Today, this afternoon, I was almost mugged. I had just received an amazing massage from a massage therapist I am going to (in the attempts to heal from a lot of the energy my body feels besides the needed, regular therapy from dancing a lot) and decided to walk home after the bus wasn't coming. I haven't owned a car in over 10 years, and I get around by foot or public wheels or rails.
I could have easily called Uber, but after an experience yesterday--of appreciating the bus and receiving the gift of waiting and adjusting my concept of "now"--I decided that I could walk home and visit my favorite whole market florist along the way.
I was walking through my ol' hood when I had this strange feeling that I was being followed (very different than someone just walking behind me). I sort of glanced back, but one thing I've learned in San Francisco is that you just sort of "do your thing" on the street. You ignore the people urinating (homeless or not), turn your gaze from the naked folk or obscene posters, and decline making eye contact with folk when they're harassing you. In other words, I've learned that you just "keep going".
But today, I learned a lesson (thankfully, safely). I learned there is an addendum to my street rule: you do look at people but you pick and choose.
I didn't fully look behind me because (a) I didn't want some stranger (that I hadn't seen) to think I was racist...a subconscious thought I admit to having. I fear so much someone will think I am racist because I may take precaution and look (when it has nothing to do with the color of one's skin to me) and (b) I was implementing my learned street vibe: to play cool and chill.
After sort of looking, like sort of stopping at a stop sign, I rolled right through and kept walking after seeing no one. Of course, I couldn't have seen anyone because I didn't really look behind me. I saw my reflection in the cars' windows parked on the street.
But my senses were more alert after that. I can now articulate what my body, mind, and spirit...my being...were absorbing: I was entering a very deserted part of the block (where there's an alley) and where there happened to be a bunch of cars parked acting like a wall. It went like this: cars, sidewalk, safe-house.
I was aware that my backpack was on the front of me and unzipped, but I was clutching it together in one hand (as I was eating chips in the other hand).
Then, that's when I felt the presence stronger. I didn't have time to think about looking behind me because the "pedestrian" came up right beside me, as if he was going to pass because he was keeping his stride, but awkwardly, he didn't. Like a bird, he hovered.
I instinctively walked slower to let him pass.
With the mid-block alley coming up on my right, and noticing a fat-ass suburban on my left--which felt like the thickest part of the wall about to enclose upon me--I had just enough lead time to glance over (he was now a hair ahead of me) and catch him eyeing my valuables inside my bag. Shoulder to shoulder, neck to neck, I also automatically took in his clothes unknowingly: greenish plaid short-sleeve shirt resting on dark arms on top of dark pants with dark eyes peering in. Very lean jaw. (Not for sure why I caught that, but my total-body-absorbing-knowledge did.) Decisively in that moment, I found myself cutting immediately in front of the suburban (the thought had crossed my mind to between the cars before it, but again, I didn't want the pedestrian to think something of me...). I cut the turn sharp and walked right into oncoming traffic. Purposefully. I knew it was the most immediate public place around me. I then walked counter to traffic towards an even more public place (where I could then stand on the side walk and feel safe). As I flanked left, he...flanked right.
All of this happened within about 3 seconds.
Walking back, counter to Bay Bridge traffic along the empty bike lane, I continued walking.
When I reached the my designated safe spot (a place near a shop and a bunch of constructions dudes), I got out my phone and dialed up Uber. The only thought I had was getting myself out of the area and not by walking. I hadn't thought of calling the cops because technically I didn't' think they could doing anything since "nothing" happened. In hindsight, I'm shocked that I didn't think of that--after all, aren't they there to protect citizens? Why hadn't I?
Meanwhile, I looked up again, and saw the guy walking back towards me. I saw him (and I couldn't help but think he saw me since he was looking my direction and walking right toward me), and I walked immediately into the shop behind me. (Now, if this would have been in the ring, my father and then-coach would have said, "Gotta fight back immediately to let them know they don't have control over you. They knock you, you knock them." With street stuff, my father would say it's a little different. "Just get the hell out of there and if there is a knife, be careful. It can be worse than a gun." All this to say, the guy might of thought I was afraid of him, seeing me just make eye contact with him and then duck into a shop... Maybe I was, but I also have learned that I don't have to fight aggression with aggression. The guy is Wounded, I don't need to be in his path. Though, later tonight, I did have two thoughts: what would have happened if I would have stayed on the sidewalk? Would I have said something to him and then watched my arms and legs do their thing in self-defense to his? Or rewinding and choosing a non-violence approach...what would have happened if I interrupted his poaching and simply said, "What are you doing?" I've been inspired by a Winkian, non-violence approach to situations that, interestingly enough, really diffuse fear-based encounters. Either way, all I know is that in the moment of going into the shop, I would like to think that I acted out of retraining myself not to attack everyone on the street who hypothetically will be aggressive toward me. That is how I have been trained. Hence, in part, the massage therapy to have a healthy dose of natural self-defense, not a paranoid one. Though I know my father and definitely his Japanese shihans would say otherwise...
Once in the shop, I asked for a kleenex because by now whatever adrenaline keeping me alive was now pumping through my tear ducts. And also my hands. I noticed they were quite shaky when trying to hold my phone and touch the Uber app. It took me a couple of tries.
Once in the car, and after making contact with my husband and determined to keep on with my plans (going to that whole market flower place), he asked, "Are you going to call the police?" Still, this had never come to mind. Because I thought it couldn't hurt, and because it felt like perhaps this could be a way to re-establish mental dominance, I decided to call 311 to see what could be done. I didn't think anything, but the woman on the phone encouraged me to actually file one a report just so that it was documented. So, I went to the closest police station at her suggestion. Interestingly enough, it was only a block away. How could I not?
So I went, however, at my request to file a report to a woman officer, I felt belittled initially (perhaps this is the reason why calling the cops never occurred to me--though I was surprised to receive this from a woman). After hanging up the phone to talk to her through bullet-proof glass, I watched her talk with her companions, who would occasionally glance my way with quizzical or puzzled eyebrows. When the officer came back, and asked, "Are you sure you want to file something? It's a dead end," I decided that this was an empowering action on my part, even if it meant that my voice would rest between files in a cabinet. So I did and accepted her trite response, "Okay...but it will take an hour."
Filing the report took about a half hour and during the process, the woman turned out to be helpful and a little reprimanding. Next time, call 911 immediately because they can send a dispatcher for "suspicious activity", with 30-40 minutes having passed, they can't (even though they have a description). When I clarified that point, she mentioned that they couldn't send anyone because nothing had happened (I wasn't assaulted), and it wasn't a crime to follow someone even though she got what I was saying... Puzzled, I clarified that I could call 911 immediately after the event and a dispatcher would be called for suspicious activity though nothing had happened...while 30-45 minutes later, nothing could be done--even with a description--because it isn't a crime to follow someone. She expressed an affirmative to all of that.
Letting go of that confusing rationale, I was grateful to see my husband meet me at the police station, as I reflected to myself the three lessons I learned that afternoon (thankfully safely): call 911 whenever I feel threatened, remember to trust my gut, and let go of what others may think of me, especially on the street. I know who I am and who I am not.