You’re Alone, at Night, on a Big City Street

Recently by Robert Wenzel: ‘I Could Look Like George Zimmerman’

The Zimmerman-Trayvon incident in Florida wasn’t a mugging, but it does bring to my mind situations I have been in that could have turned ugly. One of my hobbies is walking, sometimes I will do it very late at night in very big cities. Most big cities are very safe. (I am amazed at the number of woman walking alone at 2:00 AM and 3:00 AM in Manhattan), But if you walk the streets late enough, often enough, situations will develop.

Here’s how I generally approach a late night walk in a city where it is generally only me and a bunch of LBJ’s great grandkids. The first line of defense is to walk confidently. This isn’t going to scare away a determined mugger, but someone looking for an easy target may pass on you.

Once in downtown Los Angeles, after dark I was walking on Broadway headed to the Broadway Bar. If you know the area, it’s not where the meek should tread. But I was there and in deep thought when I crossed the street where a black guy was standing. The man walked up to me and asked, "Hey, how come you aren’t afraid of me?"

The fact was I hadn’t seen him and told him so: "Jeez, I didn’t see you. Maybe if I had I would be…ah, I see lots of you guys in New York." This sort of disarmed him and he told me he was a mugger. Curious person that I am, I talked with him for about 20 minutes about mugging. He told me that he wanted to do something else, that it was dangerous and that a friend of his recently had a shotgun pulled on him. I explained how minimum wage laws were making it near impossible for him to get an entry level job. I wished him luck in his job pursuit and we moved on in different directions into the remainder of the night.

As I said that night I was in deep thought, but most of the time I am very aware of my surroundings when walking late at night. I know where every doorman building is, I know where every 24 hour shop is open. I know where, if I see trouble developing, I can go.

Another time in Los Angeles, downtown at the top of Bunker Hill, I was walking late at night on Hope Street between the Bank America building and the Wells Fargo building. I was walking on the Wells Fargo side when I could see in the distance a hulking figure moving towards me. I didn’t like the look of things, so I crossed the street. The hulking figure crossed. Not good at all.

But the Wells Fargo garage was there and I knew they had security men. So I walked to the garage and one of the security men saw what was going on and even said to me, "Do me a favor and stand here while this guy passes." The hulking figure passed on.

I also generally carry a couple 500 billion Yugoslavia bank notes with me, from their great inflation (You can usually pick them up, or something similar, at stamp and coin shows for a a dollar apiece.)

Once, walking late at night in Boston Common, two guys approached me asking for change. I got the distinct impression they weren’t going to settle for change, so I handed each 500 billion. They jumped around like they had one the lottery. I walked away.

If I am going to be in a city for awhile, I also hire a bunch of bodyguards. By that I mean I paper the regular homeless in my neighborhood with a dollar here and a dollar there. The homeless are very street savvy and they aren’t going to let anything happen to one of their regulars. A shout out from a homeless person along the lines of, "Leave him alone, he’s cool." will be respected by most muggers.

If you suspect someone is following you and you don’t happen to have 50 billion on you and there are no 24 hours stores, doorman or anyone else in sight, walk in the middle of the street. You might catch the attention of a police car or taxi and muggers don’t like the middle of the street.

Once in Chicago in the loop area, I was walking very late at night and a mugger approached me. He got right next to me in front of me and grabbed one of my hands told hold me. He had his other hand inside his coat, he said, "I have a gun, man." He was shorter than me and looked more scared than I was. I pushed him and walked into the middle street of the street. We sort-of stared each other down and he said again, "I got a gun,man". But, he didn’t come into the middle of the street and eventually walked off.

The sane thing to do is probably not to walk dark streets in the wee small hours, but if by chance you find yourself in such a situation, you should be carrying billions, know what’s around you and regularly tip your "bodyguards" and if trouble is really lurking and there’s is no protection around, head for the middle of the street.

Reprinted with permission from Economic Policy Journal.

2012 Economic Policy Journal