Dealing with crazy and violent people as a routine daily chore is very much an urban thing.
We know there are violent psychotics in rural as well as urban settings, because from time to time there is news of someone out in the sticks running amuck and shooting a bunch of his neighbors. But such people and such encounters, more common in the country than before because of the spread of methamphetamine, are still legion only in the city, where facing or avoiding dangerous freaks, supplied like props from central casting, is a skill all experienced urban hands have mastered.
I expected that kind of confrontation during yesterday's big adventure, when I rode buses downtown to the Westlake Tunnel to buy a senior citizen's bus pass. But the Westlake Tunnel was full of "normies" -- nobody scary in there. It's a pleasant, attractive place decorated with bright murals, where buses move in and out like taxicabs, alternating with beautiful, long white trains, which glide to a stop silently then, seemingly without effort, glide on like benevolent ghosts.
Returning to Northgate by the way I'd come, I stopped by Barnes and Noble to buy a book, and decided to walk the two miles home. No dangerous encounters so far. But then, when almost home, on 109th about a block west of Aurora Ave., there he was, standing in the intersection threatening passing cars with a length of pipe. The sound of his voice hollering at drivers who ignored him, avoiding eye contact as they wheeled past, told me that alcohol was playing its usual part in this loser's psychosis.
I avoided eye contact too, but decided not to cross the street to evade him, which would have signaled fear. Instead I tightly gripped the handle of the briefcase I was carrying as I walked within a couple feet of him. It contained three fairly large, heavy books, which if swung at arms length would broadside a human head with enough force to take an assailant off his feet. But he ignored me since I wasn't driving, and possibly because I didn't show any signs of intimidation.
That's always the first rule of such encounters: don't ask for or initiate a confrontation, but show no fear.
Illustration by Mark Khaisman: translucent packing tape on clear plexiglass.