So last night, I decided to go for a run. Overlooking for a moment the fact that it was 'snowing' (I use that term loosely since it was mostly ice chunks and rain), and that it was about 36 degrees outside, I'd been cooped up in an overheated office with overheated workmates for too long and needed to vent some energy and get some air, even if it was frozen air.
I live in midtown Manhattan, on the East Side - what's considered a very safe neighborhood (or, as safe as it can be with millions of people literally living on top of one another). The few times that I've actually run in my neighborhood, I prefer to run north on Park Avenue because of the wide sidewalks (that are well-kept) and minimal pedestrian traffic. Third Avenue is more convenient, but the pedestrian density in front of the popular after-work bars is often challenging to navigate, and the twisting and dodging risks a broken ankle or full-body impact with someone who's had too many beers. Ew. Lexington has the shops and tourists who believe that walking down the street with their eyes closed is a good idea. And riding the subway to Central Park to run at night is just dumb.
I also have it worked out that 20 blocks is approximately a mile, so I can also easily keep track of how far I've gone. And overall, Park Ave. is a pretty good route that is only plagued with some slight inclines around 68th street - but it only lasts about two or three blocks.
Of course, the last few times I've had the bizarre urge to go running, I went during the day. This was the first time I was going to jog at night, and honestly, I thought nothing about it. Until I called the elevator. When I got in the elevator, I asked the doorman if he could hold on to my key, because I was going running. And I told him my route - go up Park Ave, and then come back down Park Ave. At least this way, someone will know where I am, right? (See? I'm not totally clueless.)
To this commentary, my doorman looked me up and down (in my uber-baggy ripped sweatpants, lint-laden hoodie, bad-hair-inducing wool cap, and super-cozy and super-unstylish mittens) and said to me worriedly "Do you think that's safe?"... and then, before I could reply, he shook his head and said, "Oh, never mind. You'll be fine. You take karate."
I take karate. And therefore it's okay for me to be on Park Avenue alone on a Tuesday at 8:30pm in my sweatpants with uber-ugly hat hair. And if I didn't take karate, would it be unacceptable? It's a compliment, I think, for people to be watching out for you and telling you to be careful... and that they worry enough about you to warn you of what they think may be unsafe situations. But the interaction got me thinking... what if I didn't take karate? Would I therefore be unsafe? More or less at risk?
I kept track of who I passed along the way. There was a fine selection of upper-East-side fare, including the piddling mini-grannies with their matching mini-dogs; the dapper couples out for a stroll after dinner in long furs and clippy-clop high heels; groups of businessmen finishing up post-work networking cocktails, walking in long-wool-dress-coat herds towards a subway or Grand Central to tardily join in the commute; a few boxed-up homeless folks that were sleeping in stair alcoves in front of churches. So far no one who deserved any karate-chopping.
I did pass two other runners, and we nodded at one another, acknowledging that a) we were committed to our health, and b) we were stupid idiots to be running in the freezing rain. The only people that actually said anything directly to me were the more-than-a-few doormen standing bundled in front of East Side high-rises and hotels who told me to "go for it" or asked me "who are you racing?" One guy in front of the Bentley car display window asked - as I passed - if I could buy him a car. (I told him I'd forgotten my wallet.) But heck, there aren't even any bars on Park Avenue for drunkards to come out of and bother people. It's just not that kind of Avenue.
But after running for a few dozen blocks, I couldn't help but realize that if someone came up behind me with their mind set on clocking me over the back of the head with a tire iron, no amount of karate training could possibly do anything about it. After all, if I'm unconscious on the pavement at 72nd street and Park Ave., karate isn't going to do much to help me out. Perhaps there would be a few puzzled faces at my funeral saying things like "It's too bad they never taught her any moves when it came to people attacking her from behind with a tire iron on Park Avenue" or speaking in low tones saying, "Which karate studio did she go to? I don't think I'm going there...")
But this really comes down to my observations about 'safety' in New York City. Sure, there are some truly stupid things to do, like taking out your wallet and counting your twenties on the subway at 3am. Or picking a fight with a man who is muttering nonsensical profanities on a street corner. Or trying to jump a taxi line by going 1/2 a block further up from the person that's been trying to flag a cab for 15 minutes. Now those are the ways to get hurt in NYC. (Not that I want to seem insensitive to those who do get into trouble, like the woman who was raped in her apartment last week. I am certainly aware of these things as a single woman in New York, and I think here, one is more cautious purely out of habit. After all, when someone approaches you on the street in New York City and says "How are you today?", the first reaction is "What do you want, and why did you pick me, and if I ignore you will you go away? And if not, I can claim self defense, you know." If this happened in pretty much any other part of the country, the response would more likely be, "Fine, how are you?" It's just the way the city works.)
But the true threat comes from the taxis running yellow lights, and potholes that can suck you and your ankles down faster than quicksand in the Amazon basin, and the buses who apparently think that pedestrians have point-values in some twisted video game. There are the few people who try to "get out of your way" by dodging right into your path, or the tourists who stop short in front of you to do some window shopping. Running at night as rather satisfying, knowing that you're ending your day with something healthy, and allowing yourself to vent out the frustrations of the day by sweating a little bit. I found the whole experience rather soothing, to be honest. All in all, the most terrifying part of my evening run was when one woman at a corner nearly poked my eye out... with her umbrella. But there was nary a tire iron to be found... and I was looking.
On a plus side of the training regimen, adding a bit of paranoia and fear to your running routine does up your pace a little...