I'm still going to post something about the picture, but, Margaret and I were just discussing this event and some other "True crime" stories so I'm jumping ahead just a bit....
I suspect there's been a number of cases where people have wished me harm, only once have I had a gun put in my face and my life threatened. Oddly, it was a rather calm situation.
I had recently moved to Pittsburgh - the seedier part as it happens - from Denmark, Ohio. Denmark consisted of a general store and a church. Pittsburgh was considerably larger. I was a country bumpkin and a naïf. I don't recall that I expected the best of people or went into any situation fearless and in fact probably quite the contrary on both counts. I was intimidated by everything and trusted no one. But that's different than knowing how to look out for trouble; how to read people; knowing how to spot those that mean you harm. That would come later and I suspect has served me well since.
Anyhow, north side of Pittsburgh at night. I was returning to my apartment from making a call at a payphone as two men approached me. The asked if I had change for a $10 so I looked down briefly as I pulled the $11 form my pocket and when I looked up there was a pistol in my mouth. They took the cash, my wallet and searched my pockets. Then they ran.
I assume I was scared at the time but thinking back I really don't recall anything other than surprise. Maybe it was over too fast for fear to even register. I walked back to my apartment and told my roommate. The next morning I walked down to the police station to report the crime.
I recall the officer taking the report was pretty up front about the fact they really couldn't do anything but I wasn't expecting they could. The one thing that struck me though was that he said something to the effect of, "So it was two black men". I don't recall mentioning they were black. They were, but I hadn't mentioned that and remember thinking it unfair that he would jump to that conclusion. Now in all fairness it was an almost entirely black community so if only by law of averages chances are it would be two black men. Still, it impressed me as an unwarranted stereotype at the time. On a related note, I was 18 and had never known a black man. All I had to go on were negative stereotypes promoted by an all-white rural world. Still, it seemed unfair.
So what came of this? Well, I did in fact get my wallet back. Someone found it and dropped it in a mailbox and it was returned to me. I started carrying a punch knife in a Velcro quick release I made and added to the inside of my coat. I would like to point out I never had to use it but came petty close once when two friends and I put ourselves in a really stupid and dangerous situation (another story not for public consumption). Also, I learned to survive in the city. I learned what to look for and what to avoid. I learned how to walk and how to hold yourself. How to make eye contact and act casual even when you feel like running for your life. As a related skill, how to have a pleasant exchange with the cops when you know you're breaking at least 2 or 3 laws.
Mostly though I discovered something rather unexpected about myself. I learned I had it within me not to hold others responsible for the actions of people of a like color. I know this is stupefying obvious to anyone with half a brain and conscience to match, but, I was 18. I was from a rural farming community. It was worth $11.