Now I'm on Baker street. My destination is six blocks away.
After one, I hit a snag. A gang of teenagers, dressed as Street Fighter characters to distinguish themselves from other Capcom-themed gangs, is standing in the middle of the street. There are six of them. Their costumes are a hodgepodge of tank tops, blankets, and trash bags. I recognize a Ryu, a Guile and possibly a Chun Li or Cammy.
At first I consider running them over, both because I'm late and because I'm generally afraid to slow down in bad neighborhoods, whether its for a light, crosswalk, or even to get out of my car. I generally just tuck and roll and let it careen into whoever's in front of me, since nine times out of ten they're already shooting at me anyway. But my insurance has been lax about covering fatalities lately, so I hit the brakes.
The gang's leader, Ryu, is holding a megaphone. He's using it to yell at a junkie who's passed out by a storm drain. I can tell he's the leader because he's the most ripped, and Ryu is the most popular Street Fighter character in a three-way tie with Akuma and M. Bison, the latter two of whom aren't represented in the gang. They ignore my car as it idles 15 feet away.
I look at the heroin in the passenger seat and think of how easily I could snort a little while waiting for them to move. But I'm a professional, at least to the extent that I deliver and get paid mostly in drugs. So I honk my horn.
This gets their attention, but not in the way I wanted. They turn toward my car and make angry gestures that are either gang signs or combo moves in Street Fighter. Ryu points at me and says something into his megaphone. It must be broken though because all that comes out is a high-pitched squeal. He shakes it and says something else. I think it might be "test," but I can't tell because it's still broken. He turns to Guile - who I assume probably got him the megaphone - and scowls. Then he pushes one of the buttons on the top, making it play a song.
It might be The Final Countdown. I can't quite recognize the melody. But the message is unmistakable.
Half the cast of Street Fighter take out their weapons and advance on my car. They look like a cross between The Warriors and the line outside an anime convention. They have bats, croquet mallets, and what look like those suction cup poles you use to unscrew lightbulbs. Some are shouting taunts I can't quite make out, because my brain is rerouting energy from its language and urine-retention processes to think of a plan.
I can't run them over. They're too close for me to reach ramming speed. And if action movies are any indication, they'd probably jump on the hood or sides of my car anyway.
I can't turn around. The street is too narrow to execute a three-point turn. And my car isn't fast enough to outrun them in reverse.
As a child I inhaled some cleaning chemicals that gave me mild autism. While not germane to the situation, it's something I can't help thinking about as my life and the several painful ways it might end flash before my eyes.
One of the gang (Dee Jay?) picks up a brick and throws it at my car. It ricochets off the bumper and hits the junkie in the ribs. He yelps in pain. A few of the teens turn their heads. Their atavistic instincts tell them that he's wounded and even more vulnerable than me. There's a moment's confusion as they wonder whether to continue with their current business or finish him off.
I see my opportunity.
I slam on the gas and drive straight forward. Sure enough, the gang spreads like the neon legs on the strip club sign above us, breaking in two halves that jump to opposite sides of the street. Neither half is quite sure what to do. Their once solid nucleus has become a fault line, divided by the junkie's screams. I see the bafflement on their faces as they flutter by my window. I shift into second gear. Third. Fourth. Leaving them in a cloud of exhaust and confusion.
I notice a damp spot in the center of my seat.
But it's okay. I'm alive. Like a kid forced to survive on the street by committing Street-Fighter-themed crimes, I'm an animal now. Operating on instinct. Taking opportunities the second I see them. Otherwise, like the junkie who I see in the rearview mirror getting beaten to a pulp, I'd be dead.
After years of being misunderstood, I had hoped we finally had "our" story. I was wrong.
He had a yellow inflatable tube around his waist, the kind with a comical duck head. There was a tiny fish in one of his hands, and a trident in the other. In the background a squirrel wearing shades was water skiing.
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