I dodged a bullet this morning, figuratively speaking… but it could’ve turned literal. It’s bothered me all day, as I really don’t have a real answer of how I slid out of it.
Our family stayed at the Hyatt Place River North in Chicago last night – a special, semi-local getaway as part of a promotion that I’ve been working on with Chevrolet… a promotion that will bring some much-needed cheer to some families in-need this holiday season. Helping others is a large part of what I do, but that does not mean that I allow myself to be shaken down by the countless “homeless” thugs that have crept back into downtown Chicago – a societal blight that was largely eliminated under the leadership of Mayor Richard M. Daley, and one that has made a swift return under the reign of Rahm Emanuel. As a kid in the 80s, Chicago was often a big, scary city – a dirty, unfriendly place with danger lurking around every corner. As I grew into adulthood, the City changed – the place got cleaned up, and it became bright, lively and clean. You could walk around Downtown and feel safe. In 2015, safety is a memory. That became 100% clear to me this morning.
Last night, as my wife and I made the walk east on Illinois Street – guiding the girls toward Lucky Strike where we would enjoy dinner and some bowling, we encountered the usual handful of panhandlers every so often. As we headed back west to the hotel, passing through one of the tunnels with Michigan Avenue overhead, two older males were tucked against a wall – shouting at two mothers who were swiftly moving with their children in the opposite direction. As we approached, they shifted attention to my wife, their shouts of “Hey!” turning into a gruff “Good Evening!” in order to start some sort of interaction as we kept moving.
This morning, not long before 9am, I got the girls situated in the hotel lobby and set out to get our car. We’d parked in a garage just a couple of blocks south, so coffee in-hand, I crossed Illinois Street and headed down Clark. I didn’t get very far until I started getting barked at from behind with what’s become the typical… a forceful and angrily-spouted “Good Morning!!” It’s a complete stereotype – I, the “white male,” being pursued by a thin black male in jeans and a blue & black windbreaker. He got closer and closer until he was next to me – rambling a ton of information in a very short period of time – all delivered with such an angry and hateful tone, presented to me – a person put in a spot that is completely undeserved. I have compassion for my fellow man, but I – nor anyone else – should ever be put in a position of feeling threatened by someone else… someone whose plight we didn’t create. What was said was disturbing, and it’s haunted me all day…
“Good Morning! White people keep calling the cops on me! I just wanna get something to eat for my kid! I stay at 79th street. I don’t wanna sell drugs! I don’t wanna use guns! I don’t wanna live in the hood! You gonna help me out or what? I’ve got 39 misdemeanors but no felonies and I’m just 30 years old! I can’t get a job! I can’t even get an interview! What are YOU gonna do to help me feed my kid?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t do anything right now,” I say, not about to stop and open my wallet – a wallet 100% devoid of any cash to begin with.
“Oh yeah? You just up and stole that coffee then?!!! You ain’t got no change to help me feed my kid? You worship the Devil or something! You’ll get yours! You gonna get your brains blown out down here.“
Over the years, I’ve been pursued and heckled by many people in many cities. I’ve been called all kinds of names for not offering a handout, but this is the first time that I’ve ever felt truly threatened, and it happened right here in “Sweet Home Chicago.”
If there’s any truth to what this guy was saying – I completely get being a dad trying to take care of his kids, I would do just about anything for my own. The problem with this scumbag, and others like him, is that while they have a struggle… we all have a struggle. I’ve been jobless. My wife and I did hit a rough patch some years back where we almost lost it all – even having to sell our home at the time (100% due to my own business mistake) and it took years to rebuild. What you don’t do is get ” 39 misdemeanors” and then complain about not being able to get a job. Everyone’s story is different, but it certainly sounds to me like the guy this morning more than dug his own hole. I continued walking as fast as I could, just trying to make it to the garage and get into the elevator without this guy following me in.
Why did he stop? I don’t know, as I completely expected him to attempt to mug me. The only thing I can think of that might’ve made him reverse and head back the other way is when I fully turned around for a split-second – right-fist clenched, ready to unleash 325lbs in his direction if it would be required to potentially save my own life. My family was waiting for me just blocks away. All the “what if’s” – what if it were my wife? What if the family was with me? What if it was someone else?
As I entered the elevator and pressed the #6, the time for the doors to shut felt like an eternity. Once upstairs, I got to the car, locked myself in and took a few deep breaths before messaging my wife and sending a tweet while everything was fresh in my head. I got back to the hotel, quickly got the family in the car (for fear of him lurking again) and sped off.
My would-be attacker said that “white people keep calling the cops,” and I can certainly see why – I almost did, too. Thing is, my own experiences with police (sans family and personal friends) have not been great. Whenever we’ve needed assistance, they’ve either been rude or absolutely useless. I don’t care what color you are – if someone threatens me, I will take action if I must.
Back here at home, I haven’t been able to get back into my groove without throwing down a few words as I’m doing right now – just saying something in my journal to get it documented and out there. I don’t know what the solution to this problem is, as it goes so much deeper than just one issue – but delves into that massive depth of homelessness, poverty, drugs, education, violence – a perfect snowball of horseshit.
What I do know is that I’m no longer comfortable taking my family downtown – and that a sense of unease will always be with me. I remember a few years ago when those “mob attacks” were hitting Michigan Avenue pretty frequently, and maybe now it’s just “the norm.” While it won’t solve the bigger issues, the streets of Downtown need to be cleaned-up again. It’s becoming the Chicago from ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING, and no one wants to visit there.