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The Observer got a raise this month, so we decided to splurge. We bought a purple shower curtain and new bathroom rugs. We acquired a “Happy Home” candle and a big black rug for the apartment. We treated ourselves to a pair of fuzzy leopard-print mules and candy apple-flavored lip gloss.

“You've got good taste,” commented the check-out lady at Family Dollar.

And now, a word from our readers:

Becky Ragsdale offers a solution to the ticketing and congestion in the River Market district mentioned so disparagingly in this column last week: Park in North Little Rock.

There, Ragsdale writes, free parking is abundant. She advises, “Ride the much beloved trolley over. Or better yet, walk over. We Argentans do this often and we take pride in our beautiful, safe downtown area.”

There's no denying that the River Market district has earned a reputation of being rowdy — and, lately, unsafe, after a couple of carjackings. Let's hope the carjackings were an anomaly the police will keep from being repeated.

But, historians point out, rowdiness isn't new to the district. It is, in fact, tradition.

Something there is about a row of buildings along the river that invites merriment and petty crime. In the middle part of the 1800s, when boats unloaded at the docks on Water Street, just behind where the River Market is now, the area teemed with travelers and day laborers and con artists and women of, as Historic Arkansas Museum director Bill Worthen put it, “questionable virtue.” Businesses sprang up to serve the ruffians and workers, providing refreshments both liquid and, at the Ocean Wave saloon, of the flesh. Too much of the former and otherwise high spirits gave streets in the area nicknames — the block of Water Street fronting the docks was known as Battle Row and the alley between it Fighting Alley. The whole neighborhood was called, as so many places of tumult are, Hell's Half Acre. It's all written down, in Margaret Ross' records at the University of Arkansas, in a box labeled Little Rock Vice Index. Also in the box: Lewd Women A-Z. In one sense, the naughties have nothing on the nineteenth.

With the River Market and restaurants, food has replaced sex along Elm Street alley. A tiny bit of the cobbled street remains. It's behind Rumba — a name aptly, if inadvertently, reflecting the liveliness of the land the business stands on.

It's a little on the rough side south of the River Market as well, where last Friday night The Observer became the Observed. We were walking by the Albert Pike Residence Hotel, whistling and minding our own business, when we saw a car stopped at the intersection of Seventh and Scott streets. About 20 paces later, we heard the car door open and the sound of running footsteps, whereupon we looked over our shoulder to find an oversized youth hurtling toward us. We tried to move on at our normal pace, but the youth wasn't stopping. Nor did he stop until he had thrown a punch at The Observer, who ducked the blow and caught only a light glance on the right bicep and a strong whiff of body odor. The Observer stared at the youth, who backed off and muttered the phrase “You little bitch” several times, almost inaudibly. Then The Observer became The Observer again — we observed the slavering twerp flee back to the car.

Although The Observer has entertained fantasies of kicking the living shit out of thugs who attempt to assail us, we haven't been very good at carrying them out. This time we decided that the dark, abandoned street and the apparent presence of several of the youth's friends in the car did not put the fight in our favor. We did try to find out what the big idea was, but to no avail — our calls of “What do you want?” and “What is this all about?” went unanswered. The car sped away with the attacker in tow, leaving The Observer to puzzle over the motivation behind the pseudo-assault. Bias toward whistlers? Displeasure at The Observer's appearance? Youthful dare? Rite of initiation? Unorthodox sexual advance? It's a wild city out there, folks. Watch your backs.

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