The following is the first entry in what I hope will be a continuing series looking at some of the quirkier and more off the wall events that have happened in Tuscaloosa over the years. I affectionately call the crazy and bizarre that happens in this town, “Tuscaloosa Living”, and I couldn’t think of a better example than what is about to follow. Enjoy!
Tuscaloosa, especially the areas near campus, has its fair share of, how shall we put it, sketchy as all get-out locations, but there is one, at least in my opinion and the opinion of those who have lived down there, that trumps all of them in terms of sketchiness. I’m talking about Reed Street, that grand stretch of road just off University Boulevard. Some off the wall things have happened on that street over the years, but the story I’m about to tell you is one that takes the cake. It also perfectly sums up the mentality of a college town like Tuscaloosa.
Flash back to the year 2000 if you can, specifically September of that year. Then Governor George W. Bush and former Vice President Al Gore were going neck and neck on the Presidential campaign before the citizens of Florida acted like the citizens of Florida and caused an epic shit-storm. The Alabama Crimson Tide were in the early stages of a wildly disappointing 3-8 season that saw losses to such powerhouses as Southern Miss and Central Florida. Most importantly, though, I was basically a month in to my tenure of living in Tuscaloosa. Since Alabama’s dorms resembled prison cells more so than adequate living quarters (My parents’ words, not mine), I was able to live off campus right from the get-go. I got a slacker friend of mine convinced to move down here and go to Shelton State, and we then found what we thought would be a great apartment close to campus. We found Preston Place 13, which is basically at the end of Reed Street before it turns into Caplewood. Good enough setting for you? Alright because here we go with the insanity.
I was walking home from class one Monday afternoon, and the only thing I really wanted to do that evening was watch Wrestling. Anyone who knows me knows how little has changed in these 12 years. As I finish walking down University and make the turn onto Reed Street, I am nearly immediately stopped by a police officer in the middle of the road. He looks at me and says, “I’m sorry sir, we can’t let you down here.”
“I live down here, officer” is what I said or a good approximation of what I said.
“I understand that sir, but a man with a gun has taken a hostage” is close to what the police officer said, but as soon as I heard gun, the first thing I thought of was, “What the hell did my roommate do!?”
Needless to say, I was at a loss for my next step. I couldn’t go home and since I was only a month into living in this town, my options really weren’t plentiful. I decided to go to my rental agency building, which just so happened to be in the area, and inform them of the situation. They allowed me to stay there until they closed, hoping the situation would be resolved by then. As I sat in the office, 5:00 P.M. struck on the clock and the locals news started playing. To my horror, the lead story on every Birmingham news outlet was “Hostage situation in Tuscaloosa”. I knew I had to make a phone call home, and I knew I had to make it quick to head off any frantic worrying from my parents or extended family. As expected, I did not expect making this call home a month into my college experience. To her credit, my mother was rather calm when I nonchalantly told her, “Mom… there’s a hostage situation happening near where I live, but it’s not my building. It’s one of the ones behind it.” I’m sure other things were said, but the fact she didn’t panic kind of made me forget the specifics of the rest of the call.
Eventually the rental agency’s office closed, and I was back on the wild streets of Tuscaloosa. A nice little BBQ place used to exist in the area where Surin is located now so I decided to get a bite to eat and hope things would be over by the time I was finished. I was wrong. I “kept vigil” at the corner of University and Reed for a good while until some people came up and said, ”You can go behind the Houndstooth and take the back way home, if need be.” Again, I really had no idea what they were talking about since I had only lived in town a month, and I hadn’t branched out to explore back streets or anything of that nature. The desire to get home, watch wrestling, and get this night behind me, though, overcame that aspect of my existence so I ventured back that direction and was able to get home.
I was able to get home to see the epic event happening in my parking lot.
As I walked to my building, I saw a mass of students gathered in and around Reed Street and the various apartment complexes. They were all watching the police standoff, which is happening a little further down the road. Some were in lawn chairs. Some were drinking, whether from cans, bottles, or a rumored keg in the vicinity. People made a giant banner reading “Reed Street Hostage Party” complete with a gigantic bulls eye. Never mind the dude down the street with a gun and a hostage. Everyone was having a good time, especially since the police had bigger fish to fry. The suspect had shot at a police officer so that is what caused the standoff in the first place.
It wasn’t my nature at the time to really get involved in things like this, but I couldn’t resist. Who could resist a block party, no matter how crazy the circumstances, when it was happening right outside their front door? The situation went on through the night, and the crowd continued to hang tight to watch the festivities. All the news stations from Birmingham started doing live remotes down on the street or on apartment balconies. All I could think, a month into college, is, “We better get #1 party school for this… who else would be partying during a hostage situation?” The fact more and more people showed up as the night progressed impressed me now because this was the era before social media and really text messaging. The best thing we had at that point was AOL Instant Messenger. I can only imagine, though, what the social media reaction would be if something like this happened now.
At around 10:30 or so, we heard shots fired. It turned out to be tear gas and rubber bullets as apparently the Tuscaloosa Police had grown tired of waiting for the suspect. The news stations did their final remotes, and the crowd shuffled back and forth to get in the background of as many of the live remotes as possible. People started heading out, and I finally went inside where I finally was a bit ticked off that I did miss wrestling after all. I wasn’t as ticked off as I was when the reactions to the situation came out a few days later in the Crimson White. Sanctimonious students wrote in criticizing everyone for partying during a danger situation and blah blah blah blah. Each person who wrote or said something critical would have been right out in the street doing the same exact thing if they had been in the area. Turns out what happened was a patient at Bryce had checked himself, went off his meds, and things went from bad to worse.
A nice little coda to this story came years later when I was working at Boy Scout camp here in Tuscaloosa. Our shooting sports director was a member of the Tuscaloosa Police Department, and he also trained the snipers on the force. We were talking one afternoon, and I brought up the hostage situation. I asked him if he was involved, and he looked at me point blank with this response in a distinct southern drawl:
“I was sitting on the edge of some girl’s bed with a rifle pointed at the dude’s head.”
Tuscaloosa Living, y’all. Tuscaloosa Living.
(If you or someone you know has a good Tuscaloosa Living story that you’d like featured, let me know. Also feel free to leave your comments about the Hostage Party, especially if you were a part of it)