So I was recently in Atlanta Georgia for a week. As is my habit, I did not rent a car as my schedule was packed and I would not really have any opportunity to do any recreational traveling anyway. I do just fine on foot and using public transport (Atlanta’s MARTA system is top notch and can get you pretty much anywhere you need to go in the city). As a result, I wound up walking a lot in the evening to go get something to eat.
I am not a particularly timid traveler. Never have been. I have some faith in my fellow man, believing that 98% mean me no harm, and the other 2% generally don’t see me as a target as I am just shy of 6 foot, weigh a little under 200 lbs and do not look like I am particularly flush with cash. Most folks on the street assume I am a biker.
So one evening after having a pleasant meal I was walking back to my hotel. I passed through a “questionable” area… Empty field on my right, graffiti littered warehouses to my left, a bit of trash here and there but not a soul in sight.
I was a bit distracted due to one of my core weaknesses- I was looking for critters. I may have been in the city proper, but I had seen all sorts for things we don’t get up North. Saddleback Caterpillars, Flying Squirrels… I was hoping that I might get lucky and see some other creatures as dusk was falling. The field to my right was perfect. I was walking slowly and scanning for tiny movement.
It was because of this that I did not notice someone approaching from behind. He came up suddenly between myself and the field.
An African American youth…somewhere in his late teens/early 20’s. Dressed in white shorts, a white tank top and hi-top tennis shoes. He was thin…Maybe 140 lbs at the most and around 5’9″. Please do understand, I only mention his race as I believe it was the weapon he was depending upon for the task he had at hand. It was the only one he had,
“Hey man…You gonna give me 10 bucks?” as he fell into step beside me.
I turned my head to look at him. “Um…No. I don’t even have $10 on me…And even if I did, why would I give it to you?”
He stepped quickly in front of me, turning to look me in the eye. I stopped short, just a foot in front of him.
“To make sure you make it through this neighborhood safely…”
I did my best to assess the situation. I had seen no one else in this stretch. He was alone…I was sure of that, otherwise he would already have backup at his side. If he had any sort of weapon, I would have seen it or at least the outline of it through his clothes. He was unarmed.
I took a deep breath before looking slowly to my left, then to my right.
“I don’t see anything around here to be scared of…” Then I took a sudden step forward with an alpha male chin jut. This brought me abruptly about two inches from his nose.
I growled “Do you?”
He stumbled backwards, tripping a little over his feet. I took another step forward.
“I don’t think I’m the one who should be scared…” My voice was low, quiet and very controlled as I rolled up the sleeves of my T-shirt still walking towards him.
He was backing away at a more rapid pace and starting to turn away. “F*** you man…Just F*** you…”
He turned fully, walking away at a fast pace. He swore at me in Spanish, half under his breath.
I laughed quietly before calling out : “Habla Espanioles, Idiota…vámonos…” as I continued walking towards him.
Two steps later he was actively running. Soon he was out of sight.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
Now…What did I learn from this? What did it remind me?
1- Even I need to be more aware of my surroundings. No matter how cool the critters are.
2- Always stay calm and assess the situation. Stay calm and you will make it out ok. Panic just makes things blurry.
3- I can still give people nightmares when I need to. It was good to be reminded of that. I forgot how good it feels.