The men who describe the action in basketball games played by 20-year-olds ride in limousines, but Tricia Altagracias borrowed a neighbor’s knock-off Morey Boogie Board and walked to the bus stop near El Cajon Boulevard and 60th Street. The 15-year-old had seen a commercial on TV for a new movie with girls who surf. That she hadn’t seen the movie was not important; seeing the girls, including a Latina, searing the blue surf like the boys compelled her to give it a shot.
The bus was supposed to be at her stop at 9:10 a.m. that bright summer day. At 9:15, it had not arrived, and as Tricia looked east for the transit bus she saw a dark-blue compact car with a surfboard on top.
The driver slowed to the curb and rolled down the passenger window.
She knew it probably was not the right thing to do, but Tricia accepted the man’s offer of a ride to La Jolla. Her parents would’ve killed her, and she even panicked at the thought of them seeing her get into the car. Her friends would’ve admonished her, Mijia, what the fuck were you thinking?
But the guy had blond hair, and how bad could a guy with a surfboard be? The only thing was he seemed a little old to be a surfer. Or, at least older than how old she thought surfers were.
They went down past the college and toward Interstate 8, but at the bottom of the hill, the car did not merge onto the westbound freeway. Tricia’s ears started ringing, and out of the corners of her eyes she checked to see if her beating heart was visible beneath her T-shirt.
It was, and she blinked down the tears forced themselves into her eyes.
She wasn’t going to give in easily. She didn’t want to become a one-name celebrity like all those other children.
As the car quickly passed over the freeway and began its ascent into the hills of Del Cerro, Tricia thought about what to say to the man. She didn’t want to force his hand, and she remembered that you never want to panic someone in his situation. There was no telling how he would be set off.
The windshield was clean, but her mind was cloudy with tears and a million ideas.
Her gritted teeth rattled as the car bounced into the gas station on College Boulevard.
“Don’t worry, you don’t have to give me anything for gas,” the man said as he slid from his seat and headed to pay.
Had she been mistaken? Was it really true that child kidnappings were down, that it was the media’s fault everyone was on edge?
Tricia didn’t give herself time to answer.
The man was in line inside the gas station, and the Boogie Board was in the back seat.
Tricia was out of the car, walking back around it. Out of the man’s sightline, she thought she could tell Mrs. Lopez a lie about what happened to the Boogie Board.
Around the back of the gas station, She ran. Across another street, into oncoming traffic and toward the mini-mall at the bottom of the hill.
Later, after Tricia caught two buses home and was working on her story for Mrs. Lopez, the man in the car saw the Lopez phone number Magic Markered into the Boogie Board and called to say he found it at a bus stop.