Author’s note: Editor-in-chief Vincent has let me take over the site for the week. Today is the third of a four part exclusive look at “real life superhero” Phoenix Jones, The Guardian of Seattle. For part 1, click here. For part 2, click here. For part 3, click here.
The superheroes walk the blocks and occasionally cut through alleys. If they see something suspicious, they simply pause and watch until it’s certain what’s going on. Because of the hour, many inebriated people push each other and make noise and it’s difficult to tell whether it’s the beginnings of a real fight or people playing around. This night, most of it is simply drunk friends. Most. We see ambulance lights at one point but no one was assaulted. An older homeless woman simply tripped and needed help.
Walking the streets, there is a shout from behind us of “FAKE!” and we see projectiles coming from that same green Honda CR-V. Wet splattering sounds go off all around me and I notice that the people in the car threw eggs at us. They speed off erratically and by the time I notice I wasn’t hit by an egg, Phoenix is a block away chasing the car. We all run after it and Phoenix keeps pace with the speeding car for a good three blocks. He then breaks off and once everyone catches up, he gives Mr. Pink the license plate. The 911 call is placed and we compare descriptions in case we see them again. There’s only so many bars open at this hour. Spoiler: we don’t see them again.
As the patrol begins again, I ask Phoenix about the homeless situation. It’s much more noticeable at this hour just how many disenfranchised people Seattle has. Phoenix frequently gathers donations and gives them to people in need, both in and out of costume. Now, he and Purple Reign are organizing the first of what they hope will be regular campaigns. Rockstar Energy Drinks is sponsoring the event and the superheroes are calling for everyone to donate new ponchos, socks and gloves. It can all be sent to Dreaming Comics and Games in Seattle and if you include a gift card, you will be able to see it given out because Phoenix will livestream it on his U-Stream channel.
Phoenix tells me a story of how he frequently goes underground to give out sandwiches to homeless people he meets. Seattle was originally a series of wooden buildings. In the summer of 1889 a fire broke out that destroyed 31 city blocks. The city’s response was unusual in that instead of simply rebuilding, they passed two laws: all new buildings must be made of stone or brick; and the streets should be regraded to one or two stories higher than the original street level because the original streets frequently flooded. The end result is that an entire new city was built on top of the old one. In 1907, the city closed off the underground level for fear of bubonic plague. A few blocks are used as a historical tour, but much of the city is simplay abandoned. Many homeless people turn this into temporary housing.
Phoenix had a regular person he would give sandwiches to down there and one time he found the man asleep and left the sandwich. When he saw the sandwich untouched two days later, he got a queasy feeling. When he pulled the man up from his slumped over position he realized he had passed away. It was the second dead body he’d come across as a superhero but this one disturbed him because it was someone he knew. It’s an unfortunate event that seems inevitable if you do this long enough.
As the night wears on, getting closer to 3am, the last buses complete their routes. Phoenix and his team are recognized by a man waiting at one of the stops with a case of Milwaukee’s Best. He asks for a photo and mentions something quietly to Phoenix. We wait around with about a dozen people until they get on the bus. Phoenix then explains to me why we waited: the man was afraid of two other men who had been following him and saying to give them his beer. The man didn’t want to confront them but was afraid he’d be robbed and asked Phoenix to wait with him. It isn’t dramatic but it’s nice that the RCSM was able to give this man some peace of mind.
It’s almost 3:30am and it’s been a relatively quiet evening. Then we run into the first major trouble of the patrol. There is a loud man shouting at a group of about 6 other men a block away. He’s obviously agitated, walking quickly and screaming at them. He has a bulky jacket and a red backpack. One of the men he’s shouting at is a homeless man we spoke with earlier in the evening, who is in a wheelchair with only one leg. Phoenix rapidly breaks down what he wants everyone to do. He has Cabbie get ready to dial 911 and warns us all that he can’t be sure but the angry man could be armed. It’s strange that he’d be so confidently aggressive to a large group of people and it would be easy to hide a gun in his jacket. Phoenix lays out where we should run to cover in case a gun is pulled. I begin recording on the second GoPro but make sure to always have a car or lightpole roughly in front of me. This is getting a bit scary.
The homeless man hops out of his wheelchair at the aggressive man, tired of being bullied, hopping on his one leg. That’s when Phoenix steps in. “Back off!” he orders and gets his hand on his pepper spray. Phoenix effectively takes the man’s attention. However, he isn’t done being angry. He yells at Phoenix in the middle of the street, just feet away. It seems a fist fight is inevitable and everyone waits on pins and needles to see if a weapon is drawn. The man walks towards Phoenix, pauses, walks towards Westlake Drake, Knight Savior and I. Cabbie is making a call across the street. The man turns back to Phoenix and makes as if he’s about to hit him with his backpack. In retrospect, this is when I relax slightly because if he is going to use his backpack as a weapon, it’s very unlikely he has a gun. Phoenix stands his ground and the man wilts. He begins backing off from a fighting stance but is still shouting at us. He crosses the street and two police cars pull up. The police get on the bullhorn and order everyone to disperse. They give Phoenix a nod and begin looping the block. The aggressive man with the backpack had scuttled up another street as soon as the police arrived. We stay at the corner, making sure he doesn’t bother anyone else he passes, but it seems he’s been intimidated. I am acutely aware of the heaviness of the bulletproof vest and grateful it was there, even if it wasn’t needed.
It’s past 3am now and the streets are very quiet. The RCSM team decides it time to call it a night. We break up in front of Pike Place Market where a homeless man asks for a cigarette and Phoenix guilts Westlake Drake into giving away his last cigarette. Phoenix argues that superheroes don’t smoke. I point out that Nick Fury and Wolverine do. “Those are cigars. That’s different,” he tells me. Drake and Knight Savior head home and Phoenix, Cabbie, Pink and I head back to the car. Phoenix has us cut across a parking lot behind a strip club. There are just two cars parked at the back with 3 or 4 guys talking loudly. Phoenix decides we should wait at one end to make sure this isn’t a drug deal. We end up waiting a long time and it becomes less likely there is any crime and more likely that these are some drunk guys who aren’t ready to go home yet. The suspicion is confirmed once the loudest guy notices Phoenix and walks over to sloppily enthuse over how cool superheroes are. It’s time to move on.
As we near the garage, we witness our final crime of the night and in many ways the most bizarre one. A gaunt, skittish man passes us carrying an armload of white plastic coat hangers. It’s a strange scene and we chuckle about it. Cabbie mentions he saw that same guy a few hours ago carrying a DVD player. As we round the corner, it dawns on us that these two instances must be related and we’re missing the bigger picture. That’s when we see a few more white coat hangers on the sidewalk by a car with no rear window. He obviously stole it from the back of the car. We look around the corner but he’s gone. Pink calls in a description of the scene while we examine the car. It has parking tickets from 8pm forward and the license plate is from Oregon. Phoenix suspects it was a stolen car. There is no shattered glass but when I look at the car window, I see duct tape residue. We piece together that the guy had seen a plastic sheet on a window and had probably been grabbing things from the car all night, whenever no one was in sight. It’s mildly frustrating to put the story together in this order, but at least now the police have a record of what occurred. Phoenix followed up with me the next evening, letting me know he ran the car’s plates and it wasn’t stolen but was listed as being donated to charity. Maybe someone drove it off the charity’s impound lot? We’ll never know.
It all serves to throw into sharp relief the difference between a comic book superhero and a real life superhero. The fictional hero gets to see the car first, then the thief. The fictional hero gets to break up a drug deal because he knows it’s going down. The fictional hero gets to knock out an aggressive man without worrying about any legal consequences or danger to bystanders. The real life superhero must tread a much more delicate line. But the drug dealers that had to walk on at the beginning of the patrol? The group of people who were not attacked? The homeless people given clothes and food? Those are real results.
The author would like to thank Phoenix Jones, Purple Reign, El Caballero, Westlake Drake, Mr. Pink, and Knight Savior for their time and openness for this series of articles.
Phoenix Jones has offered to answer any questions you may have. Treat this like a Reddit Ask Me Anything and simply leave your question in the comments.