Another Day in Paradise

I did something last week that I rarely do: I went out after dark. I don’t like to do this. This area is too creepy crawly during the day, much less at night. But supplies were low, and I wasn’t sure when I’d get another chance to go food shopping.

And I thought to myself, “Maybe you’re exaggerating all of this: the crime, the filth, the general insanity. Maybe it’s not as bad as you think.” So, like a small child testing the waters, I thought I’d stick my toe in the after-hours scene.

It was about 7:30 pm when I made the trek over to a local food store. I arrived there, exited the car — all in one piece! I entered, shopped, and even returned to my car intact. I felt elated, triumphant, like one of those Olympic athletes who just won a gold medal. I had actually escaped aggressive panhandlers, criminals, and the certifiable insane to secure my milk and eggs!

Emboldened and giddy, I thought, “Maybe I can take this one step further. Maybe I can successfully make it in and out of the Walgreen’s! Maybe — gasp — I can even have a life!” Flush with the joy of my Olympic-style victory, I headed down the block to the pharmacy chain store.

And that’s when it happened.

All was well while I picked up some moisturizer and soap and headed over to the check-out line. I stood confidentially on the queue, euphoric about being able to do something so normal, something people do all over this great nation.

Suddenly, right outside the glass windows, someone started screaming at the top of his lungs, while someone else screamed back. Then there was cursing and throwing things, with several men looking maniacal and out of control.

Frightened, I looked at the cashier. He paused, took in the scene, looked back at me and shrugged his shoulders. Then he continued processing my order.

I stared at the chaotic happenings. Things quieted down for a minute or so, and I finally took a deep breath. And then the yelling started up again. Frozen now in fear, I stared outside the glass window, trying to discern what was happening and, even more pressing, what was going to happen.

There was that familiar, disturbing uncertainty, something that I’ve experienced many times before. What is going to happen next? Are they going to come in? Are they going to rob us, attack us, create store-wide pandemonium — or worse? And how am I going to get back safely to my car?

I suggested to the cashier that he call the police. He gave me that bored and I’ve-seen-it-all look, and said, “If it keeps up, I’ll do that.” The commotion died down and the cashier and I completed the money exchange. Then I told him that I was afraid to walk to my car alone and needed someone to come with me.

He paged the supervisor and a few minutes later, a tough-looking dude came out to escort me. We walked outside and there were several vagrants out there, though it was hard to tell whether they were part of the street fighting or just housing themselves on the sidewalk. I kept my eyes firmly on my surroundings, as I got in my car quickly and drove away.

Just at that moment, a police car with its sirens blaring sped through the parking lot looking for whatever was going on, which I’ll never know. Obviously, the miscreants took their mayhem elsewhere, triggering someone to call the police. As I drove out of the parking lot, I said out loud to God, “Just for the record, I hate it here. Just so you know.”

Now let me clarify this: what I’ve described — the social unrest, violence, terror — happens around here all the time, on a practically minute-to-minute basis. And this is an area where people brag incessantly about how fortunate they are to live here: how lucky they are to pay 3 grand a month to rent a tiny cottage in a marginal area, where cars are broken in to on a regular basis, and children attend some of the worst schools in the United States. Gentle readers: I appeal to you; can you understand why it is like living among programmed Stepford people to reside around here?

For me, my never-to-be-repeated late night sojourn only reinforces what I knew to begin with: that this is a terrible — I repeat — a terrible area in which to live. But for the multitudes, the danger of my late night outing was no big deal, simply Another Day in Paradise, we being the luckiest people on earth.

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