Welcome to the Neighborhood
Wednesday morning I woke to discover that I had been robbed. The previous evening someone had decided to smash through the passenger-side window of my Volkswagon to steal the portable GPS system I had carelessly left on the dashboard. This is not the first time this has happened to me.
In 2005, while living on K Street, someone similarly decided to smash the passenger side window of my car – though for no apparent reason. Since then, I’ve made a point to be careful about parking in well lit areas and not leaving any property in overnight. But, because I’ve spent the past seven months in one of Puyallup’s gated/patrolled community’s – I’ve gotten lazy. I just moved back to Tacoma this week, and yesterday’s thievery wasn’t exactly the welcome I was expecting.
“I feel violated,” Jen – my girlfriend or partner, as we now cautiously call ourselves – said as she stood before my wounded car, commiserating with me over the loss. It’s a sentiment my mom similarly expressed many years earlier when she recalled how a couple of off duty police officers looted her home in Stamford, Connecticut. Both used the specific word “violated” – which to me still seems like an awfully dramatic adjective, but then again, I’m not a woman and I don’t think about such things as rape or sexual assault on even an irregular basis. Furthermore, I’ve never been emotionally attached to cars and, unlike Jen – who parks miles away from social functions so people won’t know she drives a 1996 Plymouth Voyager – I don’t allow myself to be defined by what I drive.
Before I even began picking up the pieces two older dog walkers stopped to view my misfortune. “This neighborhood isn’t safe anymore,” one said. “Just last week someone broke into your neighbor’s house and robbed her blind.” It’s hard to imagine. I’m within sight of the University of Puget Sound, living in one of Tacoma’s supposed up-and-coming areas.
“I think I should get a concealed weapons permit,” my five-foot 100lb girlfrie…I mean, partner says as we decide to fuck the day’s plans and walk to Shakabra for chai and magic potatoes. Having grown up on a ranch in Oklahoma, Jen is more than comfortable with firearms and given the fact that she started castrating cattle before she was a teenager and isn’t shy about telling people how to decapitate rattle snakes with a machete, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that she could bury an intruder in a shallow grave if threatened. At present, however, I am the only gun-owner in the house – a fact which makes our Chicago-born housemate, Electric Elliot Trotter, somewhat uncomfortable.
In truth I suppose if I had seen the son of a bitch break into my car and I’d had the opportunity, I might have come outside with my rifle in hand and made a point to keep him from ever doing it again. But I surely wouldn’t be stupid enough to kill someone over a $240 GPS and a $103.97 window.
Ultimately my response to all this was almost purely economical. True, I didn’t like my Mom’s harsh criticism of my carelessness when I reported what had happened, but – modest as my losses were — in this economy and with my current job (which pays below minimum wage) such losses really hurt me in the pocketbook. Also, I’ve been attracting a lot of bad luck recently, and such acts by local miscreants fail to inspire much confidence in myself. Nonetheless, I don’t really feel that same enraged sense of being wronged like I did back in 2005. Maybe, I’m learning to accept the world shitting on me. Or maybe I’m learning to see the bigger picture. What will this loss mean in the grand scheme of things?
Perhaps the only emotional loss I feel comes from now knowing that I can’t place any real confidence in this city; this place which for so long I have wanted to commit myself to. Since moving here from Portland – via Chicago – in 2004, I have seen Tacoma transform in ways few could have imagined. I’ve witnessed the formation of both an intellectual/artistic elite as well as a new, politically active, generation of leaders. I’ve watched the rejuvenation of our urban communities, fabulous improvements to our public schools, and a marked decline in violent crimes, prostitution, and meth addiction (though I think check-fraud remains a signature of our city.) In many respects living in Tacoma has allowed me to live in a bubble.
When Bush took (yes I say “took”) office in 2000, he inherited a nation still basking in the waning years of the 1990s. Within 4 years he had slingshot us back to the turmoil and social upheavals of the 1960s, and then used his second term to hurl us into an economic crisis reminiscent of the 1930s – with a hurricane ravaged Gulf Coast substituting for a Dust Bowl.
But here in Tacoma, we’ve had the rare opportunity to live in one of the few places in the nation where people can honestly say things have gotten better. This is not to say that we have not been untouched by the events of the past 8 years. Most of the country’s Iraq War veterans, for instance, spent time in or near Tacoma prior to their deployment and thus this city has been the flashpoint of some of the most dramatic anti-war demonstrations since the 1960s. Our main street economy has also been shaken and for the first time in years even property values are declining. But those who’ve lived here long enough to know where we were just a few years ago can’t help but feel a sense of pride for having “stuck it out” to make this world a decent place to live in.
So when things like this happen to me, it unsettles my faith in my community – a reality I don’t want to face.
City Glass offered me a really good deal on a replacement window, and were able to repair it within 24 hours. I was able to buy an almost new GPS off Craigslist for about $100 (reduced from $115 by request). I missed some work, I’m in the hole, this was just one more straw on my camel’s back. But I’m ok.
To me, Tacoma is the City of Destiny not because of what it is, but because of what it always seems ready to be. I see an almost great city filled with almost great individuals ready to rise up and proclaim our rights to top-tier civic status. Perhaps it is our destiny to always be simultaneously on the brink of both greatness and collapse. Or perhaps its always just two steps forward, one back.