On Dealing With Danger

I live in a nice neighborhood. I might have mentioned that before. We’re renting the one shabby house on the block. When our contract is up, I have no doubt the owners will sell off to the first person who wants to knock it down and build a two-story TV-design house in its place.

And good luck to them. Obviously.

But all this is by way of saying that we’re a little out of our depth here. They’re not necessarily our people, or neighbors, although by and large they’ve been very nice. We signed up to nextdoor.com and now, privately, sharing our thoughts and feelings on some of our more self-entitled neighbors is our new family pastime. But twice last week, something disturbing was reported along with the usual stuff and nonsense.

Sure, according to our fellow residents, we have more cars ransacked during the night than a neighborhood would be comfortable with; sure we are all worried about the number of lost dogs and the occasional coyote padding along the streets; but this was a step up: two armed robberies on the street on two nights.

A team of two or three youths, one of them armed, was robbing people just a couple of streets up from us. According to rumor, one guy walking his dog had his iPhone stolen. The robber insisted he hand over his access code and he said, “You’re not getting my PIN.” I imagine he said it in a voice very much like Charlton Heston muttering about his cold, dead hand. So a standard has been set for us all to live up to.

Suddenly, our final dog-walk of the day seems less safe. And we’re not good with danger – especially me. My experience of potentially serious situations in the US has been very minor, and I did not handle them well.

I was once followed by a battered old car along the busy, urban roads of Austin. I went from thinking it was funny that it looked like I was being followed to being freaked that…hey, it really does feel like I am being followed.

It trailed me into the parking lot of a Half-Price Books, where I debated whether to stay in my car and lock the doors or get out and confront my possibly-armed stalker. What would be the most sensible thing to do in this situation in Texas? I wondered. I didn’t know, and I had a day to get on with, and we were in public in broad daylight, so I stepped out of my tiny little Versa. Which is almost certainly exactly the kind of lack-of-thought-process that gets people killed.

My “stalker” then turned out to be an old lady, a primary school teacher in fact, who wanted to take a picture of the GOT SQUIRRELS? sticker on my car; another of her friends uses squirrels in her teaching extensively and my not-in-any-way-a-stalker felt that her squirrel-obsessed friend would be tickled with a pic of my sticker.

Because presumably googling it would not have been as satisfying as following a complete stranger and cornering them in the Half-Price Books parking lot?

So, nothing to worry about…but weird, right? Who does that?

Second was the time that we forgot to lock our front door on one notable Saturday evening. Most times, I guess we would get away with such absent-mindedness. Most times, people aren’t trying doors to apartments in large complexes. But this day, the universe decided to present us with a spectacularly teachable moment.

One minute we’re all watching TV; the next, an older gentleman walks in to our home with his hands suspiciously behind his back.

He walked right into our living room, with our brave (so brave) guard dog barking and growling like a good ‘un from under a chair.

All three of us on the sofa – including your heroic chronicler here – just sat and stared in anxious anticipation, waiting for something weird or terrible to happen. We did not move…did not speak. We were frozen.

And then the older gentleman, possibly a little the worse for wear from drink, wished us all a good evening and clarified that he was probably meant to be in this very apartment but one floor up.

And then he left as suddenly as he’d arrived, I quickly locked the door, and we kept telling each other that this will be something we look back and laugh at in some imagined time in the future.

Still waiting on that one.

So, my brushes with danger have been notable but, in the end, completely lacking in actual danger. After those two reports on nextdoor.com, we haven’t heard any more about gangs of youths with pistols robbing brave local residents of their iPhones. But I’m paying attention. Maybe this neighborhood is too rough for us, after all.

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