As Jennifer and I continue our temporary (we do not know how temporary) sojourn on the West Side of Chicago in a majority African-American nieghborhood, we’re having some interesting (and generally pleasant) encounters with the neighbors. Good folks, most of them, who are not quite sure what to make of our living there.
Last week, when the weather was warmer and Jennifer and I were out on our bicycles, as we were returning home, a man shouted to us from across the street. I couldn’t tell what he was saying the first time around, but it turned out, the young man walking the dog across the vacant lot was propositioning us:
“You wanna buy some dope?”
He shouted this several times. We ignored him, but I had this urge to tell the young man with the dog: the white folks on the bicycles, probably not the best customers for your wares. They are not here to acquire illicit substances. You will also have a much a longer, and more successful career, if you do not shout “you wanna buy some dope” across open streets.
A couple of summers ago, I spent some time wandering around the South Side of Chicago on my bicycle, about as far south as 85th st. I saw a lot of nice cars stop at street corners, windows roll down, and people walk off those street corners to talk with the drivers of cars. No, I never actually saw anything change hands (when on a bicycle on a busy, pothole-filled city street, attention is wisely fixed elsewhere). When I stopped at those same corners for red lights, no one ever wanted to talk to me. And I have a very nice, custom-built bike (built it myself!). But nothing about that bike, or me in my cycling gear, screams “narcotics buyer!” If anything, it screams “bike cop.” Which I was mistaken for, once, in DC. Even though I have no cop gear around my waist.