Sunday, December 09, 2007

But aren't you scared?

I guess NaBloPoMo got me all crazy, what with two posts on the weekend.

Over the past few weeks, I've been putting in more hours than usual at work. We've got a couple of very big projects going on, and that's sometimes meant that I leave work closer to 6 p.m. than my usual pre-5 p.m. departure.

Do you know what the difference between leaving work at 4:45 p.m. and 6:15 p.m.?

It's dark.

As I've mentioned, my commute is atypical for Memphis. I walk to work. Until a few months ago, my walk was one city block, then I entered the safety of the well-guarded campus where I work, then was across a parking lot, across a street, then inside a building that is connected to my department (door to door, about 1500 steps). Road realignment and other construction projects have removed the back entrance from service (temporarily), increasing my commute to about eight blocks outdoors, six of which are not inside the campus. (Which, incidentally, has prompted more than one person to note that I seem to be losing weight. I think they may be correct.)

When I tell people that I walk to work, most people express envy, telling me that it must be nice to save all that money, to get exercise, and so on. But a few people, especially those familiar with my neighborhood, say something else. "But aren't you scared?" they ask.

Let's consider the dangers involved in my commute.

I cross two streets. I don't have a crosswalk or a traffic signal for either crossing, but the traffic patterns make for a safe trip across the street. I suppose there's potential for injury, but it's pretty slim.

I walk in a residential area and then on the sidewalks along busy streets. Streets with plenty of car traffic but little foot traffic.

What should I be afraid of?

I'm not afraid of being hit by a car, or even a bus. I know how to look both ways before crossing, and I give myself plenty of time to wait for a safe opportunity to cross. I suppose there's the outside chance of a driver losing control of a vehicle, but those kinds of freak accidents are freak accidents, and I don't spend time worrying about them. (Plus, I'm just as likely, if not more so, to be injured while driving in a car in such a situation.)

Oh, I know.

I should be afraid of the people who are on foot. The people walking to the bus terminal, to a bus stop, to somewhere, wherever that may be. People who don't, for whatever reason, probably economic, have the use of cars. People who might be pushing shopping carts full of aluminum cans or their personal stuff. People who might ask me for a dollar.

Wait a minute.

I'm one of them, right? Because I'm walking, too.

Almost fifteen years ago, right before we got married, Craig and I bought a house in Cooper-Young. The neighborhood, at the time, was in transition. It had had some bad years, resulting from the growing suburbs beckoning to young families. When the solid middle class abandoned the area, things got dicey, and crime rates soared. The crime was diminishing, businesses were moving in, and Craig and I (wisely, I might add) saw a great opportunity to buy a house that would easily appreciate in value (it did, more than we thought it would have).

At the time, Craig was working at a video store, often working nights, and I was alone in the house a lot. And I was mostly fine with that. I would often walk from our house to the neighborhood coffee shop (we just had one car), and I frequently made that walk alone, in the dark. Maybe that was stupid. Maybe I should have been afraid. But it never occurred to me to feel anything but confidence. I was in my neighborhood, on my street, surrounded by my neighbors.

Maybe I'm still stupid, if that's what I was then. Because I don't feel scared walking in my neighborhood. I don't feel scared walking past the construction parking lot (I've gotten to know the men who work there, and I tend to think they're looking out for me). I don't feel scared walking on the sidewalk on a well-traveled street, especially when I can see homes owned by my hairdresser, by other people I've gotten to know by living here.

I'm walking in my neighborhood. If I'm scared to do that, then why the hell should I live here?

I might just be a little sad when my walk gets short again. Maybe I'll keep taking the long way home.


kalisah said...

I couldn't agree more. How can Memphis ever become a walking city if people are too afraid to get out and walk? I don't think you can live your life scared. Live it smart - be aware of your surroundings, etc. - but you just can't live scared.

alan said...

having been nearly mugged on our front steps in the spring, and having had 4 murders and 2 non-fatal shootings within a block of our house, I worry about walking in certain directions at different times of day. But getting on the bike solves that pretty quickly.

I keep thinking about getting a can of pepper spray, but I keep not doing it...

Candy said...

Good for you! None of us walk enough, and I do envy you.

We haven't locked our front doors in the 15 years we've lived in our house. (OK only occasionally when I've been alone and scared by some stupid movie my kids made me watch.) I always say, if someone wants in they'll find a way in. A locked door isn't stopping anyone. And I would rather have more faith in my fellow man than that.

Stacey Greenberg said...

I'm walking in my neighborhood. If I'm scared to do that, then why the hell should I live here?


people joke about my hood all the time, but i love it.

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