A Stranger Walked Me Home in West Philly

Safety first.

Saturday, I was scheduled to be at an event at 36th and Walnut. Had I not worn my gold wedge heels with the agonizingly biting heel straps, I would have walked. Instead, I took the trolley, got off at the wrong stop and had to toddle across Penn’s campus. It occurred to me along the way that I’d be more attractive if I walked gracefully in heels rather than clomped like a skinny-jeaned pack mule. So I decided to channel a famous actress and walk with her confidence. But I couldn’t think of anyone—it was like the US Weekly of my brain went out of print. The only famous person I could think of was Jessica Simpson, who I often think of, sympathetically, because we have the same body type: flat ass, big boobs, the ability to be skinny but a lamentable tendency to fatten up if we take our eye off the ball. No point in channeling her.

I decided to walk like a theoretical celebrity, but by the time I’d mastered standing up straight, pulling in my stomach, and pretending I was beautiful all at once, I’d passed Walnut Street by a block and a half. I had to double back—clomping. I got to the Annenberg 10 minutes late, dripping with sweat, and had to pop a migraine pill. And I thought: I just shouldn’t be allowed out of my house.

This kind of thing has happened before. I’ve missed my trolley stop playing games on my iPhone. And I can let days slip by while I stare at sunscreens at CVS, thinking, “What did they say on NPR about broad-spectrum?” But with even the slightest effort, I have almost superheroic peripheral vision and perception. When I drive, I look straight ahead, yet perceive the cars, pedestrians and bikers on all sides. People who ride with me are shocked that my face doesn’t change and my head doesn’t swivel, but I brake at the right moment. It’s very strange. You’ll see how it works in the next Avengers movie.

I think the peripheral magic is why I’ve never been mugged, though I’ve lately realized my luck may be running out from a statistical standpoint. So after the event Saturday night, I decided to call the Penn/University City District free “walking escort” service. I’d never called before because I always feel like I’m bothering everyone, but tying up cops and courthouses is worse.

I hopped off the trolley at 47th and Baltimore, where I was meeting the escort. There was a guy with a big gun in a holster there, and for a confused moment I thought maybe he was going to walk me home. He was actually the bouncer for a bar, and I am so grateful that I didn’t say, “Hi! Are you my escort?” I came so close.

When the public safety officer arrived, I got nervous, like we were on a date. Were we supposed to talk? Was I walking too slowly in my painful shoes? Did he think it was silly we were only walking a block and a half? I apologized for existing, as I do every 10 minutes, even if there’s no one around. He told me public safety officers enjoy providing the service because it’s a change of pace. I felt more comfortable, so I started to chatter: “But I mean, some of this is common sense. There are these Penn kids … ” and then I told an unflattering story about a student who, when confronted by a mugger with a gun, said, “I bet that’s not real,” and got shot in the foot. I believe the awkward silence was a result of the phrase “Penn kids.” But he was very gracious and friendly nonetheless, and said to call the service anytime.

Next time I have an event to attend, I’m definitely going to call. Who knows? Maybe one of these officers can coach me in the ways of walking like a person with grace and confidence, like a celebrity. As long as it’s not Jessica Simpson.

About the service: Available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, between 30th to 43rd Streets and Market Street to Baltimore Avenue. Available 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. between 30th and 50th and Spring Garden Street to Woodland Avenue. For more info, go here.