New Orleans Short Stories (2): The Mugging that Didn’t Happen
Short Story #2: The Mugging that Didn’t Happen
New Orleans has a serious crime problem.
Most of the time, in the areas most visited by tourists, visitors are safe. But crime is essentially a numbers game. If you play the take-a-risk roulette wheel long enough — that is, if you repeatedly put yourself into dangerous situations — the number “13” will eventually come up back to back and you’ll end up as the latest crime statistic.
I chance fate not because want to. But rather because I have to. I have no choice given the line of work that I do.
I’m up a weird hours, mostly in big cities, around casinos and bars and parking lots — or walking back to my hotel. I’m what you might call “the perfect target.” Except that I’m broke most of the time.
I’ve now been in New Orleans for 18 days. That means I’ve walked between the Harrah’s New Orleans Casino and the Sheraton 18 times. Most of my return trips took place between 3 am and 4 am. That’s when the demons are usually out on the streets making the prowl.
The danger zone is a late-night walk from the casino back to the hotel, which is about six blocks of small side streets. On these nights my only company are rats which openly scurry along sidewalks. The vermin try spend these late nights trying to rip inside trash bags and boxes piled up next to the street for the garbage collector which comes the next morning. The over/under on rats I saw each night was “3.5.”
I’m not afraid of rats. They can’t hurt you if you leave them alone. What I fear is people. Make that the wrong kind of people. More precisely, dangerous people. Like all big cities, New Orleans has some dangerous people up to no good.
Late one night in the middle of the week when things are a bit calmer and the craziness of the nearby quarter is dialed from a 10 down to a 6, I was walking up a narrow side street. It was dark and completely quiet. I always try to be aware of my surroundings, but sometimes situations come up that you can’t control.
Walking briskly in the middle of the block, I observed three people rounding the corner straight ahead and coming my way. As they got closer and I could see they were teenagers. Why would these teens be out wandering the streets at 3 am? They seemed to be whispering to each other. Moments later they fanned out. The youths were heading straight towards me.
I’m not paranoid, even though I know some people are out to get me. But I didn’t like this scene at all. There was no way to know if they had bad intentions. Nonetheless, I wasn’t going to just passively walk into a dangerous situation and not at least try and take some control.
Stop for a second and think about what you would do. No weapon. No way to defend yourself. Probably impossible to run away. What would you do?
The best defense can be a good offense. That’s a cliche, but it’s also true. In order to head off this potentially dangerous situation, I calculated that it was best to take control and throw the potential opposition a curve. The three youths were about 50 feet ahead of me when I decided to do something very unusual. Especially for 3 am on a deserted city street. It’s a self-defense technique I once saw on a crime prevention show on television.
Before they reached me, I shouted in a very loud voice towards the gang, “Hey! Do you guys know where the Sheraton is? I’m fucking lost!”
Perhaps it was human instinct. One of the youths pointed to the tall building that obvious just three blocks away. The SHERATON logo could plainly be seen from where we were standing. Next, another of the would-be attackers said to take a right at the next block and I’d soon be there.
“Thanks very much! You guys are great” I said — again in a ridiculously loud voice.
They kind of looked at each other, bumped against one another, and then began to walk again together right past me.
I got to thinking about the encounter afterward. I have no idea if those kids were going to mug me. I’d say it might have been 50/50. But by saying something very loud (alerting any one else that might have been around) and asking a question (causing them to instinctively want to respond and using a profanity, which is always somewhat shocking, especially when it’s hollered by a stranger in the the street), the potential attackers were distracted from their plan. I think that once one of the youths answered me, the others followed and a crime plan might have been foiled. Then again, maybe I was just lucky. I’ll never know for sure. And that’s fine with me.
If there’s a lesson here, it’s that creating a diversion in a way that didn’t show fear nor make any presumptions about them being criminals worked.
Coming Up: Another New Orleans Short Story