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Every town, city, or bump in the road has somewhere you shouldn’t be.

You’re new, you don’t know the lay of the land, and you get caught.

What happens next tells you who you really are.

One place you shouldn’t have to worry about is walking down NW 21st in Portland, Oregon.

Most of the time it’s safe enough. This time it wasn’t:

Cinema 21 shows movies that have a shorter run than most theaters. You’ve got to get in there early or you’ll miss the show.

I watched Personal Best there, a movie about a track star. It was a matinee.

It was still light when I came out. I blinked the darkness away and what I saw across the street brought out my inner Boy Scout.

Two people were fighting inside a bus stop shelter. One was pummeling the other with body shots that sent them bouncing back against the plexiglass.

Someone was getting pounded pretty bad, so I crossed over to break it up.

I broke it up alright, with my face.

Instead of two guys fighting, I heard a woman say, “You can’t keep doing this every time you get drunk.”

She took three shots to her stomach while she said it. The man wasn’t listening so I leaned over and told him to stop.

“Stop, or I’m calling the police,” is what I said.

He heard me and swung around with his next punch that landed right between my eyes. Since I was wearing my new cool baby boomer wire rimmed glasses, they broke and stabbed through my skin.

I stood away and barked, “GET BACK, BACK,” when he moved toward me for another shot. The guy was about 5′ 4″ and quick.

He grabbed his girl and took off while I watched. Blood ran down my face. I could taste it. Since my glasses had curved metal temples, they hung on my ears like funky jewelry.

A woman asked if I was okay. I asked her if I looked okay. I didn’t. She whistled a cop down and left.

The policeman asked me what happened, so I told him as much as I’ve told here. He gave me a ride down the road to my place about five blocks away while he was on his radio.

In the short distance he got a call back to say they found the man and woman in Couch Park. The policeman asked if I wanted to go over and make an ID.

The hitter was arrested. Since it was Sunday I waited until the next day to press charges.

An assistant DA asked if I was the last of the good samaritans while he stood on a chair and dropped the computer printout of slugger’s rap sheet.

The guy was  a menace with arrests minor enough to stay out of jail, but bad enough to think he was heading down.

I saw a fight, stopped a fight, and got clocked for the effort. And I’d do it again.

When you identify with your neighborhood you stand up when things go wrong. Instead of taking the hit and using it as an excuse to go primal on the little man, I was satisfied with my work.

What left a bad taste in my nose was the lady. During her boyfriend’s arrest she told the cops he was protecting her from my harassment. Didn’t make me feel like a good samaritan.

Then I found out he was let out and scheduled for anger management classes, and that he lived in my neighborhood. I had a guy with a bad attitude looking for me? Who knows, but since my self defense was so lacking, I decided I needed some protection.

Gun? No. Knife? No. I don’t need to get shot or stabbed with my own gear, and since I’m not an experienced gunner of knife-man, it seemed likely.

What I got instead was a heavy dog chain. Carried it in my pocket as I took different routes home. If I saw the guy and he came after me, I’d whip it out to gain some distance.

And it wasn’t illegal. Just a dog chain, officer. No, I don’t have a dog, but I’m thinking about it. I just happened to pick up the chain for new Fido.

Should you break up fights between a man and a woman? Probably not. Get help. If it’s only you, give the woman a chance to escape. How?

Sweep the guy’s feet while he’s swinging on her and put him on the ground. Tell her to run. If she does and he gets up to chase, sweep him again then run off in the opposite direction.

Portland sidewalks ought to be safe enough, but there’s always an exception.

Portland Streets, pt 1: The Bike.



About David Gillaspie


  1. Run the other way when you know things are likely not to end well. How about a can of non-lethal mace or a stun gun to end the situation before it starts. You need the kind with oleoresin capsicum. It works to disorient and burns like hell. Nice for when the cops arrive with rubber gloves to handle the perpetrator. In this instance your glasses would have help protect you rather than cut into your face. I really like the bear spray which usually clears 20 meter area pretty quickly. Maybe benefit the young lady who could be available for questioning before things cool down and she feels the need to protect the women beater.

    • David Gillaspie says:

      Good plan, Al. I would have run the other way except hearing the woman’s voice in distress was too much. Of course getting popped was too much, too. Those were expensive glasses. And it didn’t turn out well for anyone. Next time I run the other way after giving the woman a chance to run, too. Like the bear spray idea. Better than a bear bell on the streets.

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