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FLETCHER: This shootout I can survive

Opinion column

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Bang, bang. Shoot ‘em up!

Skid Row

I offer the following as both a cautionary tale and as a reminder of how susceptible we can be to the paranoia that sometimes grips us when we allow ourselves to give in to the fears — real and imagined — that have become such a part of our daily lives.

Also, it’s proof that maybe all those lovely squawkers who question my sanity have a point.

This tale started with a simple trip north on Washington Street, from The Herald’s parking lot to the dead end at the railroad switching yard at Seventh Avenue. A last-minute scheduling conflict in the office had me returning to the T. Page Tharp Governmental Building — the Lee County seat of power — for the first time since I’d been reassigned to cover Albany and Dougherty County’s governmental goings-on several months ago.

The Lee County Commission — Rick Muggridge, Dennis Roland, Ed Duffy, Greg Frich and Luke Singletary — had called a special meeting to, essentially, name Ron Rabun their new county administrator. I found myself settling easily into the old routine of covering Lee County, and I was genuinely happy to see the Lee commissioners.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This tale takes place a mile from downtown Albany, as I’m pulling up to the side of the new Woodall’s. Sadly, I think the location had something to do with my reaction to what you’ll soon see is the basis for this column.

I was listening to Neil Young (“Down by the River”) when I turned onto Seventh, oblivious to my surroundings, caught up in the amazing voice of one of my musical heroes. Suddenly, out of nowhere, came a rapid succession of three or four “pops,” sounds I’d come to recognize through years of watching cop shows on television. In an instant, I knew I was under seige.

I had a heart-stopping moment of complete clarity when I saw flecks of grayish-white matter float onto my rearview mirror, coming at an angle from directly behind me. I know this will sound crazy — in retrospect, it is — but I was sure in an instant what had happened: I’d been shot through my back windshield, and that grayish-white stuff floating in front of my eyes was part of my brain matter.

I remember thinking, “I guess you don’t really feel it when you get fatally shot,” and I honestly thought I would pitch forward in the next instant, another victim of Albany’s mean streets.

I didn’t, of course.

In the amount of time it takes to register a thought — it was the blink of an eye, but it seemed that everything was moving in slow motion and I was noticing every little detail with amazing clarity — I realized I had not been shot, that I was still driving down Seventh, although I’d actually ducked down in my seat by this time. My next thought: The gunshots didn’t hit me, but they went through my back window and took out the foam padding from my headrest.

From my position low in the seat — and still rolling down Seventh — I peered up into the rearview mirror, which now had globs of the gray-white stuff on it, looking for bullet holes. I saw nothing, so I slowly pulled into Woodall’s side parking lot. After looking around and seeing no one — no fleeing would-be assassin or Syrian hit man sent to take me out to keep me from spilling international secrets — I exited my car.

I peered quickly into the back seat of my trusty, 150,000-miles-and-counting Focus … and started laughing. There in the back seat was a 12-pack of Coke I’d bought recently, planning to take it out at the house but lapsing into the out-of-sight, out-of-mind forgetfulness that hits me at the end of each day. Four of the 12-ounce cans had, in the Southwest Georgia heat, exploded almost simultaneously, leaving me with a mess in the back seat and egg on my face as I considered how quickly I had assumed the worst.

There are any number of morals to this story — from curbing an overactive imagination to not expecting the worst in a given situation. But the thing that really hits me as I retell this story is that you don’t leave cans of Coke sitting in a hot car. Now I’ll have to drink a week’s worth of water with my bologna sandwiches.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.