Fight or flight

Over the last few weeks I’ve been riding my bike more. I took it out last night to pick up a to-go order at Lee How Fook (by far, my favorite Chinese restaurant in the city). It was around 7 pm, and the sun was coming down at that slanty angle that makes it hard to see more than an arm’s length beyond your nose. I had the food tied firmly into the white basket attached to the back of the bike and was negotiating the streets and sidewalks in the blinding light. As I coasted down Race Street, thinking how peaceful the city seemed and how much I enjoy the last summer when the streets empty out, movement to my right caught my eye.

I slowed down, trying to make sense of what was going on. It was a cluster of young men, all of whom looked younger than me. Two were on the sidewalk, feet pedaling in an attempt to gain traction, while the other’s held on to arms or bit of clothing. It took my brain several seconds to realize that what I was seeing was a fight. Two guys were being beaten ten feet from me and I had nearly come to a complete halt. Stunned and uncertain what to do, I gaped for another moment. Suddenly, a movement from the scrum of bodies seemed to be headed in my direction and I realized that I needed to get out of there as quickly as possible. I pushed down firmly on the pedals and left the fight behind.

I felt shaken for the rest of the ride back to my building. As I put my bike away and lifted the food out of the basket (unharmed although a little soup did spill) I realized that I had never before seen a fight. Growing up, I went to schools where students were more concerned with the status of their GPA than whether or not they had been disrespected. I typically travel the safest streets Philadelphia has to offer and when I happen to pass through the less savory neighborhoods, I do so in a car or in the protective company of friends.

The experience hasn’t left me permanently rattled or questioning whether I still want to live in the city (I love urban life and hope that I never have to chose to give it up). However, I do think it’s interesting that due to lack of experience, I did not initially recognize what was happening. That innocence has made me to realize there was a huge hole in my instinctual flight trigger.

I also hope that no one was permanently hurt. I didn’t even realize until after I was home and unpacking the food that maybe I should have called the police. Although knowing the Philadelphia police department, that probably wouldn’t have done anything.

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