Sunday, Shooting Across The Bay

Sunday summer evening, 1964
     George and Dave and I sat
     in that order from the driver’s seat
in George’s ’52 dark blue Plymouth
     at a toll booth
     on the Bay Bridge
headed back to San Francisco from a weekend in Rodeo.

One booth over was a white car full of black people
     yelling at us, pointing at our car
     (did we have a flat? was a wheel coming off?)
I opened my window and heard only
     cacaphony, and the sentence fragment
     “beat your white hair straight”
well, the meaning was clear:  let’s get Out Of Here.

We had six lanes pointing toward the sunset and the City.
     They raced along beside us
     then pulled around in front.
Next a green car, also jammed with blacks,
     came along our right side,
     boxing us against the far left edge.
They began to slow us down, to bring us to a stop.

George braked, backing quickly from the forming box.
     He swerved right
     (traffic was very light)
and our two pursuers adjusted
     closing us in again
     against the right side of the bridge.
Where are cops when you need them?

Next they started throwing things
     chunks of metal (I don’t know what)
     empty liquor bottles
and on the back shelf of the white car 
     George saw some shiny metal
     which he said looked like a gun
and the next minute they were shooting at us.

Organisms usually fear death but machines don’t.
     and at this point I felt
     already dead, resigned.
I asked George to read me their license plates
     which I mechanically
     put on paper on the dash
so the police could do something when we were found.

Miles went by as George maneuvered back and forth
     and we began to realize
     that sooner or later
(assuming we could keep this up) 
     we’d run out of bridge:
     if we didn’t do Something? Soon!
These nuts would have us in the loneliness of Daly City.

The certainty of death left us somewhat;
     now that we had a puzzle to solve
     we became more animated.
We discussed options as if we were choosing clothes:
     Don’t try the Hall of Justice;
     it’s locked up Sunday night.
The VanNess Avenue off-ramp—that’s our best chance.

The ramp was on the right side, and George surprised me
     by driving toward the left
     ignoring my complaint.
We were boxed in again with VanNess coming up fast.
     At the last moment
     George slammed his brakes
and raced across six lanes of red tail lights—VanNess!

We raced to the Jack Tarr Hotel (drive-in lobby),
     jumped from the car
     (with bullet-holed windows)
and telephoned the licenses to SFPD.
     They got there
     twenty minutes later
saying niggers were shit (they never took the numbers).
Afterschock 1:  next Tuesday, nine in the morning
     still hung over
     I answered the doorbell
“Who’s there?” I opened the chained door
     as two black hands
     shoved police IDs through
reporting they found nothing. “Thanks” for nothing.

Aftershock 2:  one week later I saw six other blacks
     high, or drunk as skunks.
     get in a blue Buick parked near USF.
They smashed cars in front of and behind theirs, laughing
     then flying off down Fulton Street.
     At home I phoned Park Station
“We just got ’em at Fulton and Stanyon.” “Thanks.”