The Observer, who has lived in Little Rock many a year now, has a complicated relationship with this city. For every lovely sunset from the Big Dam Bridge, every stellar plate of taco truck fare down in Southwest, every friendly dog welcoming a scratch behind the ears seen out on a stroll with its owner, every selfless person working tirelessly for a better tomorrow, there seems to be at least 25 percent ugliness, spiking up to 50 percent when the moon is full, or Mercury is in retrograde, or some of the other star-crossed nonsense Spouse clings to in order to explain why some people just bees terrible sometimes.
For example: Yours Truly was motoring to The Home Depot out over the Western Wall on Monday night, pushing along Interstate 630 and then Chenal through a steady rain in search of home improvement, when we heard a gunshot behind us in traffic.
Though The Observer is a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, we're not one of those soft, gun-fearing pinkos you may have heard so much about on Fox News. We've been around and been firing guns dang near all our livelong days: handguns and rifles and shotguns, Saturday night specials and Pa's Dubya Dubya Two-era paratrooper carbine, a functional cannon and an illegal, full-auto assault rifle once. We like the feel of a well-made gun in the hand or against the shoulder, the smell of powder, the gadgetry of it all. While we're not one of those terrified Johnny Glocks who feels we must carry our shootin' iron everywhere, lest we fall with our hand unfilled with a Peacemaker during The Great ISIS/Transgender Burger King Bathroom Shootout of 2017, this child of proud hicks was raised to see a gun as a tool that could potentially make the difference between familial hunger and a table full of vittles someday. Given that, we still keep a few close, just in case things go to hell in a handbasket.
We say all this to state the obvious: that the gunshot we heard in traffic Monday night in the rain wasn't a backfire or blown tire, not tumbling junk in the trunk of The Mobile Observatory, not our imagination. It was what it was, which was a single gunshot, probably a handgun, close enough to make us flinch. Seconds later, a dark SUV sped past, weaving through traffic, pedal to metal, before blowing through the turn at Chenal and Bowman and merging into the rain-blurred dark.
We thought of calling 911 then, giving the details to a dispatcher, the chronicle of one more stupid act in a city full of stupid acts, but then we thought: What would we say? What had we observed? An SUV, maybe black or dark blue, maybe a late-model Toyota but not certain of that, last seen disappearing into a rainy city full of dark SUVs, long gone from where last seen long before we ever picked up the phone. A waste of time, no doubt, other than to let two strangers separated by a phone line drown in the full, worrisome truth of the obvious: that people can be terrible, and reckless, and foolish, and callous, and more dangerously ignorant of consequence than a person putting along in traffic or working that day at the 911 dispatch desk could ever fathom. What good would that do?
So instead of calling, The Observer motored on though the rain, through this city we love, and wondered for a umpteenth time as a Little Rockian whether it's time just say to hell with it and join the Johnny Glocks; whether maybe it's time to flee the fragile joy of living in the city for the safer beige of Cabot or Benton or Bryant. And though we only realize it now as we write this, in that moment, the ties of complicated love that bind The Observer to this city were stretched another bullet's width toward breaking.