One of the many mantras at Burning Man is ‘safety third.’ The first time I heard it, I couldn’t stop cracking up. I was enamored with the saying.
I’ve never been one to focus on safety.
Speed limits? What speed limits?
Seat belts? Fuhgedaboutit.
Street sweep cleaners? Yeah, try to hit me!
Hence the poor driving record and probation.
The same mindset with driving parallels other aspects. I don’t mind travelling by myself. While my female friends were nitpicky about safety when choosing housing, I never cared. I mean, I friggin bought a condo one block away from the projects. I try to be carefree and fearless about those kinds of things.
Last year, I got caught driving amidst gang warfare in Potrero Hill. The bad part of Potrero Hill. Those stupid state streets (Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Alabama) have no fucking rhyme or reason. They should be alphabetized! Whoever planned out those streets should be forced to relive the driving nightmare I experienced. I’m useless when it comes to navigation. I have no sense of direction. I made a wrong turn here, wrong turn there. I tried to backtrack.
I found myself behind a line of cars. I wondered what was going on. Why traffic in the middle of the night in a neighborhood? Maybe some house party? Maybe an underground rave? It was a Tuesday night. Several cars trailed behind me and parked. The cars in front of me had also killed their ignitions. Our cars were all parked in the middle of the street. Tough black guys exited their cars, joining forces with others who were just arriving. They were screaming obscenities. About half a block in front of me, they formed a nucleus of approximately 50 people. It was continuing to grow by the minute.
Mine was the only car with lights on, engine running. More people were arriving. This time with baseball bats. OH SHIT! That’s when I really started to freak out. I couldn’t kill the lights, shut the car off, and hope it would pass.
All I knew was I wanted out. NOW. It wasn’t the best decision.
I slowly drove my car out of formation. It was a mob scene. The nucleus had grown to what must have been over 100. Maybe 200. People were still streaming in. I was in their way. I tried to inch my way out. My car windows were rolled shut. I waved and mouthed, “Excuse me. On my way out. Excuse me.” I tried to be polite. I thought if I was polite, maybe I could summon my inner Moses and part the Red Sea. It would take a miracle.
Those in my way did not take too kindly on me getting in THEIR way. “What the fuck, bitch?”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” I mouthed. “Trying to get out.” Inches turned into feet. I was making progress, but slowly. It was tough with people surrounding me in all directions as they made their way to the nucleus and the imminent fight.
Finally, I had made my way out of the crowd. Fewer people were trickling in. But a few guys were in my way and they knew it. I think they sensed the fear on my face. One of them did a dance in front of my car, stopped, and folded his hands across his chest. It crossed my mind that I might have to run him over to get out.
I sat there. I didn’t know what to do. And I was certain an ‘excuse me’ wouldn’t work with this guy.
Moments later, the fight broke out. I glanced over. The nucleus had become enraged. People were shoving, fighting. Baseball bats came crushing down. I looked in front of me and the guys were gone. I floored it and flew down the street.
That was a year ago in the middle of the night. I don’t get scared often. But yesterday, I had that same helpless feeling. I was feeling good and happy. I wanted to trek around the city, take pictures, revel in the sunshine. No place in particular to go, I found myself downtown. I thought of the new Westfield shopping center. I circled around for parking. Nothing. I went one block further down. Tenderloin territory. Lots of empty spots. It was shady; suspects loitering around. No wonder people refuse to park here–it was only two blocks down from Nordstrom’s, the Westfield, BART, the Gap. I circled around again and again, hoping a spot would free up closer to Union Square.
Forget it. What’s the big deal. I’m a grown up. I can park in that area. It’s two blocks away! I drive a shitty car. I have nothing to worry about.
I calmed my nerves and went for it. I got out of my car and immediately crossed the street. I wanted to get away from the people lingering near my car. I kept telling myself it was just two blocks. Two blocks to safety. Men whistled, “Hey baby,” as I walked by. I pretended not to notice. No wonder people don’t park here. It’s a dangerous scene. Dangerous even in broad daylight.
I returned two hours later with two shopping bags in tow: Macy’s and Nordstrom’s. ‘Hey, look at me. Plenty of loot here. I’m made of money.’ What was I thinking? I dreaded the walk to my car. Two long blocks. I seriously considered asking someone from the restaurant Farmer Brown’s to escort me to my car. I should have, but I didn’t. Instead, I powered on. I had taken a risk. Hoodlums lined the street. Two of them pissed along the sidewalk.
I tried to act like it was no big deal. A walk in the park. I was one of them, chillin in the ‘hood. I swung open my car door and tossed my shopping bags inside almost instantaneously. Next, I jumped in, slammed the door shut, and locked. Three seconds tops.
I’ve been lucky, or (as I like to think of it) blessed. I figure I might as well quit while I’m still ahead (alive). The ‘safety third’ mantra must end. Recounting these stories makes me realize that I need to make safety more of a priority. Perfect timing especially with the upcoming travel.