Author’s note: Editor-in-chief Vincent has let me take over the site for the week. Today is the first of a four part exclusive look at “real life superhero” Phoenix Jones, The Guardian of Seattle.
The Seattle weather is what you would expect for a Friday night: cold and rainy. The forecast calls for the rain to end by midnight, when real life superhero Phoenix Jones normally starts his patrol with his fellow Rain City Superheroes, but our eyes tells us differently. So what was originally planned to be a “walk along” has changed to being invited to hang out with Phoenix in plain clothes with his real life wife (the superhero Purple Reign) and friends. He could have just as easily called it off but Phoenix seems determined to give me an entertaining evening. And he does. By the end of the night, I’ve met informants, store clerks who he’s saved, and I’m wearing his pants to get into a club with no name. Along the way I get a few answers to my overriding question: why dress up like a superhero in the first place?
Getting ahold of Phoenix Jones in the first place is aided by social media but he uses an intermediary, Peter, who acts as a type of agent for real life superheroes across the country. We agree on meeting Friday night in the Belltown section of Seattle. I’ve visited Seattle regularly for years because my fiance’s family is there but I live and work in D.C. My only experience in this specific area is visiting the touristy shops. As I’ll soon learn, it’s a completely different animal in the evening, almost totally unrecognizable.
The weather has ultimately scuttled the evening’s patrol, but I instead spend the next several hours hanging out with Phoenix and seeing the city through his eyes. We meet at a bar where a large group of his friends is winding down a birthday celebration. Phoenix greets me with a warm smile and firm handshake at the door and helps introduce me to everyone. He lets me know that I can use his real name tonight but if we meet anyone who isn’t one of his friends, to use his and his wife’s aliases. I still can’t help but call him Phoenix the whole time. Being in his presence, you can see why he gets the media attention, neighborhood support, and dedicated superhero team support. He’s magnetic. He looks you in the eye and focuses intently when you ask a question. When he speaks, everyone listens. He’s full of energy and while not unfocused, he is constantly moving, rattling off stories and details and letting you play catch up.
I gather some of the basics from him while his wife and two friends decide where we’ll go next. Phoenix has been a superhero for 3 years now and shows off some of the tools he uses to communicate on a normal patrol. He uses the Life360 Family Locator app to monitor where everyone on patrol is at any given time. They also use their mobile devices to see what each other sees when they witness a crime. When he pulls out his iPhone, he places his wallet and a blank keycard on the table.
“What’s that?” I ask, pointing at the keycard.
“The Belltown Business Association gave me that, to thank me for what I do for them,” he admits a bit sheepishly. “It’s a master key for an apartment building down here.” The local businesses were grateful for the times he’s helped stop robberies and have given him an apartment to use when he’s in the area as well as an underground parking spot. Later in the evening, I’ll meet people who thank Phoenix for helping save them from a mugging or similar violent crime.
Phoenix shows another app that shows the dollar balance in a corporation he’s formed. Any money he is given as Phoenix Jones goes into the corporation to be given back to the neighborhood or to purchase crime fighting gear. On nights like this, when it’s rainy, he goes out and gives sandwiches and rain jackets to homeless people that gather under bridges. A local grocery chain can’t officially give him food, but the day’s bakery and other just-expired goods are double bagged by employees and placed by their garbage area for Phoenix to pick up. If a raincoat has a broken zipper or similar defect, he picks those up from a large big box chain and gives them out to the less fortunate. He already did this tonight around 10pm, in plain clothes.
He admits that this is the first Friday in about eight months that he hasn’t gone patrolling and expresses, not for the last time tonight, disappointment in not getting to show me around in costume. He promises to take me another night before I leave. The corporation serves another purpose. It allows him to offer health insurance to the other Rain City superheroes. Then, if they are injured and need medical attention, they don’t have to use their work insurance and let anyone else know about their evening alter egos. Phoenix himself says he tries to use hospitals pretty far away, but in the case of simple stitches and other small injuries they have arranged for a doctor who works out of his house to treat the superheroes and he accepts their insurance. It’s all on the level, but done quietly so that he and his team can keep their superhero work separate from their private lives. The corporation also pays a large team of attorneys who help Phoenix when the law comes after him, as well as training his team on the laws and municipal codes of the Belltown and Capitol Hill sections of Seattle. For now, the superheroes focus on knowing those laws backwards and forwards so that they rarely require any legal intervention on their behalf.
We decide to head to a private club in the Capitol Hill section of Seattle, but Phoenix offers to drive me around his patrol area first so that I can get a sense of the area he watches most frequently. In the back of his car is A LOT of gear. His supersuit, bulletproof chest shields, various equipment that would not be out of place on Batman.
As he drives down 2nd Ave, he points out trouble spots. It really is unlike the area I’ve visited during the day. Popular clubs have lines out the door for a 4 block stretch. There’s already an ambulance in front of one and Phoenix and his Purple are completely unfazed.
“There’s a lot of drinking, a lot of aggression here,” Phoenix mentions while pointing out parking lot attendants and hot dog vendors he’s helped. “I get free hot dogs for life from them.” A family run business, the hot dog street vendors all know Phoenix and are grateful for his intervention, which apparently is frequently needed.
As we roll around onto 1st Ave, Purple Reign tells me, “This is quieter, but more dangerous. This is where the drug dealers work.” I get the sense that there’s a quiet battle for control of this small segment of the city between the Rain City Superheroes and the criminal element. It’s an intimidating prospect.
“The problem with this area,” Phoenix explains, “is a lot of ‘strong arm’ robbery. An attempted mugging is one thing, but a lot of the crime here involves a weapon or physical attacks.” Phoenix has already explained to me that he’s learned to call the police right away during an attack because he can restrain someone but can’t make an arrest. Early on in his superhero career, he was a straight up vigilante, making “stupid mistakes.” He chained a guy to a pole and just left him. Later, he learned that if you arrest someone and put them in cuffs, you legally assume responsibility for that person. So if you had, say, cuffed a person and someone else kicked them in the face, you are at fault. It’s led to Phoenix having to hold people down for as long as forty minutes. Purple tells me that one victory they’ve had is that police response time used to be an hour when they began patrolling but their frequent reports and citizen’s arrests have brought that down to about 6 minutes on average.
We pull into a gas station and Phoenix introduces me to the store clerk, an older Middle Eastern man who seems very happy to see Phoenix. They explain to me that the other week two men were fighting and Phoenix pepper sprayed the attacker. The attacker got the spray on his hands and grabbed his victim’s face, smearing it in his eyes. Phoenix took the man to the gas station to buy some milk and use it to diffuse the pepper. The attacker followed them and the clerk chased him out with a bat. I get updated that the clerk refunded the cost of the milk to the victim and the police returned his bat. While purchasing his first pack of Skittles for the evening, Phoenix points to a man who’s just entered and says to me, “Knife. Back left pocket.”
I look at the man, wearing a hoodie, who is at the ATM. I can’t see the weapon at all. Phoenix assures me, “It’s no big deal. It’s a Spydeco, not really a big knife.” The man shifts and I see the top of the knife in the pocket like Phoenix said. Purple lets me know he quizzes her on what people on the street are carrying. Phoenix has been both shot and stabbed before while patrolling, so he pays keen attention to details like this.
Sorry to leave you here but there will be even more content tomorrow and starting Wednesday, a recap of an actual patrol with Phoenix Jones and other members of the Rain City Superhero Movement. Want to help Phoenix? Visit http://www.thephoenixjones.com/action-team.html