I wasn’t planning much on my birthday. Hitting the wrong side of 40 was no big deal, just a chance for friends to dig my ever-graying beard. I ran a few errands, then headed home to check my e-mails, my well-wishers on Facebook and to determine who would gather with me that night, when the round of drinks would be on someone else’s tab for a change.
I turned a corner and was heading to my house on Palmyra Avenue when I saw something out of a Law & Order episode—a ring of squad cars surrounding a SWAT team, just outside a house across the block from my where I live. If you think such a scene on TV is filled with Central Casting extras playing gawking onlookers and dubbed-in audio effects for a semblance of street excitement, you would be almost correct. The settling was eerily mute, but there were more than a few neighbors curious to venture out.
The police understandably weren’t saying much, but the onlookers had their speculations. “Someone having a meltdown, I guess,” said Lamar, my landlord. A tall, angular woman I see walking her dog almost daily had her take: “With the economy being on the slide, who knows what measures people are considering.” And a kid who could not be more than 10 proudly told me his scoop: “He’s that guy with all those broken cars in front of his neighbors. I hear he has hostages!”
It wasn’t long before a cop told us to go inside until further notice. “See that caution tape draping that street?” one officer asked. “Media has to stay beyond that, if they see civilians wandering around, they’ll argue they have the right to be closer to the situation.” Fair enough, and I’m all for watching this drama unfold through a side window, but when I turned on the news, there was no information, no “breaking story” at all. If there was anything, I missed it. So I wrote a Facebook blurb about what was happening.
“Michael T. Toole just has bad timing. He’s trapped in his house (on his birthday) off Palmyra and Torrey Pines because a crazy guy across the street threatened to blow up his house. Metro’s SWAT team has cut off the media from the parameters just outside my door. I can’t go anywhere (for my safety) until the siege is over. On the plus side, he doesn’t have any hostages. Stay tuned ...”
It wasn’t long before I got responses:
“Sounds like there’s at least ONE hostage!”
“Cool, do you think there’ll be bloodshed?”
“My cousin’s a dispatcher, he told me that the man threatened to blow up his house because they took his kids away.”
And on it went. These days, news is disseminated much faster through social networks. How accurate it might be is another, more important issue we’re all still determining.
The time went by achingly slowly, but by 5:30 the whole situation cleared up quietly.
I’d like to say the story is over, but only yesterday a friend in the neighborhood wrote to me:
“Mike, I spoke to the man. It was a hoax. He did claim that it was a false report that caused the whole situation. He said he was napping when he came out of the house and the SWAT teams were there. They held him in the back of the police car for two hours while they searched his house for pipe bombs and things of that nature. Ultimately they couldn’t charge him for anything though seeing as they didn’t find anything.”