The people I encountered in downtown Birmingham late one recent Sunday evening made me nervous and even afraid. For example, at the first stop light I encountered after rolling off I-65 down near UAB, a scary dude with a long scar running down one side of his face came off the sidewalk with a bottle of Windex and a dirty rag and started "cleaning" my windshield. I knew he would be asking for money any minute, and I really didn't want to roll down my window; so as soon as the light turned green, I hit my horn and pulled away as fast as I dared. About four or five blocks further down the street, I stopped for another red light, and another nerve-wracking character appeared. As I looked to my right, I saw an old woman pushing a shopping cart and talking loudly to herself. She bounced the shopping buggy over the curb and was just about to plow into the side of my car. By now she was shouting, but I couldn't understand what she was saying. I just barely avoided hitting her as I ran the light and tried to get out of her sight. Several blocks later, near the Greyhound Station, the most upsetting character of the evening appeared. Suddenly -- again as I was stopped for red light -- a rough-looking panhandler appeared out of nowhere, walked right out into the street and started knocking on my driver's side window. "Hey, man!" he said in a clearly menacing manner, "See that truck over there? I'm out of gas, and I need about five bucks to get back on the road to Gadsden. You're gonna help me out, right?" As I sped through another red light, my heart was really racing, and I was promising myself that if I escaped from all the disturbed and disturbing people lurking around downtown, I would never go to Birmingham after dark again.