Brandon Hernández 9 a.m., Dec. 20
It was 1973 or so. I was walking home from school with my old gang. As we passed the roller skating rink the BP gas station came into view. The group noticed the wooden cases full of Coca-Cola bottles, sparking in the sunlight, stacked against the soda machine. I remarked how easy it would be to steal a bottle of soda. After all, they were out and open, unguarded. Of course my very good friends took me up on my idea and dared me to see if I could steal a bottle and indeed, not get caught. Always up for a challenge, I accepted. I sauntered over to the coke machine like a paying customer. Glancing around furtively (do criminals glance otherwise?) I reached up to the top of the stack of soda cases, grabbed hold of a bottle, released it from its wooden nest and ran like hell, clutching the bottle close. A flurry of activity from my friends behind me let me know they were creating a diversion, covering for me. I ran full speed until, about four blocks later, down by the VFW fence, I stopped to catch my breath. A few seconds later the group caught up to me, offering congratulations and asking for some of the soda. It was the old kind of bottle that needed an opener to remove the cap. My wonderful friends offered to help and using the chain-link fence, they popped the top. Warm soda bubbled out from the glass-walled container which held it. My sweet friends slurped the spoils and passed the bottle among them. By the time it got to me, there was only fizz and backwash to quench my thirst. I consoled myself knowing that because I accepted the dare and didn’t get caught, I had risen in stature among the neighborhood gang. One by one my faithful friends reached their home destination. I lived the farthest and walked the final stretch alone, basking in my new notoriety among the peer group. I was humming to myself as I opened the door to my house. The sudden appearance of my mother cut my song short. What was she doing there? She was never awake at this time of day. My heart rate soared and my breath caught in my throat. “Did you stop somewhere on the way home?” How quickly the fall from grace. How did she know already? As I searched her face for clues on how to proceed, she cut me off. “Don’t bother, I know you’re trying to think of a lie to tell me. I know you stole a soda, and we’re going back to that gas station right now!” She already knew what happened. I just couldn’t figure out how. My mind was racing as she steered me to the car and shoved me into the back seat. The ride back to the scene of the crime was much shorter than the walk home. Gas station alarm bells announced our arrival as she pulled past the pumps. Parking in front of the open garage bay doors, she grabbed her purse and ordered me out of the vehicle. The overall-clad proprietor rolled out from under a car, wiping his greasy hands on a rag he withdrew from his pocket. “May I help you?” The smile faded from his face as he glanced into my mother’s fiery eyes, then looked quizzically at me. “We spoke on the telephone? My daughter here stole a soda from you a little while ago and she is here to pay for the case she stole it from.” “That won’t be necessary to pay for the whole case if she only took one soda!” My mother was adamant. “No, you can’t sell it as a case anymore, so I insist she pay for the whole thing. How much is it?” “Well, if you pay for the whole case you might as well take the rest of it with you,” the man offered. “No,” my mother was firm on this. Neither my family nor I would profit from my criminal activity. She handed the gas-station owner some money, glaring at me as she did. “Don’t you have something to say to this man?” I looked up. “Sorry, mister.” I took a deep breath. “But how did you know? How did you know I stole the soda?” He scratched his head with his grease-covered hands. “It was the damndest thing. I was working under the car here, and a group of kids came running up, yelling ‘Hey mister, see that girl? That’s Lisa O*** and she just stole a soda!’ Then one of the boys gave me your phone number so I called your mom. I’d have never known if they hadn’t told me.” The lump in my throat got bigger and I fought back tears. I wanted to speak, to say something profound about being set up and played for a fool, but my mother stepped in. “Get back in the car!” she ordered. As I slunk away I could hear my mother thanking the BP man and promising him that I would never darken his parking lot again. They exchanged a few more words, and she returned to the car. “You’re grounded,” she informed me. “For the rest of your life.” That was okay with me. Prior to this auspicious event, I would’ve protested that I wanted to be with my friends.