After much planning, my co-worker, H, and I coordinated schedules and met up after work for dinner at Punch Pizza on Grand Avenue in St. Paul.
It was a long-overdue dinner date. We spent the early part of the week instant messaging, texting, and chatting in our cubicles about the time and place.
When Thursday rolled around, I left the office and ran some errands on and around Grand Avenue. I parked in the much-coveted Victoria Crossing lot. The church lot that mom’s in mini-vans and yoga-loving-twenty-something’s fight tooth and nail over for empty spaces. Browsing through shops, my stomach grumbling, I kept a close eye on the time so I could be at Punch right when H pulled in.
The second she arrived, we perused the menu. She was a Punch newbie, so I filled her in on the how-to’s of ordering. I decided to branch out and try something new. I selected the Toto.
We found a spot on the patio near the entrance. A sunny spot right on Grand. Our pizza’s came and H realized her order was incorrect. Our server admitted his error and offered us the ‘wrong’ pizza boxed up. He split the pizza and we beamed at our good fortune. Extra pizza. Free pizza. Score.
H and I chomped and chatted. There were specific topics we had to cover, things we didn’t have time to discuss in the office throughout the week. I asked H if she liked her pizza and she nodded enthusiastically and exclaimed that Punch was great. I enjoyed my Toto very much and was pleased that I strayed from my usual Margarita pizza. Pacing myself, I knew I wanted to eat most of my plate…and was glad I had not caved to hunger pains and purchased a snack earlier. H, too was hungry and eating most of her pizza. We promised no judgment over our lack of portion control. And then, mid-bite and mid-story, H said, “Isn’t Grand Ole Creamery around here? We should get ice cream!” Laughing, I said, “Right across the street. Ummm that would make me a Fatty McFatterson. An entire pizza AND ice cream. Yikes.” H laughed it off and continued with her story.
Grand was busy for a school-night. The summer weather drew many people out to the patios and sidewalks. Runners, walkers, moms with strollers, college kids, and career folks basked in the sun up and down Grand. Wild Onion’s patio was full; lively and inviting, just like Punch’s.
A few minutes before 8, H and I were deep in conversation when we heard loud “popping” noises. The Punch patio fell silent. What once was a bustling Grand Avenue was suddenly still. Other pizza connoisseurs craned their necks, stood up, and tried to get a glimpse of “that noise.” H’s eyes were widely concerned. I kept staring back at the woman who was standing up, leaning over the fence, and staring down the street. She seemed to know something was wrong. That the noise was not just fire crackers. That it was not OK.
H pointed across the street and said, “Look, all the people at Wild Onion are looking over there.” I think we asked each other a million times, “Were those gun shots? What was that noise?” We tried to return to our conversation, but our conversation was stuck on the sound we had just heard. Four or five loud “pops.”
Gunshots on Grand.
A couple of women were hurrying down the sidewalk towards us, turned and pointed back in the direction they had come, the direction of the gunshots. H asked the one woman, “Did you see what happened?” She told us she heard the gun shots and walked past a bunch of shells on the ground.
So, they were gunshots.
The lack of sirens and police presence for what seemed like an eternity worried me. Finally, a fire truck crept down Grand sans sirens and lights.
At that point, H and I decided to cut our time short. Time we had so carefully planned. H mentioned that it was a bad sign that there were no sirens blaring. I agreed, though I didn’t want to admit why.
The shooters had not been found.
We grabbed our left over pizza and our already-boxed botched order pizza, ran to the Punch parking lot, and jumped in our cars. Right before leaving, we confirmed that there was another way to the highway – that we didn’t have to drive past the scene where police had arrived with their lights spinning.
I drove through side streets and the thought that the shooters were still “on the loose” kinda freaked me out. Everyone looked so calm on the streets; strolling along, eating dinner, grabbing groceries. It’s like nothing happened.
A minute before I pulled into my neighborhood, H texted me, “Are u safe?” I responded (voice to text) that I was almost home and asked if she was safe. We exchanged numerous texts for the next half over. Nancy Drew took over us and we dissected the crime scene and pondered if it was a murder. Ruled that out because there was no body (we assumed). She suggested suicide, but again without the body, we knew it was not the case.
I was a bit restless falling asleep, tried to look online and through Twitter news to see if anyone was reporting on what had happened. Instead I found sad news, a reminder why I don’t like watching the news. There had been a shooting in Roseville. The founder of Kowalski’s died. And a baby was killed in a drive-by-shooting.
All on the same day that H and I were a block away from a shooting.
Through the course of our texts it came out that H had considered parking at Victoria Crossing. The church lot. I told her I had been parked there – I had found a great spot and thought about just walking to Punch, but decided to be lazy and drive down. She texted that she was glad I had been lazy. Me, too.
We could have been walking past the shooting. We could have been a lot closer to a potential tragedy.
But we weren’t. And we were thankful.
This morning, I checked news outlets. I found nothing on the shooting on Grand.
In the office, I dramatically told two co-workers that H and I narrowly escaped death at Punch Pizza. Un-phased by my tall tales, my male co-workers rolled their eyes and turned back to their computer screens. H was out of the office today and could not back up my story.
I voice texted her on my way home about something unrelated to the incident. She responded and then sent me a link.
I read it at a stop light.
Proof that we were not wrong. Proof that there were gunshots fired. Last night. On Grand and Avon. Right before 8pm.
Read about it here
It really happened. And were were there. We’re both safe. Thankful that it was not tragic. But terrified that it happened in a place we feel very safe: Grand Avenue.
Bummer of the night: we never got Grand Ole Creamery.