Trust Me on This One
There is a parking lot near my place that I deemed “shady” as soon as I moved in. There’s a doughnut shop, a pharmacy, a couple of ethnic bakeries, and an office supply store that repeatedly reminds customers that they are unwelcome and distrusted (“Restroom is for customers only!” “Do not bring backpacks into the store!” “Do not exit through the entrance—alarm will sound!”). In this particular parking lot, there are always groups of men, who are invariably aimlessly standing around, shooting the breeze, whistling at women passing by. Walking near them has always set off some alarm bells, or woman’s intuition, or bad juju in me, so I instantly regretted my decision to jaywalk across the street to run another errand; I would have to stand, and wait right next to them until the cars stopped coming.
Street smart women will recognize that, in general, it’s a terrible idea to walk past groups of men who are not there for an obvious reason, like waiting for the bus, or day-laborers hoping to be chosen for a job. Most of the time, these men are up to no good, and should not be trusted. In the best of circumstances, they’re drug dealers and (probably) aren’t interested in you, or you’ll be heckled and in the worst cases possibly become another unfortunate blip on the local police department’s radar for violent crime statistics in the area. I’m well aware of all of these things, and they keep running through my mind as I avoid eye contact, and stare at the oncoming cars, with my hand clutching my bag, wondering where my pepper spray was when I needed it.
"Pssst." One of the men is trying to get my attention, which I pretend I don’t hear. "Psssst!" The man becomes more urgent. "Meees!" I ignore him. "Meees! Don’t DO it!" This is different from the usually flirtatious and aggressive flair these guys have demonstrated before. Now I’m interested, and I turn my head. "Meees, you should walk at the stop light, don’t walk here." I look over at the traffic on the other side, and see that the coast is clear. I point to the cars that haven’t started coming my way, and tell him that it’s safe. He shakes his head. "Look," he says, "there’s a cop right there by the gas station. He’ll see you, and you’ll get a $200 ticket.” Sure enough, there was a member of LA’s finest, strictest police force I’d seen, the kind who interrogate people sitting outside of buildings, and who slow down when they see me walking to the metro. I’d be $200 poorer and a good deal more distraught if the man hadn’t alerted me. I thanked the man for his help, and started walking down the street to cross at the light. It turns out, at least in my corner of LA, that there are still some neighborly neighbors who will help you out for nothing in return. As I was passing him, I glanced down at what the men were excitedly fixated on this whole time. Was it drugs? Wrinkled 1970’s porn magazines? It was a chess game.