Living in a city has its share of ups and downs, among some of the disadvantages all of us urbanites have learnt to deal with are traffic, noise, heightened crime, heightened awareness in or near poorer, more crime-prone neighbourhoods, the ups and downs of public transportation (depending on the city itself) and so forth. Most cities’ police forces are strained (or at least pressured or preoccupied) by the increased amount of crime, and thus, some may find themselves on guard if not paranoid in certain situations.
For those individuals living in major cities, and especially in the Northeast, surely people are aware that not everyone likes the police force or some have a cynical view of them. Personally, I feel safe around them, and feel that 99% of them do their job in the manner they are supposed to. Even myself, no hard feelings against the state trooper that pulled me aside two years ago for speeding on I-476 inbound to Philly. At the same time, cops have to start somewhere when they graduate from the police academy, and it’s times when they make certain, shall we say, errors in the line of duty, do some of us get irritated or annoyed by them.
Today, however was a different story. I’ve lived here for 9 years, and now I understand why people who have lived 20+ years downtown continuously tell me, “NO….you have NOT seen it all.”
I was off from work today, and was due for a 13 mile run today.
First couple miles were scary as I feared Wednesday’s speedwork may have caused some shin pain, however interestingly enough, the pain subsided and I was incredibly happy that I wouldn’t be cutting short my run after all.
Happy that is, until I was wrapping up in Rittenhouse Square. I was coming up 19th Street and hitting the square. Walked towards the southwest part of the square and entered the park to consume my second GU (I was dead, I tell you) prior to stretching and cooling down on the way home.
(Note: For you non-runners, GU is a type of endurance gel runners use as on-the-go fuel. It comes in small packets.)
I stretched my arms out wide – it was 11:45am and the park was loaded with people reading, studying, wandering around. I went aside to a tree and started consuming the GU. I was about halfway through the packet, when I felt someone tapping on my shoulder followed by a growl.
It was a local policeman on a bike, and alongside him was a patrol dog. The cop flashed his badge and introduced himself. I turned around and stood at full attention, wiping my brow and pulling my earbuds off.
“May I ask what you are consuming?” he started.
“Endurance gel. This one is GU.” I saw the cop’s eyebrows rise, so I continued. “Sir I just ran 13 miles and I was wrapping up here. Runners tend to consume these before, during and after runs.”
At that point, the dog nearly leapt on me as I was holding the packet. I stood aghast thinking what was going on.
Alright, calm down. You’re not doing anything wrong. Did you look suspicious? It can’t be. There are loads of runners living in the city and certainly true in Rittenhouse Square. I’d just been stretching and stuff, why did I look unusual enough for him to approach me? What made this guy think I was doing something illegal?
I was wearing one of my red technical shirts, my Nike running leggings, and my Asics as normal. I had my hydration belt on. My hair was pulled back. I had my mp3 player on me. The sweat was coming down my face but it was not because I was nervous, I had just run 13 miles!
And if I was nervous about anything it was the dog! I am afraid of dogs and I will admit I am not fond of them, regardless of who is the owner. I did what I could to save face.
The policeman took the GU from me and took a whiff of it.
(Runners: In case you are wondering, it’s the tri-berry flavour.)
“Where did you run today?”
“Started off at the Wash West loop and Penn’s Landing by the river, turned west, and shot up through 13th Street in Midtown Village before taking the parkway into Kelly Drive. Doubled back on Kelly, cut into Fitler Square. Exited through the Donut, right on 23rd, left on Lombard, another left on 19th and here I am.”
(Those of you not familiar with/outside Philly: Washington Square West (Wash West) is the historical district, Midtown Village is the so-called “Gayborhood”, and the parkway is in reference to the Ben Franklin Parkway. Fitler Square is southwest part of Center City, bordering the Schuykill River. And I’ve defined the Donut here.)
“How long did you run today?” he asked.
“Today, if my pedometer is correct, it should have been 13 miles, more or less.”
“Do you have any sort of identification on you?”
“Yeah,” I replied, pulling out my license from my belt.
The cop glanced at it. “Just checking if you were local,” he responded as he handed it back to me.
Uh seriously??? I used very local terms in describing my route – Wash West and the Donut. Guess he was a bit more suspicious of me.
“Also do you mind taking off your [hydration] belt, and opening it up for me?”
I did as I was told. What the hell was going on???
At this point a few individuals in the park gathered around me, and the cop motioned them off. Then I placed the hydration belt back on.
I sighed. “If you don’t mind my asking, is there an issue with this?” I motioned pointing at the gel. “I was going to pitch it properly anyhow.”
“Nope, just checking to make sure you were actually consuming what you said you were consuming. You are free to go now.”
As I turned around, I was fuming inside.
What?!?!??? Are you kidding me?!!?!?
Okay seriously, I’m dripping with sweat, in total running attire, I’m feeling the bloody blisters on my feet…this guy thought I was doing something illegal? Seriously??? What is he thinking?
I had to calm myself down as I trudged through the square. I know I had nothing to fear, I was doing nothing wrong. But God how embarrassing especially since I have friends living in this area.
For those not familiar with Philadelphia, Rittenhouse Square is one of four public squares in downtown Philadelphia and one of two upper-class neighbourhoods downtown. It is oriented more towards the younger crowd as well as retirees wanting a cut of city life; the other such area is Society Hill, closer to the Delaware River, and more oriented towards families. The other area located just outside downtown, Chestnut Hill, is another family-oriented place.
Now why in hell’s half acre would a cop suspect this activity in such a neighbourhood? High noon on a Friday for that matter.
Now, I’ve read loads about criminal activity in books and magazines – drug dealers operate at night in isolated areas. But then again, such people ARE well funded. Maybe someone who is loaded from illegal activity is taking up residence in the area, paying the rent as normal. And contraband can be in any sort of container or whatever. Those GU packets are probably littered in trash cans or parks across the city as people here are training up for both the Atlantic City and Philadelphia half and full marathons this and next month. And goodness knows if criminals are using them as accessories.
But still, given the state I was in, I found this quite annoying. I could understand if I was in normal street clothes and acting weird. But seriously?
This guy has to be fresh out of the academy or something…has he not seen runners before? Obviously he can’t be one.
In any case, no matter how you cut it, whilst I can see both sides of the coin, this definitely deserves a facepalm. Even tops the other incident I’ve had in Rittenhouse – a bystander on 19th and Walnut Streets mistaking me for Snooki from Jersey Shore. Le sigh.