I could have died for $35.04 worth of shitty pizza on 1210 Zuber St. in Opelika, Alabama.
It was Monday, July 11, 2011, and I was 22 years old.
I was wearing Domino’s Pizza shirt that was three sizes too big for me because that was all they had when I had started a month and a half earlier.
I’ve spent an entire year trying not to acknowledge that night. I tell people about it, but I always feel like an asshole afterwards. I don’t want to actually admit that the events of that night changed me, bothered me, or affected me in any way.
The gun was probably unloaded.
They were just kids.
They wouldn’t have actually shot me.
As much as I don’t want to admit it, I’ve been forced to write about it in the months leading up to today. It’s the only way I feel I can deal with the anxiety that has come along with such an experience.
The odd thing is that certain parts that I’ll remember (vividly, mind you) until the day I breathe my final breath, while there are other parts where it’s like I completely blacked out (a point of contention between detectives and myself.) There are parts of it that I haven’t admitted to anyone until now. I’ll start with the weekend before.
I went to Tuscaloosa to visit some of my best friends from high school: Nathan, Matt Placek, and Haggard. Nathan was having a late 4th of July party. I was single, and as much as I didn’t want to admit it, I was hoping that there would be some cute, single girls at Nate’s.
It turns out basically all of Nathan’s friends date each other. Matt was hoping the same thing I was, so I decided that instead of trying to meet someone I would focus all of my energy into getting him laid. A noble and entertaining project, I thought. “I won’t be so goddamn self-consumed for once,” I said.
I was immediately reminded that Matt isn’t shy or needy when it comes to the ladies. The guy was spitting game all over the house party. I was basically standing beside him as he heavily flirted with all the ladies. For all the charm he was tossing around, one girl didn’t seem to be interested, Christy. He kept hitting on her, but she was clearly not having it.
“What’s your name?” she smiled and asked me as Matt focused his attention to the two girls she had been chatting with.
“Oh, I’m, uh, Tyler. Nice to meet you,” I said as I was snapping out of my observant state.
We ended up having a pretty long conversation as I became more and more intoxicated. She stuck close by me until her boyfriend came to pick her up. Now, this is where I learned that everyone, and I mean everyone, hated her boyfriend. She even participated in complaining about him before exiting the party. Let me say that I don’t think, and didn’t think, that she actually hated her boyfriend. I think she loved him a lot, but it’s easy to vent about a difficult person when everyone else is.
So, anyway, about an hour later I grabbed my computer to check Facebook. See, I get really chatty when I’m drunk, and the party was calming down. I noticed that I had a friend request from Christy. I accepted, and noticed that she was online. So, our conversation picked back up where it had left off. After about 20 minutes, she decided to get some sleep. As we were saying our good-byes, I thought, “fuck it,” (as one tends to do when drunk) and typed, “I think you’re pretty cute.”
She replied immediately.
“I think you’re pretty cute too.”
I closed my computer and passed out on the couch, smiling.
The next night we went barhopping. Christy didn’t come. So, I decided to continue my quest to get Matt laid. That night he actually needed my help. There was a single girl in our group who was clearly interested in him. He suddenly became kind of shy, so I interjected. I pushed both of them out on the dance floor. They reluctantly went.
After a few songs (and 2 more Yuenglings) I decided that they weren’t close enough, so I waltzed out to the dance floor and pushed them closer together. They shyly complied.
My insistence on Matt dancing with this girl inspired the entire group to cut a rug. I was pulled out on the dance floor by some girl who I had just met an hour before, and whose boyfriend wasn’t there. We all danced, swapping partners for an hour or so. All but Matt and the girl. They stay locked together. I had a few more drinks.
When we decided to go home, Nathan’s girlfriend was trying to coax Christy via text to come over to Nathan’s. She told Christy I would be there, then showed me Christy’s response.
“You’re tempting me, and it’s working.”
So, Christy came over. As the party became thinner and thinner, she and I continued to talk on the couch. Nathan went to bed, and we stayed on the couch. Matt took his new friend home, and we stayed on the couch. Finally, she told me that she needed to go home. I offered to walk her home since she lived in the same complex as Nathan.
Her apartment was about 500 yards from Nathan’s, and from her front steps, you could see the decimation from the April 27th tornadoes. I told her it was nice to meet her and waved. She closed the door and I began stumbling back to Nathan’s. After walking halfway back and breathing in the humid, summer air, I thought, “fuck it,” (as one tends to do when drunk) and I turned around.
When I got back to her door, I knocked. I saw the blinds in the window rustle, so I waved at the little gap. I heard the door unlatching. When she opened, I saw the she had already applied some sort of moisturizer or cream or whatever it is girls put on their faces before bed.
She nervously laughed, “Hey.”
I laughed, “Hey. Um, so, I had a nice time this weekend, and, um, I was wondering, I mean, I know you have a boyfriend, so you can say no. It’s fine…and I’ll just go home and go to sleep and be happy that I asked, and I’m sorry that I’m rambling, but I just couldn’t drive back to Auburn tomorrow and look at myself in the mirror without asking if I could give you a goodnight kiss.”
She thought for a moment.
“Well, you’re really sweet, but, like you said, I have a boyfriend, so I can’t do that, but thank you for coming back.”
I smiled. “That’s all I wanted. I’ll let you get to bed.”
There was a pause
“Hey, check back in 6 months though,” she said.
Then I’m not sure if I waved again or shook her hand. I hope I waved goodbye, but I’m leaning more towards the handshake, which is fucking mortifying to me.
Anyway, I walked back to Nathan’s really pleased with myself for taking some incentive for once. I was thinking about how I’ll be old someday and I’ll wish that I had taken more risks in my youth. Shortly after I got back, so did Matt. He didn’t get laid, but he did kiss her and exchange numbers…a victory in my book.
Sunday, I drove back to Auburn with a minor hangover, and went to work that night. I don’t remember anything from delivering pizzas that night except that afterwards I went to Hedrick’s and sat up all night watching VIDEODROME with some film society guys and bullshitting about movies.
Finally to the actual day: July 11, 2011. I think I woke up about noon. I had to go to the Adult Daycare Center off of MLK in Auburn to film for my internship at the United Way. It looked like rain outside. I packed up my camera and drove across town. I decided that I would use the day to interview a few more of the “consumers” (people who are being cared for.) The Adult Daycare Center is for adults who are mentally or physically handicapped. Most of them live with family, but need somewhere to go during the day to be somewhat cared for.
I interviewed an old black man who did crossword puzzles all day. He told me he had stacks and stacks of completed crosswords puzzles at his house. He would finish anywhere from 3-5 books a week. He told me he got bored with finding the words that were listed, so he starting searching for whatever words he could find after he found he found the listed words. I talked to him for about 20 minutes. He was by far my favorite person I interviewed all summer.
By this point, it was raining outside. I packed up my equipment and ran out to my car. I went home to get ready for work. My manager was taking the night off, so the Auburn store was sending a guy to run the store that night. I was supposed to pick him up before work. I called him an hour before I was supposed to be in, but he told me that he had a way and that he’d just see me at the store.
I didn’t want to go to work. I thought about calling in. I had an uncomfortable feeling about the night, and more specifically, working with this guy I didn’t know. I would have to close the store with him, so we’d probably be together for the better part of 4 PM to 2 AM the next morning. I decided to suck it up and go in anyway.
When I got to work, I realized that I sort of knew the guy who was managing. His name was Slim. He was a tall, skinny black guy with a really awesome, big, and unruly afro. I had met him in the fall of 2008 in my astronomy lab. He wasn’t in my normal Thursday night lab, but he had to make up a lab he had missed earlier in the week. He sat next to me and another guy and admitted to us that he was stoned out of his mind.
I never told him that we had met before, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t remember me.
My dread of going to work was quickly validated. We were busy and understaffed. On one of my early deliveries, I rear-ended a lady and her young granddaughter. I was pulling onto Gateway Dr, not 100 yards from the store. The coast was clear of oncoming traffic, so I went. I was looking back at Gateway and not in front of me. The lady, Katrina Butler, was taking her time pulling onto the road, so I rammed her pretty good.
I put my car in park, turned on my flashers, and got out. To my delight, there was zero damage to either car. Her car was red and mine was white, but there was no paint exchanged. She got out too, and I asked if she and the little girl were ok. She said that she was fine, but that the little girl was having minor neck pains. I asked if she wanted me to call the police to file a report. I showed her that there was no damage to either car.
“Hold on,” she said. “Let me call my husband.”
After a moment on the phone, she returned and said that her husband just wanted us to exchange information. She explained that they were trying to get custody of the little girl, and they were just worried that if she was hurt it could be used against them. She explained that the little girl had other health problems, and that the neck pain was probably just from that. I thanked her for not filing a police report, asked the little girl how she felt (she said ok), apologized, and left for my delivery. I hadn’t escaped talking to the police though.
I delivered pizzas, and by 8, the store was dead. Slim sent everyone home except for me. He was taking care of inside the store, and I was delivering. About 8:45, I took a call for a delivery. It was a very odd call. The man on the other line sounded very casual in a suspicious way. He started by telling me his name, which is weird, but trust me, you meet a lot of odd birds delivering pizzas. So, this was no more odd than anything else I had seen in my month and a half at Domino’s. He told me that he needed his food delivered to 1210 Zuber St. He told me it was a red house. I took his order, which was pretty large, and told him to expect it in about 30 minutes. When I got off the phone and tried to put the order through, but the computer wouldn’t let me. There was no phone number listed.
“Jesus,” I thought, “what did I do to delete the number?”
I asked Slim what I should do. He suggested that we check another phone in the store for the caller ID. The number was blocked. Now is a good time to flash back to early June when I travelled to Phenix City, AL, for orientation.
During orientation there’s a section on being robbed. There’s a policy that no delivery driver is to have more than $20 on his or her person at anytime. Things to be cautious of as a suspicious delivery include large orders, blocked caller IDs, and dark areas. On suspicious orders you’re supposed to call back the number before you leave on a delivery. The logic is that if it’s a stolen cell phone, the suspects won’t answer or call back. After that, you have enough suspicion to deny service if they call back. I kept thinking that I’d probably be the unlucky bastard who would get robbed. Back to July 11, 2011…I just received a call with 2 red flags: large order and a blocked number.
“That’s a good way to get robbed,” I told Slim.
“You ain’t playin’, man. That’s shady as shit.”
He told me all you can do in that case is to wait until they call back to complain about not receiving their order and give them something free for the trouble. I went on another delivery, thinking the whole time that I didn’t want whoever was on 1210 Zuber St. to call back. I was physically sick to my stomach thinking about it. That’s the honest to God truth. “Ah, you’re just a worrier,” I kept telling myself. When I got back, Slim had another delivery ready for me to take.
“Oh, and that blocked number called back again with the number still blocked. They’re supposed to call back, “ he shouted at me across the dark parking lot.
I said “ok,” but I thought, “shit.”
The phone rang before he could get back in the store.
“That’s them,” he shouted again.
I went on my next-to-last delivery, a shady trailer park. I couldn’t find the lot. After 10 minutes of slowly driving through the park and scanning lot numbers, I called the customer. No answer. I called Slim and had him call them. No answer. He told me just to come back to the store and forget about it. He said they’d call back. I don’t know if they ever got their pizza.
When I got back, the 1210 Zuber St. order was waiting on me. Slim had given them a free 2-liter soda for the mix-up. It was about 9:45. I told Slim I wasn’t taking any chances. I took my debit card out of my wallet and put it in my cash locker (where we put our delivery money to keep from having for $20 on us.) He asked me how much bank (money to make change) I had on me.
“11 dollars,” I said. “A 5 and 6 ones.”
“Ah, you’re good then, man.”
“Alright, I’m out then,” I said.
“Be safe, dude.” He said as the door shut behind me.
Here’s what I never told anybody, and actually lied about it to all my supervisors and the police…I never did a callback: the one thing that could have derailed this whole thing. I knew about it. I had done them before. To this day I have no idea why I didn’t call 1210 Zuber St. back. It’s stupid. It’s almost like I felt whatever was going to happen was inevitable; like I was moving towards something terrible with no hope of escaping it.
I used my GPS to get me most of the way to the delivery. When I was about a ½ a mile away, I put it in my glove compartment, and I hid my cell phone in the middle console. (All these precautions, but no callback. Fuck me, right?) I drove down Orchard St. which veers away, making sort of an upside down “Y” shape with a dark, shoddily paved road that’s surrounded on either side by trees. This is Zuber St.
It wasn’t marked, so I hoped that Orchard actually turned into Zuber, especially since there was a big, well-lit, red house next to the dark road. I tried my luck and stopped there. After knocking on the door a couple of times, a young lady came to the door. She told me that it wasn’t 1210 Zuber St. I got back into my car and decided to try the suspicious looking road I had just passed.
Zuber St. is only about 500 ft. from one end to the other. It runs from Orchard St. to the point where Grove Ave becomes Lake St. From Orchard St, Grove is on the left, Lake is on the right. There are only 2 houses on Zuber St. and the rest is surrounded by trees. One house is a small and blue that is on the left sitting up against Grove. There’s a street lamp in front of this house. The other house is 1210 Zuber. It sits on the right with Lake St. jutting away from it. It is indeed red.
As I travelled from the far, dark end of Zuber St., I noticed 2 black kids walking on either side of the road towards me. I creeped past them and continued towards the houses. The blue house on the left had its porch lights on. The red house looked abandoned (red flag #3) minus the fact that 2 black kids were sitting on the front steps. It’s up a hill, and when I got out, they started down towards me. I said, “How are y’all doing tonight?” They didn’t reply. By this time I had made my way around to the passenger side of the car and opened the door. I reached in to get both of their 2-liters. When I turned around to had the drinks over, the kid closest to me, a tall and skinny guy with a red polo shirt with black stripes, reached into the back of his waistband and produced a smooth, black, automatic pistol and stuck it in my face.
“Give me all of it,” he demanded.
“All right, man, calm down,” I said as I put the sodas on the ground. I put my head down, and my hands up, and I began to narrate everything I did.
“There’s the pizzas,” I said as I put them, including the delivery bag, down in front of him.
“Here’s my money,” I said as I produced my bank out of my left pocket.
“Do you want my wallet?” I asked.
I reached back to get my wallet.
“Is it ok if I get my license out first?”
“Yeah,” he said.
I fished my ID out and handed him the wallet.
“You got a cell phone?” he asked.
For the first time I looked up at him and sounded desperate.
“No, man. They don’t let us carry cell phones. That’s everything I’ve got.”
“Go to the back of the car and lay down,” he said.
I complied, but I laid down in such a way where I could see their feet. I was decided that if they took so much as a step towards me, I would run. I didn’t want to die belly down on Zuber St. They stood there for a second, maybe counting money, maybe checking the food, I don’t know.
“Don’t get up till I say you can,” the kid with the gun said.
Then, right before they bolted, as I looked at their feet, he said something I’ll never forget.
“That’s what you get for being late, muhfucka.”
Then they took off. I watched them as they took a left onto Grove. I actually listened for them to yell back at me for a little while. I decided that they weren’t going to yell back, so I got my keys ready and decided to count to ten. Then I would get up, and as quickly and as low to the ground as I could, I was going to get in my car and take a right on Lake. I didn’t want to run the risk of seeing them again.
This is where I don’t exactly remember everything. I started swearing as I burnt rubber on to Lake St. I called Slim to tell him what happened, then I called the police. I’m pretty sure I ended up on MLK when I saw the 4 boys run across the street about 100 yards in front of me. I turned around as I was connected to a dispatcher. She kept trying to get me to pull over, but I wouldn’t just pull over on a dark street. I drove around for about 2 minutes until I found a funeral home. I stopped and a patrol officer met me to take a report. I called my manager and my mom. It was 10:30 at night. The next day, my mom received my graduation invitations in the mail.
As much as I don’t want to admit it, getting robbed had quite an impact on my life. I’ve been dealing with anxiety issues. I get incredibly uncomfortable in public places. I almost can’t go into gas stations. I’m constantly uncomfortable in restaurants. Recounting it and admitting that it has caused problems for me is a big step in me getting better I think.
I have a reoccurring dream about it. I get robbed, but instead of telling me to go to the back of the car, the kid just shoots me in the face. The back of my head bursts open, most of it splattering either on the roof of Marley’s car or the leather interior of the passenger seat and open door. What’s left spills out of my head onto 1210 Zuber St.
I see this first part outside of myself; watching the kid shoot me. It doesn’t look cinematic or artistic or interesting. It looks like my head exploding and springing leaks simultaneously.
When I hit the ground, my perspective changes. I become trapped in my own body. At first I think it’s only because I still have blood pumping through my brain, but patrol cops eventually show up and I realize that it isn’t going to stop. I am fully conscious and stuck watching from my dead body’s perspective. The detectives close my eyes, but I can still see. I watch my mom and dad identify my body.
I feel every cut as my organs are harvested for donation.
I feel the embalming fluid fill my veins.
I listen to my mom tell someone that she received my graduation invitations the day after it happened.
I listen to my own funeral.
Then they close the casket.
I think this is probably what Hell is. I can’t think of anything other than my mistakes.
The 3 girls I loved.
I think of how being an insignificant blip in the expanse of time then nothing but eternal darkness would be better than this.
I think about how only people who are arrogant enough to believe there is an afterlife are the only ones who are punished by it.
Then I wake up sweating, panting, and crying. Once I woke up screaming.
Most of the time when something like this happens to someone, they examine their life and realize that certain changes need to be made, but upon reflection, I was pretty pleased with how I had been working on changing my negative qualities in the weeks before July 11. The only problem is that I reverted back to many of the things that I changed, and that makes me sad. In a way, it would have been ok if those kids had shot me. I had spent the days prior seeing all my closest friends, I had made a lot of self-improvements, I had spent the day talking to a really amazing old man about his crossword puzzles, and I was pretty happy with myself. Most people aren’t fortunate enough to die for some greater cause, so what makes me so goddamn special? Why should my death be grandiose? Why should I die for anything more than $35.04 worth of pizza on a sketchy street in Opelika, Alabama?
But I’m glad I didn’t.