Moving from the suburbs to the heart of the city a couple of years ago meant more than a change in geography. It was an entire change of lifestyle -- one I don't regret. I don't miss much about the suburbs, not even the assumed safety of the suburbs compared to the city.
When I moved here, several friends asked if I was going to buy a gun. I said no, for many reasons I didn't want a gun. I had relied on my big geriatric standard poodle to warn me of intruders for many years, and she was enough. And I didn't want to live like that. I didn't want to live in fear of my neighbors and the people who walk through my neighborhood. I don't want to live in fear.
I can't explain it, but for some reason I quickly felt safer here in the city than I did in the safe, quiet suburbs. The streets are too well lit, my neighbors are close and friendly, people walk by on the sidewalk at all hours. There are also gates across the street every two blocks that helps prevent drive-by shootings and high-speed chases. I joke that I live in a gated community. My friend Joe reminds me that a prison is also a gated community. He wins.
I know there's crime in my neighborhood, but other than knowing there are at least two drug dealers on the block, so far I haven't had any reason to worry. I take normal safety precautions, but I'm not afraid to sit out on my porch at midnight and play my guitar in the summer. I refuse to live in fear.
I spend a lot of time downtown, now that I live so close. Rumor has it many people who don't live in the city are afraid to come downtown, except to the theater or to big festivals. When I lived in the suburbs, I have to admit downtown scared me too. I don't know why. It was just because downtown made everybody else I knew nervous. Bad things happened to people downtown.
Now it doesn't bother me to ride my bike through downtown and then my neighborhood to home, often late at night. I'm more afraid somebody will door me from a parked car, or that I'll hit a pothole, or that a neighbor's pitbull will be loose. I'm far more likely to be hurt by something like that than a boogeyman. Or at least that's what I tell myself. I don't want to live in fear of the thing that is least likely to happen.
Almost every week I go downtown for karaoke, and I usually park in the same place. I may go downtown several nights in a week and park in the same place. And I often walk alone from that parking lot to the bar where we sing. It doesn't scare me. Even though I have to walk down an alley from the parking lot to the street, it's well lit, there are people on the sidewalks and cars driving through on the cobblestone street. I fend off the panhandlers before they even get close, and the few times men have "talked" to me, it's been friendly and I just kept walking. I'm not scared. Vigilant, but not scared.
|The parking lot at 4:00 amm. I didn't realize the red light was a reflection from the nearby comedy club until after I took this photo. Perspective changes everything.|
In fact, I've laughed at my friend Alex when he insists on walking me to my van. "What could possibly happen to me?" I ask him. "Why would anybody bother me?" Still he usually insists. And ... OK, maybe at 2:00 am I'm secretly glad he does it. But not because I'm afraid. I don't need to be protected.
Not even last week when I walked out alone at 2:15 and a guy from the bar followed me out .... that sounds bad.
As I walked down the alley and into the lot, I heard someone shouting behind me on the street, but I didn't turn around. I couldn't think of anything that might be happening back there that had anything to do with me. I had no business getting involved. Even when I'm not afraid, I know it's best not to linger in the parking lot behind the adult novelty store and the cowboy bar late at night.
As I neared my van though, I realized the shouting was getting closer and I could understand a guy yelling, "Hey! Hey, pretty lady with the red hair. Hey, lady in the jacket!" That sounded suspiciously like he was shouting at me, but it wasn't someone who knew my name. So I turned around, but I kept moving and hit my key fob to unlock my van.
It was a young man from the bar, a guy my friend and I had been talking to toward the end of the night. Just karaoke chatter. I couldn't even say what we talked about. He had run to the end of the alley. He shouted, "Hey, where did your friend go?"
"Don't know," I yelled back.
"Awwww, really?" He stopped running and grabbed his knees. Weenie.
"Yes, really." And then I was at my van, getting in and laughing because she has that effect and that poor boy didn't stand a chance.
It wasn't enough to set off alarms. I was more likely to get t-boned on the way home by a drunk driver running a red light than I was to get hurt in that parking lot.
Or so I thought.
Tonight I was talking to a musician friend, Todd -- a busker* and fellow story slammer. We were laughing about the last time I'd seen him busking, and how I ended up dancing with a crazy, drunk, homeless woman on the street while he played Johnny Cash. He said he and his partner finally had to leave because she wouldn't leave them alone and let them play. (There's a difference between the annoyances downtown and real danger.)
Then he said, "I guess I haven't really talked to you since that night. My partner ran into collectibles store while I took my gear to my car. I was parked down rapist alley .... you know?"
I said, "Rapist alley? I've never heard that. You mean the alley between the adult goodies store and the cowboy bar? You call that rapist alley?"
"Oh, hell, yeah," he said. "You should never park there. Shit happens back there all the time. It's not safe."
I told him I park there all the time. He waggled his finger at me, shook his head and said as soon as he opened his trunk that night to put his guitar in, a guy attacked him. He got his guitar in and slammed the trunk, but two other guys joined the first and had him trapped with his car between them. He finally pulled the knife he carries when he's busking and managed to scare them off. He's a big, fit young man. He'd be the last person I'd expect that to happen to, and it was on a busy, first-Friday night.
We talked some more about it, and he suggested I park somewhere else. I won't though. It wouldn't be safer, and I don't want to live in fear. I said that, right?
But his story made me wonder if my sense of security is misplaced. Should I be afraid of that parking lot? Maybe I should be afraid, and maybe I should do .... something .... and yet, I don't know what.
Should I carry my taser with me all the time? (I'd probably shock myself.) A gun? A knife? (Pulling a knife on somebody bigger and stronger than me could never end well.)
Should I stay home behind my locked doors, not go to karaoke? I can't really park closer than that lot. Should I take a cab so I can just open the door and run across the sidewalk to the door? That's silly and expensive. I can't think of any other options. Should I just be afraid?
I'm already as vigilant as I can be. I don't look or walk like a victim. One night a couple of guys who were lingering in that alley said hi and told me I looked mmmm mmm good. I thanked them and kept walking. One of them said he hoped nobody tried to mess with me because I looked like I could handle any man who did. I think they meant it as a compliment. I thanked him again. I kept walking. I wasn't afraid of them. And nothing happened.
Even if I had been afraid, nothing would have happened.
Maybe that's the point. I don't think I take unreasonable risks, but I also don't walk around afraid something will happen to me in the big, cold city. I did all that fearing when I was younger. Fear never saved me from anything, but it prevented me from doing a lot of things I wish now I hadn't missed.
I don't want to live in fear now. I'm going to park in that lot at the end of the alley (and hope no boogeymen read my blog) and walk to karaoke like I always have. I will still be vigilant.
And I still won't be afraid. Would you?
* Busking: playing on the street for tips.