joke. Witnesses who could possibly injure or kill him when mistaking him as a dangerous criminal.

Idiot. We didn't even talk to him, we just got in the car and drove off. This was around noon, and I was still hyped up on adrenaline at dinner that night. It never had an outlet like it was expecting.

I was glad it was a false alarm. Yet I still had the opportunity to learn some things:

1) Even though I'm an adult, my dad is still my dad. Yes, he had the car keys so it was natural that I would defer to his judgment in our crisis situation, but that wasn't the whole story. I was following his lead because he was my dad.

2) Cliches aside, the father-protecting-his-family response is more powerful than I possibly imagined. Totally different feeling that my fights in high school. My own safety wasn't even a consideration this time, and this didn't make me special. It was natural. I can no more take credit for that than I could take credit for having red hair. The protective response is supposed to be autonomic, and I had discovered that mine was perfectly functional. Good to know.

3) Even though my body was amped up, my mind stayed calm and logical. Everything slowed down and I was able to think through my options and weigh them. Again, a natural response I can't take credit for or brag about, but something good to know. It's an assurance in the deep recess of my brain that if something crazy happens, I probably won't freak out and be useless to my family.

4) Teenagers are dumb.

8 comments:

Don R said...

You have had your share of exciting experiences. I want to be around you when the **** hits the fan. Thank God for your coolness "under fire".

Redlefty said...

I honestly believe that the vast, vast majority of us have that same coolness. We just don't get a chance to discover it.

Without it I don't think our species would have survived this long! Ha!`

So you'd probably be good wherever you are when the **** hits the fan. Hope you have noseplugs too.

Hal Johnson said...

Wow. Your "coolness under fire" probably has a lot to do with your lineage, but I suspect that your time as an athlete has a lot do do with it to.

You wrote, "Even though I'm an adult, my dad is still my dad." That sentence brought tears to my eyes; it kind of sideswiped me. My dad has been gone since '91, but I often ask myself what he would do when an unexpected situation comes around.

I'm glad my dad wasn't there when that kid pulled his stupid prank. My dad would have whomped him.

Mike said...

Gosh, you got me amped up just reading it! I was ready to help.

Don R said...

I was in police work for two years. Fortunately, I never had the chance to find out if I'm "cool under fire".

MamaRose said...

YEP, I REMEMBER THAT DAY--and, for some reason, I wasN'T even there--must have been in bed, huh??!!!!!

That kid's VERY LUCKY Dad didn't take out HIS GUN, in the car, and SHOOT & ask questions, later!!!!!! OR if he/ya'll had decided to just JUMP on him, he SURELY would have BROKEN something--just from ya'lls WEIGHT & ADRENALINE--and, HOW SWEET that you were 'looking to' your Dad to see WHAT he's do, FIRST!!!!!!!!!!!!! That's smart & SO VERY SWEET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And, it's a GOOD FEELING to KNOW that you & Dad are Dad's whose FIRST response would be/IS to PROTECT HIS FAMILY!!!!!!!!!

Sorry you were STILL hyped up, later--we could have least taken you bowling or something you could have USED your EXTRA energy for!!! Might have bowled your BEST GAME, EVER!!!!!!!!!

And, you're RIGHT--most teenagers are not NEARLY as SMART as they THINK they are--HE thought that would be FUNNY--not even thinking about OTHER folks AROUND them!!!!! And a LOT of 17 & 18-year-olds think they're INVINCIBLE!!!!!!!!
Which, of course, we know they AREN'T!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'd LOVE to be with either or BOTH you & Dad if/when the **** hits the fan!!!!!!!!!!!!! LOVE YOU, Mom

MamaRose said...

YEP, I REMEMBER THAT DAY--and, for some reason, I wasN'T even there--must have been in bed, huh??!!!!!

That kid's VERY LUCKY Dad didn't take out HIS GUN, in the car, and SHOOT & ask questions, later!!!!!! OR if he/ya'll had decided to just JUMP on him, he SURELY would have BROKEN something--just from ya'lls WEIGHT & ADRENALINE--and, HOW SWEET that you were 'looking to' your Dad to see WHAT he's do, FIRST!!!!!!!!!!!!! That's smart & SO VERY SWEET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And, it's a GOOD FEELING to KNOW that you & Dad are Dad's whose FIRST response would be/IS to PROTECT HIS FAMILY!!!!!!!!!

Sorry you were STILL hyped up, later--we could have least taken you bowling or something you could have USED your EXTRA energy for!!! Might have bowled your BEST GAME, EVER!!!!!!!!!

And, you're RIGHT--most teenagers are not NEARLY as SMART as they THINK they are--HE thought that would be FUNNY--not even thinking about OTHER folks AROUND them!!!!! And a LOT of 17 & 18-year-olds think they're INVINCIBLE!!!!!!!!
Which, of course, we know they AREN'T!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'd LOVE to be with either or BOTH you & Dad if/when the **** hits the fan!!!!!!!!!!!!! LOVE YOU, Mom

~aj~ said...

I know we spent part of that Christmas with you guys, but somehow I don't think I ever heard all the details of that story. How crazy! So glad that it was just a hoax and you all made it home safe and sound!

I'd like to think I'm cool under pressure, but knowing me, I'd probably just pee my pants. :)