Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Different New York

Okay, I was waiting for Megan McArdle, a lifetime New Yorker, to tell us her story of being robbed in the city for the first time in her 33 years...but the story has so far never materialized so I'll tell you my own "Robbery and the City" story. I am frankly amazed that it took 33 years for her to get robbed in NYC, for me, it was a matter of about a week or so before I was treated to what used to be a typical New York experience. But my experience in New York was a different one than the experience one would have in the city today--it was the 1980's, pre-Rudy Giuliani and during the crack epidemic around NYC. I was 21, a graduate student at the New School for Social Research and fresh from Tennessee where I had lived on my own for 3-4 years prior, but had never been robbed at knifepoint.

I had moved into an apartment on 11th street and first avenue in Manhattan over a rat infested bakery--that is a story for another day--but my graduate school was in walking distance of my apartment or I could take the subway from sixth avenue back to first on the L train. After class one night around 9, the other students and I walked out, most of the class was going in the opposite direction and one gallant fellow even offered to walk me to the subway. I, of course, declined, not being used to asking others to walk me anywhere.

I made my way toward the subway, thinking about what we had discussed in class, not paying attention to the fact that I was passing Union Square park, where drug dealers and junkies congregated, but for the most part, they just asked you if you wanted weed etc. This night, however, one of the junkies was hiding in the shadows near a building and grabbed my arm, branishing a knife. If you have ever been the victim of a violent crime, most likely, you will remember everything happening in slow motion, at least I did. The black male told me he had killed other women and made it clear that he would kill me. I felt sick as I gave him my high school class ring and a birthstone I had worn since childhood as well as the money I had in my pocket. I had no weapon and no way to protect myself, in New York at that time, it was illegal even to carry mace. I felt not only exploited by this perpetrator but by the city as well.

The story ends well for me, I noticed the junkie was high and he seemed shaky and nervous. I saw a cab coming towards us and I jumped in front of it, figuring it would be better to be hit by a cab and go to the hospital than risk getting knifed. Luckily, the cab stopped before it hit me and I jumped in and asked the driver to take me home. I had no money and the cab driver cursed me, even when I asked him to stop at my bank (I had my bank card in a pocket). When I told him I had been robbed, his reply was, "that was your boyfriend, quit trying to put one over on me." "Wow", I thought to myself, "welcome to New York."

My roommate just laughed when I got back to the apartment and told her I was going to call the police to report the crime and she was right, no one took it seriously.

I still wonder sometimes if this thief ever hurt someone else who didn't get away. I blame myself for not doing more to have stopped him, but I am grateful that I got away that night without being physically harmed.

I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have lived in New York when Giuliani was mayor or afterwards, for it seems like night and day when I go to visit now. It is so much cleaner and nicer and I hear that the police take crimes more seriously now. Any mayor (along with the police department) who could so totally change that city from the post 80's New York that I knew to what it is today must surely have what it takes to be a fine President.


Blogger Bob's Blog said...

What a scary experience! And I agree with you about Giuliani.

4:29 PM, November 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the police didn't take the crime of armed robbery seriously, I wonder how seriously they would have taken the "crime" of using mace or even a gun in self defense.
I've heard the old saying "I'd rather take my chances with a jury than with some nut in an alley" so I'd be very tempted to arm myself even if it is illegal.

5:29 PM, November 19, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...


I think the saying is, "I would rather be tried by 12 than carried by six." I agree. And they would have taken it very seriously if I had used a gun in self-defense--although at that time in NYC, people were fed up which is why Bernard Getz, the "subway vigilante" who shot four youth for trying to hold him up got off lightly although I do think he was charged with having an illegal gun.

6:36 PM, November 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If that buff husband of yours had been along, no one would have dared to bother you.

6:48 PM, November 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not sure that Giuliani is for self defense that you are so gung ho on. After all he is against gun ownership.

7:14 PM, November 19, 2006  
Blogger Pat Patterson said...

I visited NYC for the first time in 1976 returning from Montreal. My experience with one of New York's loveable characters began when the sweating and bug-eyed alms seeker came out of an alley near Washington Square. What can I say, I was young, stupid and had never been robbed except by the Federales in Ensenada. But I had worked as an usher in some really run done theaters in Southern Californa and always carried a roll of quarters. Mr. Shakey and his fascinating knife made a really neat sound going backward onto the street while dropping the knife and spraying a lot of blood from his now broken nose. I did say that I was young and stupid, and against the advice of several onlookers neither left the area nor got rid of the quarters. After the police and the ambulance showed up the patrolman listened to both version, Rashamon in NYC, then put handcuffs on the would be robber and told me NEVER, NEVER carry quarters around for feeding the meters again.

I hope that patrolman had a safe career and was able to retire with his health and dignity intact.

7:25 PM, November 19, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

anonymous 7:14:

True--but at least he, along with the police force cleaned the city up of many of the criminal types that hung around the parks like Union Square. Much of the problem with crime occurred because no one did anything about those who committed illegal activities, giving criminals license against law abiding citizens. I do have a problem with Giuliani's stance on gun control.

7:33 PM, November 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Compare that to Union Square today--a regular farmers' market on weekends, mostly inhabited by college students and professionals, wholesome chain stores all around the block (Barnes & Noble, PetSmart, 2 Starbucks, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods Market, etc.) For this sort of thing alone, Giuliani should become President.

7:49 PM, November 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rudy made a massive difference, but he shared Bloomberg's nanny state approach. More or less, you don't know what's good for you, but We do. He's had plenty of downtime to come up with "new" ideas. I think we'll see a more libertarian politician during his next run. I've spent 37 years in and around NYC without a robbery attempt. Although my apartment was burgled. That was during the Rudy years, and in the 109th. The officers came, and actually fingerprinted and took photos. Bernie Goetz recently ran for mayor. I don't recall how many votes he got, but he did have a campaign plank that supported putting jackets/sweaters on the central park squirrels during the winter months.

7:58 PM, November 19, 2006  
Blogger DRJ said...

Quick thinking, Dr. Helen, and I'm glad you lived to fight another day.

Go Rudy.

8:28 PM, November 19, 2006  
Blogger SFN said...

Yikes! Glad you weren't hurt and glad you were brave enough to take a risk. You never really know how you'll react in a situation like that until you're there, that's for sure.

I once had somebody break into my apartment - kicked down the door at three in the morning while fleeing from the police - my wife and I had a moment of shock because we used to sleep in the living room (long story) and I chased after him screaming for him to get out and eventually flushed him out a window on the other side of the apartment. The rather overweight (OK, hugely fat) cop showed up several minutes later huffing and puffing - apparently a chain link fence had slowed him down considerably. He took one look at the window he'd gone out of and shrugged and called in that the guy escaped.

8:40 PM, November 19, 2006  
Blogger tomcal said...

No one really knows what they would do. But remember the first lesson for winning a lethal encounter - don't be there. Second - don't ever let the perp get you alone or take you anywhere. You are a lot better off being attacked with a lot of people around, even though they do sometimes just stand there.

Congratulations Dr! You stopped him at station #2. They become exponentially more dangerous as you progress through the list.

10:36 PM, November 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carried a knife in DC, only had to pull it once. Learned to keep the eyes open. A favored trick at the time was to follow a person to their apartment, jump them as they unlocked the door, and then be able not only to rob them but to clean out the apartment.

Problem with illegal carry in DC today would be all the metal detectors. You go thru them to get into any govt building, including the Library of Congress.

12:28 PM, November 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the headline stories on tonight's UK news was a guy video-ing vandals damaging his fence ...yet again. The vandals turned on him and assaulted him - all on camera - and, still on camera, he called the police to tell them he had been assaulted only for them to tell him they couldn't be bothered to respond. Sound familiar? New York in the 1970s = UK 2006. Same causes; same results.

Perhaps the police would have had time to arrest those real criminals if they hadn't been farting around arresting James Bond's 'Q' for possession of a multi-tool...,,2-2462834,00.html
More CCTV cameras per head than any country in the world, almost no right at all to defend yourself, criminals armed to the teeth and violent crime up year in and year out. This country is sick. A true Orwellian nightmare.

Don't EVER EVER EVER give up your guns, America. Got that? EVER! I have lived in numerous places in both the US AND the UK and aside from the worst areas into which no-one goes anyway, you are FAR safer in the US than in the UK and far less likely to be burgled. When you meet some idiot that thinks everything would be better if guns were outlawed, you tell 'em to put their passport where their mouth is. I have a British passport right here that says - and says from first hand personal experience - they're talking absolute crap.

10:23 PM, November 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After meeting Mayor Guiliani in a chance encounter, I think he would have taken your negative experience very seriously.

My wife, kids and I visited NYC in November 1994 and went to a Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall.

We arrived very early and were the first people in the box office line. Minutes later, a couple got in line behind us: Mr and Mrs. Guiliani. I couldn't believe they were alone without even a bodyguard.

We recognized them and didn't want to bother them, but they struck up a conversation with us. When they found out we were tourists from California, Mayor Guiliani was extremely concerned that every aspect of our visit was rude cab drivers, hotels and restaurants OK, no street punks bothering us, etc. He chatted at length with my whole family, telling us many interesting things about New York.

His enthusiasm and love for NY was obvious. He was glad we were having a good time, and was eager to hear about our best experiences there.

Mrs. Guiliani hit it off with my wife, suggested a number of offbeat fun things to do, and gave my wife her number in case we got lost or had a problem. I think we still have her business card.

As we went inside and separated, Mayor Giuliani made me promise to call his office if we had any problems. We didn't, New York was great.

But if we had called with a valid complaint, I feel sure he would have done something about it.

10:50 PM, November 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Helen,that's nothing.Where I went to med school,ne of my classmates was robbed outside the library;he only had 6 dollars n him.He was then shot by the robber-in disappointment we presume.

4:17 PM, November 22, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...


I was watching SATC the other day and saw a negative reference to Rudy Guiliani and wished I could set these ladies back to the 1980's New York and film them being mugged, assaulted verbally on the subway on a daily basis and stalked with no intervention from the police for years like I was and see if their views changed. Of course, after the fact, people usually just change history to coincide with their view of the world so perhaps it would not do much good. I admit that I only watch SATC reruns because I like the Big character.

9:11 AM, November 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great Medical Books:

6:34 AM, November 25, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...


I am really glad to hear how serious the police are now on crime--the accountability is the real change. Crime was not taken at all seriously when I was there unless you were a law abiding citizen doing nothing wrong, like the time a police officer escorted my roommate and me home because she had a fencing foil without a cover on it.

I could not get them to do anything about a stalker, getting mugged, or again when I got stuck on a ride from hell with a drunk cab driver who picked myself and another woman up in Yonkers and threatened us. I even took down the license number but nothing was done. That was about the last straw for me, I left not long afterwards and have never looked back. However, I do love to visit now.

12:42 PM, November 26, 2006  
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