Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Upping my vigilance

I got mugged a long, long time ago. And for years afterwards, I was scared to walk in the dark. Or I'd hear a quick footstep behind me and my heart would start racing.

It took me a number of years to get past it. And even after I stopped having the visceral reactions, I walked around with an increased awareness of my surroundings. And an increased suspicion of men.

I also started listening to my gut instinct, no matter what other people might say about a situation.

But as I said, it was a long time ago, and while I'm careful when I'm walking alone in the dark, for the most part I feel comfortable in my areas of DC and don't spend a lot of time thinking about safety.

Well, I didn't. Until Monday.

So. Since Monday was sunny, I decided to go for a run at lunch.

I don't usually go out running with my iPhone, but I was waiting for a call and so I carried it with me, using it as an iPod.

And there I was, all running along, enjoying the sunshine and the pop music in my ears when all of a sudden a hand grabbed my left hand - the one carrying the iPhone.

He was quick and deliberate, and if I'd had a looser grip, I'd have dropped it. As it was, I was so startled to be grabbed that I pulled my hand in towards my body. And screamed.

If you have never heard me scream, it is a very high pitched, girly screamy scream.

The guy ran about 10 steps ahead of me, crossed the street, and looked back.

I looked to my left, which is where he was looking, and there was another guy about the same age, right next to me.

As I was already running, I kept going. I sprinted around the corner, stuck my phone in my bra, and headed back towards my office.

Both guys were bigger than me, and if they'd wanted to wrestle the phone from me, they could've without great difficulty. I assume that the first guy wanted me to drop it, and the other guy would pick it up.

So technically, nothing really happened.

But what it did was underline how vulnerable I am, even at 12:30 pm on a Monday, in a decent neighborhood. I was on T, just about to hit 17th. There was nobody else on the street in those moments, but it's not a deserted area.

Maybe this kind of thing, where you get scared but you don't get hurt, is a good lesson.

I hate thinking that I need to walk around vigilant.

But maybe as a small woman, I do.


  1. Yikes. Scary. But I guess when you live in the city, vigilance never hurts. So glad you're OK.

  2. I'm really, REALLY glad you're okay.

    I'm not a small woman - I'm taller, and in better shape than many guys I know. And I still shy away from running outside when there's not likely to be anyone around.

    I think I'm going to get you a running tshirt that says NRA on the front, back, and sleeves in GIANT, right-wing-y letters. Okay?

  3. Holy crap, that's horrible!!! You know, there's a running top that has a pocket up on the boobage area where you can stick your phone. I can't get away with that bc of the humongous tatas, but I bet you could. I always see it at running expos, I'll be on the lookout for the name of it, if you're interested, when I go to VA Beach this weekend to run the Shamrock half.

    A few years ago, a woman got raped at 1pm on a Sunday on a trail here in Arlington (Barcroft Trail). It was less than a mile from my house, and I had ran it on the same day at noon. I never forget that it could have been me, if I had just left a bit later. Since it's a paved trail in the woods, I assumed it was in the wooded area, but when I saw the news report, it was right by the picnic tables, in the open area! Scary. At the time, I looked into buying pepper spray but never got around to it. I usually run with people though, but I know that by myself, having long hair in a ponytail is a bad thing in those situations -- that's how they can grab you and stop you dead on your tracks. Short hair is a plus for safety!

    Glad you're ok.

  4. Oh no! I'm so glad you're OK! I completely understand your feelings though, and I know how scary those events can be!

    I was eating lunch on a busy and sunny afternoon in downtown Portland, OR. A mentally disturbed homeless man came up to me and started threatening me with a HUGE walking stick (ever seen a quarterstaff..?) I yelled that I was going to call the police if he didn't stop threatening me, and looked to some male construction workers across the street for help. None of them moved. I eventually did call the police and that was enough to scare the homeless man away, but then the police never showed. I sort of lost faith in humanity at that point.

    Tiny women unite!

  5. :-(

    I'm glad you're okay. *hugs*

    Unfortunately, iPhone and iPods get stolen all the time. And it's not just a city thing. I know of them being stolen in this exact way in suburban malls, on hiking trails at national parks, and in all sorts of other locations where you wouldn't expect. Unfortunately, they resell well, and those white headphones stand out.

    As for the rest, you do have to go with your gut and be cautious and vigilant... I say that as someone who more often than not on the wrong side of that cautious judgement. Years ago when I first began noticing people going out of their way to avoid me on the street... it kind of hurt. Realistically, I can't really blame them, and I've sort of gotten used to it, but it still kind of sucks.


  6. I've never been all that vigilant about my safety, even when I lived alone in the city. But stories like this remind me that I should always be careful.

    I'm so glad you weren't hurt. Did you file a report or anything? Did you get a good look at the guys?

  7. Wow. How incredily scary! You certainly wouldn't expect that sort of thing in the middle of the day on 17th and T! Oy... I'm so glad you're ok.

  8. Lisa, I'm so glad you are okay. That is a very scary experience - to be caught off guard in the middle of the day while on a routine run. I hate thinking about this sort of thing, too.

    I run on a regional trail behind my neighborhood with my iPod all the time, there are other people around but not all the time...and pup Boston is with me but would probably roll over for a belly rub.

  9. I'm really glad you're OK, but I understand what it's like to feel like you do. I was followed off the train once, and I didn't notice it until I was near my apartment. I called the police immediately, but the guy (who was enormous) was able to get away.

    I just read a read this Op-Ed about Lara Logan, the CBS journalist who was assaulted in Cairo ( It really hit home for some reason, because we need vigilance, but we also need courage, too.

  10. gah, this makes my heart race just reading it. i would have screamed and then curled into a ball and cried... good thing your response was to run faster! if i lived in a city i'd probably have to carry mace at the least, i'm convinced this kind of thing would happen to me all the time.
    maybe you should invest in a taser? wouldn't that be fun : )

  11. damn, i can't believe that would happen in broad daylight like that. i'm sorry lisa, that must have been scary. i'm glad your responded the way you did! i was also mugged, held up at gunpoint, about 2 years ago and to this day can't walk alone at night without getting heart palpitations. especially if a man in a hooded sweatshirt is walking towards me on the sidewalk - i just about pee myself. i agree that when we have those close calls they are teaching us a lesson, to be more careful, but recently i feel like i'm being overly cautious and thus not having much fun. i can't seem to find a balance with this.

  12. I'm glad you're ok!

    I want to know more about phone holding top! I like to run with my phone so if I break an ankle or something, I could call for help.

  13. Hillary - That is SO scary. I don't know anyone that that has happened to. Ugh. You have definitely made me think I need to be more mindful when I put down my drink.

    Wendy - Thanks. I think that's true, whatever the city.

    Jennie - It is so true. You have to trust your gut no matter what. I think the best approach to whatever situation doesn't feel right is doing what you need to to feel safe.

    Jessica - Thanks, lovey. Yes, I think no matter what size and shape, running where there's nobody around is just foolish. I don't run in Rock Creek without Nick. I stick to city sidewalks (which clearly aren't as safe as I thought).

    And yes, that sounds kind of awesome! :)

    Carla - Yes, if you'd note the brand, I'd appreciate it (and so would the Lisa below)!

    As for your story - it's terrible and so scary. Just a matter of timing, because the person was just looking for a victim, and she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    I had read that about the long hair - so that's a definite plus for me. And I am getting some pepper spray. I am.

    Anonymous - The mentally disturbed homeless are so scary because you simply cannot predict what they will do. A friend of a friend got punched in the face and had her nose broken by a homeless woman who was hallucinating. As for the construction guys and police not responding, that would definitely make you lose faith.

    VVK - My colleagues told me that there's been a ton of theft on the metro. It's true that they're easy to resell. Maybe I will get different headphones. I don't love the ear buds anyway.

    And I can see how it would hurt your feelings, particularly since you're such a kind person...but I'd rather be in your position. I like knowing that when I'm out with Nick, the likelihood of anyone screwing with us is low. I've seen him turn on the angry and get into people's faces a couple times, and it is scary. I would like to have that ability.

    Stevie - I didn't file a report - didn't even occur to me. I got a so-so look at them, in that I could say what color they were and roughly what age and build, but not more than that.

    Luna - Thanks. And I know! It was right by the convenience store on that corner. It's not remotely secluded.

    HK - It's smart that you have your dog with you. Whether he would just roll over or not, the attacker doesn't know. So they wouldn't risk you - they'd choose an easier target. Go, Boston!

    Miss Dallas - That's terrifying. You read so many accounts of women being followed and then grabbed and assaulted in a less-populous place along the route. Thank goodness you noticed.

    As for Lara Logan - it's definitely courageous to speak out. It's also horrifying that most of the female journalists who are sexually assaulted just don't report it for fear of not being sent out again.

    jen - I used to have pepper spray - my dad insisted, and would give them to me on a regular basis - and I think I will get some. It's easy to carry in your hand and just not a bad idea. Although a taser would probably be very satisfying, I fear I'd be too tempted to tase random assholes...

    carly - I am not exaggerating when I say that there's probably some degree of PTSD (or something like it) after something so scary and traumatic like that. I remember that terrible heart racing feeling and the certainty that I was always in danger. It is awful.

    Lisa - You know, it's probably not a bad idea to run with the phone. I almost never do, but you never know when you might need it.

    Lynn - You are so sweet. Sorry to upset you. The thing is, this was a little 30-minute run on my lunch hour at work. I wouldn't have had a dog with me anyway. It's downtown, in an area with tons of foot traffic. Which just makes you feel like it could happen anywhere.

    Pepper spray. I am totally getting pepper spray and carrying it.

  14. God, Lisa. I am really sorry.

    You know where I live. One night I accidentally bumped in to someone at 1 am in our hood (it was crowded) and this woman went BALLISTIC on me.

    Nothing even really happened and it scared the holy hell out of me.

    I am glad you are ok.

  15. That is terrible, and terribly scary. Sometimes, humanity is beautiful. But sometimes people just suck.

  16. Oh my god, that is so scary! I'm so glad you're okay! Hooray for your lightning-fast instincts!

  17. Glad it didn't result in theft or injury--but it sucks that some thugs can errode a sense of safety we're all entitled to. I only hope next time they mess with someone they get the tables turned on them.

  18. Perhaps I missed it, but where were you when this happened?

  19. lexa - People get crazy late at night out partying. I'm so sorry that happened to you. Very scary.

    Keenie Beanie - Yes - sometimes humanity is amazing, and sometimes people super suck.

    Laura - It was weird. I don't think that feeling of being grabbed goes away, because I just had this knee jerk pull away and SCREAM reaction.

    Brando - Thanks, and yes, it sucks. But I think I've been walking around with this false sense of safety, since I feel good in DC and know where I'm going (most of the time) and am aware of where I am.

    Robert Walton - Almost the corner 17th and T NW, coming from 16th St.

  20. See?! This is why I never exercise.

    Seriously, though, I did not enjoy reading about this at all. I'm one of many who would be devastated if anything were to ever happen to you. Please be careful!

  21. I got jumped last fall in Arlington. It was night and I was walking along, I always thought Arlington was SO safe until that happened. It really makes you think twice.
    It's sad that there are horrible people out there that want to hurt others.

  22. I'm so glad you're okay. That must have been very frightening.

  23. the need for vigilance sucks. i was mugged in college walking up the steps to my apartment - the guy clearly didn't realize that i was 5' 11" - he didn't get my purse, but boy did he shake me up . . .

  24. Oh, LG! This is so scary! I'm glad you're ok, lady! Vigilant one must be, huh?

    A few years ago I was going for a run on my favorite trail, and was on my return leg after a very hard, hilly, 6 miler.

    I looked to the side of the path, and beneath a tree a strange looking man sat masturbating madly...just really having an awesome time of it.

    My first reaction was to run, of course, but my next one was to get really pissed. I mean, does anyone know how hard it is to get away for a run when you have two busy kiddos, are going to school and helping manage a law firm?? It's really hard!

    So my anger got me through it, but I know, and the first person I shared with who happened to be a friend/attorney recognized, the anger was masking fear.

    That stupid masturbating man had violated my time, my space, and my emotions with his actions.

    Your punk thugs did the same. Fortunately for you you lost nothing but your equilibrium, which you will regain, and when you do, you will be stronger and more observant as a result.

  25. oh sugar, scary... is it me or is the city feeling extra restless of threw a brick through the window of the restaurant next door to me last night,... a little girl and her dad were sitting in thee window eating dinner... best part...metro transit cops WATCHED the whole thing.. couldnt be bothered to get out of their car..when i said "hey there go the kids that did it"..he shrugged at me and said "its not my job"...anyway..yeah sooo glad youre ok ...i think we should ALLLLL up our vigilance...

  26. Yikes! And this is one of the many reasons I do carry concealed when I go for my walks. (And you know what? I'm trained on it - it's part of my job. Hell, I shoot in competitions for fun. I also live in a much more rural area)

    I think the pepper spray is a good idea. Better one? Going to a self-defense class and learning how to use that pepper spray effectively. If you don't know what you're doing, it's very easy to have that turned on you, thereby making you completely incapacitated. (MA, where I used to live, required education and a license before you were allowed to carry it - and it was damn good training). Plus you'll know what to do for those times you don't have it on you. I've heard good things about these folks, and they're in NW

  27. Unfortunately vigilance is a necessity nowadays, as is a certain amount of luck, which is out of our control... Though I do agree with Andie, a self defense class is a great idea. I started one a few months ago, it's slow going cause it takes practice to get the moves down but it helps me feel more confident and I got some great tips. (plus it's good exercise!)

  28. that is so messed up!

    i'm very glad you're okay.

  29. So glad you're ok. Take care.

    Btw, love the helicopter cuff links...and J's awesome fondness for huttas.

  30. Crap! I live at the intersection of NH and T, between 16/17th and I always feel safe when I'm south of U Street. Thanks for the reminder to keep my eyes open and not get lost in my iPhone.

  31. Not that it can't happen in South Dakota, but I think this is why I'm a small town girl. I'm so sorry. I would be forever flawed with that experience.


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