Incident on Carondelet in the CBD

It happened so fast. I did nothing to stop the kids or help the old man. It haunts me still.

It was still light, a typical late summer evening, as the events unfolded. In 1980, I was working in downtown New Orleans. It was a short four-block walk from my building, through the Central Business District, to the Canal Street bus stop. From there, the Cemeteries bus would take me to my Mid-City apartment.

I had worked about an hour late, late enough that most of the commuters had cleared off the sidewalks. The last block of Carondelet Street as it approaches Canal was, at that time, a mix of sandwich shops and storefronts which were mostly closed for the day. Across Canal, Carondelet’s name changes to Bourbon Street, the seedy but bustling main drag (pardon the pun) of the French Quarter.

Up ahead, I noticed a disheveled old man with a walker, making his way toward Canal with great difficulty. He was wearing a crumpled fedora, khakis and some kind of grimy wrap, maybe a serape.

Three young kids, maybe eleven years old, dashed across Canal against the light. They were coming from the direction of Bourbon, running from God-knows-what mischief. On Carondelet they approached the old man, and one of the kids called out to him. The kid laughed and snatched the crumpled hat, then tossed it to his buddy. The pack circled the old man about three times before returning his hat.

Just then, one kid deftly lifted the distracted old man’s wallet. It was one of those big leather billfolds which closes with a zipper.

I saw it all. The kids ran right past me and boarded a bus. I did nothing. I kept walking to my stop, and within minutes I was on my
way home.

It happened so fast. I did nothing to stop the kids or help the old man. It haunts me still.

Looking back, I realize that a clothesline or a forearm shiver, a throwback to high school football days, might have carried a lot of risk. An 80-pound street kid can carry a blade, and there were three of them vs one of me. But I still wish I’d done it; that little shit would’ve gone flying.

Or I might have alerted the bus driver to keep the kids on board and call the cops. I didn’t think of it in time.

Or I could have offered aid to the old man. I guess I acted on that "I don’t want to get involved" impulse. Piss-poor excuse.

At the very least, I could have called a cop.

Unexpected events have a way of catching us flat-footed. Our internal coping mechanism is programmed to interpret abnormal situations as normal.

I hope there’s not a next time. And if there is a next time, I pray for courage, wisdom and clarity of thought. And the presence of mind to lay a solid clothesline on the little shit.

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