Street lamps light the asphalt and cement of Ashland Avenue, unexpectedly vacant even for midnight on a freezing Friday. Exhausted but watchful on the ride home from a north-side theater, I slackly pedal my bicycle south between Taylor Street and Roosevelt Road.

All at once I spot a runner on the sidewalk opposite me. The guy proceeds to dash between parked cars, on a diagonal course across empty northbound lanes some 30 yards distant. I track him from the get-go: six feet tall and youthfully lean in gray sweatpants and olive drab jacket. In a matter of seconds he changes his running angle, cutting toward me on the wide street.

Now I really pump the pedals, my eyes never leaving the runner’s narrow, wedge-shaped reptilian face. He’s been staring at me–a fat guy in the waning 30s–since I saw him. He’s not jogging, I realize, not running for an owl-service bus: it’s me he’s after. He’s hustling so hard the soles of his athletic shoes slap pavement.

Awaiting the open-field tackle to come, I lose track of my own breathing. My legs pedal as though disconnected from my body. “No man, no!” I scream at the expressionless face.

This quietly intense Mike Singletary-with-screws-loose is almost on top of me. Failing to cut me off from in front, and missing a clean grip on my body, clothing, or shoulder bag, he is not quite alongside. Mentally preparing for a fall, I already picture disentangling myself from the downed bike and painfully resisting at close quarters.

The runner’s so near I can feel him weighing a grab for my rear wheel and spokes but not risking it. A second later his breath booms in my ear, and I heave forward. I gun the red light at Roosevelt before looking back–the runner might have a car or accomplices. Several unconcerned cars that I didn’t hear approaching are close by. There’s no sign of the determined runner anywhere.

I flag a police car at an intersection two blocks ahead and breathlessly relate what happened. The two cops–older white men–reject my offer to attract the pursuer by biking back the way I came, and they say they won’t need my name or personal information. The squad car turns sharply and noses north, in the direction I am pointing.

Three days later I am biking before sundown at 14th and Morgan. It’s almost exactly the spot where a laughing owner pretended to unleash his furious Doberman on me years ago. Now, a trio of teenage boys unload on me with broken bricks. Whether because of their bad aim or my zigzagging, the chunks miss me. Yelling racial taunts, the boys have to throw over the high chain-link fence they are standing behind. The barrier seals off a block of two-story public housing made to look like brown imitation town houses.

Pieces of brick clunking behind me and to my right, I shout too. “I love you,” I holler, not knowing why. “God loves you!” “Fuck you,” the biggest kid fires back.

Saved by the fence, I’m not pursued. Two blocks past South Water Market, I encounter another stopped squad car parked alongside a white Chevy sedan beater. Taking the scene for a moving violation, I line up alongside the driver cop’s rolled-down window.

A Latino guy in his 20s backs off to converse in urgent Spanish with a woman and kids in the Chevy. He looks frayed and street smart, muscular enough for manual labor, despite his boyish baseball cap and thick-rimmed glasses.

“Kids are throwing bricks at traffic.” I address my remark to the cops as calmly as possible. “They’re going to hit somebody.”

The Spanish-speaking guy, reapproaching, lights up. “Yeah! Yeah! That happened to us, man!”

The officers take the motorist’s name, address, and phone number but not mine. The young Latino and I describe where we were attacked, and the squad car whirls around with a squeaky U-turn. The worked-up man waves me toward him, so I dismount from the bicycle. He leads me to his car, pointing at three or four imploded blisters on its finish– brick damage.

“They almost hit my wife in the face with a snowball this year, man,” he says, “a hard one.” A somber woman regards me from inside the vehicle.

“She was in the car then, too,” the guy continues. “I’ll beat the shit out of them if I get my hands on one.” He paces the street nervously, directionless, eyes caffeine-wide.

“Then see if you don’t get charged,” I comment offhandedly. Instead of taking offense as I fear, he only laughs. Then his voice veers hoarsely out of control.

“You can’t catch nobody,” he says. “Serious, it’s like Nam. Where me and you got sanctuary?”

He answers himself after a pause.

“No place, that’s where.”