Monday, March 24, 2008

this town: i hate it.

i lived on the south side of chicago for five years. sure, hyde park wasn't the toughest neighbourhood, far from it, but there were plenty of sketchy things that went on along that fifty-third street corridor. there was drug dealer alley. but, nothing particularly scary happened there. people begged for money. people peddled drugs. people offered sex. but, i could just shake my head, say no, walk along, and that would be it. the scariest thing that ever happened still wasn't that bad: one night i was walking down 53rd street around 11:30pm, and this extremely drunk guy started following me down the street, asking over and over again where the closest liquor store was. it was a little unsettling that he followed me a block down the street, but he was harmless. he finally found someone else to go ask, and i could slip into my building, slip into my apartment, and lock the door behind me. still, it wasn't that scary, and i didn't really fear any violence or injury.

the first two and a half years in st. louis were the same way. nothing crazy happened. there were beggars, there were drug dealers, but there was nothing too bad. one time a beggar walked up to my friend's car and stood there, waiting for us to get out, but she was the same woman i had seen a million times on the delmar loop, and i knew she wasn't going to do anything but ask for money. i always kept my eye out and stayed alert when i was walking around town--st. louis isn't a huge city, but crime is a reality here.

crime is like everything else, though: when it rains, it pours.

back at the beginning of february, i got mugged. last night, something at least equally scary happened, just a few blocks from where i was mugged almost two months ago.

this time i wasn't walking in a desolate place. i wasn't even walking. i got back from Chicago last night around 12:20. i took the greyhound. the greyhound station is in an awful neighbourhood, rife with vacant lots and broken bottles. however, there are always a ton of cabs out in front of the station. i got off the bus, made a beeline for a cab, and told the driver where i lived. i was expecting this driver to take the same route that every other driver has ever taken from the greyhound stop to my apartment: get on 64/40 [the highway through town], get off at Skinker, and take me home.

this driver had other ideas. instead of doing that, he took Cass to Grand, Grand to Forest Park, and Forest Park home. Cass is sketchy. Cass is really sketchy. Cass is dark, half the area along it consists of vacant lots, and the other half consists of boarded-up or burnt-out buildings. i felt safe enough, though...i was in the car, ensconced in my protective bubble of glass and metal.

we turned south down Grand. Grand, along this stretch, is just as bad as Cass. anything north of Delmar on Grand is bad. even south of Delmar the side streets can be dubious; it was on one of those side streets, a few blocks south, where my friend and i were mugged last month. however, that six-tenths of a mile or so between Cass and Grand is dark, desolate, and an extremely bad place to be at 12:30 in the morning. still, i felt just fine, since i was in a taxi.

we stop at a red light about halfway between Grand and Delmar. even though i could see the bright lights of the Fox Theatre in the distance, the cab is still firmly ensconced in the darkness of North City. all of a sudden, a man in a white t-shirt starts banging on the front passenger-side window. my radar is up, and i start leaning away from the passenger side; i was sitting in the back seat, on the passenger side. the cab driver, for reasons unbeknownst to me, rolls down the window. the guy points west down the street, and says that someone at a motel that way was trying to shoot him and his wife.

this was a sketchy allegation for two reasons. first of all, there was a woman standing behind him, but she didn't look scared or freaked out or anything. she looked rather nonchalant. she didn't have the blank look of someone scared out of her mind; it was more of a look of ennui. second of all, there were no motels visible down the street where he was pointing. there were vacant lots, and nothing but. thirdly, there was no one else up the street that way: no one walking, no one running. maybe it was true. maybe there was someone down the street who was trying to shoot them. but, i couldn't see anything that backed up that story, so i thought it was also possible that this guy had this clever ruse in order to rob or carjack us.

the driver didn't say anything. he started to roll the window back up; this made me happy, since there was not the customary layer of bulletproof glass between the front and back seats of this taxicab. the guy then starts pulling on my door handle, trying to climb into the back of the cab. thank goodness, my door was locked. so, his pulling was in vain. i was scared, and scooted as far away from that door as i could with all of my stuff in the back seat with me. finally the light turned green, and the driver drove away. the man kept running after the car, screaming, and banging on the trunk until the cab was driving fast enough that he could not run to keep up.

then, the cab driver starts talking to me, clearly either confused or amused by the fact that i was so freaked out. i couldn't believe it; i thought that it was perfectly obvious why that scared me so much, and perfectly reasonable that i had gotten a little tense about the incident. my taxi driver did not see it this way. i'm not surprised that a cab driver can go through that and be far more nonplussed than i. i was insulted that he assumed i could take it so lightly, and i was angry that he had risked my safety by rolling down the window in a dark area with no one else around, to someone who could have very easily been a carjacker.

if i ever take a greyhound bus from st. louis again, i am demanding that my cab driver go directly from the greyhound station to the highway. i'm not risking something like that again.

No comments: