I see bad people.

Until recently I was a fairly confident person. I took buses and trains both here and in other cities.

But after being mugged in Seattle’s Westlake Center transit tunnel, I lost my happy thoughts. To paraphrase the little kid from “The Sixth Sense,” I see bad people – everywhere.

I get anxious when I leave my apartment. While walking to the neighborhood market I froze as a couple of young men passed. When someone bumped into me at the airport I whirled around, all but baring my teeth at the poor fellow.

That’s because of the nature of the assault, which was three 20-something guys “sandwiching” me on the escalator: Two to do the bump and slam and one to distract me as the others peeled off.

It’s likely I was targeted because I had a carry-on bag and was headed toward the light rail stop. Either I was a tourist (and thus probably had money and a debit or credit card) or I was a local going to the airport (in which case I probably had money and a debit or credit card).

Terra incognita

My initial reaction was breathlessness. It happened so fast, and I’d been shoved off-balance by the tall, bulky guy behind me. The wind got half-knocked out of me and I was startled by the suddenness of being jammed between two people.

Immediately I felt something was wrong, but the incident was over so quickly that I literally didn’t have time to catch my breath.

I’d used the transit tunnel dozens of times but now I’m spooked by the idea of being there, even though it’s a clean, well-lighted place. In order to attend SaveUp 2011 I went out of my way to use a bus that dropped me where the light rail stops. As soon as I got off the bus I stood next to a security guard until the train arrived.

My first half-day in New York City required getting to two different appointments. Determined to get over my skittishness, I forced myself to walk from 30th Avenue and 6th Street down to 18th and 6th, and later to 3rd and 6th. Despite intermittent rain squalls and lingering anxiety magnified by the unfamiliar terrain, I managed well enough.

On the final day of the conference I needed to get over to where the Megabus stops, about seven blocks from the hotel. Taking a cab would have seemed silly, so once again I forced myself out the door and onto the sidewalk.

It was a lovely autumn day and I struck up conversations with a letter carrier and a woman taking a smoke break. But I felt pit-of-the-stomach tremors until I was in the seat and steaming off toward New Jersey.

No doubt the anxiety will pass. It better pass, since I don’t have a car and rely on public transit or shank’s mare to get anywhere I need to go.

Lucky, sort of

Plenty of people have mugging stories. I’ve heard a bunch in the past couple of weeks, some of them horrific. It’s not clear to me whether they share the tales to commiserate or to re-live it in order to prove they’ve gotten over it.

Some of the tellers betray themselves with little wobbles in voices or nervous flickerings of eyes. I doubt they really have gotten over it.

What I haven’t cared for are the interrogations. Where did this happen? What time was it? Why were you there? There are several reasons they might ask:

  • To avoid those areas at those times, or to remind themselves to be vigilant if they do have to be there
  • To be reassured that this will never happen to them because they’d never use public transit in early evening
  • To insinuate that it’s my own fault for having used public transit in early evening

For that last group: I am an adult. I am allowed to leave my house at night. Men are not allowed to rob me. They are the ones at fault.

Understand: I know that I am lucky. No weapons were used except big guy bodies. I was left only a little bit sore and very shaken, and later inconvenienced by the loss of 80-plus dollars and the hours spent canceling credit cards, closing and re-opening four different bank accounts, and re-scheduling autopays and my PayPal account.

But dammit, it’s a sad state of affairs when we have to count ourselves fortunate that at least we weren’t cut or shot.

Worse still: I now feel vulnerable. I feel like a target. And I feel that this will only get worse as I get older, because I’ll look less capable of putting up a fight – in other words, more vulnerable and more of a target.

I’d love to have the money back. But I miss my confidence more.


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