The Prague policemen I’ve seen all have impressively large biceps and a no nonsense demeanor. This one had the largest biceps of them all, it looked as if his short sleeved shirt would split if he did a set of curls. Like the Incredible Hulk. Or perhaps they just appeared so large because he was standing uncomfortably close to me. He was in “my bubble”. But it wasn’t a good time to tell him about “my bubble”. He seemed pissed. Prague is ripe with corruption the locals say, like Chicago, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next.
I once had a Chicago cop try to shake me down as a young sailor. He said he stopped me for speeding then asked me if I had money to pay the ticket. I told him I had checks and a credit card. Then he went on a rant for at least twenty minutes about how the courts don’t take checks or credit cards and I would be put in jail for the weekend and be listed AWOL. He rambled on and on to the point I finally figured out what was going on. Then I said in a respectful and sympathetic manner, “Well I guess you’re going to have to take me in”. He mumbled something I couldn’t understand, walked back to his car and drove off quickly. I received no warning, citation or even a, “I’ll let you go this time but you better slow down boy”.
When the Prague officer approached, a young Polish street singer and I were having a conversation. The officer said one word in a demanding tone to the singer, “passport”. It was obvious that his interest was the singer and not me but I wasn’t about to abandon my new friend. Then the officer asked if he had a license to perform, of course he didn’t and I doubt the other guitarist, violinist, etc did either. The officer said he couldn’t sing on that particular street then briefly showed a map proving his point with red lines drawn on it.The singer asked if he could show him where we were currently located on that map. The officer pulled out the map again and the singer and I stepped forward for a closer look. The truth is any map of Prague would take many minutes to read, the streets are as tangled as a bowl of spaghetti with a few arches, churches and clocks towers thrown in. The officer barked a little more then walked back to his truck and drove off.
When the policeman was out of ear shot the young Polish singer looked at me and said, “I know I’m not suppose to sing on this street but all the other streets don’t have shade and it’s too hot to sing all day in the sun”. We laughed and then wished each other well.
If you’re interested in hearing this young singers great voice check out youtube, http://www.Youtube.com/JackAcousticSessions or http://www.Facebook.com/HeatF. I actually think he sounded better surrounded by the brick walls of the Old City than he does in his home studio but you’ll get the idea.
I associate Prague with a couple “Good Kings” that believed in religious tolerance, an incredible range of architecture that even Hitler couldn’t bring himself to destroy and the end of the Cold War. The US agreed to transport anyone that could gain access the US Embassy grounds to West Berlin. Then the US lowered the height of the embassy walls and installed ladders. The last few days of the Cold War you could see hundreds of Czechs scurrying around the embassy grounds after dark taking advantage of the US/West German offer. The Berlin Wall was no longer an effective barrier to West Berlin.
But as noted above Prague seems to get a lot of attention in guide books for its dodgy side, i.e. pick pockets, beggars, bogus passport inspectors, etc. Personally I have been badgered more by panhandlers in Portland Oregon or even Indianapolis then I have in Prague. But as I walked back to the hostel at 1:30 in the morning with a couple of girls that have lived and taught English in Prague for more than a year I couldn’t resist asking,”How safe do you feel living in Prague?”
The girls lived in Texas, California, Colorado and Oregon before moving to the Czech Republic. “I feel safer walking around Prague at night then I did in the states. You read a lot about crime in Prague but I have never had a problem and I don’t know any of my friends that have. What is more of an issue is government corruption and that the presidents are incredibly embarrassing.” To learn more about this issue check out “Pen Gate” or how the new president was so drunk at his early morning inauguration that he had to be held up. Of course we have had our embarrassing leaders too, from mispronunciations to being unable to keep their pants up or their cigars under control but at least they “didn’t inhale”. But in conclusion I didn’t have any problems and the level of concern I stepped off the bus with was probably a little over the top. But I always wear a money belt and carry nothing of importance in my pockets. Having grown up around Chicago may be helpful too.