Saturday, March 13, 2010

Safety in the City (Sense of the City column)

The snow melted overnight. One day the temperature was just above freezing, the next it was warm enough to not wear my coat anymore. The humidity hovers somewhere around 100%. The sky is hazy with a mixture of pollution and fog which switches to rain in a second. I have never been a fan of wetness, but it is nice to walk around in a comfortable temperature.

I should be writing this at home. I started my spring break last night and was on my way to White Heath. But through a series of unfortunate events I missed the bus. At the time I was angry, but thinking back on it the story is actually pretty good. (It involves late night road construction and a midnight run through Union Station where I lost my sandwich.) I probably would have written this column on it if a much more interesting story didn't happen to me on the way home.

Needles to say, I am not the only one out enjoying the warmer weather. Crime goes up in the spring and summer months. It's just a fact of life, more people means more potential to steal. And no one, not even criminals, wants to be out in sub-zero temperatures.

I got on the train to go home. I sat down next to a well dressed man. He wore a button down shirt and black leather shoes with gold buckles. I didn't notice at the time, but something was wrong. Some chemical in his brain was off, whether through drugs or insanity I'm not sure. But he ranted at the top of his lungs. His unidentifiable grumbling boomed through the train car. Every once in a while this primitive language was peppered with the most foul and X-rated bits of clarity. I was almost home so I tried to ignore it. I stared down at the floor.

This is where I wanted to leave this story, but some 20-something fohawk didn't. He tried to engage the man as some stupid joke, some story he could tell his buddies back at the bar. Soon the conversation devolved into threats on the young guy's life, but he didn't understand what was going on and still tried to push through.

Some how the ranting man thought the other guy said he was part of the Black P Stone gang, which is a smallish multiracial gang in Chicago. They actually control a pretty large chunk near my apartment. It took me a second to realize what the man was saying. But when I did, I turned to the younger guy and told him to shut up. "You don't know what you just did," I said.

Nothing happened, but I had never been so afraid in the city. Clearly the man was dangerous and on top of that he was not in his right mind. There is no way to know what he could have done. But luckily nothing happened. He left the train.

What this says about the safety of the city is interesting. I've been here almost four years. I've seen some crazy things on the train and on the street. I've had some crazy things happen to me. I could tell some stories. But this is the first time I've felt so uncomfortable. Most of the time, the city runs just fine. The population goes on with their day without thinking of safety. No one should take this story to mean that the city is so intensely dangerous that they don't visit. It is just a warning to watch out. Be careful of your surroundings. Basically . . . be safe.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Memory by Fire

The air is cold and filled with falling snow. The sidewalk is slippery with ice and trampled snow. It's still winter. We're running through the tail end of the season all across the country. The days are getting longer and the nights shorter. The snow is thawing and freezing, thawing and freezing, starting the death throes that will turn March into April and winter into spring.

Thoughts run through my mind as I walk home one night. My stare is low, towards the ice patch in front of me. My step is careful. I walk by an old church made of boulders big enough for a Trebuchet to siege a castle. I guess I only assume it's old, because of the building material. It doesn't much matter, I like walking by to look at the rocks.

I go by carefully when I smell a smell that takes me back. It wasn't a sudden memory, it snuck up on me gradually. Before I knew it I was transferred back to my childhood. My memory was deep and vivid. I was not thinking about my childhood, I was in my childhood. I was sitting next to the woodburning stove at the farm in the cold winters of the past. The air was freezing but the fire was too hot. I rotated to keep an even warmth, too long in one position and half my body would be burnt and the other half too cold. The sight and sound were strictly from when I was young, but the strongest sense for me was the smell. It was the smell that warped me back in time. It was the smell that bridged the gap between the present and past. It was the salty, smoky smell of a fire burning in the stone church.

I came back to the current and shuffled through the ice field safely. I continued on home a little brighter, a little happier, my smile a little larger. My trip reminded me of what was and what will be and what I have now.