What a beautiful, peaceful evening. Venus, a brilliant diamond, shone in a deep sapphire sky when the corgis and I set out to jog a mile-long course through the ’hood. The dimming sunset, still glowing orange, backlit tall palm, ash, and pine trees to the west.
Two houses between here and Richistan, very nice houses, are on the market. One is a fix-and-flip, acquired from a very aged man who probably was the original owner. The other has been upgraded a couple of times over the past decade and is significantly further from Conduit of Blight than the Funny Farm.
I consider, as I pass each house, whether if I had a sh!tload of money I would wish to buy one of these places. And the answer is no.
In each case, the house’s next-door neighbor has two or three large, deep-throated barking dogs that go berserk whenever anyone walks by on the side walk with their own dogs, their children, their friends, or their door-to-door fliers. Across the street from each house was at least one neighbor harboring large barking dogs.
Now of course, I have barking dogs, too. But when mine are yapping, they don’t act like they’re going to come through the window and grab you by the throat. Nor are they left outside in the yard at all hours of the day and the night — most of the time if they bark at a passer-by, it’s from the living room. They’re not guard dogs and they’re not intended as guard dogs.
A lot of people in this area have large, fierce dogs — more than one of them — because they perceive that the area is unsafe.
But is it?
True, the district just to the north of us, less than a mile away — really, just a few steps across a main drag from the northernmost homes in the ’hood — is notoriously crime-ridden, the territory of a notable meth gang. The district to the west of us, where aging apartments continue to deteriorate and an abandoned golf course has become a campground for homeless drug addicts, also has a high crime rate and an increasingly sketchy ambience.
But that’s the nature of the City of Phoenix: it’s a patchwork of enclaves. Anywhere you look, you’ll find upscale neighborhoods full of doctors and lawyers and business tycoons cheek-by-jowl with drug-infested slums. If you want to live in uninterrupted affluent homogeneity, you pretty much have to move to Scottsdale…which, because everybody knows its inhabitants have plenty of money and plenty of loot to steal, is as much a target of burglars and thieves as any other part of the Valley. Apparently we Phoenicians like it this way: we do nothing to change it.
So it is that our neighborhood, flanked by blight on two sides, is a hotbed of risk.
Well… I’ve taken to walking the dogs every evening after dark. Nary a resident is to be seen outside: they’re all parked in front of their televisions or their computers. You could break into a car, steal a tchotchki off a front porch, peer in a window without anyone ever noticing.
Never once have I seen a bum wandering through the night or a likely burglar slinking by. Except for the occasional coyote — which isn’t any more interested in confronting you than you are in confronting it — after dark there is nothing out there that looks like a threat. Not a burglar, not a bum, not biker, not even a kid in a hoodie.
During the daytime, you see an occasional derelict. Once in awhile you’ll see someone who’s obviously casing houses. But not often. Usually you can walk a mile or more through the ’hood without every seeing anyone but a few workmen and some wandering neighbors.
That was not so 30 years ago, when my ex- and I lived in the then gentrifying Encanto neighborhood, a picturesque remnant of small-town Phoenix that, like the ’hood where the Funny Farm stands, was discovered all at once by a horde of young upwardly mobile urban adults. It quickly became known as “the lawyers’ and doctors’ ghetto” — because it was within easy driving distance (even walking distance) of the downtown hospitals and law firms.
The Encanto area’s zip code had the highest per-capita drug use in the city, at the time. Despite the efforts of some developers to pave it over with a freeway, it survived a great deal of pressure to force the young would-be city-dwellers out to the suburbs. Today it’s one of the city’s bragging points.
Exactly the same thing is under way here: the ’hood is the New Encanto. But unlike Encanto, the ’hood is not overrun with derelicts and criminals. There are a lot of homeless mentally ill riding the buses and trains up and down Conduit of Blight Blvd., but not so many actually inside the neighborhood — local opinion to the contrary.
When we lived in Encanto, you couldn’t poke your nose outside the door without seeing a bum or two roaming up the street. One family, a block to the south of us, was baking cookies while watching television of an evening. Since everyone was in the house and they felt safety in numbers, it didn’t occur to them to bolt all the doors and windows. A bum watching from the alley noticed this and observed that the wife would come into the kitchen, stick a pan of cookies in the oven, and then go watch TV while they baked for 15 minutes. During one of those interludes, he just stepped into the kitchen, picked up her purse, and made off with it. 🙂
Not all these exploits were so funny. One of my neighbors was hacked to death by an ax murderer, having surprised the guy robbing her house when she came home from the beauty parlor. Another was studied by a man who knew a) where to find the only window in the house that was not alarmed and b) when her husband was out of town. He took the opportunity to spend an entire night beating and raping her.
We have never had anything like that happen here. We’ve had some close calls, but no real horrors. Yet.
But interestingly, few people in Encanto kept large, fierce dogs. I had a German shepherd that I’d inherited from a neighbor. The lady behind us had a doberman pinscher. Our babysitter, a street to the south of us, had a pair of airdales. One couple in our car-pool had a pretty ridiculous bloodhound. But otherwise, that was about it: I didn’t know anybody else who had big dogs.
Here, everybody and his little brother has a large, fierce dog with a threatening bark — or two, if possible. Cassie has been pounced twice by loose German shepherds. You can’t walk around the park without coming across someone with a big dog running loose — on Sunday mornings a bunch of locals bring about a dozen large dogs over there and let them run around, illegally, off the leash. Encanto Park was bum heaven, but you never saw a dog off the leash there. You didn’t see many dogs at all, come to think of it.
That says to me that people who live in this neighborhood are scared. The number of derelicts visible in these parts is a tiny fraction of the number of car-sleeping and window-peeping and yard-toileting natives who used to hang out in Encanto. Yet people apparently perceive a great deal more risk here than they did there.
Yes, we do have some incidents: the bum that jumped a wall to diddle with a couple of small girls being the most recent. And yeah, I did enjoy the Great Garage Invasion. But in the 13 years we lived in Encanto we had…
• The cat burglar on the roof
• The Night of the Screaming (in which I chased off a rapist by hollering “fire” at the top of my lungs)
• The burglar who was chased out of the house at 2 a.m. by our German shepherd
• The ax murder
• The night-long rapefest at the neighbor’s house
• The guy who took up residence in a neighbor’s car and was pissed when he was thrown out so she could go to work
• The guy who tried to push his way in through my front door even as not one but two German shepherds stared him down
• The guy who chased one of the nannies in Palmcroft
• The guy who followed me even as I was pushing a baby in a stroller (I dodged into a neighbors’ house)
• The couple who used our side yard as their latrine
It kinda went on and on. On Mondays, the head secretary at my office (yes, Virginia, in those days admins were called “secretaries”) would ask me what new story I had for them…and I usually did have one.
We hardly ever have things like that happen here. We have a hell of a lot more dogs than we do bums and criminals. Heh…maybe one fact follows the other as the night the day?
I doubt it. I think people are just scared. Unduly scared.
It doesn’t do to be scared of the bogeyman, you know. You’re usually bigger than he is, and nine times out of ten you’re a hell of a lot smarter (your brain not being clouded by dope or booze). A dog is nice company, but it’s not real protection. A gun is reassuring until you consider the fact that you’re more likely to shoot yourself in the foot than to wing the burglar.
The best protection? Keeping your wits about you.
Venus over the Ocean: Brocken Inaglory – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Venus_with_reflection.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5223759