Jer @ SBS Presents 15-30 – 004: TDN 839
If you asked me what I did around this time about a week ago there’s a 99% chance I wouldn’t have a clue & I’d have no idea what to tell you. If you asked me what happened on January 25th, 1994, I could tell you just about everything that occurred that day in my life – I remember it all. It was my birthday – I was turning fourteen years old – and it’s probably the first time I survived being potentially murdered.
Some things you never forget I suppose.
I remember a combination of six letters and numbers like my life still depends on it; they are TDN 839.
Five years earlier, though I was still grappling with the reality of my parents separating at the age of eight, accepting a new step-dad & new step-mom to-be only about a year later, and having moved several times in the year that followed, eventually settling into a town called Port Coquitlam provided a sense of calm and relief. Essentially built in two halves, I grew up on the south side of the city, moving in as the land was freshly developing & houses were still being built – you could sense & feel the hope & opportunity buzzing through the atmosphere as people moved in to start a brand-new life in whatever way they had chosen for themselves. My own family, which had more or less always been living in some form of rental unit or not-so-sturdy housing built only blocks away from the government projects, had leveled-up without question – my new step-father in the making had a stable job working as an engineer with a spotless reputation for getting the job done & the kind of seniority you can only get in a job by leaving school at sixteen, afforded us the ability to buy a house – something I’d never anticipated, ever. Just didn’t seem like it was ever in the cards for me…we were never that well-off financially, and there really didn’t seem to be a method or means for that to change. Whether it was true love, or merely her survival mechanism kicking into gear in order for my mother to successfully raise her two children, I do not know. I don’t reckon it matters much anymore anyhow; all these memories are long over with now.
Still, it’s strange to be in an environment so pristine and full of possibility. Everything was so clean, shiny, and new – to the point where even my bedroom didn’t have a single spot of paint on the walls yet, with my mother & step-father buying our brand-new house technically unfinished, allowing them to modify the basement to include rooms for myself & my step-brother, a laundry room, and a workspace for a makeshift home office as well. It’s hard to explain living in a place where you want to be but that you don’t feel like you’ve earned any right to be in. It’s like the equivalent of punching above your weight or dating someone out of your league, but it’s LIFE, and it surrounds every single thing you do. Where we live often defines us in many ways, or at the very least plays a significant role in shaping who we become as time goes on if we’re lucky enough to spend any real time in one location, which until this point, I hadn’t been. Even the idea of being in a place I could call home permanently was an entirely foreign concept I had to actively try to accept – before I was eight years old, I’d probably moved more than the average person does in one lifetime, times three. The schools were shiny, the stores were too, the streets were muddy from the tires of trucks constantly constructing new parts of the south side of Port Coquitlam – and if that was all you saw, you’d assume this town was thriving to the nth degree, building parts of the city with pride and developing a genuinely safe neighborhood that FELT friendly. What I didn’t see during my earliest days of living in what we called “PoCo” was the north side of the city – that was an entirely different side of the story & being neglected like it didn’t even exist or have needs. Eventually I’d make my way over there, but not for years – I went through a large portion of my childhood believing in the myth of this utopian vision that Port Coquitlam attempted to present without having any idea about the struggles of the other half of the city that were only a stone’s throw away.
Well…maybe not THAT close. I was walking everywhere at that point, so everywhere was miles away.
To be truthful I was a spoiled-ass kid in regards to finishing elementary school – my mother might not have enjoyed driving myself & my brother there every day, but she did do it, whenever we needed it. As for junior-high school, I was more on my own in just about every sense of the definition. Not only was I walking an endless path solo on Pitt River Road to get to my school, but I would have preferred it at that point in time. Strapped into my headphones, as crisp as the air could be in the morning with the sun beaming down on me at the same time as days began, I’d haul my book bag for what was at least about an hour’s walk, and be ready to do it again on the way home. More enthusiastically than any of the things that occurred in between mind you – my school life was instantly becoming a hot mess with the switch from elementary school to junior high, the grunge era had been raging hard, and the only real relief I felt was on those isolated walks to & from Mary Hill Junior High. The walk home would become even longer, as I dreaded the eventual family dinner and nightly conversations the way any teenager does, only amplified by the surrounding drama of the Grunge scene echoing my discontent through songs that were designed specifically for the rage I was feeling but could never let out into the open. I’d walk in the front of the house, straight into my room, close the door, and basically pray to be forgotten.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, that house on Leggatt Place in Port Coquitlam would go on to be the most stability I’d ever see in my youth in terms of where I was living – I’d end up spending about seven, nearly eight years there between ages eight to sixteen roughly. Trust me when I tell ya, that three years of junior high, times two walks a day about an hour in length each way, not only keeps you in shape, but if you’ve got your eyes open you will SEE SOME SHIT. I did more than just listen to music on that road – I’d eventually meet one of my best friends on Pitt River, I dropped acid for the first time walking home one day on that wonderful road, and I can even verifiably say that I also fell in love once on that massive trek to the ol’ educational institution. Life happens all around us even when we think we’re on pause.
There is no reason that January 25th, 1994, should have been any different than any other day – but it was. I can still feel the crispness of the air as I opened the door to leave home for school that morning, I can remember the heavy weight of the “Fahrenheit” by Dior promotional bag I kept my books in, and how uneven they sat inside it compared to the organized tightness of a backpack. Every so often, on that eight or tenth step, I’d get the sharp corner of a textbook jammed into my kneecaps as I walked; I slung it low and awkward and I’m sure I looked like a homeless dude roaming the street more often than not. Whatever. With my headphones strapped on, it was always my choice on what or who I wanted to listen to outside of them, and there wasn’t much that could win that war over the music I was jamming.
School was ordinary & boring and I’m sure I hated my way through every minute of the day, brooding with that super-cool teenage angst that was so popular at the time and looking like a dime-store version of Kurt Cobain with my badass little goatee. I look back at the few pictures I have from that time now and grin – I SAY badass…but it wasn’t because of the look so much as it was for the rarity of it – there was nothing but a sea of bald chins at my school in my classes & I stood out for my hairiness at all times. Either made fun of, or given street-cred for, one way or the other, chin hairs get a young kid attention. To be truthful, attention was the last thing I wanted – my tiny lil’ face-muff was simply the result of having NO OTHER OPTION – if I attempted to shave every day, I would not have time for anything else.
Sasquatch, hairball, the missing link…you name it, and I heard it, each and every day throughout school. Thankfully, I somehow made it through this one with relatively little shaming on my birthday, and managed to keep that embarrassing information under wraps. I don’t need people singing shit to me, I don’t want that even now…another trip around the sun doesn’t really feel like it means a whole lot to a person who’s not even all that sure that time itself even exists & I’ve pretty much always been that way. No tinfoil hats…no parties…I don’t even really like cake or ice cream unless they’re specifically chocolate, and the idea of social gatherings centered solely around me in the spotlight makes my skin crawl – there you go. In short, it’s the most potentially terrifying day of the year and I do whatever I can to see if I can slip it straight under the radar, opting for a much more favorable set of belated birthday wishes instead.
The bell signaling our freedom at 3pm had finally tolled, I put my plaid jacket back on, slipped into my headphones, and got started on my trek home. Cranking up either Bleach or Incesticide by Nirvana on cassette in my Walkman, it was like an instant suit of armor…an impenetrable Grunge skin that I could wear, where I truly felt invincible in my cloud of angst. Long hair, sunglasses, goatee…the whole bit – I looked as unapproachable as I could possibly be, in order for that to actually BE the case – I didn’t want any extra attention given the fact that my freakish CHIN HAIRS brought too much to me every damn day. Sometimes that long walk home felt like all I really had to ground and center me…it was extraordinarily peaceful for how seriously loud it was inside my headphones; I might not have let on, but some of my happiest memories are simply walking up & down Pitt River Road and taking in how the city seemed to change from new to old in the span of one hour’s time. In the morning, you’d see the whole town wake up collectively and hear the roaring of engines sparking to life & warming up in the driveway, knowing you should take a little extra caution when crossing because people really ain’t all that awake yet; but they’re driving around, doing what they do, ready to bring another nut home to the nest after another day on a planet that keeps on turning regardless of how insignificant any & all of our actions really are.
I delivered papers on Pitt River Road on Wednesdays and Sundays, and I knew all the ins & outs of every path in between from the many days spend taking a slightly altered route in between point A to point B. You get to a sense of been there & done that after some time of course, and for the most part, I stuck to the main drag on Pitt River, because that’s generally where the action was if there was any to be found at all. Yet there was this one alley at the bottom of a massive hill where the new side of Port Coquitlam began to intersect with the old where Citadel Drive met Pitt River, that for whatever reason, always seemed like the way to go. A quick departure for about three or four blocks, it’d take you behind the scenes into the neighborhood, offering a different glimpse of the never-ending sea of new family life happening in every house, and a more secluded moment to just relax and enjoy the music as I walked.
On January 25th, 1994, my fourteenth birthday, I did the same as I normally did that afternoon on my way home, and deviated from the main road into the alley for a quick departure from the traffic noise. I listen to my music LOUD…I did then, I do now…if I’m out in the open, it’s probably down low, but if I’ve got my headphones on, the apocalypse can practically happen right beside me and I’d be like, “huh?” So I didn’t hear the revving of an engine as I walked down the left side of the narrow alley between the row of houses on either side; I was busy minding my own business & excited to celebrate my birthday, alone.
And that’s when I felt it hit me. I’ve never been a big kid – I was already pretty much grown to the HUGE and IMPOSING five foot-eight & a half inches that I am now, ranging from about a buck sixty to a buck eighty-five with my winter weight later on in life. I can take a hit though – I don’t just go crying from a single punch – but I do get genuinely offended if it’s come out of nowhere & not warranted whatsoever.
And at that age…the height of my Grunge years…I had a chip on my shoulder you could see from space, and a gives-no-fucks attitude that could easily get me into trouble at any given moment. That moment was right then, when the side-view mirror of a black Volkswagen Rabbit clipped my right elbow on its way speeding down the path. Almost like it was instinctual and beyond my control, I looked down at my hand, and watched it raise up high into the air like a reflex. Four fingers curled tightly into a fist, and one massive middle finger left standing like a beacon to the sky, signaling my thoughts and feelings on the matter. I wasn’t hurt – I was just pissed off – because who fucking DOES that? How do you drive so closely to someone that you’d actually hit them with your car unless you’re an absolute fucking idiot or…
Unless it was intentional.
I initially thought nothing of it as I put my arm down. Flipping someone the bird is a pretty damn commonplace thing in society…you don’t really expect much to come of it. When I saw the brake lights come on, I knew this was not going to be any ordinary day any longer – shit was about to get real. As the black Volkswagen Rabbit screeched to a halt and the reverse lights came on, the license plate was illuminated in its frame – TDN 839 – six letters and numbers that I’ll never forget. Faster than they had sped past me, the car backed up at a furious pace; I was alone in an alley, and I was about to be fucked. Thankfully, as I’d dropped off newspapers at just about every house in the entire south-side of the city at that point, I knew any slight path or break between the houses would provide access to Pitt River Road and I’d be visible enough that I’d be safe if there was about to be any kind of problem. Looking like it was going mach-1 backwards as the Rabbit raced towards me again, I decided there WAS going to be a problem, and I started to make my way up a path that fortunately happened to be right beside me by the time the car pulled up parallel. Skidding to a stop once again, it was clear that this was a cue for me to look, which I did, and I immediately felt my stomach flip over like it was the intestinal Olympics. There wasn’t just one person in the car – there was four – four dudes that all looked like they spent their life in the gym, were clearly meathead jocks, and I was targeted as their freak Grunge victim of the day.
The two in the front got out of the car as quickly as they had stopped, throwing open the doors, glaring, and looking ready to kill yours truly with their bare hands & a healthy dose of roid-rage. The largest of the bunch, the driver, heaved out his massive index finger like a knight with a lance and thrust it in my direction – “did YOU just give ME the motherfucking middle finger PUNK?” He was vibrating with anger.
“Congratulations on the power of your perception you assbag – obviously that’s WHY you stopped ain’t it?” I barked back. “What did you expect after you hit my elbow with your fucking car you moron?” If it sounds like I was being tough, I assure you, that’s all that it was – in truth, I was an extremely fast runner and felt like I was already a safe enough distance away from these clowns that I’d be okay. Okay, I was reasonably sure I was that far away…that’s more accurate – but in reality I really had no idea what they were capable of, or why the hell four guys decided to pick on one skinny little kid walking home alone on his fourteenth birthday. My mind was racing – I was about halfway between the alley & Pitt River Road, and if I was going to come out of this confrontation alive, I’d have to get myself over there somehow. I turned away to keep walking, as if I had any control over when this situation was actually going to be finished – and that infuriated these meat-munching roid-ragers even more. This was far from over with.
“I didn’t HIT your elbow with my car you shithead – YOU hit MY car with your fucking elbow,” the driver seethed at me, steam-lines comin’ off his forehead and all that comic-book come to life type-stuff. “Now it’s time for you to repay the damage you caused and the time of mine that you’ve wasted today,” he said, seeming to swell even larger physically with each giant breath he took to scream at me. The roids were definitely kickin’ in I thought to myself, right as he once again lifted his oak-tree of a finger at me and said the three words no kid wants to hear from a group of mean older kids – “You better RUN.”
I am a small mammal. I was born entirely fearful, and instilled with the instincts to survive any situation.
This was real. This was happening. This was now – and no one needed to tell me twice to get a move on – I fucking BOLTED like a bat out of hell towards Pitt River Road, my only hope and potential sanctuary. I had options from there I figured – hopefully someone would see me in distress before the flurry of fists & feet arrived to meet my torso – that would be ideal. I also figured that if they ended up getting too close to me, I could either stop, drop, and roll back towards them, potentially tripping them in the process and maybe getting myself free that way, or possibly tossing my bag of books behind me to accomplish the same kind of thing. Just because I said I could take a punch doesn’t mean that I want to.
Now…I’m not even remotely kidding when I say I was FAST at that age – I was captain of my soccer team and usually the only defender left standing on the line at center while the entire team pushed forward, with my teammates never worrying about a thing because I could beat anyone in a race down the field. I was in shape to say the least – but I was also trying to run with this awkward-ass bag full of books hitting me in the shins with savage heavy corners taking chunks out of my legs as I began to run like I never had before. Heart pounding, I could see the two guys in my peripheral vision gaining ground on me, but not quite enough to fully make up the distance in any quick amount of time if I could maintain my speed. I made it to Pitt River, but being more in the public view clearly wasn’t going to deter them – we probably just looked like kids that were playing in the late January sun, when really I was RUNNING FOR MY LIFE thinking that if these guys somehow caught up to me, there was no way that I’d survive it.
Then things got even WORSE somehow. Adrenalin kicks in hard, and heightens your awareness of just about everything…all your senses begin flaring, the hairs stand up on your arms (and in my case, chin), your eyes dilate – you SEE more, you HEAR more…and hear more, I did. As I ran down the street clutching my bag trying not to look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame in the midst of a marathon, I heard the sound of two doors closing, and an engine roar to life to the right of me in the distance. Right away, I knew what this meant – this meant I was fucked coming and going. The two kids in the backseat had climbed into the front, and as these goons were chasing me with everything they had from behind, the black Volkswagen Rabbit, license plate TDN 839, would be waiting for me at the next intersection for sure. My escape route was about to be completely closed off, and I would have nowhere to go & nowhere to hide. I thought about what it would be like to be beaten by the eight meat-clubs of four ogres and decided that this once again, wasn’t where I was at…the appeal just wasn’t there for me. I didn’t know how, but I was going to get myself out of this situation, and it had to happen quick because the net was closing in from both sides. As I approached the intersection I could hear the footsteps of the two dudes pounding the pavement behind me & them yelling “you’re fucking DEAD” as they chased me, I saw the Rabbit pull up to the stop-line, and just wait. There was nowhere else for me to go but straight ahead at this point in the road – none of these houses looked like they’d have anyone home until long after the offices had closed at the end of business hours…the only choice was to run, run, run.
The next moments are a practical blur because they went so quickly. I ran my little behind off towards the intersection, looked the new driver straight in the eyes, decided that the odds of someone REALLY wanting to murder someone they’d never met just for giving them a DESERVED middle finger HAD to be extremely low, and waited for my moment. I was going to have to go in front of this car no matter what. The driver looked away to make sure the intersection was clear, and that was all the time that I needed – I ran like The Flash in front of the Rabbit, and made it just to the other side as it lurched forward, missing me by inches. I don’t think it was necessarily murdering-speed – but I’ll admit, after that happened, the severity of the situation I was in climbed even higher. Did they REALLY just try to actually hit me, on purpose, with their CAR? Was it my imagination? Was it just the heightened sense of fear and anxiety that made it seem somehow closer than it was? FUCK THAT – they almost HIT ME! The panic was astounding – but I was alive, on the other side of the street, and still running like I’d never personally run out of gas. I heard the two guys once chasing me finally call it quits on catching me by running, and get back into the car at the intersection as I left them all behind. The closer to home I got, the more familiar the territory – and we were squarely on my turf now; this was my regular paper route, which meant I knew someone at nearly every second house if there was anyone home, and also offered me the ability to duck down in between two I knew well, away from Pitt River to go hide in the bushes. Or a garage. Or somewhere…anywhere they couldn’t see me and I could just catch my breath for a second before somehow creeping my way back home unseen and unharmed by these fucking bastards.
I found a carport, hunkered down behind a van, held my breath, and just waited. What followed was your classic scene out of any great 80s movie, where you can see the villains creeping ever closer, but never quite find their victim even though they’re right under the desk they’re standing on or whatever. It was the same situation here. The streets themselves weren’t that complex and there wasn’t that far that I could have gone…so I heard when the black Rabbit made its way towards where I was hiding and began to slow roll its way around the cul-de-sac searching for me. Coming to a stop in the middle of the circle, they got out for a moment and yelled “we’re gonna find youuuuuuuuuu” into the open air; I could see them through a crack in between the end of the van and the carport’s edge, already searching my mind for what the next move could possibly be. There was only the same option – run – but run where? I didn’t have much room to go if they looked over in my direction and felt inclined to search the place I was hiding in. If they didn’t get back into the car, there’s no question I’d be taking a huge beat-down.
My only real stroke of luck in the day so far, thankfully, they got back into the vehicle and slowly drove off. I remember thinking how incredibly lucky I was there in that moment – and just how much I refuse to really believe I’m that lucky at all – it didn’t seem REAL to me. It couldn’t BE that easy, could it? Surely they were just waiting down the road, ready to rock & roll the moment I popped back into view, right? Of this entire sequence of events, this tiny fragment of it all felt like it was the hardest to navigate – so I stayed put, sat, and waited for about another half an hour, chillin’ out in some person’s carport.
Eventually I worked up the courage to poke my head out, and cautiously made my way home from there. Ultimately, I was really only about another ten-minutes or so away from where I lived after where I ended up from this whole dramatic chase scene…all streets I knew by name and was well familiar with. The mayor of Port Coquitlam, in fact, lived right around the corner from where I was almost caught and beaten into a bloody teenage pulp…it’s a beautifully nice area of the city overall.
I walked in through the door of my house, saw my mother, and basically burst into tears with the gravity of it all catching up to me now that I’d slowed down and found refuge at home. Not one to take this kind of news lightly, the police were called almost instantly, and I spent the afternoon of my birthday giving them the details for a full report while they were all still fresh in my mind. Fresh in my mind officer? It’s been twenty-eight YEARS, and I can still tell you the fucking license plate in-full – TDN 839!
Tragically, there wasn’t really anything TO report – yes I was harassed, yes I came closer to what I’m sure was my teenage demise than I’d ever been – but nothing had actually happened to me physically. Having the license plate memorized proved to be a big deal though; the police promised to pay them a visit to tell them to fuck off in person, and to stop the shit before they had to REALLY get involved. For the moment, that was good enough for me – I was safe, I was unharmed, I was at home – I was okay.
What surprised me the most over the following days, months, and years…was how that traumatic event still feels so fresh and vivid in my mind. I can still feel that sense of panic and desperation to survive any time I close my eyes and re-live it…not that it’s anything nearly as bad as what so many others have been through, or anything that holds any kind of power over me today. It’s just a feeling I can revisit in an oddly nostalgic way…almost triumphant now that it’s long over and I’ve stopped looking over my shoulder every time a car revs its engine. I give the middle finger much less now…there’s that I suppose.
About a week later, a fairly decent friend of mine showed up to school with quite the impressive shiner. A black & blue eye for the ages, and a few sore ribs to go along with it. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t as fast as I had been that afternoon & he got caught by that same group of teenage roid-fueled hellions. They beat his ass pretty damn good from what he told me, and it was more or less the exact situation I was in from what it sounded like – this was just something they were out doing for fun, every damn day. Nearly grown men, finding young kids to just pick on, putting them in a position where they have to stand up or defend themselves, and then putting the screws to them for daring to do so – real nice guys. Thankfully, as a result of his beating, there were now charges being put in place and an active search for these fuckers happening as far as we knew. No idea what would come of it, but that’s what we heard.
Another week later on, I shoved open the doors of my educational institution at the ring of the 3pm bell to breathe in my freedom, strap on my headphones, and get started on that long & much-needed walk back home. No sooner had I taken in a deep breath than I had nearly choked on it, seeing the license plate TDN 839 attached to a black Volkswagen Rabbit that had parked next to Mary Hill Junior High’s outside basketball court, and sure as shit, these assholes were right there hoopin’ it up without a care in the world. Just a bunch of seemingly normal, rich white suburban dickheads with the same amount of pimples on their mugs as any of the rest of us…and were it not for their car & the license plate, I’d have assumed they were human. Knowing better and not wanting to take even the slightest risk of them recognizing me, I ducked back in through the doors I came out of, caught my breath as I raced down the hall and out the other side of the building, free and clear, safe once more. TDN 839. TDN 839. I kept repeating this in my head so that it’d be the last thing I’d say, and if I went missing someone might at least know where to start in the investigation of who sank Jeremy Gladstone’s body into the Fraser river.
No one opened the doors, no one chased after me, no cars revved their engine, no one told me to run – it was over, at least for now…and the walk home after leaving them behind was the sweetest one ever.