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.

No comments: