Mis Ángeles: When The Chaos Hits A New Level With The Kids In The Car
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My nephew is 13 and so is my niece and her little brother is 9. They live with me here on the Galindo compound and I am often entrusted with their care, especially in the summer while their parents work.
This summer is harder than usual because we cannot go to many places. What am I going to do with these kids? I ask myself that question a lot these days. And there's really no end in sight. School boards are weighing their options for the next school year, which is set to start for most L.A. students this August. Los Angeles Unified has already said classes will resume online only.
That means the kids will be home for the foreseeable future, which also means -- like a lot of us -- I'm still wondering, What am I going to do with these kids?
It's weird to be living in this moment.
Every week feels like a song from the Hamilton musical -- there's an overwhelming amount of information, people are getting shot and there are government leaders defending slavers.
But the weirdest part is how, even in this new world, some things don't change.
A few days ago I had all three kids and all three dogs in the car as we were driving to a park in Paramount. We have been doing this regularly all summer. The chaotic car rides are worth the peace and fun of a large outdoor space.
This time, though, that chaos would hit a new level.
We were stopped at a red light on a small street when I spotted this big beautiful Saint Bernard running around one of the backyards right at the corner where we were idling.
I told the kids, "Look at that dog. It's so cool." We were too distracted to notice this couple entering the crosswalk. The woman was on a bike pulling a large wagon behind her. The man was walking and pushing a wheelbarrow full of large pieces of wood.
In the old world, perhaps my spidey senses would have clocked this strange duo, but they were lost in the chaos of the moment and in the edges of this new world where my fight-or-flight system has been overloaded for months.
This man crossed the street and was standing on the corner near the passenger side. The woman rolled up to the very front of the car and asked me something. I turned to look at her with a stupid smile on my face only to hear her say again, "Let the kids out of the car so we can kick it."
My jaw tightened as I said no with the kind of attitude the moment suddenly required. The immortal words of Curtis James Jackson III came to my mind: "In the 'hood, summertime is the killing season."
For a beat, I felt like I was young again, back in the 'hood having to act tough to avoid getting eaten alive. Having to make split-second decisions fueled by adrenaline. Having to act on a set of instincts sharpened by past trauma.
The woman moved to block my car from moving into the intersection. Then she started talking at a rapid clip, vulgarly insisting I let the kids out of the car in a threatening manner. Kanoshi, the German Shepherd, jumped to the dashboard, barked and snarled viciously at her. So did the two other tiny dogs in the car. My niece stayed calm and collected. The two boys in the car began trying to argue with her with the kind of bravado I would have probably used in this situation 13 years ago.
Damn. Even five years ago I might have acted brash and foolish.
The light turned green and I said "Move!," which prompted her to say, "I'll f------- kill you." She was motioning to her waist like she was strapped, but I couldn't see over the edge of my car. Besides, I was too distracted by the man standing a few feet away holding two large wooden sticks. I tried to remember if he was holding them before. It didn't matter. He was quiet. Too quiet.
"Don't you know bad boys move in silence and violence?" Christopher Wallace's words rattled in my brain.
I asked the women why she wanted to kill me. "Because I can. Because I want to steal all your s----," she said.
My 13-year-old nephew and 3-year-old German Shepherd snarled and I had to physically restrain them from jumping out of the car. "Shut up. Don't say anything!" I yelled at them.
Now we were all quiet, all boiling with adrenaline.
I felt so angry and helpless. I had a million thoughts running through me. Some were more violent than others. But the biggest, most important one was, What am I going to do about these kids?
A big truck pulled up behind us and honked. The man put his wood back in in his wheelbarrow and the woman pulled back from her threatening posture and yelled a homophobic slur at me. She rolled through the crosswalk yelling it over and over again, telling the whole block that I was an F word. She was still yelling as we drove through to the park.
At the park, we walked the dogs and talked about what happened. I told the kids the best thing we can do in situations like that is stay calm and try not to escalate the situation. "You never know who can have a gun or a knife," I told them matter of factly.
And I told them, "That's just the way it is," echoing the late Tupac Amaru Shakur.
Maybe they're too young to learn these kinds of lessons. And I'm not sure, as a surrogate parent, if I handled that situation well. But I know it's going to be a long summer. And that the chaos of that car ride was worth the peace and fun of being in the park, running around with my favorite people and my favorite dogs.
About theMis Ángeles column: Erick Galindo is chronicling life in Los Angeles for LAist. He took on this role after serving as our immigrant communities reporter. Erick came to us last year from LA Taco, where he was the managing editor of a James Beard award-winning staff.
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