Recipes

Cooking to Survive

July 21st, 2018, I drove home from teaching pasta and donut class at the King’s Roost, my home away from home. The sun was shining, there was a cool breeze in the air, life was good. Per the usual, I called my mom to follow up on the normal day to day life. 

I needed to grab a few things for a small friend dinner party that night. I pulled into my favorite Trader Joe’s, that was just miles from my house.  My mom was on speakerphone laughing hysterically about a dinner party she had just had “a fish fry”, where everything had gone slightly awry. As I sat in the parking lot, I was listening, laughing and yet staring at the door to the Trader Joe’s through my side mirror, thinking how much I needed to pop in and buy dinner for my own gathering. Any other day, I would have gotten out of my car and taken her with me into the store, but that day I just sat and listened. And in a matter of seconds the world stopped, screeching tires raced, gun fire rang through the air, something was hit,  then more gun fire and then silence.

“Oh my god mom, something bad is happening, something really bad, there’s gun shots all around me,” I said. As I looked out the side of my car, all I could see were officers with their guns drawn.  Then the bullets shot out of their guns. I watched as the bullets flew out of their pistols. It was a sight I had never seen, even though in my life I have been in two other hold ups (it’s sounds strange even to me that I have been in two other hold ups). 

My breath quickened as I slumped down into the bottom of my car under my steering wheel to protect myself. Was the man behind my car, to the side, how many of them were there, what was happening. As my mind raced with unanswered questions, I peeked out my side window to see the police holding their position.  Then a helicopter flew above with rifles drawn and stayed in a circling pattern. I was stuck. “Mom, this is bad, have dad call James, tell him I’m in trouble”, and then I said it, “If I don’t make it, I love you.” 

My mom sat is disbelief on the other end of the phone, as if what I was saying wasn’t actually a possibility, but I knew it was. I genuinely didn’t know how I was going to get out of this situation alive. Over and over and over I said I love you, and though those words were all I could say, what I felt was if this doesn’t turn out well, if I don’t live to see another day, tell my husband, my children, my family, my friends, tell everyone I loved them all. 

Every so often I peered over my steering wheel to look to see if this madness was over, and every time I was devastated to know my new home under my steering wheel wasn’t a thing of my past. As all tense and stressful moments go, this was no different and in the intensity of this moment where I was scared out of mind, I turned on my windshield wipers. I frantically tried to turn them off, so that I wouldn’t bring attention to my car.  It took a couple of tries and a few annoyed moments as I listened to them screech across my dry windshield in an alternating fashion.

Finally, after what seemed like an hour, I finally peered over my steering wheel and there was an armed officer looking straight at me. She with a few hand motions indicated that it was time to get out of my car. It was a blur when or how I told my mom that I was going to run out of my car, but I do remember that thanks to her help my husband was waiting to scoop me up and rescue me. 

I cracked open my car door, dropped to the ground, I still had no idea what was happening or where the gunman was. At that moment I had no clue if I was going to be shot as I ran for cover. I slithered on the ground, hoped over a 3-foot wall and ran for my life. 

As I reached the main street tears were streaming down my cheeks and as all happy endings occur, my husband was their waiting for me, grabbed me, embraced me and kissed me. I sat in the front seat overwhelmed in a way that was unexplainable. 

We drove home and as thoughts raced through my head, and I started hearing what had actually taken place my heart dropped for a second time, as there were still others, many others that were still inside with the perpetrator. 

I dialed my friend who was planning to come to dinner with her family, and as I was about to say please don’t come, I said, “Jena can you come a little later for dinner, I’ve just been in a hold up at the Trader Joes and I need more time to make dinner”. We cried on the phone together and I am pretty sure that she said something like we don’t have to, we can bring dinner, etc. I knew at that moment I needed to be surrounded with love, friends and comforting meal. 

We were home, my safe place, my haven. I kissed my boys, I told them I loved them, and I went into my kitchen. I looked in my fridge and there was almost nothing there (I was at the store to shop for dinner). I saw ground beef and knew that Bolognese would be a perfect dinner under the circumstances. 

I turned on the stove, listened to the helicopters, listened to the sirens-still at the Trader Joe’s. I knew I had been lucky; I knew I had been saved. I sautéed my carrots and onions. Seared my ground beef, lovingly stirred in the wine, thought about the people still trapped inside, simmered the rich beef sauce, thought about my car still in the parking lot with all of my belongings. I took a deep breath and breathed my life coming back to me with each cooking step I took. 

The doorbell rang, my friends were there, we embraced, we poured wine to celebrate life.  As I told and relived the story over dinner, I realized that had my mom not told me of her dinner party’s dilemma’s that I too could have been caught in the cross fire, as one wonderful Trader Joe’s manager, whom I saw regularly, and was greeted with her angelic smile, Mely Corado had been. 

Cooking is my passion and has saved me so many times in my life, but this one day it saved me more ways than I can count. 

Photo by Mary Payne Moran, Copyright 2018 HMFG

As we near the anniversary of our communities one-year anniversary of this devastating tragedy I know that as a community we are stronger, braver and more vigilant to stop actions in the future. My heart goes out to those who have been affected by these encounters and others. It has been a year of healing. 

“A police officer who killed a bystander in a gun battle outside a Trader Joe’s in Silver Lake did not violate department policy by shooting toward a crowded store, the Los Angeles Police Commission ruled Tuesday.

A gunman had begun shooting at two LAPD officers as they pursued him in their patrol car July 21. The man crashed his car and ran towards the Trader Joe’s store, firing more rounds at the officers.

One officer shot back five times, stopping after the man entered the store because there were likely people inside, according to a report by LAPD Chief Michel Moore that was released Tuesday.

But it was too late. A bullet had traveled into the Trader Joe’s, striking 27-year-old store manager Melyda Corado in the chest, the report said.” Los Angeles Times, By CINDY CHANG STAFF WRITER