At a wine tasting event at the city’s oldest liquor store last night, the owner, a third generation manager of the family business, said “we’ve seen this neighborhood go from great to horrible and we’re so thrilled to see it’s getting back to great again.” This got my ire up. As far as I can tell, the neighborhood was never that bad. I know that 10 years ago, a period she described as “horrible,” it certainly wasn’t. It was never blighted the way the south side has been blighted, the way the west side is blighted now. It was always a mile from the Loop. It was always close to the Gold Coast. And I truly hate when people get all alarmist about a neighborhood because there are some homeless people living there, or young black kids loitering on the street. Drives me nuts. I don’t believe the negative hype about the neighborhood where I go to school. I tell people with some perverse twinge of pride about how I used to teach in the ghetto, in the middle of a gang war zone. I scoff at people who tell me “sweetie, you shouldn’t take the el at night.” I’m a modern urban woman. I won’t be scared of my city. This is ridiculous.

But then I found out today that Mason got mugged at gunpoint last night. That makes her the second of my two very close girlfriends at law school to be robbed at gunpoint in the past 6 months. Our friend Mooks was carjacked in February, forced back into her car, and taken by the robbers to her bank, where she was forced to withdraw several hundred dollars from the ATM, also at gunpoint, before the robbers abandoned her by the side of the road and drove off with her car.

The good side of this story is that both Mason and Mooks are okay. At the end of the day, it’s just stuff, and neither of them was hurt or suffered lasting trauma. But Mason in particular is just like me in that “won’t get alarmed by other people’s alarmism” kind of way. She and I have had several conversations about how silly people act when they talk in hushed panicked tones about how dangerous the neighborhood is surrounding our school. And it makes me feel a little ill to think about someone taking advantage of Mason, who has so much faith in people, who is so unwilling to judge, to generalize, or to dismiss entire groups of people because they’re perceived by others to be “scary.” Though you don’t want it to happen to anyone, if it had to happen to someone I wish it had happened to one of the alarmists, one of the mace on the keychain always take a taxi after dark never look a homeless person in the eye people. Because then it only would have confirmed their already deeply-held beliefs and fears, rather than forcing Mason (or, more accurately, forcing me) to wonder if we’ve been stupid all this time, and whether it’s time to take my mother’s advice that I get some pepper spray.

Of course it’s not black and white. You don’t have to be either alarmist or enlightened. There are some things that you just shouldn’t do, and I accept that. But pepper spray on your keychain isn’t going to do you a hell of a lot of good when someone sneaks up behind you and already has his gun drawn when you turn around and see him for the first time. At some level it’s all sort of a crapshoot- your car can get broken into in Lincoln Park and your wallet can get stolen at a swanky restaurant (though probably not at gunpoint). But then again you can flag down a car in that same bad neighborhood where you just got robbed and find three people all ready to jump in and help you out and wait with you until the police arrive. This isn’t just a good neighborhood/bad neighborhood thing.

Mason, bless her heart for still being the same old Mason we love, felt upset for the first person who was brought in for questioning, because he wasn’t the guy, and he shouldn’t have had to go through that. There is no part of me that is worried that she’s going to turn into a nervous alarmist because of this, and for that I’m grateful. But it has given me pause. And I took a cab home from my most recent firm event.

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