First it was the woman, his girlfriend of a year and a half, who gave him the heave-ho. Then his truck broke down.
Then somebody shot him in the head.
That was eight months ago. Ask him about it now, and he'll take a swig of his beer and say, "Shit happens."
Indeed it does, but the particular piece of shit that we'll be reviewing today is that last incident, and our tour guide into the world of random violence will be the victim himself, Bob, who actually has a lot more to say on the experience than just "Shit happens." But this is not a story of incredible, made-for-TV-movie tragedy; there are no wheelchairs or paralysis or tear-jerking nights of dream-filled horror involved.
Bob got off a lot easier than many. Other than a scar curving across the left side of his forehead that looks like it was made with a broken protractor, Bob carries little baggage from the night of October 4, 1995. Mentally and physically, he's pretty much worked things out.
"I'm a lot more aware than I used to be. The old attitude of bravado, 'Who's gonna shoot me?' is long gone," he admits. And in his 39 years, Kenosha, Wisconsin-born Bob has become a qualified owner/operator of bravado.
Just look at him: head shaved, goatee, dark tattoos of the Grim Reaper and a huge-breasted maiden dripping down one arm, a bald eagle on the other. Bob says he did 15 months in Vietnam "blowing things up" and was on one of the last helicopters out of Saigon in April 1975. He used to ride with the Wheelers, a bike club out of Lake County, Illinois, in the early '80s. These days Bob cares for quadriplegics--something he's been doing for five years--works part-time in a Valley pawnshop and is a longtime gun enthusiast.
But Bob's tale of survival at the Texaco Star Mart at 48th Street and Broadway has a lot more to do with luck than bravado. Actually, shit didn't happen that night last October. "An angel on my shoulder" kept the list of 439 Phoenix homicides free of the name of Bob.
"I was delivering tropical fish to Page. You pick up the fish at three in the morning, you drive four blocks to the gas station, you gas up your vehicle and you head out," explains Bob. "I had everything. Cichlids, angelfish, anything you can think of--$1,600 worth of tropical fish. This was my eighth trip, same gas station, same time of night.
"I had like five bucks in my pocket so I could buy a pack of cigarettes and have $2.50 for lunch. I had a gas card from the company to fill up the truck with. So at 3:30 I go to the gas station, gas up the truck, pay for it with the credit card, put the card back in my wallet, walk back to the truck, get in. Started the truck, went to buckle in, and as I'm looking down to plug the buckle in, I hear this voice right next to my face saying, 'Got a dollar?'
"As I turned to look at him, I said, 'No, sure don't,' and it's a black kid, and he's looking at the ground. So I look out the window and down. I notice something next to him and look off to the left, and I'm looking down the barrel of a .22 pistol. A Ruger Mark II four-inch-barrel .22 long rifle.
"It was one Mexican kid that held the gun, and one black kid that asked me for a dollar. They were, tops, 15, and I bet the black kid wasn't even that old. And the black kid couldn't even look at me. Which is why I thought it was a gang initiation at first, and all I could think of was they were initiating the black kid.
"I looked at the Mexican kid dead in the eye, and he just smiled. And his smile never touched his eyes. He had lizard eyes. I mean stone-cold, Mafia pop-you-in-the-back-of-the-head-'scuse me-nothing-personal eyes. And I saw the gun, and I thought, 'Oh, shit, a robbery.'
"And I looked at that smile, and I thought, 'I'm a dead man.'"
What would you do?
A difficult question for anyone to answer if he wasn't behind the wheel of the fish truck. This is what the officer who answered the phone at the Phoenix Police Information Desk advised me.
"I can't give you a textbook answer for that. You're going to have to do what you've gotta do. . . . If you're in the car, and someone confronts you, and you think you can get away, yeah, punch it. Just don't run over five people."