Jay and I approached the bus top and sat down to escape the already broiling sun, which, even at 10 AM, was hot enough to burn the skin. Since we would be out in it all day, the solace of some shade was a welcome respite.
The usual gaggle of hawkers, panhandlers, and assorted street people graced the corner and we greeted them as we arrived. As we conversed, I noticed the aforementioned James ambling across the street headed straight for Jay and I, and I also noticed he had a certain malevolence in his eye.
"Alright, you white motherfucker, I heard what you said about me a couple of weeks ago and I'm gonna take care of it right now." This comment was directed at Jay, and James was right in his face.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, man" was Jay's somewhat shaky reply.
"Yeah ya do" answered James as he pulled a huge hunting knife from his belt and started brandishing it around at all of us.
I said to myself, o shit, here it comes. Better move, and now!!! So I jumped up and moved towards the street as Jay quickly adopted a defensive posture.
All hell broke loose at this point when James lunged at Jay with the knife!!! A street person, known only as Wolfie, quickly removed his heavily buckled belt and started swinging it.
"Back off, nigger, you don't know who you're fuckin with here!!!" he shouted.
Jay neatly sidestepped the thrust of the knife, then several things happened at once. Street people, citizens waiting for the bus, and passersby all scattered in different directions, hollering, yelling and screaming, with one woman shouting that she had a cell phone and was going to call 911.
A homeless Indian, by the name of Randolph, jumped on James' back and tried to wrestle him to the ground. For his efforts he suffered a slight cut to his cheek as James tried to dislodge him from his back. Wolfie swung the belt at James hand in a vain effort to get him to drop the knife. Meanwhile, Randolph, enraged at being cut, went completely crazy and took James to the ground and started kicking him. One well aimed kick sent the knife flying from James' hand and out into the street. Sirens wailed in the background as the 911 call had evidently gone through. Hearing them, James set off on a dead run around the corner and disappeared from sight.
Jay hollered at me and we took off in a different direction. Running down the street, on the opposite side of the fracas, we hopped on a bus and got the hell out of there.
Jay explained to me that he had a few outstanding warrants out for his arrest and really needed to leave the area lest he be hauled off to jail. I didn't care about that but was just happy to be out of there as my heart was beating like a trip hammer on hyper speed!
When we were a few blocks down Speedway, we exited the bus, crossed the street, and waited for another bus to come by and take us back by the scene, as Jay was curious as to what was happening with the cops. When a bus arrived, we boarded it and took window seats so we could observe the results as we passed the scene.
There were three cruisers, lights flashing, on the corner as we approached. Several uniformed cops were talking with Wolfie and Randolph, as well as a few citizens who had come forward to tell their stories. Jay mentioned that we could find out all we needed to know later that day or the next day.
We passed the scene, got off at the next stop and Jay told me that he was going downtown for the day and I had better just blow off the papers for now and find a place to hang out. He suggested going downtown to the public library where it was cool and comfortable and where I could hang out all day, provided I didn't fall asleep inside. Since I had a few bucks and a library card this idea seemed like the only way to go, certainly far better than being sliced up on the street. We boarded another bus and soon found ourselves at the transportation hub of downtown Tucson, called the Ronstadt Center.
The Ronstadt Center (named after one of Tucson's most prominent families including singing star Linda Ronstadt) was essentially a huge bus stop with most of the bus traffic in the city stopping there at some point on their appointed routes. An open affair, but with a roof shielding passengers from the brutal sun, it consisted of about 20 cutaway stops, a couple of soda machines, a set of rest rooms, a kiosk for purchasing bus tickets and passes, a motley assortment of passengers and homeless people and a very visible police presence.
Jay pointed me in the direction of the public library and I set out with that as my destination while Jay told me he would meet me back at Ronstadt around 4 PM.
I soon found the library, an imposing edifice, as most main libraries are, consisting of 5 stories fronted by an extremely ugly piece of sculpture (sorry, but modern art just escapes me). I stopped to take in the street scene before I went in. The first thing that you notice is the tremendous number of street people camping on the lawns surrounding the building. As I later learned, it's one of the few places in the city where the homeless can congregate without fear of retribution from the police- at least during the library's hours of operation. There are also a couple of hot-dog vendors and a few newspaper hawkers.
I entered the building and the first thing I saw was a couple of Smokies from a private security firm guarding the turn styles. O boy- here we go again!!! They were posturing and preening in front of the only access and giving anyone who looked even the slightest bit homeless the evil eye. Over their small heads hung a pretty big sign that stated in bold letters- -NO WEAPONS ALLOWED IN THE LIBRARY-
Since I had failed to bring either my UZI or my AK47 I knew I'd be able to pass muster. I made my way to the turnstiles, under the watchful stares of the Smokies, and into the library proper.
I should mention here that I love libraries. Since I was a little kid they have always fascinated me with the sheer amount of books neatly stacked and catalogued as well as their relative quiet. (A quiet that is too often lost these days with the advent of the cell phone, another one of my pet peeves but I will leave that for later). I could actually live in a library and be very happy indeed with the arrangement.
Since I had already obtained a library card upon my arrival in Tucson at a branch near where I lived, I knew that I could spend the day in safety and maybe even check out a book or two. Once I had oriented myself to the layout I made a beeline for the area marked MYSTERY, SUSPENSE, THRILLERS!!!! WooHoo!!! My favorite genre!!!
They had a very good collection of this type of stuff and I spent a good hour just wandering through the stacks checking it out. I found a ton of stuff I hadn't read yet so I grabbed a few and looked around for a place to settle down and preview them. The lighting was poor on the first level so I proceeded to the second floor which had huge windows allowing the sunlight to brighten up the reading spaces considerably. I found a very comfortable easy chair, sat down, and commenced to look through my selections.
As I read, I noticed a number of Smokies threading their way through the sitting areas, just looking for someone who had fallen asleep while reading. I noticed that they passed by some rather well dressed patrons who had slipped into the arms of Morpheus (easy to do when your reading, of course) but seemed to concentrate their efforts on whoever they deemed, in their all-encompassing intelligence and experience in the field, to be homeless.
One rather shabbily dressed man was roughly awakened by one Smoky while another stood in a backup combat position, hand on holstered keys (see, I told ya!) in case a physical confrontation should ensue. The man in question, startled by being awakened, nonetheless offered no resistance as the Smokies closed in on him. With one Smoky holding the man by the elbow and the other one talking in code on his little radio (doubtless reporting to the head of the Sleeping Detail) the dynamic duo escorted him down the stairs and out the main entrance. The man was given a stern talking to and he wandered down the street, head hung in shame. These Smokies had done an admirable job (let's have a round of applause for the intrepid bastards!!!!) and their workday had hardly begun. I wonder if they have a quota?
(As an aside, I once saw a real police officer from the bicycle detail come into the library, flop in an easy chair and promptly go to sleep for about 2 hours with nary an interruption. Can we say discrimination, kids?)
After this little entertainment interlude, I finally settled on a couple of books that I really wanted to read and returned the others to their respective spots on the shelves. I spent the rest of the day immersed in one of them and when 4:00 PM arrived I set out for the Ronstadt Center to meet Jay and return to Speedway and Campbell.
Upon our arrival we met up with a few street people and got the lowdown on the morning's events. Seems like not much had been done about the assault, with the cops taking a few notes from Wolfie and Randolph and promising them they would do their best to find James but not to expect too much to come from it. I have since learned that the cops give short shrift to crimes committed against street people but bring out the big guns when a street person commits a crime against a citizen. Talk about justice for all, eh? And so it goes..................
Jay told me he had to attend to some business and would be gone for about a half hour so I spotted Ricky on a bus stop across the street and went over to sit with him for a while.
By this time of day, Ricky was pretty well into the drunken stage so our conversation was minimal at best. I just sat there, watching the world go by and occasionally reading my book. After an hour or so, a patrol car screeched to a halt in front of us and a cop leaped out and told us to hold it!! Hold what??? We were just sitting there, minding our own business, but Ricky was drinking a beer hidden in a paper bag, which in Tucson, as in most other cities, is clearly illegal.
"Alright guys, we just got a report of two people running in and out of the street. Would that be you?", barked the very young officer.
Clearly, this was bullshit if I had ever heard it. First of all, we had been sitting there for some time and had witnessed no such activity nor had we engaged in any such activity ourselves. Secondly, one would have to be nuts to run in and out of the street at that particular location because cars were always speeding by in a manner not unlike that of the Daytona 500. No, this was just a common tactic by the cops to harass a couple of obviously homeless people. The officer spied the beer in Ricky's hand and his face lit up like a Christmas tree.
"Is that a beer you're drinking?" he queried.
Ricky allowed that it was indeed a beer.
The officer looked at the cup in my hand and asked me if I was drinking a beer as well.
"No, sir, it's water" I answered. Which it was. I had gone to Burger King (gotta take a break from McDonalds now and then if for nothing more than variety), directly behind us and gotten a cup of water, which by law in Arizona, they can neither refuse to give you nor charge you for, no matter what your station in life.
I showed the cop the water and he took the cup and smelled it. Water- sure enough. He then asked to see my ID which I quickly produced. He then proceeded to call it in on his little radio/computer rig and after a few moments I could here a disembodied voice over the speaker pronounce that there were no wants and no warrants out for me, which I knew already.
"Ok man, you are good to go and I would suggest you do so, NOW", he barked.
"Yes sir.", I answered, resisting the urge to salute, and proceeded across the street to the opposite bus stop.
Ricky was not so lucky as a check of his ID revealed several warrants for such things as drinking in public, urinating in public, and just being in public. He was cuffed, stuffed, and carted away to the police lock-up in a matter of minutes.
Jay re-emerged after this little episode which I promptly related to him. He commented that at least Ricky would get some kind of half-assed meal and have a place to sleep for the night pending an early appearance in City Court and let it go at that.
Jay and I decided to go to the TACO BELL restaurant for a change and I readily agreed. I was getting damn sick of cheeseburgers by this time. We ate some very sloppy concoction which bore about as much relationship to Mexican food (I have had the honor of eating the real deal in my previous life in Tucson some 25 years before courtesy of some Mexican co-workers) as dog food does to filet mignon. As we ate, we reviewed the events of our respective day and Jay admonished me that we would have to keep an eye peeled for the dude named James. No shit, man, good thought!!!!
We decided to retire early for the night and went to our spot to do just that.