“The Urban Jungle”
W.S. Bumgarner Go-Dan Dojo-Cho
Atlanta Gi Yu Dojo
A few weeks back the family and I took a morning trip to Athens, GA. Athens is the home of the University of Georgia. My oldest is a sophomore in high school and considering applying to the school in another year or two, so we thought it would be a good idea to go see the campus and town. Now, my wife and I both graduated from UGA. In fact, that’s where we met and starting dating, so the kids were treated with stories about people they didn’t know and about things that happened hundreds of years before they were born when the wife and I were young and had hopes and dreams. We parked in a public parking deck on the edge of downtown, walked a few streets over, and found a place to have lunch. After lunch we walked through Old Campus and down to Sanford Stadium where the Bulldogs play on Saturdays. The kids loved visiting the on-campus bookstore and smiled politely as we expressed our surprise at all of the changes that had taken place since we graduated. We headed back to the parking deck and, as we turned a corner, I heard a few loud voices. At first it was hard to tell whether they were voices of anger or just boisterous laughter. As we got closer to the source, I could see a guy standing next to a truck talking to the owner as he was entering his vehicle. It appeared that the man and his wife had come out of a restaurant and were trying to get in their truck to leave when this guy had approached them to either sell some questionable merchandise or bluntly ask for cash. Athens unfortunately has a reputation for having a large population of people known as “Townies.” Although the name sounds like something out of a Broadway musical, it is actually the name assigned to the folks in town whose main goal it seems is to panhandle from visitors to Athens. It was innocent enough and appeared as if the truck owner was trying to humor the man and quickly get into his truck and leave.
My family and I walked by the pair as they were finishing talking and as we did the “Townie” yelled to my wife and asked if he could ask her a question. My wife, who had lived in Athens, was used to this type of request and quickly said “not right now” without breaking her stride. I turned to look at him as I kept walking to see which way he was going. Although he had not done anything wrong per se or illegal, the act of yelling at woman with her husband and children struck me then as brazen and odd. I directed my children to cross the street to get away from this guy and, as we did so, I looked back to see this “Townie” crossing the street as well, about 100 feet down from us. My thought was “Is this guy following us?” and “If so, why?” We looked right at each other. Now, when I say we looked at each other, I don’t mean like we do a lot of times with other people where we merely scan the person or recognize the general form and shape of another human being near you. No, I mean the kind of look where you both stare into each other’s eyes and something clicks in your brain where you fully register a connection with someone. At the same time, it was a look where I knew he saw me as well, which was what I wanted. My mind began to speed up and run through as many scenarios as possible and probabilities as to what could happen next. As we got to the other side of the street, I knew we were headed to a quiet, less populated part of the town to the multi-story parking deck where we had parked the car. I knew we had to climb several flights of stairs and that the parking deck had no security. It was also unattended on a Sunday. I knew I didn’t want that to happen, so as a ruse I suggested to my wife that we should stop and have the kids sit on a bench at the sidewalk and pose for a picture. My wife thought that was such a great idea to commemorate our first trip to Athens with the kids. But, my real goal was actually three things: 1) Stop moving toward a secluded parking deck and stay on the street where others could see us and hear us. 2) See where our new friend was going and if he was moving toward us. 3) Not immediately alarm my family.
I pushed my wife to take her time and take several photos so we could fully appreciate the moment later. Actually, it gave me a few moments to get my head right and make sure I wasn’t missing anything and that it was safe to move to the car to leave. At this point, it seemed that my new friend had left and the situation that I thought was occurring was thankfully not going to progress. Now, I have no idea whether the “Townie” was intent on doing us harm or not. In all probability, there was nothing to fear and I was over-reacting. I will never know if I did the right thing or not. It could have been a million reasons why his behavior was odd. He could have just been hungry and needed a dollar. In fact, the “Townie” could have thought my glare was not only inappropriate but downright menacing considering his own peaceful intentions toward me and my family. But, I do not care. I do not apologize for taking the steps I feel necessary to protect myself and family. If there was only a 1% chance that this person did actually intend some harm, then the small steps I took to watch out for us was worth it and I would do it all over again. Just like wearing a seat belt. You put it on a thousand times and it does nothing, but the time you really need one it can save your life. I guess the point is that minor situations can become major situations if not handled correctly and even on a peaceful Sunday morning on a family outing to Athens, Georgia, I still needed to be aware and not complacent to what dangers may be near.