One Week Ago
Appointment in San Francisco. I've voiced my dislike of urban cacophony elsewhere, but work, as always, supercede my personal preferences. Kyrie Eleison down the road I must travel, and all that, neh?
Between my destination and parking spot stretched a six-block span of Bad Neighborhood, a rundown maze of graffito-festooned vertical surfaces and street litter marinated in broken syringes. A guy in a suit and briefcase stands out here like pork chops at a Passover feast, and on instinct, I go into the standard urban-defense 'walk-quickly-without-looking-like-you'r
I saw them before they noticed me - a group of thuggish-looking twentysomething males loudly trading jibes and profanities. My side of the street, of course; I was on track to walk right by them, and by the time I processed the scenario, I was on their radar as their loud banter dropped to a barely audible mumbling. With six pairs of eyeballs quietly sizing me up for the kill, crossing the street to avoid them would be just the sort of display of weakness that would invite a response.
I imagine the thought bubbles over their heads -
"What's in that briefcase?"
"How much money is he carrying?"
"Can he be intimidated?"
"Would he fight if he's cornered?"
Being me, I knew the answer to those questions were, respectively:
My PowerBook, Palm Pilot, Mont Blanc pen.
About $150 in cash, and $500 in Travellers' Cheques (Stupid. I know, I know. Shut up.)
Under the right circumstances, yes.
Absolutely, though I doubt my lapsed martial-arts experience would do much against six assailants.
High payoff, low-risk target. Isolated street with no witnesses. By a hellish trick of memory, I remember a story I read a few weeks earlier about a man in Oakland who was killed for the forty dollars in his billfold while six heads swivelled slowly as I approach their position ... and my god, I could feel the thunder of my pulse in my skull. Ba-bump. Ba-bump. Ba-bump.
The only variable I could change in those seconds was their perceived risk in approaching me - I drop my free hand in my coat pocket and gave the group a quick look and perfunctory nod, before walking by, cursing myself for leaving home the folding knife I usually carry. Ba-bump. Ba-bump. Ba-bump.
At this range, I could identify the alpha of the group; the others sneaking glances at him for the 'go' signal but he makes no move. As the wheels in his mind spin and calculate, his eyes told his conclusion. Too much trouble. Wait for someone easier.
The moment passed, and with that, I get to my destination without further incident. At the end of my meeting, S turns to me and asks "Hey, you have any trouble finding this place? I know parking's a pain in the a-"
"Next time," I interrupt. "Next time, we meet in my office, ok?"