I rode my bike down to a friend’s house tonight, to have dinner with a group of women with whom I used to eat lunch with every Tuesday when I worked at Penn. It was part celebration and part send-off as a couple people are either graduating or heading off to new grad school experiences.
This friend lives in a neighborhood adjacent to Center City, it’s being called the Graduate Hospital area (or G-Ho for short) and despite the soaring housing prices, it’s still sort of a transitional neighborhood. Safe, but transitional.
When I got to her block, I looked around for a place to lock my bike and realized that there weren’t many options. Spotting a metal pole holding up a handicapped parking sign a little ways down the block, I started talking towards it. A group of women and children were sitting out on their stoop, right by the pole I was heading for. Before I even got stopped walking, the older woman (who I presumed was the grandmother of the group) shouted at me, “Don’t you even think about leaving your bike in front of my house.” There was real venom and nastiness in her voice.
I startled and said okay. Then I asked, “Do you have any recommendations as to where I could lock it, there don’t seem to be too many places around here.”
“I don’t give a shit as long as it’s not here.” This came from one of the other women. By this point, they had all moved one step closer to me and were all nodding and uh-huhing.
By this point the unprovoked intensity of their meanness and hostility had made my eyes sting but I looked up at the woman who had first spoken to me and said something to the effect of, “I absolutely respect your right to tell me not to park my bike in front of your house and I’m certainly not going to argue with you about it, but all you had to do was ask.”
She seemed to soften for a moment and then her eyes hardened back up and she dismissed me with a flick of her hand. I had to walk around the corner and half a block up to find someplace else.
I understand why these women didn’t want me to park my bike there. This was their territory and they’ve watched as their neighborhood has changed and many of their neighbors have been pushed out by other people who look like me. They were just doing what they could to protect what they felt was theirs, even if it was just a patch of sidewalk. But it was really shocking to unexpectedly be on the receiving end of such anger.