Some of the best advice we’ve ever received on how to be safe and avoid being mugged while traveling came in an unexpected form at an unexpected time.
We had just seen a drag show at The Oasis in San Francisco. It’s located in the SoMa district which is just one of several areas that tourists should try to avoid, according to AOL Travel. I personally have been chased for two blocks by aggressive panhandlers in San Fran, so I knew well that it was not a city in which to let your guard down.
But there we were in the dead of night trying to find our way back to our Airbnb in the Castro, nearly two miles away. In Toronto, we would just flag a taxi among the hundreds that would pass by on a given night. But since Uber moved in, there wasn’t a cab in sight, and neither of us had Uber on our phones nor a roaming data plan nor the desire to try and figure it out at 2 a.m.. We decided to walk.
The first and hopefully most obvious tip for being safe while traveling is to not walk dark silent streets alone, or if you’re two females, or if you’re a male and a female. You are easy targets. Your best bet is to stay at the bar or club until you can get a taxi. Don’t just wander off into the night like we did. With Bryan’s tattoos and our respective builds, he looks dangerous and I look fast, and muggers would really prefer an easier target than we’re likely to be.
As we continued to walk — under the bridge, past homeless people and lone men leaning on lampposts, and finally into a more residential section — we came upon two drag queens. These weren’t just any queens, they had beards, which is a statement itself on gender and equality. For them to be walking this area at night, they had to be seasoned pros at how to handle themselves.
“Can we get a picture with you?” Bryan asked. Well, he probably slurred.
“Of course,” one said, nonchalantly, to what I’m sure is a common question for them.
“Awesome, you look amazing.”
“Ok, just stop yelling at me,” the other said calmly, with practiced comic undertones.
We took pictures, thanked them, told them they looked amazing again, and said our good-byes. Whether she was anticipating our walk home, reading Bryan’s drunken stumble, or feeling my apprehension, the blonde one threw a quick steady gaze at me and said, “Walk with purpose, and look everyone in the eye.” Without another word, she turned swiftly on her heel and the two disappeared a half block later into an unmarked doorway at the foot of a multipurpose building.
It was perhaps the best advice on traveling safely from perhaps the most reliable source. Tourists normally walk as if they don’t know where they’re going, and think if they don’t make eye contact with strangers that they’ll be left alone. But those two things together show enough fear and uncertainty for a mugger to see a quick and easy buck.
As we purposefully hiked home, I looked everyone in the eye, from homeless people to drunk tourists to shady-looking locals, and each of them looked at me and then turned away. Whether or not it kept us safe, I’m thankful to those drag queens for looking out for us and giving me something I’ll always remember.