“Never start a fight. But if you get into one, finish it.”
These were some words of advice my mom gave me when I was growing up. Like many people, I wasn't always the most attentive listener — except when it came to this phrase.
For the most part, I've lived a life free of physical altercations. I got into a fight once in fourth grade to settle a dodgeball dispute — always a hotbed of controversy for 10-year-old boys. The fight lasted less than 10 seconds, with my opponent choosing a combination of running full speed and kicking me in the head with both feet.
Unfortunately, he didn't plan on me bobbing slightly to the right. As I moved, the other boy whizzed by, feet first, until gravity took over, dropping him onto the playground. He was knocked silly, and in a matter of seconds I dubiously earned a dangerous reputation that would carry me through elementary school.
Like I said, not much of a fighting career, although I do consider myself undefeated. But then last week came along. I was having lunch on Brand Boulevard with a friend of mine. We were looking for a place to park and not having much luck. OK. To be perfectly honest, we were lazily attempting to park as close to the restaurant as possible.
I noticed an open spot curiously guarded by an orange traffic cone. Looking around, there seemed to be no real reason for the cone's presence. I figured it was just misplaced, so I got out of the car to move the cone.
No sooner did I touch the cone when I heard an angry voice yell out, “Don't you touch that cone!”
I turned around to see a man, with no visible authority, in his mid-30s. I thought about it, then dismissed the guy, moving the cone so my friend could park her car.
I thought that would pretty much be the end of it, but I guess Cone Man had other plans. He walked quickly toward me, screaming and yelling about our car, which was now in his spot. As the guy got closer, he got a little more intimidating. His appearance, which from far away looked harmless, suddenly began to look a little more imposing.
As I began to size him up, I realized that I was about to get up close and personal with someone who wanted to fight over a parking spot. I guess his cone needed the space.
The guy continued to rant and rave about his parking spot, tourists, foreigners and other issues, invading my personal space while doing it. My adrenaline began to pump furiously, even though I had no desire to fight some guy over a parking spot. But I kept hearing my mom's voice.
So I started thinking about the situation. This guy had set the cone out for a reason. He was either looking for a fight or he was completely desperate to be heard by someone. And at the moment, that was me.
“You damn people think you can park your cars anywhere and disrespect me!” the guy screamed.
He lifted up his sleeve and pointed at a faded tattoo. “You see this? I used to be in a motorcycle gang!”
And suddenly, I saw an opening and a chance to test my theory. I was either going to defuse the situation — or not.
“You ride? Me, too.” I said.
My statement was followed by silence.
Perhaps it was my motorcycle comment. Perhaps it was the fact that I was willing to say anything. Whatever it was, Cone Man got out of my personal space.
“You can park here.”
And just like that, it was over. Ten minutes later, my adrenaline stopped flowing, and my friend and I enjoyed a civilized lunch, my undefeated record intact.
What's the moral? I believe there are two. The first: Never start a fight. But if you get into one, see if you can defuse it before you have to finish it.
And second: If you see a traffic cone guarding an open parking spot on Brand Boulevard, remember to tell the Cone Man you ride a motorcycle.
This column was first printed May 11, 2010. Gary Huerta will return next week.
GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is currently working on his second novel and the second half of his life. Gary may be reached at email@example.com.