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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Cautionary Tale on Chocolate City

In the late '80s, I spent a lot of time in DC. Sometimes my friends and I drove into the city, sometimes we rode the rails.

It was a dangerous time. Crack was king and go go was its theme song. But nevertheless, we navigated the bowels of the city from F Street NW to Southeast, from Georgetown to Dupont Circle, but this was all done with an err of caution.

Age was on our side back then. Danger was there for sure, but we were either impervious or felt invincible.

My last few trips to DC have shown me that the city I love has changed.


For better and for worse.

Places that were once "sketchy" have now been gentrified and overrun with entitlement. And this must clearly breed resentment. But that's a tale for another time.

One last thing before I share my story: If you are on the subway, after midnight, alone, and passed-out drunk you increase your chances of being a victim.


On Saturday night I went to the Black Cat on 14th Street with my girlfriend because the DJ in the back room was doing an '80s Night. She likes her Erasure, Depeche Mode, Cure, and Tones on Tail. Like is actually an understatement. I confess I love me some '80s tunes too. Yaz? Yessir. The Smiths? Hellz yeah!

14th Street in my day was the domain of pimps and prostitutes. Now it is a haven for twentysomethings to burn off steam after a long week of work. A Metro stop that nobody wanted to get off at is now a stop that everybody gets off at.

The sidewalks? Crowded. The clubs? Lines to get in. The food joints? Busy.

The night waned on.

Hot, sweaty, tired (and broke, the city is expensive!) we left and headed back to catch the train.

While waiting on the platform, a train going in the other direction pulled into the station. There was a commotion. We saw a gaggle of black teens cornering someone. I saw fists flying. I heard voices screaming.

And I reacted.

As the doors opened I ran onto the train. "Chill the fuck out!" I yelled, pushing bodies away. I saw two Latino guys sitting down. A gaggle of black teens throwing punches. One of the teens, a female, is pulling at his ear buds. "I want that fucking phone!" she screamed. "Get the fuck back," I said as I pushed both male and female teens forcefully in the chest. Several of them scattered but two stayed close. One was the girl who wants the phone. The two Latin boys were now on their feet. One of them pulled a knife. The teens, seeing this, scattered to the back of the train.

The door to the train closed. The train lurched forward. Suddenly my good samaritan deed seems like a bad idea. Because now there was no escape. It was me, the victims and the perps all in one car with no one else. Anything could happen. I walked in front of the Latinos. They knew I saved their asses, if only temporarily. I headed towards the crew who were throwing punches. I scanned both sides of the train to see who was sitting on the subway. To see who didn't step up and stop this madness. I got the feeling this whole train is in on this shit. "Don't do anything stupid!" I yelled out to no one in particular.

The door opened at the next stop. I got off and waited to catch the train back to where my girlfriend was waiting on the platform. Several of the punch-throwing group got off at the other end of the train. They eyed me from a distance on the platform. I stared back with a "You want to bring it, bring it," look.

There were no words nor actions on their end.

I caught the next train back and met up with my girlfriend Sonnie, who confessed, "As soon as that door closed on you, I felt sick. I thought I might never see you again."

Ironically, both our cell phones had just about died. Three more minutes or less and we would have been unable to communicate. I had enough juice to text her that I was OK and heading on the next train back.

We hugged.

I started to question my actions. I could have been stabbed, or shot, or beat up. But then I realized if it happened all over again I'd probably do the same thing. In a heartbeat.

What would you do?

The m.o. in the above video is the same, but is not actual footage from my experience. But oh so frightening similar.