I read that resurrected thread about the Humboldt Park attacks for the first time only yesterday and, since I live in HP and it seems like you have to go through a violent neighborhood to get anywhere in Chicago by bike, resolved to buy some pepper spray. I spent much of yesterday wondering what I'd do in that situation, so my immediate reaction to the guy running onto Adams, holding what looked like a chair like a baseball bat, was you have got to be kidding.
I could see five or six others rushing the street beyond him, but couldn't spare much attention from the guy with the chair, staring me right in the eyes and grinning as I shouted "Don't even think about it, you... [insert language to embarrass a sailor wherever you can make it fit syntactically, and then insert some more]." His swing missed thanks to a tight swerve and when he threw the chair, it went wild over and behind me. Turning up Damen, I saw another guy running toward me. There was no way I'd get past him, so I cocked my leg for a kick and gave him my best. I don't know if I connected. His elbow went right into my chest and stopped the bike hard. A couple other guys came up from behind and waled on my back until I hit the ground, my head bouncing off the pavement.
As any cornered animal will tell you, adrenaline's a hell of a thing. While a few guys kicked me in the chest and back, two other guys tried to steal the bike, and I wasn't letting go. The conversation was of the "from hell's heart, I stab at thee" style, and when one fumbled with the rear pannier ("what the f.ck is this?!" he cried in frustration. Fair play to Ortlieb: the mounts shifted, but the bag remained fastened securely to the rack), I kicked with my free leg, hissing "You can't have it! You can't have it!"
Since we were in the middle of the southbound lanes on Damen, cars eventually came, and the men ran west empty-handed. I got on my bike to pursue, but the chain had slipped and I fell to the ground again. At this, I called them every emasculating name in the book to taunt at least one of them back to me. One guy in particular seemed outraged at what I'd just called him, but he kept running. Cars whizzed up and down Damen, and a few rubberneckers pulled to the side and watched. One man had stepped out of his car, asking if I was alright. "Do you want to call the police?" he asked. I looked west down Adams' empty street and shrugged. "You're bleeding," he said. "Probably," I replied. "Nothing I can do about it now." I stumbled over to the northbound side of Damen, rechained the bike and rode home, unsure whether it was sweat or blood pouring down my face and neck, annoyed to distraction by the new rubbing and scraping from my front fender.
My friend suggested that I file a police report when I got home, and so I did. Where crime is reckoned in documents and numbers, it seemed smarter to be a statistic than nothing at all.
Beyond nausea, headache and feeling like I went ten rounds with Tyson, I'm doing alright. The wounds are bloody but not deep. Here are my observations:
1. It wasn't even nine pm, so cars were bound to come by within a couple of minutes. If this had happened at three or four in the morning, when I often ride past Adams and Damen, it may have been a more protracted and painful experience. I probably would have lost my bike, too.
2. By putting up a fight, I think I confused and slowed them down long enough to get through it. If they had all focused on kicking the hell out of me and then taking the bike, or the reverse, then they surely would have left me senseless and bikeless.
3. These guys knew what they were doing. They had every possible route covered in the event I'd gotten past the guy with the chair, which suggests that they've done this before, and perhaps will again.
4. Next time I'm riding, if I see a group of men standing on all corners, I'll turn around and GTFO. If, like last night, I don't have the distance or time, then I'll lock the brakes, screech to a halt and wait for them to approach. A few shots of pepper spray would, with hope, buy me some time to get out of there.
5. I believe in the efficacy of helmets.
6. Most importantly, that thread about the HP attacks saved my skin. If I didn't recognize what was coming as quickly as I did, then I'd have been knocked off my bike by that chair, and it would have been game over. The Chainlink's earned my Paypal donation several times over, I reckon.
Some people have asked why my first impulse wasn't to call the cops. If they'd taken my bike, I'd have considered it, but given the time it would have taken for the police to arrive, six guys with nothing to show for their efforts in that neighborhood wouldn't have been found, IMHO. There's also the same impulse I felt the first time I got right-hooked by a car: just get out of there. It's not always the best response, but it's often the hardest one to deny.
Edit: crap, I'm down two water bottles.