Among the most dangerous places I’ve ever visited while searching for street art have been in Baltimore, Maryland. There are few other cities in the world compared to Baltimore where things go from fancy to fucked-up as quickly, first super safe then scared shitless from one block to the next. For anyone whose hobby includes combing city streets on a bicycle in search of stickers glued to and posters pasted up in dirty and dangerous places, here are three simple tips on how to stay alive and well whilst gathering graff.
1. Make eye contact with people, and greet them. Do this always, especially in dark and lonely places. Many gangsters operate on the basis of honor, and looking them in the eye and saying hello to them is an honorable act that rarely fails to calm situations. (Don’t expect them to say hello back, however; not getting shanked or shot at should be validation enough.) Greeting people lets them know that you know they’re there; it shows them that you respect their presence and are not afraid of them or anyone they may be with. If you bicycle around a corner and surprise a group of people, raising a hand in greeting (with two fingers making a V, for victory) and saying a kind word should ease tensions and allay fears.
2. KMA - Keep moving, always. Don’t linger, loiter, stay on one block without moving for too long, or appear lost. If this means backtracking a block or two until you can shoot across a road or bicycling up on the sidewalk to avoid a traffic snarl, do it (just go slowly around pedestrians). If you see some graffiti and want to stop to take a picture of it, check that the picture is well centered and not blurry, then keep moving. The entire process should take fewer than 30 seconds, rarely enough time for someone to approach or harass you.
3. Make a fool of yourself. Bicycle no-handed, pull wheelies, whistle or shout loudly, and generally look like you’re having a grand olde time. White dudes on bicycles wearing helmets and burning lights fore and aft are usually the police. But the police usually don’t pull tricks, and they’re definitely not out to have a good time. Nearly every potentially sticky encounter I’ve had of late was defused by me letting go of the handlebars and lazily cruising by whoever looked like they wanted to hurt me (while giving them a last-minute nod and V, of course).
There are few better ways to hunt street art than on a bicycle. By following the three simple rules mentioned above, you’ll hopefully stay safe and gather graff for many years to come. Mahaloalowa!
americanifesto / JPR / whorphan / 場黑麥
blog updated Fridays, usually
I bicycle, write, surf, and strive.