sometime between 2008 and 2009 - No matter how much time we spent together, we weren’t the same.
The kids from the suburbs couldn’t relate. They were never more than visitors even if they thought they knew about this place.
I had these two friends who were brothers. We’ll call them Albert and Kelly. Albert and Kelly never drove anything besides the BMWs their parents bought for them. When they wrecked one Bemer, their folks would just buy them another. They lived about 25 minutes away from me in the suburbs.
My family has always called the SW home. People from the suburbs, people like Albert and Kelly’s family, have no choice but to pass through here.
Albert and Kelly came to visit quite frequently in whatever BMW they had that month. It was Christmas break and Albert was visiting after a semester at his out-of-state university. The back yard of my family’s SW Houston home was our spot since neither of us had a fake ID to drink at a bar. Later that night, Kelly showed up to complete the trio.
It was about 12:30 a.m. when Albert stepped inside the house to use the restroom. That’s when Kelly and I heard distant gunshots. This was nothing new. It was accepted. On Fridays or Saturdays it was almost an inevitability. You never saw anybody take a bullet, you just heard the gun sounds. Even if It sounded like it was in your neighbor’s yard, there was no reason to call the cops because it was probably a mile or two away.
Sound travels like that.
We laughed about it because it had nothing to do with us.
As 1:30 a.m. rolled around, the allure of the 24-hour burger joint became too much to resist. A unanimous decision was made and we stumbled into Kelly’s BMW to go to the nearest Whataburger. We get our shit together and make it to the drive-thru by 2:15 a.m. - not long after the bars have closed.
At this hour, fast food seemed like a good idea. It was just that King Kong Discoteque was behind this Whataburger. There’s not much of a barrier in between the two businesses.
King Kong shared its lot with a liquor store and a 24-hour whorehouse under the guise of a massage parlor. There was a taco truck to serve some of the droves of drunks leaving King Kong.
People kept pouring out. The majority of the crowd had no urgency to leave the parking lot. It looked like a rowdy scene from where we were watching. We were close, but not too close.
The Whataburger line died down and we placed our order. The party was raging behind us but we were almost home free. There were only three cars ahead of us.
Then a group of party-goers in the King Kong parking lot began to stand out. It was about four or five young guys jumping and moshing like they were at a concert. They looked ready to fight. We began to worry when they started throwing empty bottles of Sol and Corona at cars leaving the parking lot. It was like they had an arsenal.
The glass from the moshers started making contact. One bottle exploded as a car was turning left on Dashwood to leave the parking lot. Before the car turned right on Fondren, a guy sits out of the front passenger seat and throws up gang signs. It was like something from Menace II Society.
We were worried.
It was as if the dude throwing up symbols emboldened the bottle throwers. They did it again to a guy leaving the parking lot solo. He turned left on Dashwood out of the parking lot when a bottle shattered on his car.
Instead of turning right onto Fondren like everybody else, his brake lights came on. I started to track his every movement, as was Kelly.
He reached into his glove box and pull out a shiny, silver tool.
"Oh shit," I said. "Get down, y’all."
All three of us slid down in our car seats. We watched the guy crack open his door and take aim at the care-free group of guys.
A single warning shot.
His car lit up like chandeliers in a ballroom. Nobody in the King Kong parking lot screamed or flinched. Nobody got hit. The three cars ahead of us in the drive-thru didn’t budge. Neither did the two that were behind us.
No sirens followed the gunshot. It was like a small sample of lawlessness and we were the only ones who saw what had happened.
It dawned on me then. My folks always said you shouldn’t be driving around at this time, even if you were drunk and hungry. Especially if you were drunk and hungry. Kelly and I heard the gunshots more than an hour earlier. We could have avoided the situation. We didn’t belong.
It didn’t seem to matter so much that Albert and Kelly were from the suburbs. We were in the same car and had all just had a prime view of a human shooting at other humans. We weren’t even in the crosshairs, but it was enough to put a fright in two brothers from the suburbs.
It was enough to scare the shit out of me.
"Let’s get out of here," Kelly said.
It seemed like an eternity until the shooter turned onto Fondren. Kelly waited until his car was out of sight. We left the drive-thru line and went to another Whataburger.
We ate our late-night meal in a state of disbelief. We almost saw a shooting. We were almost witnesses to an incident that could have wound up on Saturday morning’s news. It was stupid to get food that late.
I still wonder what happened to the guys who were throwing the bottles in the King Kong parking lot. Did they just laugh about that one time they were drunkenly tossing glass at people’s cars? The time some guy took exception and decided to fire a warning shot at them.
Maybe they did it again and weren’t so lucky. Maybe some of them are locked up now. I wonder if it made any impact on their lives like it did mine.
Albert and Kelly may have different renditions, but I know they still tell their own version wherever they are. Nobody lost their life, but it was a lesson in how messages get sent when somebody oversteps their boundaries. I wonder what they say about my part of town when they meet up with their friends in the BMW club.