A South Street steam grate

19Jun11

Maybe it was inevitable.

And it’s probably pessimistic to think that you’re bound to get jumped at some point, but living in Philadelphia for four plus years, and being the adventurer I am, I was probably naive to think that I could get by completely unscathed forever.

Justin and I finally put together the Wednesday night motivation to make it to an open mic at South Street’s newly opened (sort of) The Legendary Dobbs (as it turns out, a pretty phony knockoff tribute to the former J.C. Dobbs, which used to highlight the street). A night of drinking and barhopping eventually led us to Old City, where we set open the guitar case and busked on busy street corners, to a much more fulfilling response than the earlier open mic. A pitstop at The Kyber just before last call pushed us over the threshold from buzzed to drunk. Hungering for a cheap slice of late night pizza, we made the unguided decision to return to South Street to the infamous Lorenzo’s.

In reality, and I already was well aware of this fact, there are parts of South Street that just are not great places to be late at night. Many businesses close fairly early as the street seems to become a breeding ground for bored kids looking to cause a stir by whatever creative delinquency they can invent.

Justin and I obliviously walked from Lorenzo’s along the quieter sections of South at 2:30 am toward the Broad Street Night Owl bus. We passed few people for blocks, then passed a group of teenage-looking loiterers. Well, we almost made it past them.

In less time than I could blink, a forearm caught me under the chin, sprawling me out on a steam grate. My guitar case fell from my grasp to the street. I looked at Justin, who had apparently stumbled forward, reeling from a punch to the back of the head and quickly braced myself for whatever might remain of the onslaught. But as I wheeled around to defend myself, all I saw was the group of assailants jumping in a waiting getaway car. The screeching of tires on asphalt, and they were gone. All in a matter of what had to have been less than 15 seconds.

None of them made any attempt to steal money, cell phones, guitars or anything else, and they were clearly not interested in a physical altercation beyond a blindside swing at each of us.

What for?

It’s the one question that I’ve tried for days since the incident to answer. What did these “muggers” hope to accomplish?

The more I replay the faint blur of a memory I have of the fleeting attack, the more I get the impression that their motive goes no farther than sport. That it was literally just a sort of game for a few punks with nothing better to do on a Wednesday night. I’ve wondered how many others have been victimized in the same senseless manner. I’ve wondered if they had intentions for a bigger plan, then changed their minds, for whatever reason, at the last second.

As the pure rage I felt in the preceding days has cooled and allowed me to see the event in a clearer light, I still feel hardly closer to any kind of clarity. Was this truly just their idea of random “fun”?

I understand what I’m supposed to feel, under the given circumstances: relief. I’m supposed to, as everyone with whom I’ve discussed this has said, feel “lucky it wasn’t a lot worse.” and believe me, I do feel that way.

But the bigger part of me, the one who believes, hopefully not naively, that people are generally good by nature and should be given the benefit of the doubt is faced with sheer bewilderment.

I’m not going to visit South Street any less than I already do, which is not very often (it’s massively overrated, beyond Jim’s Steaks, Repo Records and maybe the TLA). Just maybe the next time, at 2:30 am, I’ll walk up Lombard or Pine, two much nicer, safer streets.

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One Response to “A South Street steam grate”

  1. 1 S.J. Dibai

    Don’t mean to be a preacher here. Just sharing the thoughts which came to mind as I read this.

    I wouldn’t say you should feel lucky that it wasn’t a lot worse. What happened sucks, and I’d say that’s how you should feel about it. But having grown up in violent neighborhoods and having to commute on public transit to and from a manget school, I know what it’s like to get hard-learned lessons in street smarts and in how cruel people can be towards each other. You have correctly pinpointed the mistakes you and Justin made: drank too much, walked in areas which you knew to be unsafe after certain hours (a decision influenced by drinking too much?). Not making these mistakes again does not guarantee your safety, but of course some choices are wiser than others.

    Now as for their motivation, who knows? You sure have good theories, but only they know what they were really thinking. A bunch of teenagers hanging around South Street at 2:30 AM are not convening a study group, that’s for sure.

    As for people being generally good by nature, an incident like this doesn’t mean you have to suddenly stop believing that. Sometimes, good people do bad things. These teens might just be angry and confused and they might just be acting out. Then again, maybe they just suck. This incident is getting you to question your beliefs, which is healthy because either your beliefs need to change, or they will come out of this stronger than ever.


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