I am going backward and forward with time, so bear with me.
This was in San Jose, a drab town south of San Francisco which was completely unknown at the time. No baseball team. No ice hockey team. No soccer team. Nothing.
How can a black man live without them?
The San Jose Mercury was the only glaring thing at the time with great promises for the Pulitzer Prize. The internet technology that galvanized the city later and took over the region by storm (Palo Alto, Los Altos, Santa Clara and more) was alien then. I had never heard of Steve Jobs at the time. Who was he?
The city was an absolute drab and lacked a flair that big cities like San Francisco and Chicago possessed. I had just moved to the area from Toronto (having seen all the great cities in Europe), married to an American and lost her (divorce) after moving to this godforsaken land called San Jose.
I don’t think the city had its welcoming mat pulled out for me.
Meanwhile, I had to deal with that devastating divorce.
It happened only a year after we moved to San Jose and had a crushing effect on me that shattered my serenity. There was a cute baby involved. I had grown attached to my little girl. She was a beautiful girl you had ever seen in your life. She was adorable. She was even more prettier than Hale Barry. She looked exactly the Queen of Sheba! I could envision Solomon at her feet, clamoring to serve her for the rest of his life (and even divorce all his other wives all for her). That was my daughter!
My daughter was my angel.
But then, the divorce, this savage split that was totally unexpected, took us by surprise. I don’t think my ex had planned it. And certainly, I was busy getting drunk and never saw this coming. Drunks have a poor eye sight; I believe that now.
I got drunk mostly to get away from the confusing culture, but the drinking was causing a lot of agony and friction in my personal life. I was overwhelmed by the immense weight of the American culture. The alcohol, however, was revealing the normally concealed behavior I thought I had under control. When drunk, I seemed a bit belligerent, showing readiness to fight at minor things. And then I was told I got blasphemous. I had picked up these American words, Goddamn and the F word, and used them literally on every Tom and Dick I encountered. It made me a cool American, in my eyes.
Then, as if all that weren’t enough, even my friends said, when drunk I flirted with women in front of my wife. I think the alcohol may have disguised her from top to bottom when I was flirting with every woman who wore skirts.
Would you blame her for leaving me?
Now I was truly lost!
The binge drinking ensued. San Jose wasn’t enough for me, so I drove to Mountain View, Cupertino and Oakland, cities nearby, discovering new bars where blacks were welcomed without a scathing frown from the bartender. All along I was in pain. I had loved my wife very dearly. She was my everything: My dreams, my hope and my joy. Barry White’s song “You are My First, My Last, My Everything” that came at about that time resonated in my ears constantly. I tried to sing like him, but ended up scaring myself.
The alcohol was good.
Oh, my little girl!
I wouldn’t even start telling you what my daughter meant to me. We would be spending the rest of our lives here and even then the story will never end. So here I was in America, badly confused and lost, badly out of shape, and empty. Here, alcohol provided the gates to asylum.
And then came that night when I met the despised police!
It was a normal summer night, and as usual, I was in a bar, at least fifteen miles away from my home, drinking. This was my post separation period and I was in high distress.
At the same time, I kept busy drinking. The bartender was unusually generous that night and was pouring a large portion in my glass, knowing too well that it soothed my burning soul. I had told him a story that in Africa I could drink like a fish and was good at maintaining my balance.
“Oh, what do you guys drink in Africa?” he had asked me.
“Whiskey, beer, wine and everything you drink here,” I answered with a suppressed resentful tone. I was a bit defensive. Obviously, when he said “Oh, what do you guys drink in Africa?” I interpreted it as if he had insulted me. I thought there was a slight whiff of racism in his language. And guess what? He, too, had detected my suppressed resentful response and was now generously rewarding me with enough alcohol. He didn’t mean to insult me at all. It was all in my head. I had the tendency to take things the wrong way.
Then at 2.00 am when the bar was closed I staggered to the door, almost falling twice.
“Watch out Mr. Africa!” the bartender yelled from behind, sarcastically.
“I am Okay,” I said with my African pride intact.
“I can call a cab for you if you want,” he said.
“No, no, no! I am perfectly fine. I can drive.”
Then, after fifteen minutes laborious search in the parking lot I found my car that was all along parked in front of me. Even the damn car was playing a trick on me that night! I now waved my hands up in the air twice and staggered into the car.
I found the keys.
I found the ignition hole.
The wheels were there.
The engine was fine, too.
I had forgotten turning on the headlights when driving the car, however!
And just after about two miles driving left and right, zigzagging to Africa and Berlin, I saw the police light flashing and heard the siren screaming. It was meant for me to stop. I may have driven through the stop signs without even pausing. I didn’t see that my headlights weren’t turned on, either. Now, I wasn’t even mindful to the stoplights coming and I may have passed about six of them without stopping, and the police was still at my tails. I remembered passing through two red lights! There were more that I didn’t remember.
At last, after passing non-stop through twelve stop signs, no headlight and drunk like a skunk, I stopped! The cop was white. I had stopped (now this could tell you the degree of my drunkenness) in a dimly lit area, no pedestrians at all, not even passing motorists.
It was me and the white cop alone!
“What if he were a racist cop?” I asked myself.
Prior to that incidence, there was news of police shooting a black man in the Bay Area (I think Oakland) and that news now intensely reverberated in my head. Suddenly I was paralyzed with fear. Wanting to drive the car to a well lit area, I restarted the engine. I thought it was better to die under the bright light, even when there was no one watching.
The cop was right there and said, “What are you doing?”
I honestly thought the cop was going to shoot me then for my inexcusable infraction, deeming that I didn’t belong on the road. Hell, I didn’t belong in America! My irresponsibility was indefensible even to me. “Fucking African!” I yelled at myself.
At last, like it or not, I was there at the mercy of a would be racist cop, in whose hands lay my fate. I would be killed in a minute. In a flash Good Old Africa appeared before my eyes. I was empty stomach and hunger was gnawing at me at the wrong time. I had no idea why I was devastatingly hungry now, because in a minute or two, I would be dead!
I hated being a black.
The cop was young, big, and muscular. He was about my age, maybe a couple of years younger. He asked for my driver license in a very calm manner.
I waited in trepidation when he examined it.
“Sir, lower your window,” he ordered.
“Okay, Mr. Cop.”
“Do you know that your headlights are not turned on?”
“Sorry sir, sorry, Mr. Cop.” I probably had said sorry Mr. Cop hundred times.
“And you have at least passed twelve stop signs without stopping. Do you know that?”
“Sorry, sir; sorry Mr. Cop.”
“Can you step out of the car for a minute?”
I did, but I couldn’t carry my own weight and fell to the ground. He pulled me up by the arm and sort of tipped my back to lean on my car so I won’t fall again. My legs were wobbly, especially the right one. At this point he had concluded that there was no need for a sobriety test, because I was completely out of shape. I should have never, ever been behind the wheels that night, period!
Then, I thought I saw his hand moving toward his gun.
“You aren’t from here?” he asked.
“No, Mr. Cop. I am from Africa.”
“Why are you drinking this much?” he asked earnestly.
Then I broke down. I told him what I was going through. I had lost my wife, my daughter, my purpose. I was in the darkest place in my life. I was a stranger lost in a strange country.
I continued to cry like a baby at the old age of thirty-two! It was a pretty pathetic scene with me falling on the ground, totally defeated. There was a killer cop standing above me with his gun secured to his waist, his hand fiddling with it. Then something miraculous happened.
The cop lifted me up and hugged me. He was genuinely sympathetic. His embrace was
brotherly. “Come on Brother, get up” he ordered.
He even called me “Brother!”
I got up.
“You are going through hell at this point and I want to pray for you. Is that Okay?” he asked.
Perplexed, I asked, “why?”
“We are going to pray together. We are going to kneel on the ground right here, and ask God to help you. You need God to intervene in your life,” he said.
And then the both of us knelt on the ground, in the middle of that immense darkness, in absolute tranquility, in this place called San Jose and asked God to help a lost African!
I turned around and saw the cop crying.
I am not kidding; he was crying! You know the tears you and I shed; just like those tears, fluid all over his face was cascading down from his eyes!
Stunned, I didn’t say anything. I was expecting him to kill me, but here was a white man crying for me. Go figure!
“You will park your car here and pick it up tomorrow. I will give you a ride to your home now. I will not give you a ticket, because you already have three drunk driving arrests and more ticket will ruin your chances of getting a job. I am hoping this will be your last,” he said.
I promised him that I will never ever drink again and with that the night ended.
I have never met that cop again in my life, but I had kept my promise. I am sober for over thirty years! I don’t smoke! I don’t gamble! That cop, who I thought was going to kill me was actually my guardian angel. And to sweeten this story (if that cop, the cop whose name I don’t know would read this saga, his story included), not only have I stopped alcohol, but I have written five books!
You hear me Mr. Cop?
And that night, I saw the heart of America through the compassion and love of a cop in a most unlikely place and a most unexpected instance. The San Jose cop incident had a much deeper impact on me beyond being the greatest factor for my final separation with alcohol and cigarette. I truly began to appreciate American law enforcement agents even when their presence intimidated me quite often. Yes, there are bad cops, but I think to put all of them in the same box is a mistake. When police vilification gets out of control, we must remember that not all cops are racists, not all are bad.
I can attest to that!
I recorded these manifestation nearly forty years ago. The Story of the Cop in San Jose is paramount to me because it saved my life. It is also a great metaphor to the existence of virtue in American society and in the American law enforcement agencies.
Readers: that cop was an American and this is America for you!
Doesn’t Americans deserve a big thank you?