Still, I've been lost before and had it not been for the heat and the distance, I'd have taken it in stride.
The adventure came when I hopped the green line back to Woodlawn.
(Woodlawn, my new home, is just south of Hyde Park, and while across the street from several UofC buildings (including the law library), is 99% African-American. and has its... problems.)
My mistake was that I'd written down to take the green line to "63rd/Cottage Grove." I didn't realize that a green line train that came along bearing the sign "63rd", could also go to somewhere called Ashland. (To see what I mean, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page, following the green bar. )
So, I was aware of being conspicously white on the green line heading south, and I was certainly a bit hesitant about the landscape I was seeing outside of my window. It wasn't until I'd passed the Halsted stop that I looked up on the train's wall and actually gasped out loud at the map.
A kindly older lady in a nurse's uniform hustled up to me: "Child, you went the wrong way, didn't you?"
"Yes!" I sighed.
"Me too!" The crackhead in the end of the cabin piped up. "I fell asleep and now I'm here!"
She shook her head at me. "You're not safe here."
I must have blinked at her in bewilderment, because she almost smiled. I spent half of my high school years trying to get my mom's blessing to hang out in West and North Philly so I could do soup kitchen and outreach work (seriously), but I've lived in Rhode Island my entire adult life before this week.
She proceeded to give me a bunch of convoluted directions, which I hardly understood. I know now that she was trying to prevent me from doing what I was about to do.
I stayed on the train as it turned around and went back towards a hub. The crackhead had since moved across the isle from me and began to engage me in one of the oddest conversations I've had in a while- topics ranging from the evils of politicians to what to do when your ex-gilfriend who you're still in love with sleeps around until she gets AIDS, then starts wearing a burkha and claiming to be Afghani.
I escaped the converaation at Cottage Grove & 63rd, and hopped off to an "oh... shit."
I actually froze for a moment trying to get my bearings, suddenly aware that I was carrying a laptop, a Treo, and an iPod.
I began walking north. As I walked people actually stopped and did double-takes as I walked by. Some smirked. A little girl ran up to me and said "I like your skirt!" And then... "Why are you here?"
The feeling of walking along those streets was like nothing I have ever experienced before. I was terrified in a way that was utterly alien to me (I experience anxiety and panic all the time, but this was a different, sane kind of fight-or flight.)
My biggest mistake occured when I reached 61st street, and accidently turned and began walking west, rather than east.
I walked for about 30 minutes in this direction, and the more I walked the more I became acutely aware that not only was I not safe, it was only a matter of time before something bad happened to me. I don't know how to explain this feeling. I have never before been so obviously a target. I have never before been stuck somewhere where being white was not only negative, but jeopardizing my safety.
I was in a floral summer skirt and Birkenstocks, clearly clad as one of the University set. I felt the tension my presence inspired, the sense of a great many people around me deciding what to do.
Suddenly, I realized all at once that the 25 cents left on my CTA pass was actually good for a bus ride (transfer rate), and that there was a bus going down 61st in the right direction. I hopped on it, and was as though I could feel the block behind me exhale heavily.
I was deposited near my apartment shaking.
I am still trying to figure out what to do with this experience. I was afraid to leave my apartment last night.
I didn't think I was sheltered... I do so much outreach work, and I've always tried to push my comfort level when it comes to who I'll work with and where.... but I knew nothing.
I feel so ashamed of how that experience made me feel.
I am really confused too.
I think if I'd read something like this I'd have reacted with scorn before yesterday. I feel as though I was coerced into feeling uncomfortable against my will.
1. According to the 2000 US Census.