The Stories We Write

I read a lot of fiction, but I also read many news stories everyday. My very first novel was inspired by a heartbreaking news story about a woman dealing with her husband’s early-onset dementia. When I look at my list of novel ideas, I see many links to news stories that inspired the idea. Real life is rich with story opportunities.

That has never been truer than this past weekend when I was in St. Louis for a marathon. I spent two days traversing the city on foot and in Ubers taking in the sights. As I was winding down on Saturday night in preparation for the marathon on Sunday morning, I decided to take an Uber to dinner a short distance across town.

The restaurant was only a few miles away, but the route seemed rather circuitous as my driver fiddled with his navigation system to get a bead on the location. We exited Interstate 40 after a brief rush down the freeway and ambled over to a side road that ran parallel to the freeway for a bit. I looked at the road ahead and noticed two cars in front of us – one directly in front of us and another to our right. We were in the middle lane of a three-lane street and we drove about 2-3 car lengths behind the cars.

As we were moving up the street, I looked at the car on the right and saw a young man climb out of the window on the opposite side of the car and sit on the frame like some joy-riding teenager on Spring Break. At first, I smiled because I remember being that young and careless, but then, the young man pulled out a gun and started firing at the car directly in front of us. By this time, we had closed the gap between us and the two cars so that we were no more than a car length away. He took two shots before he hurriedly jumped back in the car window.

The car in front of us swerved into the far left lane and gunned it up to the red light at the intersection ahead of us. The car on the right sped up as well but went into right turn lane up ahead. Both were stopped at the traffic light. At least the gun-wielding car was obeying traffic laws.

My Uber driver, startled and shocked, quickly pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. His quick thinking kept us well back from the battling cars, but there were several other cars wedged between the two vehicles at the stop light. We watched, still stunned by what had just happened. The light turned green, and the cars sped off in opposite directions with no further incidents as far as I could tell. My driver took a deep breath and we continued on our way to the restaurant, both of us a little shaken.

Road-rage, drive-bys, and other incidents are common in the news. I could pick any random day and Google such incidents and find many hits, but it’s one thing to read about something like this and a totally different thing to experience it first hand. I’d rather read about it.

As I was eating my dinner and thinking about what had happened, the thing that struck me most about the incident was the apparent age of the perpetrator. He couldn’t have been more than 17 years old. I did a lot of stupid things when I was a teenager, but none of them involved a gun, much less shooting at someone. I wondered what circumstances compelled him to behave the way he did, which got the writer in me conjuring up many possibilities. There’s a story there. I know it. Life often presents the best material for the stories we write.

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