BY TAMAR KEVONIAN
Waking up in the morning, one has a pretty good idea how the day will progress: brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast, go to work, break for lunch, come home, have dinner, go to bed. A carjacking is never in anyone’s plans but that is exactly what happened to Armen one night almost two decades ago when, after dinner, he told his mom that he was going out to gas up the car because he had an early morning meeting the following day.
Petite, and soft spoken, Armen is a city employee who has diligently been at his job since graduating high school. On this night he is very comfortable in his surrounding at the gas station, doing a task he’s done hundreds of times before. He doesn’t pay attention when, as he slips into the driver’s seat, a strange man gets in his car from the passenger side. “It was awkward and it happened so quickly. Next thing I know, he has a gun and he says ‘whatever you do, don’t make a scene.’”
The stranger orders Armen to get on the I5 going south, the main north/south artery on the west coast that spans from the Canadian to the Mexican border. Instructed to ‘just drive,’ Armen assumes the man would eventually be asked to be dropped off at a nearby intersection. “I didn’t realize we are going to Mexico,” he says. It’s about this time that his survival mode kicks in and he starts talking telling the stranger the details of his life. “I’m like, I’m a student, I do this, I live here. Whatever your intentions are, I’m a human being, don’t forget that. I’m only 19.”
Soon they are crossing the border and the stranger starts giving directions to navigate the maze of streets through Tijuana. “This is my first time in Mexico, by the way, I’ve never been there my entire life,” Armen says, commenting on the humorous side of a tragic situation. All he remembers of this part of the ordeal is that the stranger is pointing a gun at him, he has a briefcase and he is Mexican. “But at this point I am not even thinking about the gun.”
Driving away from the city, the night becomes darker as the city lights fade away. “I remember him telling me ‘just pull over. Turn off the car.’ Armen is instructed to get out of the car and walk away. “So every step that I am taking, I am thinking that he is going to pull the trigger. He is going to pull the trigger. He is going to pull the trigger.” So he keeps walking, lost in the middle of nowhere; all he is concerned about is getting away until he finally hears the car start and the stranger drive away.
“I’m in that survival mode and I’m walking. I see the lights on the main street. I’m in a village, not too far from Tijuana I guess. So I go to a bar and I am trying to communicate but nobody is speaking English,” he says. Finally someone from inside notices Armen, figures out that he is lost and follows him out. “He comes up to me with a knife. He was nervous, I could tell,” Armen says of his assailant. “For me, I guess I was more calm because I had already gone through so much.” The assailant then jabs at him with the knife and commands him to be quiet. “He’s pushing the knife so close and I feel it.” He thinks to himself “don’t tell me I’m going to die now after I survived the gun.” The assailant robs Armen of his necklace, jacket and watch and everything else the he could grab – except for his wallet.
In complete survival mode now, all Armen wants to do is inform his family of his whereabouts. “I’m not even thinking.” He begins by breaking up credit cards and saves only his identification card. “If something happens to me, I don’t want my family to cover my bills,” he says and laughs at the ridiculousness of the statement – worried for his family’s financial well being while in grave physical danger himself.
“When I left my house, it was 8. Now it’s already like 2 a.m., or maybe earlier. I’m walking, I’m walking and I walk into this strip club without even realizing it,” he says and laughs again at the absurdity of it all. He encounters the same language barrier as at the first bar and, dejected, he sits on the curb outside. “It’s like 3 o’clock in the morning. I notice there is a car driving around, circling me. I didn’t feel comfortable so I change my location. I guess he thought I was a prostitute off the streets of TJ,” he says and laughs again since he actually is in the middle of street well known for its streetwalkers. Finally the man pulls over and begins speaking in Spanish. “I tell him, ‘Sorry, I don’t speak Spanish.” The man asks him where he’s from and Armen responds with “I am from the states, originally I am Armenian,” instinctively interjecting his ethnic origin, as all Armenians are wont to do.
Armen asks for a ride across the border and the man graciously offers to do so. “I was nervous, I was scared, but at that point, I had nothing else to lose. I am tired, hungry, thirsty. It’s probably now like 5 or 6 in the morning. I get in his car. He drives then pulls over, He’s trying to calm me down. He’s playing with my head and my hair,” he says and strokes his hair showing the man’s actions. He tells the man that he really needed to get back home. “I guess he thought I was joking and that it was a secret code and he’s trying to do his thing. He thinks I am prostitute.” Finally he convinces the man and they cross the border and drive all the way to Chula Vista, a city in San Diego County just past the Mexican border. Once there, the man drives to the nearest police station, parks a few blocks away, gives Armen directions and drives away.
It’s now 8 a.m. Twelve hours have passed since Armen calmly drove to his local gas station to prepare for this morning. Not once suspecting what was in store for him. He walks into the police station and says “you’re going to think I am crazy, but I’ve been carjacked.” Exhausted from his ordeal, Armen doesn’t want to recount the story and all he says is “can I just get home? Can somebody take me home to my family?”
He gives the police officer behind the desk his name and she enters it into the system. He doesn’t expect much of a reaction since a person must be missing for 48 hours before the police take action. Suddenly there’s a flurry of activity as his name comes up on the computer screen in bold letters. His position as a city employee has given his status top priority. “My mom, realizing that getting gas shouldn’t take this long, had called my coworkers.”
Armen is given a telephone to call home. “As soon as I heard my mother’s voice, I lost it.” His composure and the calmness with which he navigated through the last twelve hours melted away in an instant and he finally allowed himself to collapse into tears. Tears of fear, tears of relief, tears of joy all came pouring out. He was finally home.