Well, I guess it was only a matter of time considering the fact that London has a much higher crime rate than New York, but I got mugged yesterday evening in South London. Suffice it to say last night was one of the more surreal evenings I’ve had in my life.
Already I knew it was going to be an interesting night because I was finally going to go visit my friend who lives in a boat in the Thames. No, he’s not a pirate, but he sold his flat and bought a sailing boat, and lives in it in a quay next to Canary Wharf. The easiest way to get there from where I live is to take a boat, there’s a public transport boat that runs up and down the Thames called the Thames Clipper. It was almost completely empty, but had amazing views going down the river. I’m thinking when my family comes to visit this weekend I’ll take them on that rather than a boat cruise, it’s faster and cheaper.
When we arrived at the Greenland Pier Dock a few people got off, but it was mostly deserted. It’s a mix of boats docked and really nice flats, generally a pleasant-looking, expensive area. It reminded me of Roosevelt Island actually. My friend was running late to meet me so I went for a walk to explore. I came across this floating bar in a ship called the Wibbly Wobbly. Then my friend showed up. It was 7:30pm.
'Give Me Your Wallet'
I thought the floating bar was really funny so I took a picture with my camera phone, then we turned to walk down the street to his boat. As we walked, I could see five young men in hooded sweatshirts walking toward us. And I still had my phone out in my hand. I suddenly became very nervous. Then I felt bad for thinking that. Then I had a gun in my face.
As we went to walk through them one of them one of them went to grab my phone. I resisted and pulled it back. Then he pulled out a gun and stuck it in my face and said 'Give me the phone." I wasn’t about to argue with that logic, so I handed over the phone. For a moment it appeared that that was going to be it, the gun was gone and they seemed to be moving on, but then one of them said “What else you got? Give me your wallet’ and they were back around us. Then my friend started pushing them off and said ‘run’. I went to get away but then got punched in the face. Not hard, just sort of two quick jabs. But I managed to get away and started running. Of course I had no idea where I was going since I’d never been there before. The logical thing to do would have been to run back to the bar we had just come from only about 15 feet away, which is where my friend ran. But I ran the other direction where there was nothing and nobody.
So two of them chased after me, and one of them yelled ‘I’ve got a knife’ (which makes me suspicious that the gun pointed in my face wasn’t real or wasn't loaded– why would you need a knife if you had a gun?). They chased me for maybe six blocks, I was just sprinting trying to get to somewhere where people were. Eventually there were two joggers coming down the street, and when I turned back the muggers were gone.
Cruising with the Fuzz
The joggers didn’t have a phone but pointed to a house where there was a woman watching in the window. I called the police from that house. Then I heard my friend outside on the street yelling for me. I came out and saw he had a huge black eye. He had been hit pretty bad during the scuffle trying to get away.
It took awhile for the police to show up because apparently these guys got someone else about 5 minutes after they hit us, and when those people flagged down the police car, the police thought they were me. So when they eventually showed up they took it very seriously because the guy had a gun. Gun crime is rare in the UK compared to the US because it’s so hard to get a gun here. In fact normal police officers don’t even carry guns. So the police that came had to call some specialist police to come who were armed. Then we had to drive around the area for 2 hours looking for the guys, and I had to be with them so I could identify them.
If I did see them, they had this whole complicated procedure for how to deal with it. The armed police officers were in the car behind us, and if I saw the muggers, the car I was in would blink their back lights, and the car behind us would deal with them, since they had the guns. Another police car had stopped two young black guys, and we drove by and they asked me to look otu the window and see if it was them. But it was a pointless endeavor, I didn’t get a good look at any of them.
It was interesting being in this situation because I found myself feeling bad because I couldn’t remember things very clearly. I hadn’t been drinking and it was early so I was fully lucid, but it all happened so fast. It was dark and they were black with hoods on. Kind of nondescript. But they needed me to recount the event to the minutest detail. Which hands were used for what, the positions of everyone involved, and I started to feel really stressed that I couldn’t remember the level of detail they were asking for, almost feeling like I was the suspect.
Finally, the Boat!
Because my friend had been hurt so bad we had to go to the A&E (emergency room) in an ambulance, which took us all the way to Lewisham. It took forever to be seen, and in the mean time my friend’s eye swelled up to the size of an orange, it was really creepy to look at. In the end they told him he had to come back the next day so they could see if there was blood seeping into a crack in his skull. He’s back at the hospital today.
In the end we took a cab back to the harbour, got some Chinese take-out and ate it in his boat, which I at long last was able to see. It was interesting, but I don’t know how anyone could live in such a small space. Around one I left to get the last boat home.
It was weird, throughout this whole thing I felt eerily calm. The lady at the house I called the police from kept remarking at how calm I was, and my friend was saying it was because I’m from New York City. But this kind of thing isn’t a usual occurrence in today’s New York, so that’s not it. Maybe I was calm because the situation was in effect over, and it happened so fast I hadn’t had time to get worked up over it. It’s strange, I freak out about the most nonsensical, insignificant things. But when big bad things like this happen, I’m cool as a cucumber.
But as I walked home from the Thames dock to my flat at 1:30am, I did feel kind of uneasy. I felt suspicious of every person that walked by. I hope this feeling isn’t going to continue. I got mugged in New York last December and I didn’t feel that way after that. But that situation was a little different because I was drunk late at night in a bad area listening to my ipod quite openly, so I was asking for it. In this situation I didn’t do anything wrong, it was just bad luck. I wonder if that will make a difference in how I feel about it.
When I got home all my US friends were watching the Super Tuesday results roll in. I didn’t want to ruin their Super Tuesday fun with my harrowing tale so for most of them I didn’t mention it and just talked with them about the results.
In the end I’d say I was pretty lucky. My phone was insured (I’ve already gotten a replacement one today) and that’s all they got because I ran. Maybe it was stupid to run from someone with a gun, but I trust my judgment in the situation. The way the situation was going it looked like they were going to beat us up regardless, I’m pretty sure they were high. So running was probably the only way I could have avoided that. Plus I was able to hold on to my wallet, which contained my US drivers license (impossible to replace), four credit cards, a card with my bank account details on it (stupid I know) and, most importantly, my fake student ID!
My face kind of hurts from the punches but nothing serious, certainly not compared to my friend. I guess this is just the kind of thing that comes with city living, you’ve got to take the good with the bad. Makes for a good story at least. Now I can join that elite club of people who have had guns pointed in their face. And I can say I outsprinted some muggers. I guess that gym membership was worth it!